"Mom, It's snowing! My boots don't fit anymore!"
"Mom! My snow pants are too tight!"
"Mom, these pants don't fit me any more. I need new ones."
All-too-familiar phrases. My children never stay one size long enough to outwear their things. They are constantly growing, even though we have threatened to feed them only once a day.
In our family with four children, clothes are always in demand. To accommodate the needs of everyone – including my bank account – I have to be thrifty and highly organized. I buy only secondhand clothes, and I accept all offers of free clothing. I also encourage aunts, uncles and grandparents to always buy underwear and socks for birthdays and Christmas. All unused clothing goes into storage for the next child.
I try to limit my trips to "the closet" to four times a year. "The closet" is in the back corner of our basement. Two grown men could fit lying down foot to foot. It is as high as the ceiling and stands back in the darkest corner like something out of a horror movie, waiting to devour its next victim. Without a doubt, it is my least favorite place to be.
Inside are boxes stacked on more boxes filled with coats, boots, mittens, hats and clothes to fit almost any size imaginable. If I dyed everything green I could outfit a small army and have enough left over for their families.
As a season shows signs of changing, I pluck up my courage and venture down to the abyss. I put as many lights on as possible because (a) I hate basements, and (b) bright lights usually scare away bugs. Doors opened and sleeves rolled up, I plunge into the closet and drag boxes out one at a time. Each must be opened and inspected. Anything that might fit a child this season is thrown in a pile. Each box is rearranged and put back full. It is always a satisfying feeling to look at the closet and see it neatly organized – and not overflowing.
When I turn around, the dream is shattered. I am confronted with a clothing mountain. A huge pile has accumulated and the children are almost due home from school. Past years have taught me that it's hopeless to try to hide what I have been doing. As they race downstairs, I just stand back and watch the fun begin.
"Wow, Mom! Can we try it on?" I shrug my shoulders. They need no encouragement to try "new" things on. I slump down on the stairs and watch what tickles their fancy. My daughter loves to put things on her head so everything is tried there first. My youngest son likes to layer things, and he ends up looking like the Michelin Man very quickly. My second oldest son likes pink, and nothing pink is left alone. My oldest just lunges in and tries everything on.
Content that they'll be busy for at least an hour, I go upstairs to start step two. Each closet and dresser must be sorted through to eliminate too-small sizes and make room for new clothes. Oblivious to the noises emanating from the basement, I begin to throw clothes over my shoulder. Before long, I have another pile in the hall upstairs. For a short time, the dressers close properly, and I have found all the dirty underwear and socks stuffed in the corners of their closets. Four dressers are organized and clean. Empty – but clean.
As suppertime approaches, I make my way over the clothes and head for the kitchen. As usual, the job is too big for one day, and I call it quits. Soon they will tire of the basement frolic, and I can send them upstairs to begin again. Four times a year, I am spared entertaining anyone. The clothes will do it for me.
Tomorrow, I will organize the mess. Each child will be given a pile of clothes to try on (in their respective sizes this time). After we decide what is staying out and what is going back in, I can start stuffing things back into the closet. Every possibility for the next three months must be thought of before I close the doors to the closet. Once they are closed, they will remain closed until next season. Only one thing on earth can make me open the doors early.
"Julia, I have some clothes for the kids – if you think you could use them."
Could I use them? Of course I could. I'll invite my friend over for tea, thankful she thought of us and very happy to add to our collection.
Advice for Thrifty Parents
- Secondhand shopping saves lots of money. Children generally do not wear their clothes long enough to wear them out, and many people donate to companies who then resell at a reasonable price. If it is "Osh Kosh" or "Baby Gap" you want, have no fear. A secondhand store featuring consignment clothes will have what you need and want.
- Passing clothes from child to child takes more time than buying new. It means mending, cleaning stains and properly shaving sweaters so they don't get bally. Passing clothes on also must take each child's needs and wants into account. Buy more than what you need when shopping so children have a choice when you return home. There is nothing more fun than trying on clothes. What doesn't fit or isn't wanted this year can be put into storage – it may be next year's hottest item.
- Organization is also essential. I recommend plastic Rubbermaid containers. They keep the musty smell out of clothes and reduce the need to wash things more than once. Keeping the boxes filled according to size or season is another good idea. There is nothing worse than finding an outfit after a child has outgrown it.
- Children grow so fast and rarely wear out their clothes. I have a circle of friends with whom I exchange clothes. I rarely get clothes from the same person I give to, but it all evens out in the end. Good luck.