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Hand-me-downs: The guide for those asking and for those giving

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Today we'll be talking about hand-me-downs. This can be a great way for the recipient to save money on children's clothing, and is also beneficial for the giver, who then has the pleasure of seeing their kid's clothes going to a loved one's home.

However, this topic can be fraught with uncertainty for some. For example, what is the etiquette for asking? And for giving?

It can be all too easy to be worried that as the asker that we'll seem needy, or as the giver that we'll offend.

Yes, it really works

Here we'll tackle these issues and give you some great ways to ask or offer hand-me-downs easily that won't offend.

I've had experience from both sides of the equation: we've been given a huge bag of clothing from extended family, which was such a boon when the kids were little. We've also been able to hand down our items to another extended family member. Even to this day, we are grateful to those who gave to us. And the relative we gave to still talks today about how she found those clothes helpful. So don't shy away from asking for or offering hand-me-downs!

A good age gap

Before doing anything, you'll need to think whether the age gap is appropriate. This sounds way too obvious, but while a 1-year age gap between kids in the two families is perfect for baby and toddler clothing, that same gap is not necessarily going to work when the kids are age 6 and 7, for example. This is because kids wear a size for much longer at that age. By the time the 7 year old has outgrown those clothes, there is a good chance that the 6 year old may only have a short time of wear left in these. Therefore for these older age groups, a larger age gap is necessary for things to work.

For any age, frequently-worn items may wear out or get damaged long before they're outgrown, so that's one less thing that can be used between families. Of course, jackets, formal clothing and other occasional or seasonal wear may hold up very well indeed to being handed down, because they're not worn as everyday items. This is not to deter either party from asking for or offering hand-me-downs; it's just something both parties need to be aware of. That's OK; you can both still benefit greatly from hand-me-downs.

For the asker

If you're seeking hand-me-downs from your friend or family member, the best way to ask is just to ask! - but always give them an easy "out" if they prefer to say no. Rest assured they're unlikely to say no anyway, because they'll want to make space in their child's dresser or closet for new clothes as their child grows. So by offering a way for them to get rid of outgrown clothes, you're providing them a helpful service. Your friend or family member will get a lot of pleasure from knowing those clothes are going to a home where they'll be wanted and used.

Here is a practical way to ask:

"I was wondering if you have plans for your child's outgrown clothing? Because if you don't, I was wondering if you'd consider giving away any pieces to us that you don't need? Your child is a bit older than ours, so I thought that might work well for our child. I totally understand though if you prefer to consign your kid's outgrown clothing or already have other plans for it with another family."

Most likely your friend will say yes, unless of course she does consign it or give it to another family. There is a chance that she may prefer to give it to a local charity, and of course that's another reason she may say no to you. But in most cases, people tend to consign or donate to charity only if they don't know of a friend or family member that can use the item. So don't feel bad about asking, even if the answer happens to be no. Your friend will still be glad that you asked, and now that she knows you're open to it, she may still hand down certain treasured items of clothing to you even if she already has other plans for the majority of it.

If your friend says yes, then thank her, and tell her that anytime she has any clothes available she can let you know and you'd be happy to pick them to up to save her the hassle of dropping them off, unless of course she prefers to drop off. Make it as easy for her as possible: if you two tend to get together often, let her know she can just bring them with her anytime she'd like.

For the giver

It can be all too easy to get worried about offending your friend of family member, but if you ask in the way mentioned below, you'll come across just fine. I almost didn't want to deal with the handing down of our children's clothes to a relative in case we offended her, but now that I've heard her talk so positively about it, I'm so glad I did it. Here is a great way to offer. Similarly to the situation above for the asker, make it easy for the recipient to say no if they want to. At the same time, make it clear that you don't have any particular other plans for the item. Here is an example:

I have some outgrown clothes from my child that are still in good condition. I was wondering if there was any chance you might like to have them for your child, or if you happen to know of anyone who might want them?

This was the way I offered, and the recipient gratefully accepted. Most parents, especially if you mention the words "for your child" in the question will tend to see this positively, in the way you intended. They are very unlikely to take offense. Adding "if you happen to know of anyone who might want them" makes it unlikely for the recipient to feel offended, since it makes it seem you're asking more generally.

If it's a relative you really don't know very well, and you are still worried about asking, then contact another relative that is closer to the recipient. For example, ask your Aunt Lucy if she thinks your cousin Jane might like to have clothes that your children have outgrown. This is the way we received a large amount of clothing from a relative we didn't know very well; an aunt got in touch through my mother-in-law. We are still so grateful to the relative for thinking to give us those cute little clothes. Likewise, your friend or relative will be grateful to you for the offer, even if they don't take you up on it.

In the unlikely situation the recipient declines your offer (either directly or through your other relative), that's OK. Remember, it's in no way a criticism of you personally or of your kids. They may have another source of hand-me-downs already, or a very limited amount of storage space for items that are not needed immediately. If you like, you may let them know that you understand and that the offer remains open, e.g. "I completely understand. If you ever change your mind or if there's something specific you want to check if I have, just let me know."

If they say say yes, then aim to give them the clothes as soon as your reasonably can. That way they can plan any remaining purchases of kids clothes that they need. It'll save them lots if they can see which pieces they're getting from you: that's one less thing they'll have to buy.

Conclusion

Kids outgrow their clothing relatively quickly, especially when they're very young, so hand-me-downs are a great way for the recipient to save money. The giver can feel happy that her children's clothes are going to be utilized by someone she cares about. And both families can feel good about the environmental benefits of re-using clothing. Don't shy away from asking for or offering hand-me-downs. I've given some suggested phrasings above.

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