3-Steps to Seasonal Swap squareMy sister is five years older than I am.  When we were growing up, I got a lot of her clothes after she’d outgrown them.  Sometimes we had matching outfits, so I got to wear it over and over again.  I liked the matching part.  I didn’t like wearing it five years later all by myself.  I was over it by then.

My kids get a lot of hand-me-downs.  It is one of the joys of having seven kids.  Plus, Mike and I are the babies of our families, so we have siblings with older kids who hand things down, too.

But my kids actually enjoy hand-me-downs.

One year one of my older kids complained because s/he wasn’t getting to wear anything from the cousins and had to have all new clothes.

A different time the older kids were lamenting that boy pants get ruined before they get to the fifth or sixth boy (since they often start out of our family) and poor Nate wouldn’t get to wear the outfits everyone else did.

And they were serious.

Go figure.

My childhood experience led me to believe hand-me-downs were a curse.  My kids see them as a delight and a blessing.

What is not quite so delightful is sorting, storing, and swapping clothes every spring and fall.  See, we get clothes when people grow out of them, but we might not fit into them yet.

Honestly there have been some years I’ve wished we had enough money to buy everyone clothes AND that I could be frivolous enough to just get rid of the good clothes at the end of the season.  Since it is highly unlikely that both of those things will ever happen, never mind simultaneously, I have had to work out ways to deal with piles and piles of clothes.

It takes a bit of organization. I’ll admit there have been times when I missed a whole size for one child because I didn’t know we had clothes in that size.

We keep our out-of-season clothes in the attic of our guest/school room.  Not incredibly convenient, but on the other hand, I can pull everything down and take a few days to process it since it’s in a spare-ish room.  (We can do school around piles and bins of clothes if necessary.)

Still, I get a lot of questions about how I handle hand-me-downs and the Seasonal Swap for seven kids.

Organizing the Storage Area

  • We have rugged plastic bins with tight-fitting lids.
  • The bins are labeled either by size + gender or by child.
  • Sometimes we have clothes that won’t fit anyone next season.  These get a size + gender label.
  • But when we are putting away clothes from one season, I  think about who will need what size the next time we do this.  I fill the bin with the child’s name with clothes for the next season which will likely fit him/her.  Sometimes I draw from clothes a sibling is just growing out of, sometimes I drew from clothes in a size + gender-labeled bin in the attic.
  • On Swap Day all the child-labeled bins come down from the attic along with any size + gender-labeled bins that may be appropriate.
  • I keep all winter coats, hats, mittens in one combined bin.  I also have a combined bin for swimwear.  These things are occasionally needed off-season or have size ranges and it’s easier to deal with them as a group.
  • Any boxes/bags of hand-me-downs that arrive from the cousins get labeled and tossed into the attic as-is until the next clothes swap day.

“Shopping” from the Attic

  • On Swap Day, I try to get a couple of loads of laundry done so all the clothes they’ve been wearing are clean.
  • While that’s happening, all the potentially needed bins come down out of the attic, along with any clothes we’ve gotten from the cousins since the last swap day.
  • I pull two children (same gender) at a time into the guest/school room to try on clothes from bins or fresh meat from the cousins.
  • Clothes that fit (and we like) go into a laundry pile (they often smell like plastic when they come out of the bin).
  • Clothes that don’t fit (or we don’t like – I don’t see a need to “store” clothes in our limited closet space if the child is simply never going to pull it out to wear it) go into a pile.
  • Clothes we don’t like either go into a give-away pile or put up for a different child who may still grow into that size.
  • We try to find nine outfits plus one dress outfit per child.  This lets us do laundry once per week with a little allowance for being off schedule with laundry or occasionally needing to change clothes halfway through the day.  I might keep a couple more outfits for toddlers.  Especially during the potty-training season.
  • I make a list of any clothes we need to purchase to complete our desired quantity of outfits.  I also list the size of the child with their list, and what colors of shoes would go best with the outfits we’ve selected, if shoes are needed.  Theres nothing like finding adorable ruby slippers for a sweet girl only to get home and find all her outfits are actually pink and orange.
  • Then I move on to the next two kids, and so on, until we are through all the “new clothes” selections and list making.
  • Eventually I get done.
  • Sometimes we are really short on time (I know, like that ever happens in a homeschooling family of nine, right?).  On those occasions, when I’m really desperate because the kids are wearing shorts and it’s snowing outside, we just pull down the kid-name bins until we have time to work through it all properly.

Emptying the Closets

  • After we’ve selected the next season’s wardrobe, I am elated.  Then I remember the closets are still full…. and that’s when I am tempted to just give it all away.  Who cares if anyone has anything to wear next summer.  It’ll be hot anyway.  Aren’t clothes overrated?  And how expensive could it really be to clothe all seven kids with brand-new clothes?
  • Then reality sets in and I get working again.
  • So, given that all their clothes are clean, I have them pick two outfits which still fit very well or run a little big.  We pop those onto their shelves as “transition” clothes.  Inevitably we have a cold snap right after we get out spring/summer clothes or a warm spell when we’ve just loaded shelves with sweaters.  Plus, chances are good, the weather will change before I have time to swap wardrobes at the end of whatever season we are starting.  It’s helpful to have a couple of outfits to mix in.
  • Then we go through all their clothes.
  • Too small?  Put it in a bin for someone smaller.
  • Too big?  Keep it in their bin for next year.
  • Holey?  Stained?  Tattered?  Faded beyond recognition?  Elastic no longer stretches? Throw it away.
  • Smallest kid hates it?  Give it away.
  • Whatever is left, goes into a bin.  We cart the piles over to the guest/school room and pack them up by child, if they are likely to fit someone next season, or by size + gender if they are not likely to fit someone next season.  At this point I also mix in new things from the cousins that need to go into a size + gender bin.
  • After the Swap, I affix new labels where necessary and the bins go back into the attic.
  • Any sizes/genders we definitely won’t need get put on the bottom of piles or in the back of the storage area.
  • All the child-labeled bins go near the front.
  • Close up the attic, turn off the light, and start more laundry…
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Photo by Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons