What Happened to Hand-Me-Downs?

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When I was a kid, I loved going to Memphis for holidays. Not only did I get to visit my grandparents and all my cousins, but I almost always came away with a stash of new-to-me clothes from my well-dressed older cousins. Well, I think they were well-dressed; if nothing else they were dressed, and thanks to them, so was I. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so buying new clothes for me and my brothers was not an option we could afford, especially when we had plenty of family and friends to hand down their hand-me-downs.

I know hand-me-downs get a bad rap sometimes — I mean, everyone loves getting something new, but I don’t remember complaining, and I’m certain my mom and dad didn’t either. Passing clothes around was just part of raising kids in the ’80s and ’90s, and my parents made sure to pass our outgrown clothes to other families with kids younger than us. Maybe we weren’t the most fashion-forward kids on the block, but we were warm, comfortable, and had a few extra dollars for occasional Happy Meals and camping trips and gas to drive back to Memphis for more hand-me-downs.

Thankfully when I became a parent, I was surrounded with friends who also shared their hand-me-downs, and not just to my kids. Sure, we have probably received more free clothes for my four kids in the last 11 years than we have purchased, but I also had incredible women donate their own closets to me when I lost a bunch of weight and couldn’t afford a new wardrobe every time I changed sizes. I have certainly never expected people to give me clothes in an entitled sort of way, and I have often been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in my life. Still, I kind of thought mom friends passing kids clothes around was a pretty normal thing.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how very lucky I have been to have such generous friends to clothe my poor, broke babes during a poor, broke season in our lives.

As the market for consignment sales has grown, more and more moms are choosing to sell gently worn clothes in consignment events, Facebook Marketplace and sale groups, or even in private groups for friends who may be interested. What baffles me about this trend isn’t the process of selling and buying itself but rather the thought of listing items for $1 and $2. Granted, that’s probably about what items are worth, but is the effort to clean, photograph, and list the item + actually meeting a potential buyer worth $1 or $2? I know I’m a classic Type B personality, but I would pay at least $5 to NOT have to do those things.

To be fair, I have sold a few things online before, and I was glad for the extra cash in hand. I sold almost all our baby stuff after my third child was born, which was awesome when I found out about the fourth child on his way. (Don’t worry; our generous friends gave us tons of stuff to replace it. See?!) But if I list something for sale and a friend messages me about it, just about every time I’m going to give it to them for free. Honestly, what’s $5 for a baby sleeper between friends?

Look, I get that sometimes money is tight, and we need the cash. I’m not passing any judgment on you if you sell stuff online. That extra cash helps fund your next purchase of new clothes for your kid. But what if someone gave you clothes for free, and you didn’t have to buy new clothes? What if we placed a dollar value on peace of mind from having a freshly cleaned closet and the joy of having met someone else’s need, and it turned out those things are worth more than the few bucks we could make from selling that item? What if we embraced the gift of hand-me-downs and the equally beautiful gift of handing things down? What if we changed the system — or just restored the system — to one more kind, more generous, and a lot less lonely?

If you’re a consigning queen or a Marketplace pro, more power to you; I ain’t mad. If you’re my friend, and you list something for sale, I expect to pay your full asking price, and if you don’t ask me for money, I’ll offer to pay something. That’s just good Southern manners, after all. But if you really sit down and think about it, if you can get by without the few bucks you’d make from selling that outfit or jacket or pair of shoes your toddler wore one time before crying that he doesn’t like Paw Patrol anymore and HAS to have the Mickey Mouse shoes instead, I promise the benefit you receive from helping someone else — maybe some poor, broke babes during a poor, broke season in your friend’s life — is well worth it.

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Knoxville born and bred, my love for this area is deep and true! I'm a working-turned-stay-at-home mom to 4 kiddos from kindergarten to middle school. My husband and I live in Knoxville where we both lead nonprofit organizations and are trying to become Love in our community. I love watching my kids learn something new, cooking for other people (but not for myself), and telling myself I'm a #fitmom when I go to the gym like once a week. I'm a bottle-feeding, disposable diapering, public-schooling (other than that one kid I'm homeschooling this year) mom with the stereotypical chill attitude of moms with large(r) broods. I love meeting new people, but I talk way too much and laugh when I'm uncomfortable. If you don't mind long stories and bad jokes, we are sure to be friends! Follow my family adventures on my blog Unthank You Very Much

1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t think it’s that people are trying to ear $1-2. I think it’s that when you give people your clothes to borrow, you never know if they’re going to use them. It’s frustrating to lend your clothes out and realize the person never even considered wearing them. When you sell them (even for cheap), the person buying them had a choice and they will get used.

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