What my child and I have learned from hand-me-downs
When I was pregnant and preparing for my baby, I did what seemed sensible—I walked into one of those big-box baby stores and threw my money down on a couple packs of newborn onesies, a giant carton of diapers, and some tiny receiving blankets. The only thing from that haul I ended up using was the diapers. Live and learn.
As my baby continued to grow exponentially, I learned that raising a child to the age of 18 in the United States cost around $245,000—a figure that doesn’t include college tuition. Your mileage may vary, but I think you will find this to be a low-end estimate unless you have a lot of help from family. I’ve done my best to shrink that number for my family (at least a little bit) by buying brand-new clothes and toys on extremely rare occasions.
So far, I have found almost everything we’ve needed through The Freecycle Network, Craigslist, “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups, online parents’ groups, meetups, and from friends whose kids are a little older than mine.
In some cases, we have been at least the fourth or fifth family to make use of the items, and it’s lovely to imagine their history. The average family spends about $100 per month on clothing. If we spend about that much annually instead of monthly, we can save more than $20,000 over those 18 years. Most single-parent households are on some kind of budget, and this is an area where it is easy to save a lot.
I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—I once offered a new mom friend some hand-me-downs, and she recoiled with shock. It was an eye-opening experience for me and a reminder that values sometimes differ, but it works for us! And we not only have saved a lot of money but also have gotten these other benefits:
1. We are so grateful. I’ve seen this culture of hand-me-downs bring about unprompted gratitude in my child. He likes to remind me who gave us things and who used to play with or wear those things. It’s so sweet to see how delighted he is about that. This gratitude also helps open up conversations about everything that went into creating and producing these things.
2. We feel part of a community. We may not have a lot of money, but we are rich in friends. It’s like having an extended family who passes clothes and toys around and around. It has really strengthened some of our friendships. When the world is so busy, it’s hard to make time, and trading items is a great motivator to keep getting together and building friendships.
3. We divert waste. It’s a sad truth that landfills are full of old toys and clothing. I’m so glad to be a part of extending the life of these things as long as possible, and it’s one of my main motivators for remaining determined to find homes for things when we are done with them.
4. We move beyond being superficial. This keeps us in touch with what is really important. It’s easy to get caught up in the seemingly perfect lives we see on social media, with parents and kids freshly clothed and homes brimming with the latest trends. But none of that really matters. I relish the time and money we save by not even trying to keep up with that.
5. We get to hand things down, too. When people give us their used—but useful—items, they are also giving us the gift of being able to pass those things on to others ourselves. It is very powerful for a Solo Mom on a budget to be able to generously share big bags of colorful clothes and toys with another mom. This has also shown my child that things are meant to be passed on and used as much as possible. And the knowledge that someone passed things on to him has made it easier for him to practice passing things onto the next kid.
6. We realize how much people want to give and help. I’ve found that my friends want to help my little family much more than they are often able to. Sharing hand-me-downs has been a really easy way for some friends to help care for us. We get useful clothes and toys, they get rid of things they no longer need, and we all get to spend a little time together. It’s a win-win-win!
7. We learn the life cycle of things and how to repair them. Some toys and clothes last through many uses while others seem to be made for only one. My child and I have shared many teachable moments figuring out how to repair toys, mend clothes, and research together what to do with these things when they seem beyond repair.
Beck List is an environmental scientist and writer living with her five-year-old future comedian in California. She has lived through plenty of her own trials and tribulations—and you can read more tips on her blog, BeckList.
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