Don’t Let Hand-Me-Downs Get You Down


Excellent hand-me-down winter wear

When I was eight months pregnant with my firstborn, I was on my way into the university health center with J when we ran into a very slight acquaintance of his. Upon learning we were expecting a November baby, she exclaimed, “I had a November baby last year! Come by my house! I’ll leave bags of clothes outside for you.”

I was floored that someone I didn’t know would gift this poor grad student so generously, and still more so when I arrived at her porch to discover heaping trash bags full of lovely little things. I hadn’t yet learned the rule of motherhood: stuff, stuff, ever going in and out of the house.

Since then, I’ve learned to embrace the constant inflow and outflow of Stuff. I try to pass along things we are done with, and in turn, to accept and make good use of what we are given. A lot of that has to do with organization, so I thought I’d outline my approach.

First, a question you need to ask yourself:

  • How far in advance can I reasonably store? Different factors determine this: if you expect to move, if you’re renting, if you have a basement or other appropriate location to save between kids or in advance. I don’t save a whole lot for hypothetical future children — especially at this point for boys, having gone two girls and seven years since the birth of my last one — but sometimes people have practical or emotional reasons for keeping a whole set of clothes for each gender.
Dance costume a hand-me-down from a friend; Cinderella shirt and white shirt hand me downs from another friend: scarf from my nana; crown stolen from her sister

Steps for sorting hand-me-downs:

  1. Accept basically everything gratefully. In exchange for free clothing, you can do the work of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding homes for rejects, or making a run to a thrift shop to drop off things you don’t need. Don’t be picky unless someone specifically asks, because that puts the burden of work on them. On the other hand, though, recognize that you are often doing a service in accepting hand-me-downs: you’re giving a concrete home to items a family has loved. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been delighted in church to see a littler boy decked out in Pippin’s old finery, or how many times a friend has approached me after Mass to point out that Scout or Roo is wearing a “Katie Beth dress” or “Kateri dress” or one of half-a-dozen big girls of our acquaintance.
  2. Buy a bunch of big Rubbermaid tubs. I buy things more or less like this. They’re more expensive than storing clothes in trash bags or old liquor boxes, but I’d rather invest so that clothes don’t get damaged by moisture or forgotten in an opaque, disorganized storage system.
  3. Label each bin. For the littlest sizes of baby clothes, I can fit a couple sizes in one bin. By the time I get to about size 4, I usually have a “size 4 winter” and a “size 4 summer.” You might have a “size 4 boy” and a “size 4 girl” — whatever makes sense to you.
  4. Begin to fill. As I get a trash bag here or a grocery bag there, filled to the brim with hand-me-downs, I run them downstairs and sort them by sizes. This prevents little hands from digging out much too big clothing and insisting on claiming it then and there. (Ask me how I know.)
  5. When a bin or two is full, take a quiet afternoon to pare down. Once it’s getting hard to close a bin or two, I’ll seize a chance during quiet time to go downstairs and sort, and my mom often helps with this when she’s visiting. I just sort into various clothing categories — either broad ones (“long sleeve tops” or more precise ones “khaki dress pants”) and then I “shop” for and choose my favorite ones. So the items I’ve been on the fence about, like a “Daddy’s little slugger” onesie, can get weeded out once I know that I have enough other onesies I like better, and sent to a home that will appreciate them.
  6. Keep aware of gaps. I am working on maintaining a spreadsheet of items I need through Google Drive that I can share with my mom so that when she is out thrifting or shopping sales she can easily see what we are missing, but I’m not the best at updating it. In the past I’ve kept a little list on the Notes app of what shoes I have so that when I’m out, I can easily see what we already have stockpiled, but I must admit that I haven’t updated it recently.
Should you need evidence that I’m not actually an organized person please look at my tiny home office

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