Thrift Shops and Hand-Me Downs, How To Organise

by Catherine Fournier

Once you've made all those incredibly clever and far-sighted thrift and consignment shop purchases for yourself and your family,(see previous article, Fitting Into a Budget) what are you going to do with them? If you've bought a great pair of shoes for your son to wear to school next year, where are you going to keep them until then? Better yet, where can you keep them that you won't forget you have them and go out and buy another pair? When your well-to-do cousin asks if you'd mind getting her child's old clothes, or your sister passes on all of her infant clothing, how to you decide what to keep and where to keep it?

In this article, I will describe how I have solved these problems, and the 'principles' of clothing selection and storage that I've determined, even though this is a very grand term for some fairly simple stuff.

Some of the Challenges

First of all, you should be aware that there are a few corollaries of Murphy's Law (whatever can go wrong, will) that apply to clothing yourself and your family.
First, whatever you throw away, you will discover a need for next week.
Second, if you have a surplus of boy's size 6 t-shirts, that is all that will be given to you, or that you will see for the next three months.
Third, anything you buy, you will find a cheaper, better version of a week later.
Fourth and last, you will like the idea of second hand clothing much more than your children.
These are just the facts of life. It makes little sense to get too upset over them. If you find something cheaper, console yourself with the knowledge that you saved some money.

Sorting and Selecting

To begin, collect a number of cardboard boxes that can stack on top of each other. Cardboard is better than plastic, it doesn't trap moisture and allow mildew formation. The large boxes with lids that paper for copiers comes in are perfect, as are peach and other fruit boxes. Each box should be marked with a sex, age and season (if you have that many boxes) For example: Boy, Size 6, Spring and Summer. I keep separate boxes for shoes, boots, and sandals, with many sizes all mixed together.

Find a good place to store these boxes. In your attic, if it is accessible, is excellent, it is dry and warm. The basement is not so good, it tends to be damp and cold. Children's closets or under their beds is a good place too. Sort through your children's drawers, and take out everything that is out of season, and doesn't fit them anymore.

Will it fit a younger sibling sometime in the future? If so, put it in the proper box. If it will not fit, or will not match seasons, or isn't suitable for some other reason, put it in a plastic bag for your local thrift shop.

Now, when you are given hand-me-downs, immediately sort them into two piles (not in front of the donor!) One pile is the 'NoWay, Mom, I'm Not WearingThat' pile. This can go immediately into those plastic bags for the thrift shop. The second pile is a 'Yes, this is OK' pile. It will be sorted again.

Now, sort it into age and sex piles. (None of this will take as long as it sounds. I can zip through several bags of clothing in half an hour) Then, take a look in the appropriate box. Do you already have enough shirts in there? Are any in the new pile in better shape, or a better colour for the child? Replace as necessary.

How do you decide how many shirts (for example) you need in each box? Well, every age group needs different amounts of different clothing. Babies need more sleepers than children need pajamas. Little boys need more t-shirts than little girls, your husband needs more dress shirts than your teenaged son. How many of each depends on how often you want to do laundry. A reasonable time period between doing laundry is one week. So each person needs enough clothing to last a week. For a small boy, that means about 10 t-shirts.

There are two reasons to put your discarded clothing into plastic bags for the thrift shop. First, it is a charitable thing to do. Other people need inexpensive clothing too, and what may not suit your needs may be exactly what they do need. A lot of second hand clothing is shipped overseas too. It is wasteful and unstewardship-like to simply throw away something that is still serviceable.

Secondly, remember that Murphy's Law about regretting what you've thrown away? Things in bags waiting to go to the thrift shop can be recovered. Things in the dump can not. Trust me, you don't want to.

'Shopping in the Boxes'

Every change of season, repeat the search and sort through your clothing drawers and those of your children.

(I've just realised that by referring to them as drawers, I'm probably greatly amusing someone who uses a different term and thinks that 'drawers' refers to underclothing. Please let me know what word you use to refer to those sliding bins that fit into a piece of furniture in which you can store items.) File all this out-grown and out of season clothing in the appropriate boxes first.

When that is done, and each child's wardrobe is practically bare, go 'shopping in the boxes' before you go shopping in the stores. With the child beside you, look through the box that best fits and take out what they need. If they truly hate an object, you can afford to leave it there for the next child (this is why you do this part with each individual child, so that they can't 'contaminate' each other with their opinions. This becomes more important as they grow older.) Once you have filled as much of their wardrobe as possible from the boxes, update your shopping list. Take a look in the next age-and-size box for that child while you're at it. What is this box short of? Add those items to your list as well.

Adult Clothes

Since adults don't grow (and if we do, it's just so that there's more of us to love, and therefore a good thing. Right?) a collection of boxes as described above is not really necessary. A simple Spring and Summer/ Fall and Winter set of boxes is probably sufficient. A periodic sorting of our wardrobes is still necessary though.

Twice a year, at the major season changes, go through your wardrobe and ruthlessly divide it into three piles. The first pile is clothing that you still wear frequently, fits well, and is appropriate for the coming season. The second pile are all those clothes that:
You never really felt comfortable in,
Is hopelessly out of fashion,
Is too small,
Or honestly doesn't suit you.
This pile will join all those other clothes on their way to the thrift shop. Someone else should benefit from your mistakes.

The third pile are things that you can't bear to part with, such as:
Anything you once loved, but haven't for whatever reason worn for a year,
Any fashion which has just passed,
Or anything that you're just tired of, but is still good.
These items go into your storage boxes. Clean them, but don't bother to iron them before packing them away. You will greet them in six months or so as long lost friends.

Winter coats should also be cleaned at the end of the season and hung in a closet, along with winter boots, well stuffed with paper towels.

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