I started a clothing-focused mini-series over the summer wherein I managed to devote two ENTIRE posts to the topic of just me and my clothing alone:
Riveting as that was, a number of you requested I write about the clothing of the other people in my house. In response, today I bring you a deep dive into the closets of my children, Kidwoods, age 7 and Littlewoods, age 4.
The Hand-Me-Down Train Continues
We’ve been on the used/hand-me-down train since before the girls were born and haven’t disembarked yet. I get the bulk of their clothing (and shoes, toys, books, puzzles, etc) from three sources:
1) Garage sales.
The vast majority of their clothing (and everything else) comes from yard sales because it’s often one-stop shopping AND they have the best prices. If I happen upon the yard sale of a family with girls slightly older than mine, I typically buy 90% of what they’re selling. The clothes, toys, books, shoes–if the ages and styles/tastes line up, I stock up!
The advantages of doing this are many-fold:
- I get a massive bargain. The more you buy, the more inclined sellers are to offer you a bulk discount. $20 for a pile of clothes, toys, books, boots and coats has happened to me many times.
- I don’t have to go to every single garage sale on earth. While I enjoy yard sale-ing, I don’t do it every weekend. Point in fact, garage sales only happen in the summer/fall here and I don’t need to go all season long.
- I get a nearly complete wardrobe in whatever size(s) they’re selling. I get the snowpants and the coat, the boots and the sweaters, etc. Sometimes it even matches! Winning.
I gladly and gratefully accept all hand-me-downs offered to me. I have several local friends with older daughters who graciously pass along their old clothes to me. Yay!
3) Thrift stores.
This is last because it represents the smallest percentage of their clothing. I love thrift stores, but too often, the kids’ clothes are overpriced. Each individual item has its own price and, while $10 for a dress for me feels like a great bargain, $10 for a dress for my four-year-old that’ll only fit her for one season doesn’t feel like a deal. Hence, these purchases are few and far between.
As you may now be wondering: yes, my system of clothes acquisition for the kids is haphazard at best. At a garage sale I might buy snow pants for Kidwoods to wear next winter at the same time as a swimsuit for Littlewoods to wear that week. Since I’m at the mercy of whatever I find/is handed down to me, I realized early on that I’d need an ironclad System-Of-Organization. It’s not actually ironclad and it’s definitely not worthy of being a Proper Noun, but it works. Mostly. Here’s my secret:
I have plastic tubs labeled by size and season stacked on shelves in our basement.
That’s it. Not magic, but very functional. When the kids were younger, I had everything grouped by size, such as: “3-6 months,” “9 months” etc, but as they got older, the addition of seasonal subdivision has been helpful.
At the start of winter and again at the beginning of summer, I remove all the clothing from their rooms and divide it into categories:
- This is anything Littlewoods has outgrown, anything Kidwoods detests and anything we have too much of. For example, Littlewoods–for unknown reasons–had 20 t-shirts in last summer’s wardrobe, so I donated half of them.
- Keepsake box:
- This is anything Littlewoods has outgrown that I can’t bear to part with. So far, I have just one box of saved clothing and I’m trying very hard to keep this at a minimum.
- Since my kids are both girls and only 27 months apart, they’ve worn all the same clothing so I get two for the price of one when I save an item!
- Might fit next year:
- Anything that’s big/roomy/seems like it’ll fit again goes into an appropriately labeled box, i.e. “Winter, Size 4T, Might Fit Littlewoods Again Next Year”
- Kidwoods outgrew:
- Anything she’s outgrown goes into another box labeled as such so that I don’t get confused, i.e. “Summer, Sizes 5-6, Kidwoods Outgrew”
This is a bit laborious, but I only do it twice a year (fall and spring) and it’s the only way I know to keep track of what we have for each kid for each season.
As I receive hand-me-downs, and score garage sale finds throughout the year, I sort them into the appropriately labeled boxes. Thus, those snow pants I bought for Kidwoods to use next winter are already in the “Winter, Size 8” box.
This system also enables me to hand-up clothes to friends whose kids need a specific item in a particular size. And yes, they do joke about going shopping in my basement and yes, I deserve it. BUT, I love being able to pull out a complete wardrobe for each kid for every season for an absolute fraction of the cost of buying new. We’ve saved thousands of dollars–easily–by not buying our kids new clothes for the last seven years and we will continue to reap these savings for as long as possible.
What About Kid Preferences?
This was not an issue when the kids were babies and, honestly, I sometimes miss dressing them in adorable outfits with matching hair bows. They do not let me do that anymore. Now, both kids select their own outfits and dress themselves every day, which is fine by me and results in some very unique fashion choices. I encourage them to wear whatever makes them comfortable and happy.
The only “rule” we have is that you have to make sure you’re warm enough in the wintertime. At four years old, Littlewoods doesn’t have many opinions on her clothing and is content to select from whatever I put in her drawers. All of her things are in the lowest two dresser drawers so that she can select everything herself. Her mantra at age two was, “I DO SELF!!!” and that still rings true for her.
Kidwoods at seven years old, on the other hand, has very specific notions about what she’d like to wear. Up until last year, I just put things in her drawers for each season (as I do now for Littlewoods) and she’d choose what to wear every day. But, she let me know last year that she categorically did not like some of the clothes I’d put in there for her. And so began the routine of letting Kidwoods select her own wardrobe from the hand-me-down box.
Now, our process is that I bring up all the boxes labeled with her size range for a given season and she goes through them selecting the clothes she wants to have in her room. I gather up the cast-offs and re-box most of them for Littlewoods and donate anything that doesn’t seem worth keeping. Then, Kidwoods puts away her own clothes, dresses herself every day and also puts away her clean laundry each week. I did happen to look in her drawers the other day and discovered that her opinion of “folding” perhaps differs from mine, but, it’s her clothes, her room, her chore. Thus far, she’s been able to find clothes she likes out of the hand-me-down boxes for every season.
Why We Buy Used
Our kids know that their clothes are used and I’ve explained our philosophy to them for why we get clothing (and just about everything else) second-hand:
1) It costs SO MUCH LESS to buy stuff used.
Hence, it’s a situation where we’re able to get the same product for a much cheaper price. Other examples in this frugality category: MVNOs for cell phone service, generic brands, etc. Explaining the value of money is a central tenet in our early financial literacy education with the girls and, as Kidwoods earns, saves and shops with her own money, she very much gets why it’s preferable to buy a pair of used shoes for $2 as opposed to a new pair for $40. I explain to her that, just as she wants to save and find deals for her money, daddy and I want to do the same with our money.
2) It’s MUCH MORE environmentally-friendly.
We discuss how taxing it is on the planet to manufacture, produce, ship and market new clothes. We talk about how nice it is to pass our old clothes along to other families and how thankful we are for the clothes that are passed along to us. My girls LOVE seeing younger kids in the community wearing their old clothes and seem to understand the cycle of sharing and handing down things we no longer need.
3) It’s more FUN!
We never know exactly what’ll be in each box since the items are added over time and from many different sources. We laugh over silly shirts and put wild pants on our heads. There’s a lightness around it because we’re not invested in these material objects.
4) It puts WAY less pressure on me and saves times.
I’m not concerned with getting them “the best” winter gear or “the most beautiful” matching Christmas dresses. This saves me a tremendous amount of time. I don’t research which snow pants to buy–I buy whatever I find at a yard sale.
We get what we get and, you know what? No one cares. I have very little stress surrounding their clothes because I’m not beholden to the endowment effect of considering the stuff I own to be more valuable than it actually is. It’s just clothing, which also allows me to engender an…
5) Easy come, easy go attitude.
Since I didn’t hunt for, pay top dollar for, and otherwise invest a lot of time and money in these clothes, it doesn’t bother me when they come home from school stained with purple paint. It also doesn’t bother me when they (primarily Kidwoods at this point) refuse to wear a gorgeous dress that I love, but they demonstrably do not. I’m sure we’d have arguments over what Kidwoods should be wearing if I was invested in the contents of her wardrobe.
6) It helps remove the focus on outward appearances.
I don’t know if this is actually true OR if this will hold up for the tween years (I’m sure it won’t); BUT so far, I’ve been able to engender a mode of dressing that’s focused on:
- Being activity-appropriate:
- For this I rely upon the Daniel Tiger song, “think about what you’re gonna do and pick the clothes that are right for you!”
- All hail Daniel Tiger
- Being weather-appropriate (mixed results here; Kidwoods wore shorts and a t-shirt on Thanksgiving day. It was below freezing… ).
Since these are the elements we emphasize about clothing, we don’t focus on:
- How we look in our clothes
- Whether or not we’re fashionable
- Anything related to our size/body shape
7) They can be fancy anytime they want.
Alongside my “easy come, easy go” attitude is my “let them wear whatever they want” attitude. Both of my girls have been known to wear ballgowns to school and I’m not concerned if they come home stained or ripped (both of which have happened). I want them to enjoy their clothes and play freely with abandon. I don’t want them to restrict their activity or their fashion sense because they’re concerned about protecting a material possession.
In general, my hope is that my kids won’t have deep-seated attachments to material possessions and I hope that this is a good way to start. By removing some of the inherent “importance” from their clothing, my hope is that they view them as necessary tools for life, but not things to obsess over, spend tons of money on, or consume themselves with. Who knows if this’ll work. I’ll report back in a few years.
Also, shockingly, despite how hard they are on their clothes, we throw very few items away. Most live to see another family! Or two!
Does This Mean You Don’t Buy ANYTHING New?
Nope. As with all things, I try not to be a hardline zealot. While 98% of their clothes are sourced used, a small fraction are purchased new.
Here’s everything I bought new for them in the last year:
- Cowgirl boots for Kidwoods as a birthday gift to replace the pair she’d outgrown (affiliate link).
- Jean jacket for Kidwoods as a birthday gift to replace the one she’d outgrown (affiliate link).
- These underwear for both girls (affiliate link).
- Our matching dresses (affiliate link). Awwww.
- These Snowstoppers mittens for both girls (affiliate link). I’ve never found mittens used, probably because all kids–mine included–rip them to shreds by dragging their paws over every single rock, twig, piece of bark and sharp object they find. These are the absolute best brand for staying on kids and keeping them warm.
- These base layers for ski season.
- In the past, they’ve worn their regular clothes under their snow pants, but our increased ski schedule this winter made me think I should probably get them some proper non-cotton base layers.
- Who am I kidding, none of this occurred to me, my friend texted me to say that Land’s End was having a mammoth sale on these base layers and that I should get some for the girls. She was correct and I did.
Two summers ago I bought these swimsuits/rash guards for them, which thankfully fit again this past summer (affiliate link).
As you can see, I rely primarily on Walmart and Amazon for new items since they’re cheap, comfortable and durable.
When Shopping Used: Focus On Depreciation
A few years ago I wrote about the value of focusing on depreciation when buying second-hand, which has only become more relevant as my kids have gotten older and new clothes in bigger sizes are more expensive. I used the example of snow gear in that post, which is still the most apt illustration of my point.
Here’s the math:
Cost for a New Set of Winter Gear for One Kid: $175.49
- NEW Lands’ End Little Kids Waterproof Snow Bibs (size 4T): $45.35
- NEW Lands’ End Little Kids Squall Waterproof Winter Parka (size small/4T): $65.15
- NEW Kamik Kids’ Snow Boots (size toddler 11): $64.99
Cost for a Used Set of Winter Gear for One Kid: $13
I reference those specific brands and sizes because I happen to have purchased those specific brands and sizes from garage sales. Here’s what I paid:
- USED Land’s End Little Kids Waterproof Snow Bibs (size 4T): $5
- USED Land’s End Little Kids Squall Waterproof Winter Parka (size small/4T): $3
- USED Kamik Kids’ Snow Boots (size toddler 11): $5
Total saved by buying used: $162.49
I like to get everything used that I possibly can, but, if the thought of doing that overwhelms you, consider focusing on sourcing used for only the biggest ticket items, such as winter gear.
The Revolving Door of Donations
Another aspect of my “easy come, easy go” approach is that I donate all the clothing my girls have outgrown. I don’t feel the need to try and sell it because it was free or cheap for me in the first place. So, I hand it down to friends and donate the rest to the thrift store. Again, since I don’t have an attachment to the process of clothing procurement, I’m not obsessed with where the clothes end up. I don’t need to recoup my costs, I don’t need to have pristine dresses go to the “right” family, I don’t need to be recognized for my good taste, etc. I just need to move stuff they’ve outgrown out of the house.
When they were younger and changing sizes nonstop, I kept boxes on the floors of their closets in which I’d drop anything they outgrew. Now, I identify outgrown stuff when I do the twice-a-year seasonal swap-out. This is also my chance to donate any duplicates/triplicates we have, as in the case of Littlewoods and the 20 t-shirts of the same size.
In addition to my love of decluttering, it’s important to me to donate their clothes while they can still be used by someone else. Clothes do not last forever and if I held onto them for, say, my possible some-day future grandchildren, the elastic would wear out, the styles would be abominable and the fabrics would be scratchy. I see a lot more value in donating stuff now so that other people can get use out of it while it’s still relatively “new.”
In conclusion, I get almost all of my kids’ clothing second-hand because it:
- Saves money
- Saves time
- Reduces stress
- Engages my kids in the process of learning about money
- Enfranchises my kids to select their own clothing and dress themselves
- Is way better for the environment
- Keeps stuff out of landfills
- Is more fun
- Decreases the focus on appearances
- Allows me to freely donate clothing when they’ve outgrown it