Shortly after the birth of our fourth daughter, with a brain grown mushy from sleep deprivation and a newspaper column deadline looming, I posted a plea on Facebook asking people to send me their questions, particularly questions about life in Vermont. I received a variety of responses, which I answered in the subsequent column.
But one astute reader sent this comment: Four little girls so close in age made me think about hand-me-downs.
Clearly this person understands. Because a major, daily facet of life with “four little girls so close in age” is The Clothing Situation.
You may assume that I’m talking about laundry.
Although laundry has now become something I do daily without thinking, like brushing my teeth, I am not talking about laundry.
There are two components of The Clothing Situation: Input and Storage.
Let’s say you have a baby. Chances are that you get a large, up-front influx of clothes for that baby. These clothes come from friends and family as baby shower and “Welcome, Baby!” gifts. Some may also be hand-me-downs. All of this is great; you need baby clothes, and the apparel flood usually slows after a month or two.
But the grandparents keep going. If you’re lucky, you have some loving and generous grandparents who continue buying clothes for your child on a regular basis. This is helpful, because 1) your child keeps growing and needs new clothes long after the baby clothes are in storage, and 2) clothes are expensive.
So far, so good. But complications arise when you have the next baby. And the next. And the next.
Because with the birth of each new baby, you will again receive an influx of clothes (though fewer each time, it’s true) from well-wishers who say, “Thought it’d be nice for baby to have some clothes that aren’t hand-me-downs!” The grandparents will continue to buy clothes for Child #1, but they’ll also buy clothes for Children #2, 3, and 4, despite the fact that these children are all receiving hand-me-downs from the ones who came before. You can try telling the grandparents that Child #1 — the oldest — is the only one who needs new clothes, but they’ll ignore you and buy new clothes for everyone, “because otherwise it wouldn’t be fair.”
Now let’s assume that all of your children turn out to be of the same gender. Good news! That means they can all wear the clothes you’ve been receiving since Child #1 was born. You see where this is leading? By the time Child #4 comes along, she has four babies’ worth of clothing in her wardrobe!
Around this time, people with slightly older children of the same gender as your children will start to take notice. Hey, Faith and Erick have four girls, they’ll think. That means they’ll be able to use our hand-me-downs FOUR TIMES! Because you offer such good bang-for-the-buck, bags full of fantastic, gently-used clothing will begin arriving on your doorstep. (**We love these friends, and we’re genuinely grateful for these clothes!)
You may be thinking: But surely, by the time clothes trickle down to Child #4, a good many of them can be discarded due to wear and tear. It’s true that some of the baby clothes — particularly those worn around the time solid foods are introduced — become irreparably stained and have to be tossed. But if your children are anything like mine, each child tends to rotate through only four or five favorite outfits, and those favorite outfits are different for each child. So despite the clothing needs of four children, there are plenty of clothes in every size that have never, ever been worn.
To put it succinctly: We have a lot of clothes. And that’s where the storage problem comes in.
When Fiona was born, we bought a small bureau with a changing table on top. Simple and efficient: we stored her clothes in the drawers below, and changed her diapers above.
Then Campbell was born, and it made sense to store her clothes in the bureau, since we’d be changing her diapers on top. What to do with Fiona’s clothes? There wasn’t space in their small, shared room for another bureau. Also, Fiona was beginning to select her own clothes, which I wanted to encourage without having to deal with bureau drawers left open or pinching little fingers. My solution: I went to Target and bought some cloth bins — one each for tops, bottoms, pajamas, socks, and underwear. The bins fit perfectly into the bottom shelf of a bookcase, where Fiona could easily pull them out to grab her clothes.
When we moved to Vermont, the clothing storage problem followed us. Because our girls all share a room, they got the largest room in our new house — the former master bedroom. Because our girls all share a room, however, there still wasn’t space for additional bureaus. No matter: this room included one of the biggest closets I’d ever seen. I decided to continue my strategy of baby’s clothes in the bureau/changing table, big girls’ clothes in cloth bins.
So now we have one child’s clothing in the bureau, and three children’s clothing in bins on the floor. Which is why their closet looks like this:
Mind you, those are just the clothes they’re wearing right now. What you don’t see are the storage bags filled with clothes that don’t fit anybody at this moment, or the garbage bags stuffed with hand-me-downs that are waiting for Fiona to grow into them.
There is no bigger point here; The Clothing Situation isn’t a metaphor for anything more meaningful. I freely admit that this is a very minor first-world problem. It’s just one of those things that I never anticipated when I signed up for parenthood; who knew that closet organizing would be such an important life skill?
I do have hope that things will improve. After all, we’re finished having children — and to make sure of that, I’ve already started donating all of our maternity and newborn clothes. As the girls get older, they’ll be able to stay in each clothing size a little longer. Before too long, all four of them will probably be able to share the same clothes, and then we’ll just have to deal with screaming clothing battles every morning….
In closing, a warning to any local friends who recently had/will have baby girls: I will be dropping garbage bags full of clothes on your doorsteps in the near future. Be prepared.