What to save… what to toss (updated)

Hi Chris!

I’m getting such great ideas from reading your blog. Thanks for putting them out there for the rest of us!

I am the mother of three daughters, ages six, three and a half, and two months old. When I was pregnant with my first, someone told me to save everything. Every article of clothing, every shoe, every toy, every piece of baby equipment, EVERYTHING, because it can all be used again with the next child. So I have been.

The problem I’m having is that as my children get older, and as we have more kids, we keep saving more and more. Even with hand-me-downs, we still buy all our children new clothes and sometimes new toys. Saving everything might be saving us money in the long run, but it’s causing problems in other areas, mostly in the clutter area. What is your policy on saving and passing down clothing and toys? Is it even worth it to save things?

Oh this is a topic near and dear my clutter hating heart.

It is that time of year again, when we do the clothing switch. Bringing out the cold weather clothes and packing up or getting rid of the summer things.

Baby Items:

I save very little. Some of the big ticket items I saved, like the crib and double stroller and have used them with all the children. But we have been through several crib mattresses, because how many times can a mattress be peed, pooped and thrown up on before it looks like it belongs on the floor of a crack house. Unless I was already pregnant while I was still using them, things like swings, exersaucers, bouncy seats, infant toys, infant carseats… all those got passed on to someone else who could use them or I donated them to a local women’s shelter. Sometimes I got things passed on to me that were like new in return, more often I bought new things when I needed them. I also discovered that I didn’t really need as many things as I thought I had to have with my first.

Things have changed in the ten years from when I had my first child to when I had my seventh. The car seats I used have all been recalled or expired. Swings with batteries were a brand new thing 12 years ago, most people I knew still had wind up ones, wind up ones that played really annoying music. I don’t recall any of those vibrating bouncy seats that my youngest couple of children loved.

My point being that new things will come out that you will prefer. Safety issues will arise that will make some items unusable. Car seats now have expiration dates. You might as well pass these things on to someone who could use them now. At least that is my thinking.

I have to state here a huge pet peeve of mine. Frequently I was offered clothing or baby items from people who would say, “I want these back when you are done.” I would always hand them the items right back and say, “Well, keep it then because I do not want to be responsible for your things.” The point being, if you are giving something to someone, give it with no strings. Give it with the expectation that you will never see it again. If you can’t do that, you should probably hang onto it.

As a rule I do not save toys, especially baby toys. The exceptions to this are things that I would save for grandchildren, like the huge Brio/Thomas train set which my 21 month old is actually going to “get” for Christmas this year. I do store toys up in the attic and rotate them out with toys in our family room. These are things like Duplos, the Duplo train sets, wooden blocks, etc.


Infant and clothing up to 24months I used to save everything that was in perfect condition and that I actually used. (now that I have no more babies I don’t need to save any of this any longer) So that really cute 6mos sized sweater that no one ever wore because it was itchy and made the baby look like a fat sausage, give it away.

You have already said that you like to buy your kids new clothes in addition to the hand me downs. Maybe you should think about the stuff you don’t really care to buy again when weeding through. For me it is things like pajamas, hooded sweatshirts, and any sort of outerwear. Those things I save in their own bins. I replenish them when I find them on sale.

The older kids clothing I have a rubbermaid for each kid. When the season ends I go through their clothing in their drawer anything in perfect condition goes into the bin. When the season rolls around again each kid gets their bin back we open them up and see what still fits them, has anything sprung stains from marinating in the attic for six months, and if it doesn’t fit you will it fit a sibling. Often we have more to give away.

At that point I go through their clothes and make a spreadsheet of what they have, what they need, and what I would like to find and write down the sizes. This is so much easier when you have boys. I don’t think I have ever said, “Oh I have to find an outfit to match those fabulous purple shoes.” about one of my sons.


Um, yuck, no never save these. The only exceptions to this are dress shoes that have only been worn a handful of times , winter boots, and ski boots (which really aren’t shoes but ski equipment). Cleats are not saved. because the idea of having another child wear a used pair of sweaty cleats is gross to me. I should also add here that my children are big time sports kids. So we are not talking about cleats that are worn a handful of times by a child who spends the hour once a week gazing into the sky praying that the ball doesn’t come near them.

I think children really deserve their own pair of new shoes. It is one of those large family stereotypes that really bother me.

Dress Up Clothes:

I save these and store them seperately. I have a closet of little suit jackets, dress pants, khakis, bitton down dress shirts, ties, and dress socks. It makes it much easier when we are invited to an even to go to the one location and see what we have for everyone and what, if anything, we need.

Tommorrow I will have a post specifically about winter outerwear. Because sadly winter is almost here.

21 Responses to “What to save… what to toss (updated)”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Thanks for the notes this morning! I am also kind of drowning in baby clothes. And I also hate the “hand me down - but give them back” circle. Way too much work. You are awesome!

  2. T in HD Says:

    I love the “hand-me-down-and-return” circle with baby things, both clothes and equipment. Perhaps it is because we’ve always had so little money (dh only just recently finished his PhD, so we’ve lived as students for many, many years) and so little space living in tiny apartments. For me, it was great to have a lot of the stuff I’ve needed for my babies and, once it was no longer needed, I did not have to store it or find a new home for it. I could just give it back. What I have had for my kids has been overwhelmingly hand-me-downs (nice ones, I don’t keep the rubbish) or bought second hand. I keep all the nice, still-usable stuff sorted into bins by size from newborn up and it all gets used again and I’m always so glad to have what I need in a bin rather than have to come up with money we just don’t have to buy new. I know everyone makes a big deal about kids having new shoes but shoes here (in Germany) are very expensive unless they are plastic rubbish and we cannot afford to buy new. Our kids get used (in nice condition) shoes and they inherit shoes from their older siblings. They rarely get new shoes. We just can’t afford it.

    If we had the money, we’d likely keep less and buy more new. I hate shopping but don’t mind if I can find what I need on internet catalogues or stores. And it can be such a hassle trying to find a particular item, like snow boots, used, in good condition that we can afford and will fit the child needing them. Especially as the kids get older and there isn’t as much used-but-still-in-good-condition stuff out there like there is for babies and toddlers. I’d love to just go buy what we need at a store and be done with it. But on the bright side, carefully organizing and storing away what can be used again appeals to my extreme frugal side.

    Borrowing and returning things, as I do often among my friends, is the best of all for me. “New” and different things without the outlay of money or need to find storage space. My neighbour upstairs is expecting her first baby soon and has come to me for a bunch of stuff and I’m too happy to loan it all to her and not have to store it. When she’s done with it, I’ll either be ready for it again myself or, perhaps, we’ll have come to the decision that we don’t need it anymore and let go of it. In the meantime, it’s not in my house! ;-)

  3. T in HD Says:

    Yikes. Sorry for the length. Didn’t mean to write a freakin’ post.

  4. merry mama Says:

    Where is your favorite place to buy kid’s clothing sale items?

  5. Meagan Says:

    I dislike the “use it and give it back when you’re done” directions too. It’s not that I won’t give things back; I usually do, but when people expect to get every onesie and teeny sock returned in mint condition, it can be a lot of pressure! I’ve had people push clothes on me that I didn’t ask for and probably won’t use and then they say “oh, and can you put my initials in everything so I’ll get it all back?”
    What I’m much more likely to do is remember that Mary Jane gave me a bag of clothes and so, when my baby outgrows stuff, I give her back the stuff I remember as hers plus extras. She may be missing a few items, but I try to make up for it with surprises!

  6. Christina Says:

    I used to save everything, too, but after the 3rd arrived I realized it was all just building up with no end in sight to the clutter, plus I couldn’t find what I really wanted because of all of the clutter. Now I hold onto only the clothes that are in mint condition for hand-me-downs and rest are gone to a women’s shelter for use now. I just started using bins, what a life-saver those things are; now everything is labeled and so easy to find. And boys are definately easier, but girls can be easy if you want them to be easy. I am also very fortunate to have a mil who is addicted to shopping for her grandchildren, so often when I have a list of needs for the kids she will fill the list 2 or 3 times a year and I just have to fill in the boring stuff like underwear and pjs. Thanks for the great tips!

  7. jen Says:

    What is really hard with the ‘use it and give it back’ deal (apart from being responsible for the clothes being worn by a feisty toddler and the greatest chance of ruination), is the fact that I won’t necessarily share the taste of the lender. It’s hard when they and you know that you really could do with the clothes, to turn around and say “but I hate what you dress your kid in”!! I have a friend whose son is a week younger than mine but a size larger (I won’t even go there!) who does this. I say ‘thank you’, ask them if they mind writing their name on the inside label (who can remember whose clothes are whose?!) and put the clothes away for a bit, make sure they wear it once their presence, and then return them after a while. I know this sounds rather passive, but it does stop them having the hump with you when you refuse perfectly usable clothes (albeit ones you wouldn’t have your son seen in in public!). And it means they won’t stop lending you the more useful stuff. This might sound Machiavellian, but I live in a very small town with a very small group of parents, and I can’t afford to alienate or offend them, especially those whose kids my son may be at school with for the foreseeable future.

    I also have some friends with a son 4 months older than mine, who have been very generous with their stuff, with no strings attached. Again, there have been some things that I haven’t liked, but to be honest, I can’t be too picky! And then I have my wonderful friends in the States, who send stuff from the Gap Outlet sales, and they totally rock, as those are the items that have been worn the most, and will last and last for many more other kids to come. Merry Mama - that’s where I would head for clothing sale items, as I’ve gone the cheap route, but Gap outlasts every other item of clothing.

  8. jen Says:

    PS thank you for the tip about the spreadsheet - that will be great for our (buying!!) trip to the US in October. (CT - will give you a wave, Chris!)

    PPS I use old nappy boxes lined with big bags for storing clothes (as good as and cheaper than bins!), and I will only keep as many clothes for an age range that will fit in the nappy box. That way I am picky about what I keep and what I give to Charity. I label them really clearly on the outside with the age and contents. Anything I buy in advance for the future goes into similarly clearly labelled boxes.

  9. Heather Says:

    This is pretty much how I do it, except it never occurred to me to put clothes away at the end of the season. I just overstuff one tote, and all the giant luggage we only use for big vacations. The 2 times we have needed the luggage, the off-season clothes simply sit on the bed until we returned.

    I do like the “use it and return it” thing with maternity clothes though. I hate buying clothes that never look right anyway and will only be worn a few months. It seems silly to buy all new so I have a few people I have traded with and returned during our various pregnancies.

  10. Jennifer Says:

    I have 3 girls and 1 boy and over the years I’ve learned that it doesn’t really pay to hang onto old clothes. My daughters have very different figures, so what looks good on one may not look good on the next one down. By the time the third one gets to wear whatever hand me down, it is either too trashed or hopelessly out of fashion. So I stopped saving shirts that I purchased at the Gap for $10 and worn jeans. It just isn’t worth the space. Now I basically clear out their drawers at the end of the season and make two piles, one for give a way (donation to shelter or consignment shop), the other for the trash. It is very spiritually uplifting to be able to let go of things, and sometimes I struggle with what to do, but I’ve noticed over the years that I have seldom regretted getting rid of an article of clothing.

    As for my son, he is my oldest and now that he is 11 his wardrobe is pretty basic and cheap - tee shirts and shorts, jeans and a few nice shirts for church. Some of my friends will give me hand me downs for him. I immediately sort through the bag and whatever I don’t want, I donate to a consignment shop.

    So, I maybe the extreme, but it really isn’t so bad having to basically start from scratch each season. I don’t buy as much, because I’d rather that they have a few nice outfits than a lot of junk. Plus, they usually only wear a few outfits anyway.

    As for shoes, no saving anything, only winter boots and dress up shoes for the girls.

  11. Jennifer Says:

    Forgot about toys! Don’t get me started on those. Anything broken, grungy, chewed on by dog gets tossed. Board games are stored out of sight and brought out by me. Legos if not picked up get thrown away, so do Barbie doll clothes, shoes, Polly pockets and anything from Mc Donalds and Burger King. In November or December I do a big clean out and get rid of stuff they never play with, or seldom play with or toys that they’ve outgrown.

    As with clothing, toys have a limited shelf life and sometimes I say to myself (when tossing stuff) “For a $10 barbie that the girls played with for a year or so, it’s done it’s purpose here.” We certainly don’t have an unlimited amount of space for storage and I”ve been blessed with four children who don’t really remember toys that they used to play with. So my motto is ” When in doubt, throw it out” It can be very liberating :)

  12. Elizabeth Says:

    This might be the place to mention my happiness when friends offered us their crib for baby #3, who was adopted at the age of 4 months and arrived with 2 days notice. And my corresponding dismay when this same baby was 14 months old and they said they’d be needing it back, with about the same notice, as her sister was going to have a baby in a few months and they wanted to drive it out to her on their next visit. They did then give us their toddler bed, but I hadn’t planned on the transition quite that quickly and sure didn’t want to buy a crib at that point. That soured me on the whole thing. Now everything goes to the shelter.

  13. Erin Says:

    My aunt used to save lots of clothing however it turns out my cousin is going to be an only child so everything recently went to a thrift store and friends. But anyways my aunt kept everything in those vacuum bags that suck all the air out and take up less space. She has seven years worth of clothes in about five huge bags.

  14. T in HD Says:

    Jen–I do the same with my bins as you do with nappy boxes (only I suspect my bins are a wee bit bigger! ;). What I save in each size has to fit in that bin. That way, I really do keep the nicest stuff and let go of the rest. It’s worked out well that way. I’ve always had enough clothing for each kid from the bins combined with flea marketing (fantastic source of nice clothes for kids here!) and gifts without having that panic of nothing in the next size up for a kid whose outgrown her clothes and no money to buy anything.

    I’m not sure where you are–in Europe or the UK? If so, you might want to check out Jako-o. When I do have to buy something new, I look here. They have the greatest kid stuff and great quality generally for modest prices. Definitely comparable in quality, price and style to GAP, only I do like Jako-o style better. I also look for Jako-o brand when I buy second hand. Anyway, that might help between the infusions of GAP clothing from the US! ;)

  15. Michelle Says:

    I have a clothing storage tip that I picked up from a mom of many about 2 years ago. Each child gets a number according to birth order that translates to a dot on the tag of the clothing (1st born = 1 dot, 3rd born = 3 dots, etc.). This serves two purposes. When two of the same sex are close in size you can tell what belongs to which kiddo by the dots in order to get laundry to the right place. When it’s time to put off-season stuff away, you can add dots where needed and stick all of the items in plastic bags according to the number of dots so they can all be stored in one huge bin (think outdoor trash can) and be easily separated back out when seasons change again.

    I had something else to say, but doggone it if my kids aren’t the *most* wound up and dizzy bunch tonight making it impossible for my brain to work…or maybe I can just blame that on being pregnant…Anyway, I love, love, love both of your blogs! :-D

  16. Mary Tsao Says:

    Yay for new shoes! I hated wearing shoes that didn’t fit and I had to stuff toilet paper in the toe. I buy both of my kids new shoes and good ones, too.

  17. wookie Says:

    I have once caveat to the “use and return” policy… I can’t do it for clothes… if I’m that attached to the clothes I shouldn’t be givng them up. But the bigger items, like my stroller or 300$ hiking backpack, those I’d rather stay close (since I’m not quite done building my family).

  18. Rayne Says:

    hmm… I never considered people might not like the use and return policy. I’ve only done that w/ my cousin on expensive items like slings and a breast pump, not on baby clothes.

    I definately appreciated use and return on maternity clothes and large toys b/c I’m a student and can’t afford much variety. Otherwise I would have spent 5 months in a single pair of jeans and sweatshirts.

  19. Cath Says:

    I am a hardcore thrift store shopper, and I buy for my baby and my kindergardener, both girls. I try not to buy sizes too much bigger than my oldest’s, and I store everything by size in large, clear storage boxes.

    I don’t know about yours, but my local thrift store is awash in Gap kids clothes, especially. Most places have so much stuff, I can be really picky about brands and condition, as long as I can spend the time wading through the racks. I also do some occasional eBay buying, and I take advantage of Old Navy and Hanna Andersson clearance sales.

    Into the closets or storage boxes they go, and then when the little one is done with them, the items that are beyond saving go in the trash, the basic stuff goes back to the thrift store, and the good stuff goes on eBay.

  20. hedra Says:

    I never loan out what I wouldn’t want ruined by someone else’s baby/toddler/puppy/washing-machine-failure. Which means that I don’t loan out at all, I give away. If I really cherish something so much that I want it back, I put it in storage (unless we’re talking family, in which case I’ll do a loan-but-return for some things). So far, the ‘too precious to part with’ stuff isn’t close to filling a smallish rubbermaid bin. I’m also done having kids (4), so we’re not thinking ‘what we might need next time’ at all.

    We are at the tail end of the cousins funnel on both sides - 13 cousins in the set on my side, 11 on DH’s. We get a LOT of clothes handed ‘diagonally’ down. I store no more than 10 of each type of item per size (aiming for 7-10 of any item, teeshirts, long-sleeve shirts, pants; fewer for sweaters/hoodies, shorts; 1 swim suit, raincoat/jackets, etc.), in rubbermaid bins with the size marked.

    This also forces me to cull on the way in the door. Nobody wants any of it back, so I pass on or donate the things my kids say ‘eeeww!’ at, or that doesn’t feel comfortable or is too trendy to make it to next year. I also donate/give-away at every change of season, and make a list of things needed to fill out the sets before going to resales or consignment shops (like your spreadsheet). Most must-buy-brand-new items are either unfound at resale (rarely find good used rain slickers), or are gifts (yay grandparents).

    My kids don’t seem to mind used shoes as long as they’re not heavily used. :shrug: Their main shoes are new (sneaks and a pair of boots), so the used are the ‘backup cuz my sneakers are wet’ or ’style/dressy’ shoes. Those are also stored in size-specific bins (a range of sizes per bin).

    Just wanted to add - my mom had seven kids also. I remember outings being puncutated by the ‘how do you do it?’ comments all the time.

  21. abbey Says:

    A friend of mine had been pestering her husband “Are we goig to have any more kids? I need to know if I should save this stuff.” His response was very wise. “I don’t thin we should decide if we’ll have more kids based on cleaning out a closet.” If the stuff is in the way, get rid of it. If you need it again, you’ll find a way to manage.