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Hand-Me Down Clothes System

Making the Most of a Hand-Me-Down Wardrobe

By Amalah

I have a lot of little boys in my house. Three of ’em. I also have four nephews and a ton of friends with little boys. This means I have approximately three million tons of little boy clothing. Three. Million. Tons. Barely exaggerating.

I’m sharing a few tips, tricks and general ramblings about hand-me-downs and how to keep them awesome — money-saving for you and exciting for your kid.

1) Stay organized.

Your efforts to recycle a wardrobe are doomed to miserable failure if you don’t keep the clothing organized. I’ve learned this one the hard way, repeatedly. This winter I determined that all the size 6-12 month clothing we had was off-season and summery. So I bought some warmer clothes for the baby and then literally tripped over a mislabeled box in the basement as I was pulling the new stuff out of the dryer. We had plenty of clothing for him, but for some reason had it in a cardboard box (labeled “COATS”) far away from the other hand-me-downs.

The best and most space-efficient way to store a lot of clothing is to separate things out by size AND season, then use those vacuum-sealed space-saver bags. I like to also include a written list of the contents and put it on top, so I can scan the bags if I’m looking for some specific (sweaters, hoodies, socks, etc.). But I also keep several roomy plastic bins in the kids’ closets for tossing outgrown or out-of-season clothing in between the big sorting/organizing extravaganzas. This way I can keep all usable clothing in one place so I’m not perpetually trying to permanently store stuff only to find yet ANOTHER stack of 2T shirts the minute I seal a bag up.  When the plastic bins are full, that’s when it’s time to sort and store. (And usually time to pull out the next size/wave of clothing anyway.)

2) Be honest.

You probably don’t need to keep every. Single. Thing. an older child wears for his younger siblings. Particularly if you’re getting hand-me-downs from other friends and relatives. Some of it might not be to your taste, or maybe always fit kind of strange, or is looking a little worn or stained. Do I really desperately need to hold on to allll these saggy-butt cotton jammies? And if you never put it on your kid the first time around, you probably won’t put it on the second or the third. (Ask me about my box of immaculate shoes with laces that never stayed tied or were a pain in the butt to get on!) Your stash of clothing can rapidly become more of a hoard, so don’t feel guilty about donating stuff your kid technically COULD wear again, but probably won’t. Better to give the clothes off to someone who will, for sure.

3) Sun solves almost everything.

It happens every time, especially with baby and toddler clothes. I lovingly pack clean, nice-looking clothing away and then pull it out much later to find it’s yellowed and gross. Spit-up and poop stains that I swear weren’t there before…are. For organic baby-related stains, let those clothes dry outside in the sun (or at least on a hanger rigged up in front of a sun-facing window) and they’ll look as good as they ever did before.

4) One shirt, two seasons.

You know this style shirt for boys? The kind that’s meant to look like they’re wearing a tee over a long-sleeve shirt?  They’re everywhere, in every possible style. They’re also the most easily recycled shirts in the world — just snip the long sleeve part off and you’ve got a perfectly-usable short-sleeve shirt.

I do this for three reasons: 1) the seasons change but my child’s clothing size has not, 2) my hand-me-downs are the right size but the wrong season (i.e. I need spring stuff in 3T but all I mostly have is winter), and 3) my children absolutely DESTROY the cuffs and sleeves of their shirts — particularly white ones. After a few months of messy preschool art projects and snacks, the cuffs and elbows on a lot of their long-sleeve shirts are hopelessly stained and worn out. But buying the faux sleeve style means I can still reuse the rest of the shirt. (Then I add the cut off sleeves to my emergency scrap fabric pile…you never know when they’ll come in handy.)

5) Know when to spend money and when not to.

After I had my second boy, I had a brief spell of “I’m buying nothing but AMAZING clothing for my first because I can use it all again! Wheeeeee!” I was justifying this because up until that point (he’d just turned three), he was remarkably easy-going on his clothing. I was able to pack away most of it. But then…I don’t know. Preschool. Three years old. A lot more rough-and-tumble going on at the playground. Suddenly his clothes were wearing out before he even outgrew them. And I realized that there was absolutely no increased chance that the $25 pair of jeans would last any longer than the $10 pair. Sure, maybe the less-expensive jeans were a bit more worn in the knees, but guess which ones he was bound to be wearing when he got his hands on a permanent laundry marker?

Things I will “invest” in are now pretty much limited to outerwear — a good coat (be it winter or spring) will last like nothing else, and is absolutely worth the money. I also don’t skimp on shoes (though I do love a good sale on good brands)…not because I have much luck reusing them from kid to kid anymore, but ill-fitting shoes are never a good idea, and as quickly as kids’ feet grow, I’ve learned that buying super-cheap shoes can mean I’m buying a second pair in the same size because they’ve worn out so fast. (And I HATE THAT.) And once a year I do splurge on nice holiday clothes for my boys. Coordinating sweaters and shirts and such for photos. These have all held up beautifully and I’m now able to buy just one outfit for my oldest and let the younger ones wear hand-me-downs that still technically match. Because the holiday stuff? Is always pretty much the same year after year.

Everything else is bought to be worn hard and played-in hard. If it lasts — and so much of it does, despite the cheap price tag — bonus. If it doesn’t, at least I know I’ll get my money’s worth and not be annoyed that I overpaid for something that got destroyed in art class.

6) Boost the hand-me-down inheritance with some personalized new stuff.

While I suppose it’s true that little boys don’t care about their clothing to the extent that many little girls do, I do buy clothing that I know my oldest will like. Especially in the graphic tee department. He liked trains, so I bought him a lot of cute train shirts. Snoopy, Smurfs, Star Wars, etc. When he went through a Harry Potter phase he insisted on every shirt being red. It’s not fair then, to just expect my younger son to be just as excited by these clothes. He didn’t like Thomas or Elmo, but he loved Yo Gabba Gabba and fire engines. So I always try to pick up a few inexpensive t-shirts that I think will excite him, and be something he enjoys wearing. He gets to pick out his own shoes (be it at the store or from the hand-me-down box) as well. I basically try to give him control and choices whenever possible, even if it’s just handing him two pairs of mittens to choose from.

Right now he’s pretty chill about wearing everything that comes out of the hand-me-down boxes. It’s all new and cool to him. Sometimes he declares that he doesn’t like something, and if I think he means it, back in the box it goes.  Life’s too short to fight over a pair of track pants, even if I know they were barely worn twice. Plus hey, I’ve got a whole other little boy to dress in a couple years, maybe he’ll think they’re awesome.

Now, we’d love to hear you make the most of your kids’ wardrobes.  Where do you save and splurge? 

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Olivia
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Olivia

I’m into buying cheaper clothes, or thrifted, and if it lasts to the next one, fine. If not, no biggie. I also bought a fair amount of neutral and “boy” clothes for my daughter and that is helping us fill out a wardrobe for our soon to be born son. The other thing I do is watch for the end of season clearance pricing and stock up on clothes one size up. For now, my daughter fits pretty well into the clothing size that corresponds to her age so that’s working well.

Bev
Guest

All of this sounds so familiar! I have 2 little boys (3 years and 18 months), most of my friends have boys, and I have many nephews of various ages. Clothing that I passed along to my friends once my oldest had outgrown it was returned in a similar blue storage bin a year later for my youngest to wear. I started out thinking that I would never have to buy my little guy clothes because we have so much from his big brother, only to realize that the little guy is already picky about what he likes (and doesn’t)… Read more »

Michelle
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Michelle

I have two boys and five nephews. All the kids are under age 6, so my sisters and I have had pretty good luck passing hand-me-downs between our families! I have always bought my boys new shoes, because I think it is important to have well-fitting good shoes for active boys. We live in California where it never gets too cold, so we have not needed to invest much money in coats/winter wardrobes. My boys love to have “cool” shirts, so they get a kick out of picking out new shirts with their favorite characters on them every now and… Read more »

Joan
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Joan

The greatest thing about the giveaway is that you won’t have to worry about hand-me-downs. At least for a season!

doug
Guest
doug

Our daughter is the oldest and tallest of all of our friends’ kids. When clothes leave here, they go thru at least two, and sometimes as many as 4 other girls before they are officially retired. It’s really fun to see the stuff hang around for a while.

Krys
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Krys

I shop the end of season sales for my daughter, and try to pick up clothing that can be layered, so it can be worn into cooler/warmer seasons. I like Old Navy’s clothes because they’re typically good for layering, and they always seem to have a color theme in mind, which also tends to help extend her wardrobe. Cool giveaway!

Alli
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Alli

I may not be quite qualified to enter yet, but desperately want to win! I am a self-proclaimed “super saver” expecting my first child and could make $$$ at old navy go a LONG way!

Buffy
Guest
Buffy

I am just a few weeks away from being a new mom. I am lucky enough to be part of a great community of friends who all take a role in making aure we all have what we need for our kids. I have just been gifted 2 huge crates of clothes for my baby girl- to-be. The last mom to have a baby girl got these clothes, and over her daughter’s first year, she kept them sorted by size and season, added new stuff to the mix, got rid of the ones that were in bad shape after her… Read more »

Julie Snow
Guest

I am so glad you asked! YOur post was wonderful – I totally realted to ALL of it! I have five boys ages 3 to 15. I keep track of everything in an Excel spreadsheet I call Clothing Inventory – it is so helpful because I have less “digging” through bins to see if there is ENOUGH of something or whatever. I take it shopping with me nd I can easily find what I need to buy when there is a clearance sale. I can email it to you if you’d like. It took a long time to put together… Read more »

JanM
Guest

I save by buying second hand for most things – pants, jackets, hoodies. I also buy longsleeved white onesies and t-shirts and layer them under summer clothes like t-shirts and sundresses.
But I tend to splurge on good shoes and winter boots, especially since I live in a cold climate.

Shauna Amondson
Guest
Shauna Amondson

This is awesome! I think keeping a fairly simple color scheme for the basics and then splurging here and there on something bright is a fun way to do it.

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

The great thing about hand-me-downs for younger kids is that they just love them – the clothes are softer because they’ve been washed more, and the kids think the clothese are special because they were given by a favorite relative or older friend. Plus, I get to see some of my favorite outfits on another little girl who I love!

Susie
Guest
Susie

I was given soooo very many baby blankets and other things that I had too many of or no use for at my son’s shower. I was also blessed with gift receipts! So, I was able to exchange many things into an entire wardrobe for my son’s first year. And when we have a second child, a good portion of things can go either gender (or my daughter will wear green!). In addition, we are blessed to be surrounded by thrift stores, which is where most of my wardrobe comes from, so I’ll be able to share that shopping style… Read more »

Elizabeth
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Elizabeth

I shop end-of-season sales and buy ahead. I have two girls with January birthdays, so that makes hand-me-downs work well. The Hanna Andersson stuff is more pricey than some brands, but they seem to wear it forever because of the fit, and it holds up well. I bought a clearance raincoat there for $15. My oldest wore it for three years, and by the time she outgrew it her little sister was ready for it. I think I’ll get 6 straight years out of it.  I am guilty of buying the little one new things so she’ll have some of… Read more »

Christine E.
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Christine E.

I save on  t-shirts and pants.  I splurge on things like sweaters (because i love them so… and they dress up an outfit) and shoes (because they need to be a special fit). 

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Our first was a girl and though I tried to buy “gender neutral” clothing, she looked like a boy until I stopped and bought girl clothes around 6 months. But at least it paid off when my second was a boy. Now, do you think he will enjoy purple? I did save some of the nicer clothes just in case some of my sisters someday have a baby. It’s just to hard to part with them all.

heidi
Guest

I am the master when it comes to this (4 boys). Winter BOOTS along with coats get splurged on because they don’t wear them enough to get worn. Those get handed down. And as the boys get older (11, 13, 15, 17) I’ve found the jeans can once again get handed down (but I still don’t spend a lot – Old Navy baby!) shirts get handed down but pants? Like track or athletic? Never make it through more than 2 kids. Honestly? 90% of their wardrobes come from ON.

Jenny
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Jenny

I really need to be better about #2, I have so many hand-me-downs that I just don’t like, and never put on my child, and yet I feel the need to keep them. Otherwise my sons wardrobe mostly consists of thrift store/goodwill finds.  I never thought I would be big into those places, but after finding so many things brand new (with tags even!) it’s hard to justify buying things at full price. I do love me some Old Navy though. 

Marieke
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Marieke

I splurge on uniform pants for my sons school because they last, and last, and last. The cheaper ones may be half the price but they only last a third as long (this is no exaggeration) But I love getting lots of tshirts (short and long sleeve) on sale for cheap — my son has big opinions on what kind of cool things should be on his shirts and this way he has a lot of options.

Chayary
Guest
Chayary

I have two and two, so we do a lot of hand-me-downs.  I store it all in plastic bins with lids, labeled on the outside size\gender.  I don’t separate by season, partially because so many things can be used for different seasons, partially just to keep things a little more simple.   I wish the kids would just outgrow things\seasons change on one weekend a year, helpfully marked on the calendar so I could get a babysitter and do all of the switchover in one fell swoop. The constant needing to get rid of too small stuff and replace with… Read more »

Ang
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Ang

I only have one very young little boy so I am taking notes on when to save and when to splurge. My only contribution is that shopping at consignment stores has saved us some $$. At this age (6 months) he definitely outgrows things before they wear out.

Fabs
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Fabs

Unfortunately, I don’t get alot of hand me downs, but what I do LOVE is our local consignment shop. I take alot of our outgrown clothes there and get credit in return to buy “new” to us clothes. So much fun. Sometimes I rack up enough credit that I’ll get cash and go buy new clothes at the store if I’m not finding what I need at the consignment shop.

Suzy
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Suzy

Hand me downs are great. Before I had my daughter, my sister-in-law gave me tons of them from her two daughters. We save on her day-to-day wear for school. If they come home with a set stain or messed, it doesn’t bother me because I know that I didn’t invest a ton in them. We always splurge for the holidays and on shoes.

Beth
Guest

We have alot of boys in our extended family so we have alot oh hand me downs. This would be great!

Kim Kas
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Kim Kas

I’m terrible at buying my daughter clothes. I just go to the store when she needs something and buy whatever I’m drawn to. She’s getting ready to turn 2, so I assume she’ll want more say in her clothing in the future, but so far, she wears whatever we put on her. I don’t wait for sales (though I don’t shop at expensive places to begin with), and I don’t bother with stocking up at the end of the season. I’m lazy, is what I’m saying…

EmilysHollow
Guest
EmilysHollow

I don’t have a lot of people to get hand-me-downs from, so I buy a lot of clothes second hand via sites like eBay or ThredUp. I specifically look for descriptions that promise everything is in decent condition. For now, I’m saving my favorite old clothes, and swapping or donating the rest. So far I think I’ve been able to save quite a bit of money on clothes so far. I even got some good winter coats and boots second hand. 

Robyn Adams
Guest
Robyn Adams

Love Old Navy and hand me downs!!! Kids out grow clothing so fast that the clothes are usually in good condition!

Shari
Guest
Shari

We definitely splurge on shoes. A trip to the pediatric podiatrist for an ingrown toenail negates the savings on cheap shoes!!! We try to save on most everything else – LOTS of hand me downs.

Mami2jcn
Guest
Mami2jcn

I buy clothes for my daughter in a larger size so she can wear them longer.  She doesn’t have hand-me-downs because she has older brothers.  I try to buy essentials for her like leggings that I can pair with different tops.

Jadzia@toddlerisms
Guest

Our kids’ wardrobes, except for shoes, are almost totally comprised of hand-me-downs.  Most of them are on their sixth kid by the time they get to us (lots of male cousins in the family)–but their moms buy super-high quality clothes and then take great care of them, so you can’t tell at all that they have been well-loved.  (Also, at this point there are so many of these hand-me-downs that my kids often don’t even get to wear anything once!) Before we moved to our current location (we just did an international move) and didn’t get so many family hand-me-downs,… Read more »

jodifur
Guest

School clothes I try to save on because they come home ruined, a lot.  I also love consignment stores for some of the more expensive stuff, like a sport coat that he will probably have on for 10 minutes.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Save: tshirts and pants…Splurge: nice coats! Always save on mittens and hats as well….and I splurge on my daughter, since she’s the only one I’ve got. 🙂

Carrie
Guest

I have a boy and a girl so hand-me-downs are not happening. I splurge and buy a whole line of mix and match clothing for my daughter. Then I can easily create outfits and my husband can usually manage to do the same (sometimes. Dear god, is that man blind?). I’m trying to think of ways I save. . . but I guess I don’t. I do use a lot of coupons and I don’t buy my son anything very expensive because he is old enough that he ruins things before he outgrows things. I was so mad last year… Read more »

Kristy
Guest
Kristy

Buying ahead at end of the season clearance sales, name brand consignment sales, plus I get tons of hand me downs from fellow moms at church.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Local “Mommy Markets”! I have purchased a variety of barely used clothes for $1 a pop. Even better than my local consignment shop.

Liz
Guest
Liz

I find that if I buy my little guy t-shirts in a slightly-too-big size (e.g. last year he was technically wearing 3Ts but I bought mainly 4T t-shirts), he can get 2 seasons out of them. I also fake the shirt-under-a-shirt look and stretch the wear on the t-shirts by actually layering a cheap, thin long-sleeved shirt under his favorite tees so he can wear them year-round till they get gross or he outgrows them. His clothes are either destined to be worn by the new baby due this summer if we’re cooking a boy, or his new baby boy… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

I’m lucky to live in a place where the climate stays pretty similar year-round, so “seasons” aren’t too much of an issue for me (except that hand-me-down tank tops and shorts won’t get much wear). I have boy-girl twins, and organization is by far the key. I have plastic see-thru boxes with girl 12-18, girl 18+, boy 6-9, etc. And I also have a big bin in their room for things to get tossed into as they are outgrown….and when it’s full, it’s time to pack it away / give it away and pull out the new stuff. Managing their… Read more »

Sarah
Guest

I hear you on the hand-me-downs! I have them coming from both sides of the family – more clothes than we need to be perfectly frank. But its great, because we have only needed to buy occasional items (and shoes). I have stuff sorted by size & type, and have a 2 1/2 year old and a 3 month old. So as soon as the 3 month old is done, they are going out the door! (Hopefully someone I know has a boy soon! I already have an entire box of stuff that is too small for the 3 month… Read more »

Amy
Guest
Amy

I buy ahead at the end of season sales for seasonal stuff (snow pants & boots, bathing suits). We also get a lot of hand-me-downs for our daughter and when buying to round out her wardrobe, I try to go gender neutral so we can reuse for our next kid (exp: once we hit a certain number of PJs, I move to the boy’s section) Thanks for the chance to win!

Cathy
Guest

I use hand me downs and consignments to keep my five children clothed, but I give boxes of clothing to friends and family instead of saving them for my children if there is more than a five year gap before someone can wear them. I would rather the clothing get used than be wasted in storage.

Joanna
Guest
Joanna

I have boy-girl twins, so they’re not wearing each others’ hand-me-downs, but we’ve gotten lots of hand-me-downs from relatives and I shop community consignment sales a lot, and a lot of these same principles apply. Except my boxes are labeled by size AND gender 😉

Liz
Guest
Liz

End of season sales are the best time to get good quality things like nice winter coats. I live in Colorado so the “end of season” sale in January is great for us since it will sometimes snow into May. Clearance racks are also my best friends! I almost exclusively shop sales racks for kids clothes.

Nessa
Guest
Nessa

Our 2.5 yr son is the first grandchild, so his wardrobe is still somewhat provided by friends and family-thank god! I supplement with the deals where I can find ’em by season. Baby boy 2 is coming in 1.5 mos, so thankfully I don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe and what doesn’t get used will go to the next baby cousin b/c we are done w/2. I will have to take Amy’s advice on tagging the bins with sizes AND seasons though, as I’m in process of digging through mine to see what I’ll be able to use… Read more »

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

I have a 2 1/2 year old girl and another one due in 4 weeks. Looking forward to reusing a lot of her cute clothes even if the seasons don’t quite align (but we live in California, so it shouldn’t be a problem)!  My problem is the sorting right now of my daughter’s old clothes. It’s a nightmare!

I love going to the semi-annual kids consignment sale to pick up some new-to-me clothes. And pretty soon I’ll be selling our old clothes too!

duchessbelle
Guest

I don’t have kids but I usually splurge on nice-ish jeans and save on basic tshirts, things that I know I can always fine (white v-neck tee, for example)

Megan
Guest
Megan

I loved your advice on knowing when to spend money and when to save.
I’m a first time mom of a 6 month little girl and before she was born I over spent on outfits now that I see how quickly she grows out of stuff or stains it with puke or poop I’m learning it’s ok to spend less.
I have been giving a friend who is due in march all my daughters out grown clothes, I’m only keeping a few key pieces I just can’t part with.

Abby
Guest
Abby

I’m big into sharing hand me downs – My son seems to be getting his wardrobe supplemented by his older cousin! I spulrge on a few sets of good solids pants (like jeans) and jammies, because they get used all the time. The rest I pick up as we go, when they’re on sale, and tkaing into consideration what I’ve been given by others. And I’m a big believer is sharing the wealth, what he outgrows will get passed on to another baby! (either sibling, cousin or friends baby!)

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

I’m pregnant with my 2nd so hand md owns are about to (hopefully) come into play. I sort by size but I feel like I need to make note of seasons or it’s going to be a big ole mess.

Love Old Navy!

Angela
Guest
Angela

Thrift stores, consignment shops, Craigslist, rummage sales and end of season sales. I’m always on the lookout for quality pieces for my son to grow into. I refuse to pay retail for clothing that will just get stained, and grown out of in 15 minutes. The things I do splurge for I will use coupons and combine them with sales.

Emily Murphy
Guest
Emily Murphy

Consign, consign, consign ~ special occasion & play clothes!  I find that the best play clothes are the ones I’ve spent little money on, are in decent shape and I absolutely don’t care if they don’t make it through a season.  As for special occasion, they’re usually worn once, so they’re in excellent condition.