Yes, I Do Want Your Hand-Me-Downs
It gives me a warm fuzzy happy feeling that I can’t fully explain.
One of my daughters favorite dresses is a long sleeve, green Mini Boden dress with hot pink and white weiner dogs on it. It's cotton, with a gentle, perfectly worn softness to it, because it had been her cousin’s. My son has a few pairs of little khaki cargo pants that arrived folded up in a box from a former co-worker, sent from the east coast. The drawstrings at the top of these pants, that come in a few shades of beige and navy blue, are off-center and frayed.
I love hand-me-downs. They’re cost effective and if you have access to them, better than fast fashion, plus kids grow shockingly fast. Seriously, my kids might wear something five or six times before it’s too small, and I know I’m not alone. Thank goodness for the stuff other kids have already grown out of.
When I was pregnant with my first child, none of my other friends had kids. Being the first to have a baby was exciting, but difficult. I had so many questions. I was confused about what to put on my registry, specifically what a car seat/stroller “adapter” was, how my body would change, what labor would be like. Most of all I felt overwhelmed knowing that, as a childless 26-year-old, I didn’t even know what my questions should be.
And then, in the early days, my sister-in-law started showing up at my place with bags and bags of hand-me-downs while her older kids were at school (a milestone I couldn’t even imagine). The clothes were folded so nicely, they smelled like her detergent, and they were so soft and had been perfectly worn-in by my niece, who I could recall seeing as a little baby, wearing some of these items I was now unpacking for my own three-month-old. In these moments, I felt like another mom was truly helping me, in a simple but concrete way. I would say to myself, half joking, half serious, “Well, things might be overwhelming, but at least she has a significant supply of really cute onesies for the foreseeable future.”
Now that I have some more friends who have kids, I’ve started a bit of an informal hand-me-down circle. I pull out all the clothes that my kids have grown out of, and once I’ve accumulated enough, I start packing a bag for local friends, or a box to ship to friends or family who live farther away. Sometimes it stings a little to pack away items that hold so many memories, but it makes my heart happy to know that I can set them aside for a friend’s kids or new baby. It turns what could be a sad moment into something happy. I love getting pictures via text, or spotting pictures on Instagram in a baby or toddler wearing something from my kids. It gives me a warm fuzzy happy feeling that I can’t fully explain.
Every time I get hand-me-downs in a bigger size from moms who have older kids, I still find it hard to believe that my kids will fit into them. I remember looking at 3T/4T size clothes for my son, the little cargo pants, the old man sweaters, the dinosaur T-shirts, and thinking somewhat delusionally that it would be a while before he fit into them, and I wouldn’t need them for a long time. But sure enough, I found myself unpacking those same items and being surprised at both his height and the — cliché alert — passage of time. It’s a reminder that they will be entering a new phase soon enough, and this phase will end. A parent who has been through it is sending you a bit of love and something small to help you out.
Now, don’t give it all away. If you’re too connected to a piece to let it go, don’t. As much as I am all for getting clothes out of your home and into someone else’s home to make another mom happy, everyone should have a box of special clothes you would never part with if that is something they want to do. And when you do get a box of hand-me-downs, always ask if they want them back! Usually, they will say, “Absolutely not. My house is crowded enough as it is. Thank you for taking these off my hands.”
There’s so much about parenting that you really can’t be prepared for, no matter how many Instagram accounts you follow or books you read — you just have to live through it. The first time your baby gets a cold, the first time you leave them with a babysitter, the first time they scream and cry for what feels like hours and you realize after trying everything, you have no idea why. And that’s just early parenthood — the challenges never end. For me, the one thing that does make me feel a tiny bit more prepared is thinking about that next box of clothes in my kids’ closet in the next size up, waiting to be unpacked.
Taylor Siering is a mom of two from New York City, currently living in the midwest. She is a PhD student who studies the intersection of professional work and gender, with a specific focus on the experiences of mothers and motherhood. She spends a lot of time thinking about mom content, pop culture, social media trends and her other random, hyper-specific interests.