There’s a lot of free used stuff out there for kids, if you know where to look. Children go through stages and sizes so quickly that there’s often a lot of wear left in their things after they no longer need them.
My girls, M and J, are small for their age, so they end up receiving hand-me-downs from their friends. I’m not too proud to accept used things from friends, or even strangers. I see both the offer and its acceptance as gestures of love.
One former neighbour kept my girls in shoes for 2 whole years. I didn’t buy a single new item of clothing this summer beyond splurging on birthday dresses for all 3 of us. My kids have had a constant influx of new clothes from an older girl on our street, a classmate and a former neighbour.
Of course, it helps that M has no interest in wearing clothes that match her sister’s. If your kids wear matching or coordinated outfits, this may not work for you. I do find, though, that many of my friends buy the same things in different colours for their girls, and there are usually 3 hot shades that are “in” in a given season. Completely different brands will feature exactly the same colour scheme. You might be surprised by how many coordination opportunities you can find with hand-me-downs.
When two of my ex-husband’s high school friends announced that they were both pregnant with girls, I split my daughters’ matching infant and toddler clothes in two and mailed two diaper boxes of gently used clothes to Washington State. I’d been holding onto them in case any friends had twins, but everyone seems to have b/b or b/g twins.
J and M determined told me that they no longer play with their doll house. I asked them to sit on their decision to give it away for a couple of months, but they’ve held firm. We’ll be passing their dollhouse and furniture to another little girl, the daughter of an old friend of mine from grad school. We hope she’ll also get many years of joy from it.
My daughters’ dance school has a fantastic shoe exchange program. Since they teach tons of growing children and know how expensive dance supplies can get, they have a big bin of ballet, tap and jazz shoes in the office. When a child outgrows their shoes, their parent can add them to bin and go through the shoes that are already there to find a replacement, one size larger.
I do still occasionally have to buy new dance shoes, but the majority of my girls’ shoes have come from the bin in the 4 years they’ve been taking lessons. If your kids dance, play soccer, or use other specialized equipment, perhaps you can look into setting up a similar exchange.
Here’s how the Freecycle Network describes itself:
It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free.
Participating in Freecycle groups has been a great motivator to keep me decluttering. If I don’t use something but it still has life left in it, I no longer hold onto it in case it comes in handy later. Unless it has sentimental value or I see a real use for it, I offer up unused things to people who will give them new life.
I’ve been in 3 different Freecycle groups in my time. They work similarly, with some variation. Some groups allow pet rehoming posts, while others don’t. My two adult cats came to us through Freecycle offers. Their previous family had lost their home and couldn’t keep them. Some groups ask you to offer at least one thing for each thing your receive. Some groups are sticklers for you specifying the area of town you’re in, while others are less stringent. Some ban people from the list if they have a history of asking for stuff and then not showing up to pick it up. As long as you use good judgment about who to share your personal information with, you’ll be fine.
In general, you sign up for an email list and quickly learn the format and etiquette for offering your unused stuff to others for free. Watch the list, and when something comes up that your family needs, send a nice email to the offerer. Some people use a first come-first served policy, but I always took at least a day to try to identify the most needy people for my girls’ hand-me-downs. Clothes and shoes are frequently offered in Freecycle messages, but I’ve seen washers and dryers, exercise equipment and even food given by people who won’t use them to people who will.
Since I work outside the home, I often leave bags or boxes labeled with the recipients’ names on my front porch for them to retrieve at their convenience. There’s something very satisfying about blessing others with clothing that came to my girls through the generosity of strangers in the first place. I gave my girls’ cribs away, one to a newly widowed mom of 6 who had recently taken in a pregnant high schooler, bringing her brood to 8. That was a pretty great feeling.
Craigslist is a service similar to that of the Freecycle network, except that the majority of things posted are listed for a price, often negotiable. Instead of being primarily email list-based, Craigslist has a public website for each region that it covers. In addition to stuff, people also advertise services, jobs, housing and ridesharing opportunities.
I don’t troll Craigslist looking for free stuff, since my Freecycle lists cover me on that front, but I have occasionally gone looking for long-term investments. I bought my daughters a fine electric keyboard at a fraction of its cost new ($250 for a $900 instrument) and have been keeping my eye open for the right playscape to go in my backyard. I had a coworker watch Craigslist for me for the keyboard. I’m a singer, not a pianist, and he fixes up older keyboards as a hobby, so he was far more knowledgable than I. He was able to point me towards a solid instrument at a decent price and I snatched it up.
As with any activity involving meeting strangers, be smart about who you share your address with and whose home you choose to enter. Consider meeting in a public place or bringing a friend with you. Meet during daylight hours. Don’t share a whole lot of information about your kids.
And please, don’t forget to pass your own things on to others when you’re done with them.
What’s your approach to free stuff for your family? Do you love it? Think it’s tacky?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.