The changing of the seasons is also the changing of the guard for clothes. It marks the time to sort through wardrobes. This is a task that I do not look forward to in our house. In part because of the curse of the hand-me-down clothes.
In our home, first, we go through all of the clothes and clean out all of the items that no longer fit or are no longer in quality condition. That is the fast part of the process. The trouble comes next.
Enter the bags of Hand-Me-Down clothes. Bags of opportunity filled with free things graciously given to us rather than the second-hand store. Bags of decisions that workout our values as a family and involve hearing the word “no” – a lot.
Hand-Me-Down Clothes: The Blessings
Don’t get me wrong; I love hand-me-down clothes. I cannot even imagine how much financial blessing we have received through the generosity of church friends. We live on a pastor’s salary for a family of five. There have been many years where I have only needed to supplement at the store with a few other items. Just buying shoes for three growing feet is a significant expense. As my girls grow older, the hand-me-downs are not going as far.
My children have had the joy of experiencing clothes that I would have never bought them. Like the very impractical high-top, pink sequined converse style shoes that my daughter instantly fell in love with from one such bag. She has worn them for as long as her toes will fit into them and they are falling apart. Plus the extra athletic gear, special pajamas, and fancy dresses that would not have made my meager clothing budget.
Counting the Cost of Hand-Me-Down Clothes
Yet, there are costs that come with these free clothes. Some are financial, but more of the costs are time and relationship. There is a financial cost. When clothes are cheap and plentiful, we don’t exercise as much care for them. We wear them for an hour or so and don a new outfit with the old one going in the wash. All the extra washing makes for more water bills and more time spent on laundry.
Then, there is the felt need to replace something when you outgrow it, or it is no longer usable. It is hard to recognize that the special item (like a brand-name sweatshirt, or fancy dress, or high-end shoes) was a splurge, not a necessity. We can enjoy it while we have it without holding too tightly to the need for it. Our culture is one that focuses on consumption, on the acquisition of more and more. It is a big problem when it comes to clothes.
Keep Only What You Love And Can Take Care Of
The question I ask my children over and over again is inspired by Kon Mari: “Do you LOVE it?” Not just do you like it, but do you really love it? If not, let it go to someone else who will appreciate it.
(Have you not heard of Kon Mari? You can find out more here.
If we keep everything that fits and that we like, we end up with 30 short-sleeved t-shirts. How many of those shirts do we actually wear? Maybe nine shirts actually get worn. Then there are those “surprise” finds that are uncovered when we clean out the drawers which were buried under the other t-shirts. That wonderful, special shirt that you forgot that you had and have now outgrown.
Plus, the lovely chaotic state of the dresser drawers. Face it; children are not the best at keeping their dresser drawers neat and organized. All the time that you spend washing, drying, and carefully folding their clothes so that they can quickly shove them into a drawer and complete their chore of putting them away. (I know my kids are not the only ones.) The realization that the whole precious Saturday that was invested in re-folding everything in their drawers and organizing their closet so that they would be empowered to keep things clean was squandered within a week.
Hand-Me-Down Clothes: The Curse of Too Much
The main culprit …too much stuff. Without gifts of clothes, my children would have a well-constructed minimalist wardrobe. We would venture to the store looking for specific pieces that would give us the most flexibility and value. My children would easily have one-fifth of the clothes that they have now.
The blessing would be that it wouldn’t take all Saturday to reorganize their clothes. It also means that there would be room for them to actually put their clothes away neatly. It means that they couldn’t go through 6 distinct outfits in a day because they would run out of clothes to wear. Less time would be spent pouring over clothes and deciding what to wear because there just are not as many clothes to choose from!
When we open up the bag of hand-me-down blessings, we discover piles of t-shirts that we like. The self-limitations are now very different. In the store, they understand when Mom says that they can only pick four shirts, that it is only four shirts because they cost money. If the shirts are free, they don’t think of any of the other costs.
Beyond purchasing or acquiring, the costs of owning too many things is hard for adults to come to terms with – let alone our children, but it is such a valuable lesson to be learned.
It takes time and energy to tend to things. Time and energy that could be better spent in other areas of our lives.
The more clothes we have, the more decisions we have to make. For children struggling with decision-making, decision-fatigue or executive thinking skill deficits – this is a challenge.
Hand-Me-Down Clothes: Bags of Conversation about Your Family’s Values
Hand-Me-Down clothes are full of conversation prompts as to what our family’s values are about modesty. Each family is unique, and the clothes that are fine in one family might not be okay in another. Children are individual as well. Clothes that are modest on one child are not modest on another built differently.
Unfortunately, with a lot of hand-me-down clothes, I find myself having to say “no” a lot. Your assessment that a dress is too short is easier for your daughter to accept when it is a dress in a store, than when it is a dress that you both know a friend’s parents let her wear. Some rules they understand. No clothes that have writing across your bottom are allowed at our house.
Then, there are the shirts with messages or with brand-names that promote a worldview that we don’t agree with. Those become the challenging and thoughtful conversations. What messages do we want to convey with our clothes? What companies and ideas do we want to support? In a store, there isn’t as much time and motivation for those conversations as when the clothing item is yours unless you say no.
Saying Yes to the Kingdom
Saying “no” is not something I want to do a lot of as a parent. We want to be able to say ‘yes’ as parents. I want to help my children choose the path, idea, or thing that is better. We want them to see the abundant life that is in Christ, the freedom of following Kingdom values – not to be focused on the denial.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33
Allowing our children to have too many clothes accustoms them to think that the time & money spent on all these clothes is normal as well. Celebrate the generous gifts of others to your children. At the same time, count the costs in time, money, and values. Don’t be afraid to draw the line so that you and your children keep your focus on the Kingdom.