I’m in the kitchen cleaning up from lunch and I hear what sounds like a thousand tiny paws coming my way. Turns out, it’s just my kids pretending they are dogs for the zillionth time. The slapping and thumping of hands and knees on hardwood floors continues for a bit, but then abruptly stops and is quickly replaced with a whiny crying “MMMOOOOMMMM!!!” from my son. The potential problems quickly flash through my head- did he hit his head on something? Did his sister taunt him? Did he find a cat hairball? He comes around the kitchen corner to find me, points at the knees of his pants where the fabric has worn through to his skin and asks, “Can you patch dat?”
Among the many challenges of parenting, once my kids entered the world I was faced with one I hadn’t anticipated: clothing them in a way that has the least impact on the environment.
This felt like an impossible task given how quickly they grow, how messy they get, and how unforgiving they are in their explorations of the world. I am not the type of mom to keep my kids from exploring just so their clothes stay clean. So, naturally, I’m battling clothing issues on a few fronts.
The approach I take for my children’s clothes follows a similar approach I take for myself. A key difference is that with mine, the life cycle is much longer, while the kids’ cycle plays out fairly quickly. This cycle can be broken down into a few key areas: reducing consumption, maximizing use and creating circularity rather than an end (as you probably know, this cycle applies to many types of consumption, not just clothing).
I buy second hand when I can. If I do buy new, because I want to or can’t find what I need second hand, I try to buy things of durable quality like thicker materials for leggings or (I am now learning) non-white tops for my daughter.
Some might also say buying a size larger helps to get more wear out of kids’ clothes. At first the clothes will fit a little big, then just right, then a little small. This trick works well for the most part, but for example I cannot bring myself to do that for my son’s pants. He’s a little guy so even pants in his “correct” size fall off of him. If I were to buy a size larger, he wouldn’t be able to wear them for a long time.
Keeping good care of their clothes helps them last longer. I try to treat stains as soon as possible. I repair or mend items that still fit. Mostly this means patching or darning knee holes, but occasionally means covering up a stubborn stain as well.
Work pile of pants that need knee patches. The fabric for the patches are all from their old clothes.
When I tried to remove a stain from my daughter's shirt, the stain remover created its own stain instead.
I embroidered a random pattern of triangles and shapes in fun colors to cover it up.
I’m not sure how much longer my kids will be willing to wear repaired clothes. I realize there is still a stigma out there about used or old clothes. I’d like to demonstrate the value of repairing, but I am aware it is a privilege to make the choice to repair.
For right now, they love it. They even offer it up as a suggestion when they see opportunities for it. (My heart melted the first time my son came up to me and said, “Mom, you can patch dat?”) I recently had a small bleach accident with a new shirt, and my daughter said I had plenty of thread that color, maybe I could just cover it up with stitching.
Once a piece of clothing starts to get shorter as they sprout upwards, I consider if it’s possible to lengthen the garment at all (if it’s worth keeping around). I’m ok with long sleeve shirts turning into ¾ sleeve shirts on my daughter, but sometimes the body length is obviously too short. In this case, I try to come up with creative ways to lengthen the body. If it’s pants, I consider if they could be turned into shorts. Shorts stand the test of time much better than pants; at 4 years old my daughter was still wearing her 2T shorts.
I bought this adorable smocked blouse with jackalopes all over it from a beautiful local kids clothing line called Duchess and Goose.
I wanted my daughter to be able to wear it as long as possible, so once it started getting short, I added a wide cotton lace trim to the bottom.
There eventually comes a point when a piece of clothing just can’t be kept in rotation anymore. Generally, as seasons change, I might go through each of their dressers seeing what needs to move on and what needs restocking.
Each item that needs to move on falls into one of the following categories.
Items I want to keep
Some items are just too cute or full of memories to let go of right away. These items go into a bin in my daughter’s closet. I am trying to keep this collection to one bin only. As it gets full, I occasionally go back through it and take a trip down memory lane. The baby years do not seem that long ago, but seeing their baby clothes again makes me feel like it was ages ago. I usually find enough to pull out, either I’m ready to move on or I wonder why it was in there in the first place. These clothes likely move into one of the next categories.
P.S. this is a great way to ease into minimizing belongings. It’s almost like tricking yourself, because it’s very non-committal to say, I’m not getting rid of this just yet, I’m just putting it out of sight for a bit. Then once some time has passed, and you go into the box, you realize you did not miss it, and are ready to fully pass it on.
These are some memory box keepers, and will likely remain keepers
Items to donate/sell back/hand down
These are usually items that for whatever reason I do not have strong feelings for. Either they were hand me downs to begin with, or I’m just ok with parting with them. They are in good condition to be worn again by someone else. The ones in very good condition go to my local mainstay kids’ consignment shop where I have an account and store credit. (What Goes Around Kids on Coors, for you burqueños out there). “More worn” but not “too worn” items get donated to Goodwill. Occasionally my daughter’s gender neutral clothes get passed on to my son, or either of their clothes become hand me downs for other kiddos in our lives.
Items to turn into rags
Items that are too dirty or worn get turned into rags. I have a sizable pile of rags in my linen closet now, and I get to revisit old onesie prints when I dust!
A small selected from my large stack of rags
Items to cut up for fabric
Items that have prints or colors I love I sometimes cut up and add to my fabric scraps pile. This might also be items that have a small stain so can’t be donated. It is also a nice alternative to items I want to keep for memory sake, mostly because I love the print. I find that I have endless options for patches once I need them. Alternatively, I have an inkling these scraps might get turned into some type of patchwork blanket it the years to come.
Neater than usual piles of fabric scraps that have been cut from the kids' clothes.
Full transparency, the photo on the right is what my fabric scrap bin actually looks like, the photo on the left is styled special for this post.
And so it goes, on and on, until I don’t know when!
I’d love to hear any tricks you have to get more wear out of your children’s clothes- let me know in the comments below!