Saturday, September 6, 2008

Clothing the kids

Clothing four children inexpensively is not something that can be done without planning and organization. (So much of what frugality can accomplish is impossible without organization.)

Here is a picture of some of the hand-me-downs I've saved for the kids. (Yes, I said some.) The kids range in age from 8 months to 8 years old - that's quite a bit of clothing to hold onto! We have a large-ish garage (2 1/2 car) with shelving covering one side. Fully 1/3 of it is taken up by clothing and shoes, boxed by gender and size. We have a few boxes in the attic of the house. Coats, gloves, hats and scarves are in a big rubbermaid tote in the basement. 
I've (mostly) used copy paper boxes, labeled, and put in order by size from left to right. Because I have such a large volume of clothing to choose from, I only save items that 1. I like 2. are unstained 3. are in good repair. I don't throw away clothing that I've chosen not to pass down. Instead, I either save it for our annual garage sale (another box in the garage!), or, if it's unsalvageable, I tear it up to use for cleaning rags. To repeat myself, because this point cannot be overstated, I only keep clothing that looks like it hasn't been passed down! I don't want my children to feel shabby, and having a large-ish family, it's important to me that my children look well-cared-for. 

Saving clothes to pass down is only ONE part of the clothing system that I use. Getting the clothes for the oldest child to pass down is another matter - and being the cheapskate that I am, I do not pay full retail! 

Please forgive the blurry picture - Gracie wouldn't let me put her down. (I know, you're surprised!) 

This is the keystone of the system - the hand-me-up box. I got the name from a couple of friends, and the idea from The Tightwad Gazette. When I'm out garage sale-ing, I keep a sharp eye out for clothing that is a size ahead of what the oldest child is currently wearing. (For the boys, Adam wears an 8 right now. For girls, Grace is currently in 18 months.) For younger children, I have to keep the season in mind, too. I know the bigger sizes (starting at about 4 or 5) will be worn for a full year, so I can buy Adam's clothes for summer or winter wear. But for Gracie, it's another matter. I have to make my best guess about what size she'll be in the spring, when she'll need warm-weather clothes. But at garage sale prices, I can afford to make a few mistakes. I can always choose to sell wrong-season clothes at our annual garage sale, or I can keep them, awaiting the next child who might "line up" with that size in the right season. 

In any case, when I have enough of the next upcoming size in the hand-me-up box, I "break out" a new box, label it with size and gender, and put it on the shelf. Grace has a full box of 18 month winter clothes that she hasn't worn yet. In the hand-me-up box, Adam has some size 8 jeans (he was a 7 last winter), tees, and sweatshirts. He also has some size 10 items waiting. There are some larger sized (2T-4T) items in there for Grace, too - things that were so inexpensive and so cute that I couldn't pass them up. 

When each season changes, I "go shopping in the garage" and pull out clothes for everyone, putting away out of season clothes. The boys get a big kick out of getting a whole new wardrobe all at once, and I LOVE not spending a ton of money on clothing. As a side benefit, the kids closets are rarely crowded with outgrown clothes, since I can just rotate them out to the garage mid-season, and rotate in clothes in a larger size. 

In the future, I'd like to have a clothing inventory. I'm thinking a spiral notebook, with one size/gender on each page, and a brief list of clothing, so I know if I'm short on 3T jeans, or size 6 sweatshirts. But that will have to wait until I clear my craft table and paint the bedroom.  

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