It took over a week from start to finish, but I finally sorted my way through all the bins of hand-me-down clothes. They wait in the shed now, stacked against the wall, labeled with future seasons and future years.
Hand-me-downs are such a mixed blessing. I am grateful to have clothing for my children that I didn’t have to purchase. Costs can add up quickly when everyone needs a coat or new shoes or three pairs of new jeans at once, and having bins of extras set aside helps keep those costs down. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict what will be usable when another family hands us a bag of things they have outgrown. We often end up storing too much that we can’t use, and sorting through the large grey plastic bins is one of my most dreaded tasks.
Some people mark the changing seasons by cleaning their houses from top to bottom. In my home, I know it’s fall when I start pulling tank tops and sundresses out of drawers and replacing them with freshly-laundered sweaters and jeans. This year, as my oldest son heaved gusty sighs about trying things on and my twin daughters squabbled over patterned leggings and denim skirts and I tried to keep my youngest from closing himself up inside the bins, I thought about this season in our lives.
In the middle of the long days of mothering young children, it can feel like time is barely passing at all. Repetitive tasks threaten to consume our joy and squelch our spirits. Sometimes it seems like our work is invisible and unappreciated.
At first, rotating the clothes each season seems like just another overwhelming job, but it’s also a chance for me to take stock and to remember that time is passing, even when I feel like it is standing still.
Each time I put away some beloved favorite garment, knowing that it will probably not fit that person again the following year, I find myself a little bit reluctant to let go of a little piece of our history together. I remember when Lucy wore this shirt with the daisy on it to the ice cream place and spilled chocolate ice cream all over it- I thought the stain would never come out! I remember taking Sam’s picture standing on the fishing pier in this striped t-shirt, and now Felix is wearing it, six years later.
This year, in the middle of sorting the piles of new-to-us clothes and bringing out old favorites for a smaller sibling to wear, I decided to try something new. I decided to approach this dreaded chore as a chance to practice gratitude.
Sometimes, if my task is especially arduous, adding another layer of meaning can help me get through it with a more cheerful attitude. If you, like me, dread the hand-me-down shuffle each season, here are some steps I took this year to give the practice more meaning.
Before we opened the bag, we thanked God for the family who gave us the clothes. This reminded us that what we were about to receive was a gift and that we should respond with that in mind.
We donated things we had outgrown or could not use to our local pregnancy center, the community thrift store or the women’s shelter. When we had trouble letting go of something, we laid aside special favorites to give to special people we love and wrote a note letting them know we are praying for them. This helped us let go of things that we don’t need any more that could be a blessing to someone else.
We pared down what we are keeping for the future to one bin per size and shared the rest. In keeping with the spirit of charity, we try not to hang on to too many things. It can be a challenge to practice frugality and good stewardship without being selfish and hoarding more than we need. I was challenged by this post at Catholic All Year a couple of years ago, and I try to keep in mind that what is waiting its turn in a bin in my shed could be worn by someone right now.
As we put the new clothes in the drawers, I prayed for each of my children. I prayed God’s blessings on them in the coming year as they wear the new things, find new favorites and grow into even better and more interesting versions of themselves. I also prayed for wisdom and patience as I parent them through the challenges that lie ahead.
Using these practices as I lay the outgrown things aside this year helped me gain a little perspective. No matter how slowly time seems to pass, I won’t always have my children at home with me. Holding onto a pair of now-outgrown little overalls seems sentimental, but it reminds me that the tiny baby I loved is still there now, hidden inside the gangly frame of my eight-year-old.
Moving up a clothing size doesn’t just mean my children are getting bigger. It means they are taking on new challenges and growing in understanding and knowledge. Each year as our children move into bigger and bigger clothes, they are becoming the people that God wants them to be. We have the privilege of assisting them in that process, and we have a front row seat to watch it happen.
Copyright 2016 Abbey Dupuy.