We’ve all heard the humorous question posed to homeschoolers: Do you just do school in your pajamas? Since we are at home, the temptation to do that is very strong, but what are we teaching our children?

An international image expert says first impressions count, evaluations are made in the first three seconds, and these are virtually irreversible. When I was growing up, our school made the decision that the students could wear jeans to school. There were some off days when I would indulge in this new ruling, and dress a bit sloppier than normal. At times, my wise father would gently pull me aside and ask why I was wearing certain clothing. Then he would say, Kym, when you feel your worst, dress your best. It helps you feel better. Off I would trot to change into something to give me a better edge.

When we began homeschooling, I had been in the fashion field as a consultant. I enjoyed my role as a professional shopper, helping people put together wardrobes for their profession and lifestyle--which helped them make the best use of their clothing budget and gave the image they desired. Coming home to teach my children, I didn’t lose the desire for us to dress nice; I just had fewer opportunities to wear my business suits. However, I wanted my children to learn to dress presentably, even if we were living most of our lives at home and on a modest income.

I also noticed that the way I dressed set the tone of our lives: if I chose to show up in sloppy clothes or a houserobe, school just didn’t seem as important to the children, nor did I get the performance level and attitudes I desired. But, when I made the extra effort to wear something nice, even if it was simple, it dramatically changed the atmosphere of our home and school.

We don’t wear school uniforms, but while researching the effect uniform dressing standards has on schools, I found these positive results:

  • decreasing violent behavior
  • instilling students with discipline
  • helping students concentrate on their school work

So, for our house and school, we decided to set some standards of dress for personal integrity and wholesomeness. We don’t usually dress alike, though when the children were younger, I did make many of their clothes, and dressed them in the same colors--just because it was easier to dress them each day and pick them out of a crowd while on a field trip. Everyone wear your red outfits today, just made sense.

Some of our desires were to get dressed first thing each morning, wearing modest clothing that matched its mates and were the proper size, appropriate to the weather, and not wrinkled or dirty. With little boys, the last one was a challenge--sometimes their activities just seem to manufacture dirt!

Every day, I put on something presentable, and so did the children. But, soon we found we had to make some organizational changes to accommodate our raised standard. So we chose to prepare ahead for every situation that arose. Let me share some of the steps along our way.

Organization

There were two specific areas we needed to organize in our lives: clothing storage and cleaning--or, in more everyday terms, closets and laundry!

Closets: Before I tackled our closets, I read books on organization and found that there are basically two ways to store things: vertically or horizontally. Horizontally, we can put items in a drawer, a bin, or on a shelf. For vertical storage, we can hang them in a closet, on the wall, or on the back of a door.

Research indicates that we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. Well, that just wasn’t good enough odds for me, so I wanted to weed out those things we really didn’t wear to make life simpler and make every article of clothing work for us. Also, with many children, our bedrooms and closets housed more than one child, so space was at a premium.

We set a date to go through the closets, gathered large bags and sorted things to keep, give, or toss. Then we organized the things we kept, storing like things together.

Each person had their own place to keep their shoes: either a large tub for the little ones, or a shoe hanger to hang in the closet. When the children took off their shoes, they were instructed to put them in their place. On those days when shoes couldn’t be found, after helping them look, I would gently remind them that a system only works if we work it, and that I don’t wear their shoes, yet I end up spending my time helping them look for them when they don’t follow through in caring for them.

We make use of vertical space by using the four-tiered multiple skirt/pants racks. Jackets are hung together, dressy clothes towards the back of the closet or in the least reachable place, based on their frequency of use. Long sleeved shirts hang in a group, as do play dresses, short sleeved shirts, and pants.

For seasonal clothes, we store them in tubs on the top shelf of the closets, and in lidded bins under the beds. I try to label everything so next year I don’t have to rummage through each box to refresh my memory and find what we need.

Laundry: The goal became to stay on top of the laundry and create a system to simplify the process. So, we purchased some shelves and large laundry baskets. We labeled the shelves with the different ways we sort the laundry: whites, lights, reds, greens, darks, and jeans. We also separated towels into lights and darks. Each category had its own basket and spot on the shelves so the children who had the task of taking dirty clothes to the laundry room could easily put them into the proper basket. This made it so much easier on me, since the sorting was already finished--and the laundry room was organized and not in disarray.

Since I don’t like to iron, I set a timer to remind me when the dryer has finished its cycle, and I can whip those items out of the dryer before the wrinkles have a chance to set. A rod with coat hangers in the laundry room helps me with this task, and is also used for hanging those things which should be line-dried.

Preparation

Some ways we prepared for our clothing needs were just really being aware of our lifestyle, activities and climate. First, we tried to stay on top of upcoming events. A field trip to the zoo requires different clothes than going to the symphony. So, weekly or monthly overviews of the calendar help us prepare.

Being aware of the times children tend to grow and change sizes helps us keep each child outfitted with clothes and shoes which still fit.

When we lived in south Florida, we had only one real season, with variations on the hot theme which made our clothing needs simple. Now that we live in a climate with four distinct seasons, we have seasonal clothes which range from lightweight summer outfits to coats, hats and mittens. Going through these twice a year helps us maintain a useable wardrobe.

In the early spring, we pick a day to sort last year’s summer clothing to see what fits, what doesn’t, and what we need to buy or make to complete our needs. We make a list of the things we need to buy, which makes our shopping easier. In the fall, we go through this same routine for our winter clothes.

Another way we prepare is to have the accessories we need for each item. My little girls love hair accessories, so we bought each of them a hinged-lid plastic box with a handle to store their hair items in. This helps so much with getting ready for church on Sunday mornings, especially. Belts have their own special organizer attached to the wall; each hook holds several belts. Socks, stockings, jackets and sweaters, scarves and other accessories are all stored in similar ways.

I also take the children’s measurements* about twice a year and put them on a 3x5 card. When shopping without the children, I consult these cards and am still able to purchase items for them with relative accuracy of fit. This works especially well for garage sales and consignment shopping.

Conclusion

As the mother, when we take the time to organize and prepare our clothes--and our children’s wardrobes--it makes dressing nice as easy as not. And as we teach our children how to dress well, we are influencing their future, the impressions they make, and the lives of future generations.

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Twenty-year homeschool veteran, author and speaker, Kym Wright pens the Learn and Do Unit Studies, written for or with her eight homeschooled children. You can visit her websites at: www.KymWright.com and www.Learn-and-Do.com. She can be reached by email at: Kym@KymWright.com

*Important measurements to take: Height, chest, waist, hips, back waist length (from the base of the neck in the back, to their waist), sleeve length, pants length, dress length, shoe and hat size, and perhaps ring size. www.kwiksew.com/techinfo/measure/children.htm

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com