Kids outgrow their clothes faster than you can say “A, B, C.” That’s why my friends, family, and I are such fans of hand-me-downs; they help save my wallet and the planet, all at the same time. Even so, I’m the first to admit that the constant flow of clothing in and out of the house can quickly overwhelm. More than once I’ve unearthed some cute hand-me-down hidden at the back of the closet only after my daughter has outgrown it, or found an adorable baby outfit that would have been perfect for my niece, were she not now a toddler. These experiences led me to develop a storage and management system, so that never again will I miss a hand-me-down expiration date.
- Storage bins (preferably clear drawers)
- Files or other type of sturdy dividers
- Labels and pen (preferably a chalk pen)
Remember my story about unearthing expired hand-me-downs? This mishap was the result of sloppy storage. I simply shoved the clothes, still stacked in the cardboard box they came in, into the closet, with no labels and no way to see what’s inside. Lesson learned. Though, aesthetically speaking, plastic is not my favorite, clear plastic bins are now my go-to for hand-me downs, as they help me quickly take inventory. Choose shallow boxes so clothes won’t get buried. Containers with drawers are even better, as they allow easy access.
1. Establish a filing system.
The secret to successful hand-me-down storage is classification. Thinking along these lines, take a moment to examine if you’re on the receiving or giving end of hand-me-downs—or both. Are you mostly collecting clothes from friends? Or are you handing clothing down to someone, like another of your own children or a friend’s younger child? All these factors will affect how best to organize your hand-me-downs.
Start with the obvious. All hand-me downs fall under two majors categories: clothes that are too big for your child and those that are too small. These you may sort according to their size or season or both. Those that are too small need to be stored until you amass enough to justify the postage or until your next trip to visit family. These hand-me-downs you may divide not just by size but also by gender. Or you may simply divide them, as I do, by the name of younger child for whom they are intended.
Here is the taxonomy I came up with, starting with the most general grouping:
- In or Out: “In” is for too-large hand-me-downs waiting for my child to grow into; “Out” is for too-small clothes waiting to be given away to a smaller child.
- Winter or Summer: Is the clothing ideal for colder or warmer temperatures?
- Size/Gender/Recipient: What size is the clothing you’re saving? Is it intended for a boy or girl? If intended for someone specific, what’s his/her name?
2. Sort clothes.
Now that you have established your organizational system, sort your clothes into each category: Those that are coming in for you child or going out for someone else’s; those for summer/winter, etc.
3. Fold clothes the Kondo way.
Having found great success organizing my own clothes according to the Marie Kondo method, I also employ them with hand-me-downs. If you have not read her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” (and you should), the basic principle involves folding clothing in such a way to allow each item to sit upright and be neatly inserted into the drawers from front to back (rather than stacking pieces one on top of another). Not only does this method save space, it allows you to see all your clothes at once, instead of having to dig through layers.
4. Affix labels to bins and files.
Besides easy access, the Kondo method also allows you to organize and label your clothes just like files. Within each drawer, I literally divide the clothes with manila folders.
- Write or print your labels. Be as creative as you want, but make sure you can easily read them. Consider blackboard labels that can be easily amended as your child grows.
- Cut files to size, so that they fit in the drawer.
- Affix “In” and “Out” labels to the designated boxes; affix sizing or recipient name labels to manila files.
5. Place clothes in bin and insert file dividers.
Place folded clothing in the right bin and insert file labels. Mark one bin for summer clothing (I simply used a yellow folder to designate warm-weather clothing) and another for winter clothing (with a blue folder). Though it’s more work now, in the long run developing an organizational system that works for you will dramatically reduce the time you spend on hand-me-downs.
Though rewarding, children definitely make your household more hectic. Here are more organizational tips for living happily with kids.