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Clothes Master : Anita Nelson is second to none when it comes to sniffing out inexpensive clothing, mending them and cleaning them. She has to be. She's got 10 kids.

April 09, 1993|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anita Nelson, mother of 10 kids, moves mountains. Mountains of dishes. Mountains of toys. And mountains of clothes.

To be exact, Nelson hustles six loads of clothes seven nights a week: dresses, jeans, T-shirts, leggings, blouses, shorts, shirts, tank tops, sweaters, underwear, sweats, trousers, pajamas, boxer shorts, nightgowns, socks, jumpsuits.

"Clothes are a big issue in this family," says Nelson, 36. "I'm always doing clothes--buying them, mending them, and passing them onto the next kid in line. When you've got a 4-month-old to a 17-year-old, clothes are a forever thing."

And a hot topic in and out of the Nelsons' San Pedro home at Ft. MacArthur, where Air Force Sgt. Jay Nelson, 36, works as a computer programmer.

"People are always asking: 'How do you do it? A big family like yours. Clothes are expensive and besides that, where do you keep it all?' "

Nelson smiles as she prepares to reveal her family secrets.

"Come with me," orders Major Mom, as she begins her tour of the family's five-bedroom condo.

Closets are neatly packed with hanging clothes and boxes that are filled with more clothes. Plump laundry baskets are stuffed with sneakers and sandals and squeezed underneath beds. Dressers are lined side by side by side in an upstairs utility closet because there is no room for them in bedrooms.

"My first rule is this: I don't iron. I hate it," says Nelson. "So I don't go for satin and silky things for my kids."

Her second rule: "I don't have a 'system.' I'll buy just about every item of clothing I can afford because I know it will fit someone."

Nelson recalls a story about her mother, June, buying 20 pairs of shoes--at $2 a pop--on sale a few months ago. "My mom was standing at my front door with all these shoes in her arms. 'Anita,' she said, 'I know a pair of these will fit someone.' " That someone might be Seth, 4 months; Grace, 4; Mary, 5; Emma, 7; Sarah, 9; Hannah, 11; Elizabeth, 13; Nathan, 15; Adam, 16, or Julie, 17. Nelson has other rules to live by: Shop yard sales and discount clothing chains; buy items in bulk such as socks and underwear; decorate inexpensive T-shirts with decals and fabric paints; stitch lace, buttons and ribbons onto socks to make them look expensive; sew your own clothes, and take special care with the laundry so clothes can be handed down in good condition.

The kids--or most of them anyway--have adopted a "yours, mine and ours" attitude, she says.

"One of the girls will say, 'This is mine but you can wear it.' They're real good about sharing."

The older children--Elizabeth, Nathan, Adam and Julie--buy all of their own clothes with money earned from baby-sitting, cleaning horse stables, paper routes and yardwork. When they've got the cash, they like to hit the malls and discount clothing stores. But they never spend more than $30 to $40 at a time. And like mom, they're always on the lookout for a bargain.

"As far as clothes go, I have quite a bit--my own, my mom's and my sister Elizabeth's that I can borrow," says Julie, who graduated from San Pedro High School last year and is saving for college while working at a fast-food restaurant. "I try not to buy too much because we're also limited with space here," she adds.

Hannah pays particular attention to her older sisters' outfits "because one day I'll be wearing them."

The 11-year-old shares her room--and its double closet--with sisters Sarah and Emma. "This is how we do it," says Hannah, as she slides the closet door open to reveal three sets of clothes: sizes 10 to 12 (Hannah's), 8 to 10 (Sarah's), and 6 to 8 (Emma's). Older sister Elizabeth also shares the other end of the closet, but camps out with Julie in a downstairs dining room that has been converted into a bedroom. Mary and Grace share a bedroom and a dresser upstairs. And Julie keeps her hanging clothes in Mary and Grace's closet.

"It's like a puzzle here," Hannah explains and then, in a Vanna White imitation motions to six rows of footgear hanging on a shoe rack attached to the inside of the utility closet door.

Hannah and her two roommates walk in and stand near their dressers. Behind them are shelves filled with toys.

"This one's mine," points out Emma. "And that one's Sarah's and that one's Hannah's. And this," she says trying to open a stuck drawer "is our sock drawer."

Hannah manages to loosen the drawer open. Voila! Socks--from whites to neon, ruffled to striped, ankle to knee-high--pop out. It's the only drawer shared by the three. The others are crammed with jeans, T-shirts and sleep wear.

"Even though we have our own dressers, we still share the clothes," says Hannah. She pulls out an oversized shirt. "We share stuff like this all the time. The only thing we don't share is the underwear. We all have our own."

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