As in all callings, raising children is full of Sisyphean tasks, and the acquiring, ordering, and cleaning of their clothes is probably the most Sisyphean of them all. Thanks to Adam and Eve it is an unavoidable task as well. Children need to be clothed (in public at least), and in Minnesota where I live, for most of the year it is a necessity to keep them warm. This aspect of a parent’s vocation is a topic that comes up fairly often in my conversations with other parents. We discuss laundry routines, trying to get a better handle on our own. Whether we realize it or not, but doing this we are actually helping each other on the path to sanctification—when Christian parents help each other do even the smallest of necessary tasks we are building up the Body of Christ.
Managing of the clothes of multiple little people (or even one) can often be an overwhelming task. Recently, a good friend of mine shared her exasperation over it on social media, and we commiserated over the drudgery of it all. It is hard to not feel that I spend too many days of my life up to my elbows in bins of pink and purple garments trying to figure out who is in what size and what counts as presentable enough to wear in public. Is this stain too bad to wear outside the backyard? Is that tiny hole going to stay small for a few more wears? Then I have to go through the boy clothes. But if we are going to parade about town in our minivan, I would kind of like our family to look somewhat put together. I don’t need us to look ridiculously put together, but realistically put together and I think we mostly pull that off.
Further, clothing shopping on a budget or at all adds to the stress of the task. Hunting for sales and coupons. Do I want to brave that thrift store with the little people in tow? If you are a parent overwhelmed by this task of clothing your children, know you are not alone. Even Saint Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, found this task to be a burden at times. She wrote in a letter to her daughter Pauline about keeping up with her kids clothes:
Oh well, I do nothing but shop all day. Your father says, amusingly, that it is a passion with me! It is no use explaining to him that I have no choice; he finds it hard to believe. (Letter 143, from A Call to a Deeper Love)
But weary parents of naked children need not fear this burdensome task, in fact we can see it as a spiritual task and one to offer up for our sanctification. Clothing the naked, after all, is a Corporeal Work of Mercy.
The Catechism reminds us:
The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (CCC §2447)
Justice demands that we first take care of the needs of those closest to us, and as parents, these are our children. From there our charity extends to the poor. All of this being said, I would like to offer a practical example of how my Catholic family manages to keep our kids clothes mostly organized and in order. After I shared it on social media, another Catholic mom felt so edified by it that she suggested I type it up in a blog post.
We currently have four children ages nine and down—three girls and then a boy— and we live in Minnesota where we have about 6 months of cold but also have some really hot weeks in the summer. (My children think that 60s are shorts weather.) I know of some families that put away in storage the winter clothes when summer comes, but I have found it easier to just keep them all in their dressers.
I have two drawers for each child. One is for warm weather clothes; the other is for cool weather clothes. I always have sweaters available for those cool summer mornings we have, and long pants or leggings to wear when needed as well. The also each have a sock and underwear drawer that is under the bed separate from the dresser. I hang up their church clothes in the closet.
Twice a year in the Spring and the Fall, I spend a day going through each child’s clothes. They try on what needs to be tried on, and we pass down to the next child what is too small. Clothes I think we may need again are put into storage bins organized by size, and clothes we no longer need we put in a giveaway pile. We like to donate our unneeded clothes to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. They also will take old, worn out clothes either turn them into rags to sell or sell them to organizations that recycle them.
When I am going through the clothes, I try to make sure each kid has about 8 days worth of warm weather clothes and 8 days worth of cool weather clothes. I make sure they have sweaters that fit (even in the summer), and check on coats, jackets, and shoes. Then I spend an afternoon doing some online shopping, because I really do not like in person clothes shopping. I suppose that when my girls get older, they will need to try things on before buying them, but this works for now.
This system works really well for us since we do all of our clothes laundry once a week. My husband has always managed this. He does about 5 loads in one day, and then we fold it all while watching a movie after the kids are in bed. We put our own clothes away right away. The kids that are old enough put away their laundry in the morning, and we help the little ones to get theirs put away. (We do our sheets and towels on a different day.) We have had this system for ten years now, and it is still working.
One of the things I am slowly learning about holiness is that it involves a lot of simply doing your duty with willingness and love—especially the parts that I don’t enjoy. Taking care of my children’s clothing needs is simply part of that duty—it is God’s will for me to be a good steward of them by clothing them and caring for the clothes. Every moment or hour that we experience to be a drudgery it an opportunity to bring ourselves closer to God by accepting this drudgery willingly and with love. Embracing the drudgeries of life is part of taking up our Cross and following Christ, and yet, even in that we can help each other.