Paying it forward…the unwritten mommy co-op
My parents are coming to visit next week, which is lovely, but which also means we need to get the house in guest-able shape so we can pretend it’s always that nice and we live that way all the time. (My mom, knowing me as she does, is doubtless not fooled. But it’s polite to offer your guests a clean home. If she could see what the “guest room” looks like during the 11 months of the year it functions as my “sewing room,” I think she’d probably faint.) The clutter, as always, is unbelievable. I can’t decide whether to feel virtuous about getting all this extraneous Stuff out, or guilty about recycling so many of my kids school papers and artwork. I love my kids, but there are only so many math tests and crayon drawings of princesses one can make room for, you know? We’ve got sort of a “sample pile” to show Grandma and Grandpa, representative kind of stuff and really exceptional pieces, and the rest is going OUT. )
We also just gave 3 bags of outgrown little girl clothes to our neighbor across the street, who has an 18-month-old. The beauty of that is that most of those clothes I didn’t buy either–I have a friend with a 7-year-old daughter who has been passing her clothes on down to me since my daughter was born. She got a bunch of hers from another neighbor across HER street. This makes for a sort of odd and eclectic combination of really beat up Tinkerbell jammies and beautiful holiday-type dresses that only got worn maybe twice, if that, and everything in between. And the shoes…ohhhh, the shoes, it’s a treasure trove. This woman has saved me probably hundreds of dollars in shoes alone; I haven’t needed to buy the twice-annual gym shoes and dress shoes for her ever, at all. (And if I did, I wouldn’t be buying Stride Rite–I’d be paying $14.99 at Target.) Swimsuits. Ballet clothes. I thank God for this woman (and the fact that her daughter likes pink, skirts, and princesses as much as mine does) every day. And now all the clothes under size 6x have moved another few hundred feet so they can sit in someone else’s closet until her little girl can wear them. Some of the Tinkerbell jammies have bit it in the interim, and a few more will before they make it to the next little girl after her. In the meantime, a few other pieces will enter the collection, things grandparents give her, things others hand down, and the next little girl will get a slightly altered but basically similar collection. And so it goes.
This is one of the things that happens all the time, and it’s something we barely bother to hail as “green” or “sustainable”–it’s just common sense. When they’re little, they grow so fast that there’s no time to wear things out. And we love these little outfits, that adorable little Christmas dress with the Peter Pan collar and candy canes embroidered all over it, that cute pink poofy skirt with roses embroidered on it, the little Hanna Anderssen tights with ruffles on the butt…we don’t quite want to drop it into the Goodwill box (though that’s a great place for things like these too!), but we’d be happy to know that some child at least somewhat connected to us will get the chance to wear them. Of course there are a few things I can’t bear to let go of, things I keep for the “memory box”–mostly things I added to the collection myself, or gifts from Grandma, but also a couple of special things that got handed down–but most of it now is in another little girl’s closet. And I suspect she’ll love the Princess stuff as much as my daughter does, and the little girl who had the collection before her.
I have another friend with two boys who are much bigger than mine–she gave me bags and bags of boy clothes I don’t know how many years ago…and as much as it grates on my natural habits (or the ones my clutter-free mom apparently instilled with more success than she imagined) to store things for years, I’m still pulling clothes out of the bins where those were stored for my son to wear. I don’t think I have had to buy more than 2-3 pairs of jeans or pants for him in the past 5 years. Rivals the shoe savings. He still wears some of the shirts from those bags. The last of the shorts she gave me when my son was probably still a toddler just went into his drawer; I don’t have to shop for him for the summer. At all. Seriously, not AT ALL. If I could really calculate the amount of money I didn’t have to spend on clothing for my kids over the past 7 years, simply because of these two mom-friends’ generosity, it would probably rival or surpass the amount of money I saved by breastfeeding instead of using formula. And that’s not even looking at the carbon footprint to manufacture all those clothes I never had to buy. And that’s just me–what about the other families who get to use the same clothes? Most of the LITTLE little boy stuff, both mine and what my friend gave me, went to another friend 5 years ago, and the same neighbor who has the little girl also has a little boy a little smaller than mine who will probably get any of his clothes he doesn’t destroy before outgrowing them.
(Then there’s the question of underwear…different people will hold different positions on this. My own opinion is that if they’re clean, what’s the problem? I draw the line at unremovable skidmarks, but barring that, I don’t think it would skeeve me out to have my kid wearing underwear some other kid wore. That’s what Oxy-Clean and hot water are for. But I get that not everyone holds the same opinion there…)
So first, this is my public THANK YOU to these two lovely women, and to everyone else who’s ever passed on clothes to me for my kids. The second is an urging of anyone who hesitates at doing this for someone else you know, especially if it’s a question of being embarrassed at the quality of some of the stuff you’d be handing on and going, “oh Lord, if I put this in a bag, will she think I think her kids would want something this beat up?”–my own philosophy has always been to ASK the parent in question, and just say, “We have some clothes my daughter has outgrown–we haven’t sorted through them yet, some of them are sort of a mess, but there’s some cute stuff in there…could you use it? Just go through and use what you can, and send the rest to the Salvation Army or something?” You can usually get a read from the response. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a response that wasn’t wholeheartedly positive. And some of the most beat up things in the bags I’ve gotten have been the things my kids love the most. Plus–there’s something to be said for having some clothes around that are ratty enough you don’t care if they get ratted up even more, know what I mean? If you’re in doubt, cull through and pull out the nicer stuff for your friend/neighbor and pass the rest on to a charitable organization. It’s common sense. It’s sustainable.