January 26, 2009 at 5:45PM
by Alexandra Zissu
I've got the winter doldrums. Out of nowhere -- well, after too many cold days being shut inside, actually - I decided my daughter "needed" a new sweater. That's in quotes because what almost 3-year-old needs anything, really? As a former and reformed shopper (thank you, green movement!), this might signal a relapse of consumerism-itis. But no! We have the most tremendously wonderful stockpile of hand-me-downs. I walked over to the chest I keep the next size up in, threw it open and we played dress up for an hour. The chest reminds me of The Giving Tree. By the time we tired of it, she had not one but three "new" sweaters. Beyond delightful, especially in this economy. You, too, can have this embarrassment of completely eco-riches with out spending a penny, or at least spending less pennies than you thought. Here's how:
1. BE OPEN TO HAND-ME-DOWNS
I often hear from parents wondering how to get hand-me-downs, or who claim that they wish they had some but they don't have anyone to get them from. To them my response is always the same: baby gear lasts for such a short period of time, everyone is dying to make theirs outlive the three-day to three-month period it might have been useful in their own home. So put the word out to friends and friends of friends that you're in the market for hand-me-downs. Be shameless about asking, too. Really. It's harder to do this before the baby is born because you're not used to just how normal these pleas are, but post-baby you'll get in the swing of things, and be the recipients of everything from clothes to gear in no time. Parents are beyond thrilled to hand the stuff off. Trust me -- I started out getting goods from one wonderful colleague of a relative (who has amazing taste) and since then we also get stuff from friends with older kids, and even friends with kids the same age who happen to be taller/bigger than my daughter. I'm happy to take it all, and I pass on the spoils to various other families when I'm done with them. One caveat: I only use the natural fiber items. I know plenty of other people who love fleece, poly, and the like, but I'm a cotton-only kind of person. (Organic cotton is a rare find in a pile of hand-me-downs, much to my dismay, so most grandparents and friends know if they're going to gift us anything new, we adore organic cotton pjs that we pass on when they no longer fit.) Wool, cashmere, hemp -- it's all good. If asking for hand-me-downs is too direct an approach, check out the give aways at www.handmedowns.com.
2. CLOTHING SWAPS
Some people aren't hugely comfortable with the shameless asking for hand-me-downs, but love the (lack of a) price tag. Understandable. One way around the one-way experience of taking someone's hand-me-downs is to organize a clothing swap. Do it through any kind of group you think might support this sort of event -- a school, an online mothers' message board, a community center, a group of friends that includes a range of (kids) ages, whatever. The bonus here, of course, is the socializing that happens -- clothing swaps are like shopping with a built-in party. A lovely way to organize this is to collect small donations to join the swap, and to take the resulting cash and give it to a mutually favorite good cause, maybe an environmental group? If you're not sure how a clothing swap works, surf over here or here. Don't forget to reimagine this for kids' clothes; sometimes -- if you've got a lot of people there -- it's a good idea to sort by age in different stations around the house/venue.
3. SECOND-HAND STORES
If hand-me-downs or swaps aren't an option, or if you want to supplement the items from either, thrift stores and kiddie consignment shops are a total no-brainer. Poke around by asking friends where the gems are. Every mom I know has been raving lately about a new one near me where the stuff is even better than going to an everything-new store -- all in great shape, very high end, a great selection (much better style variation than, say, Gap Kids). If you have no time to shop -- who has time? -- HandMeDowns.com also has a buying (and selling) section, where the stuff is often culled from Craig's List. Speaking of, don't neglect Craig's List or EBay. There has been some confusion on the blog-o-sphere about whether second-hand stores can keep selling clothing (and more) intended for kids under 12 after February 10th (this is all part of the new toy regulations). The Consumer Products Safety Commission clarified this earlier this month, stating that thrift and consignment stores aren't required to certify that their resale items to meet the new lead limits, phthalates standards, or new toy regulations, but they are supposed to avoid selling things likely to have lead and the like unless they can prove these items meet the new standards. Confusing at best but it brings me back to my natural fiber rule of thumb -- cotton, wool, cashmere, and even hemp are highly unlikely to fail the new standards. But do avoid manmade fabrics and anything made of vinyl -- shoes, bags, belts, raincoats, what have you. Go natural and shop with abandon.