Hand Me Down Hacks


Fall is in the air and temperatures are cooling down. It’s time to retire the shorts and tanks for the season. I don’t know about you, but the first cool weather of the season always leads to the same routine in our house. Reluctantly, the girls dig in their drawers for something other than shorts. Both emerge five minutes later for breakfast wearing what were at one time well-fitting pants. Lucky for the little one, I am well prepared for this. That evening I ventured to the garage wall-o-storage and found the Rubbermaid tub neatly labeled with a six. I took it upstairs, opened it up in her room, and hit the jackpot. Problem solved!

Having two girls means there are plenty of hand-me-downs for the little sister. My girls are three and a half years apart, with one born in the fall and the other in the spring. I was given advice with my first to pack up the clothes she outgrew and keep them ready for the next one. I assumed there would be a next one, but there were no guarantees. There were certainly no guarantees it would be another girl! The Rubbermaid containers stacked up quickly and took up a lot of valuable real estate.

By the time number two came along, I was praying for another girl just to not have to buy all new stuff or figure out what to do with all the clothes sitting in storage. I also then cursed my former self for the way I just sort of haphazardly threw the clothes and other items into boxes and shoved them into a corner. Nothing was labeled, everything seemed to be halfway folded, and the tubs were bursting so full I could barely even move them.

Now that I have been through several cycles of updating wardrobes, I like to think I have learned a thing or two. The bottom line is that more prep on the front end makes the process easier leading into the second use.

Hand-Me Do’s: Storage 101

How and where to store all the clothes, supplies, and toys your kids outgrow is half the battle. It’s tough to know what you will need again and when you will need it. Below are my must-have supplies and tips for getting the most out of your hand-me-downs.

  • Always us an airtight container. Invest in plastic containers with lids that lock into place. Handles are great. Clear Rubbermaid storage boxes hold a lot and let you see what you are working with when you stack them up in a closet, basement, attic, or garage. The space-saver sealed bags are also a genius idea. You do not want dirt, dust or bugs getting into any of your hand-me-downs.
  • Make sure your tubs are not too heavy. Think about where you will store these boxes. Plastic tubs come in all shapes and sizes. Is it more beneficial for you to have fewer large bins or more small ones? The boxes will get heavy, so plan ahead. Carrying them up and down stairs or a ladder will not make for a good experience if the boxes are too wide or full.
  • Label your boxes. Labels don’t have to be fancy, but you should make the size of the items visible from both the side and the end of your container. I use a simple notecard or sticky-note with the size written in marker and slip it in-between the side and the clothes to keep it protected. Placing the size info on the inside keeps it easy to read and it will travel with the clothes when you need to move them or reuse the container. There’s no tape needed and no permanent writing on the box.
  • Sort things by season. If you have the time and patience, sorting clothes by season is really helpful. When kids are young they go through things so fast that you may not have a lot of one particular size. Once they get older you might have an entire calendar year in the same size. If you live in a climate that experiences multiple seasons, separating the fleece from the tanks can save you some time later.
  • Keep all of the parts. When disassembling bigger things like cribs, swings, and bouncers, having all the pieces will be critical for the next use. Take a small zipper bag and put every single nut and bolt inside. Use painter’s tape to stick it to one of the large pieces. If you have the assembly instructions, put those in there as well. If not, labeling pieces with the tape is also helpful for later.

Hand-Me Dont’s

Hindsight is 20/20, of course. When it’s time to make the change and pack up the drawers, you will want to pack it ALL up. You just never know what you will need for the next kid, right? Wrong. There are some things that just don’t need to be saved, like the following:

  • White onesies. This is a baby’s wardrobe staple but they just aren’t built for the long haul. Babies outgrow them quickly and destroy them. They are also dirt cheap. You will think that they’re small so you can fit several in the box. If you do that now then you will open it later to a crusted pile.
  • Torn or stained clothing. You might look at something and say to yourself: “that’s just a small tear, I’ll fix it when we need it again,” or “that stain isn’t that noticeable.” I’m just going to save you the time and tell you the truth now. You won’t fix it later, and you will care about that stain. If it’s something easy to replace, just toss it now. If it’s something for a special occasion, a family heirloom, or an especially pricey item, then take the time to treat it immediately. Don’t even pack it up until you have addressed the issue with a needle and thread or some stain remover.
  • Worn-in shoes. Shoes are designed to mold to feet, so if they are well-loved then it’s best to toss them. Obviously, babies use them for fashion more than function, so the same may not be true for those tiny cloth coverings or even certain seasonal wear for older kids. Use your best judgment on the quality before taking up space in storage.
  • Socks and underwear. I don’t think I really need to go into much detail here. Just trust me on the fact that every kid deserves fresh socks and underwear.

How To Pass It On

No more hand-me-downs are in your future, so now what do you do? Kids come with so much stuff. If you don’t have a sibling to pass things down to there are several alternatives that should be on your radar beyond garage sales and Goodwill. Some of these involve making a bit of that investment back but there are also many agencies and people in your area that would be grateful to have anything you no longer need.

  • There are several local, seasonal consignment sales every year. Think of this as using a retail store to sell your used goods. You take everything to the store, the store sells it, and then they take a percentage cut of each sale. The prep for you is similar to a garage sale as you need to inventory and price things yourself.  Check out these pro tips and hacks if you want to try your hand at this.
  • Use your local buy, sell, and trade groups. If you live in a big neighborhood like me, this might be a great resource to recycle things among your friends and neighbors. These groups are typically closed Facebook groups open to only residents or members of a particular network. They are often based in neighborhoods, churches, or school districts.
  • Don’t forget Facebook marketplace. Similar to buy, sell, and trade groups, this is open and not specific to any one group of people. It’s Facebook’s version of Craigslist for their users. This includes an easy-to-use search feature, plus you can determine who sees your posts and how any exchanges will happen.
  • You can give them to a friend in need. Be a great friend and pass along the things you have to an expectant mother. Ask if there are things she needs or better yet, offer up a shopping experience for her in your storage bins.
  • Donations are always needed. Foster care, daycares, women’s shelters, and the Red Cross are some examples of agencies that are always in need of donations for mothers and their young ones. Many of these donations are tax-deductible and the items will go into circulation immediately. It’s a great feeling when the items you no longer need can be put to use by someone in need.

With two girls, I do sometimes feel bad for the little one. Hand-me-downs make my life easier but not hers. Granted, some of her secondhand things have never been worn, but it’s still not the same as picking out her own new clothes. I try hard to balance the amount of new stuff for each of them. As they get older, they are also more involved in the process. In our family, big sister likes packing things up and little sister likes telling big sister exactly what she wants to have. They are also a lot closer in size now, which will likely put an end to this sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to get that space back in the garage.