5 Ways to be Awesome at Buying Used Children’s Clothes (Or Your Own)

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DSC_2562Guys, I’m just going to be really honest. I’m way more persnickety about children’s clothes than is befitting of someone in our income bracket. I like for my children to be dressed, at all possible, in wool, linen, and organic cotton items of navy, white, black, gray, and red, that are handmade in France. However, I also have approximately a $0 budget for clothes for myself and the children, and while I occasionally exceed that budget by a bit, I can say that I have bought fewer than 5 brand new items for each of my children since they’ve been born (they’re 2.5 and 4.5 right now), other than some socks and, as Will has gotten older and shoes are harder to find, a couple of pairs of shoes. Everything else has been hand-me downs, or thrift/consignment finds, with a few things bought used on eBay or ThredUp. I’m not saying that to brag at all, because it would be quite possible to spend a ton of money only buying secondhand things, but just that it IS possible to dress children decently without buying a ton of new things.

Probably, if you’re reading this post at all, you already are interested in buying secondhand clothes. Other than the quite obvious reason that you can save enormous amounts of money (even if you are buying the cheapest new clothes available– sometimes I look at the prices of kids’ clothes at Target and I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH THEY COST!!!!!!!!), there’s also the insane human and environmental impact of the clothing industry. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but everyone has seen this movie, right? Every time we buy some new clothing item, that’s a ton of pesticides poured on the cotton it’s made from that lead to health problems for the cotton farmers, toxic dyes that pour into rivers and streams, not just poisoning any little river creatures, but also the human beings who have to drink that water, and heavens to betsy if anyone is purchasing new clothes made out of fleece or polyester!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It shouldn’t be legal to sell that shit. Please, please, please, if you want to buy everything else brand new, at least do not buy new clothes made out of fleece or any other synthetic material. Buying used will literally save you thousands of dollars if you do it well, and it’s a just and humane way to shop if you can’t afford to buy all your children’s clothes from places like this.

Ahem. Now that no one except my parents are still reading, if I’m that lucky, I’ll continue.

(And, also just before I dig in, I will say that for some people it makes sense to buy more things new than used– one friend of mine has 3 children, all girls, so if she buys good quality, new items, she knows they will get used by all three girls. Since we have a boy and a girl, it’s harder to justify buying new. So I’m not saying that everyone needs to do exactly what I do. This is just what works for us, for this season. I think it’ll get a bit trickier as the kids get older, too. But for now, it works.)

(Below, Petit Bateau rain coat I found at our consignment store. It was $20, but it’s a size 6-7, which means we can roll up the sleeves for Will this year, and then he can use it for the next year or two, before Margaret then uses it for another year or two. So I think we’ll get at least 4 years out of it. Maybe 5.)

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So, for anyone who’s interested, here’s how we do it:

1. Beg and Borrow. Well, we mostly haven’t had to beg, but we’ve been offered bags upon bags of hand-me-downs from friends and cousins. (If people hadn’t offered, I would have asked. I have absurd hopes and dreams for how I want my children dressed, and zero pride.) Only keep what you like/need (see #2) and pass on the next to another friend, or (if the person who gave the clothes to you doesn’t need them back) take the rest to a children’s consignment store if there’s one in your area and use the cash or store credit to buy something that you like or need a bit more. (Or give the cash back to the friend who gave you the clothes! It’s hard to keep track, but I try to give $ back when I can!)

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2. Only keep/buy what you REALLY need and like. The fewer clothes you believe that you need, the fewer clothes you can own, and therefore, the fewer you will buy, and the more money you will save. Voila. Just because it’s a good brand or a jaunty little red canvas raincoat that was made in France and only costs $15 at the consignment store, doesn’t mean you have to buy it.  Same thing with hand-me-downs. You don’t have to keep them all just because someone gave them to you! Each of my kids gets 1 dresser drawer for clothes, for pjs, underwear, socks, shirts, pants, etc. Outerwear goes elsewhere, but everything else: one drawer. So we have room for 4-6 shirts, 4-6 pairs of pants, etc. I could (and probably will) write a whole other post about a minimalist wardrobe for kids, but I will just say that I prefer to buy basic colors– blue, gray, white, black, red. If you read any book published in the 1950s or earlier, you’ll see children dressed mostly in those colors. I do have some pink and flowery things for Margaret, but mostly I want my kids to look like characters in Robert McClosky books (like this less known but EXCELLENT one).  The other reason for this is that when I stick to buying basic colors, I can pass them down from Will to Margaret. Red pants, black pants, yellow raincoat, breton striped shirt, wool sweater: they work for both genders. Bright green Ninja Turtles raincoat/bike helmet, rain books, tennis shoes, t-shirt, not so much. Ditto with anything hot pink and princess-y. (If we ever have a third). Although maybe what you REALLY like is different: brighter colors, etc. You do you. But know what you like (or your kid likes) the best, and let go of the rest. Kids don’t need that many clothes. (Especially if you make them take their shirts off when they eat messy food, if they’re younger than 3 or so).

(Below, organic cotton dress, $3.95.)

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3. Know the good brands/buy natural fibers. Boden, Hanna Andersson, Crewcuts, Petit Bateau, Garnet Hill. I also like Circo and Gap, Etc (see #3a.).  Know them, but don’t buy them new.  (Also: cotton, linen, wool, silk. They hold up better, look better, feel better. Check the materials before you buy.) So for example: I used to babysit for a family who got a catalogue for Serena and Lily, and I would drool over everything as I turned page after beautiful page during the babe’s nap. Haven’t thought of that brand in years, but today I checked to see if the consignment store had any crib sheets (because we just switched Margaret into the crib, and the only sheets we have have seen 2 years of wear from an older brother, so I thought it might be nice if she could have a sheet of her own, you know, and right there in the bin of crib sheets was a Serena and Lily sheet! For $3! So I bought it. Photo below. I never in 5 million years have considered buying it new (I just looked them up and they’re $38), but because I vaguely knew that brand, and knew that it should be excellent quality, I grabbed that sheet and didn’t need to look at the rest). Anyway, if you are, like me, an insufferable snob about quality, know which brands hold up and look good. Keep your eyes open for those things and skip the rest. Even if it means you leave empty handed sometimes. Also, if you really must buy fleece, buy it secondhand, but really, fleece and everything else made out of plastic belongs in whatever subterranean depository our government has for nuclear waste. It is that bad, and it shouldn’t be legal to sell. (We have some secondhand fleece jackets, etc., one of which is a vintage red coat with a pointy hat that I love, but really, just please, please never buy anything new made out of fleece. It needs simply to go out of production.)

3a. Ok, this is related to #3, but very important! Nice brands are all well and good, but if you’re always worrying about something getting spilled or feeling more nervous about the clothes than you really should, maybe reevaluate a bit? I bought Margaret a white linen dress at the consignment store when she was under 1, and it was so, so, so darling, but I couldn’t bear to have her wear it because food! And crawling in the dirt! etc! Also, I was trying to look up pictures of my kids dressed all adorably in their second-hand ensembles for this post, but in pretty much all of our pictures someone is wearing a costume or a bike helmet or is half buried in the sandbox or has ice cream dripping down her arms, etc. Which is as it should be. We never quite attain the Robert Mccluskey simplicity or Breton charm of my ideals. And we’ve had enough bloody noses, stomach bugs, and strawberry/blueberry/raspberry juice stains to know that white frilly clothes are not our friend.

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4. Know where to shop. We have 2 different kids’ consignment stores in Ithaca, one which only sells up to 3T, but the other, Mama Goose, sells all ages, plus maternity, shoes, toys, books, coats, etc. (Mama Goose is an exceptional store, and the only reason I’ve been able to buy so many pretentious clothing items at such good prices! I don’t know what I would do if I lived somewhere else!) I shop less often at the Salvation Army here, but I’ve found a few good things there! There’s also eBay, ThredUp (use this link for $10 off!) and Poshmark. I haven’t bought anything from the latter of those, and maybe 3-4 things total from each of the former. With ThredUp you can search by brand or type of clothing you’re looking for, with filters for size, color, etc. I bought some really cute Crewcut shorts and a Makie sweatshirt for Margaret from ThredUp two summers ago (the shorts in size 2T so she wore them when she was 1 and 2). Last year I thought I would go crazy if I didn’t buy something from the summer Boden catalogue for her, and instead I looked on eBay for used Boden things, and I found a pair of the cutest ever strawberry print shorts for maybe $6. Which is, admittedly, expensive for used shorts. And, per #5 (see below), I bought their size 3-4, so they were too big for last summer, but hopefully they will be the every day shorts for this year, once it warms up, which, of course, will be about 5,000,000 years from now. (Per #2, I’d rather have one pair of shorts for her that I LOVE than 8 pairs that are only so-so.)

5. Buy a few sizes up (but not too many sizes up). If you buy a size 6 raincoat, your almost 5 year old can wear it for 2 years, see? (And I actually promise you that your child will survive. We’ve done that also for winter coats, and it works quite well.) Or if you find a cute, 3T swimsuit last summer that consists of matching swim shirt and shorts, and fits your then 2 year old as long as you take a little tuck in the shorts, she can wear the same suit last summer and then this coming summer. I’ve found that some brands fit on the small side. So my 4 year old wears a Breton striped shirt (Boden) that says it’s a 6-7. The sleeves are a little long, so we roll them up. Today I found a little size 6-7 striped t shirt for Will. I’ll either have him wear it this summer or wait a year. So you can buy early and have a child wear something an extra year, or buy early and save it, if it’s a really good find, for when they’re old enough to wear it. As long as you’re not stockpiling too many clothes, this saves a lot of money in the long run. (See below– size 4-5 denim skirt WITH TINY POLKA DOTS! Couldn’t resist. So we’re tucking it away until next year.)

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Now I know that the only person left reading is my mom (which is fitting, because she is the one who taught me the joys of the thrift store) but I will just say that most of these principles apply for buying second-hand clothes for yourself. Except for buying sizes ahead of where you currently are, one can hope. Buy less, buy good, buy simple. And do your mending.

(And I’d love to know where other people shop for kids’ clothes! Anyone else buy used? Make their kids wear coats 2 or 3 sizes too big? Any favorite secondhand finds?)

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Life Lately (A Birthday and Berries and Other Things)

 

DSC_1799.jpgIt’s summer here, finally. My mom came to town for 8 days which meant: a date night; Will’s hair got combed; and I got to sleep in for a lot of days in a row.  And she bought me two darling linen dresses from Old Navy, but that’s a post for another day. My mom is awesome. It was also Margaret’s birthday, so we pulled out the camera a bunch to get some pictures. (John’s parents are also awesome, for the record, and they were here for Will’s birthday, which I just haven’t gotten around to writing about because life is just in full swing around here.)DSC_1783.jpgDSC_1815.jpgDSC_1840.jpgDSC_1867.JPGDSC_1877.JPGDSC_1903.jpgDSC_1904.JPGDSC_1941.jpgDSC_1967.jpgI bought pretty much every kind of berry, plus cherries, at the grocery for Margaret’s birthday (one year since she so gloriously popped right out in our bathtub, on accident). And peonies. I made a cherry tart, but we put the candle in a little bowl of whipped cream with a raspberry on top. I’m normally  not the best at executing party-things, but we managed to put up a little banner and have cute plates and napkins and whatnot! DSC_1988.jpg

So anyway. It feels like a complete victory that we got some actual pictures of this child and her birthday. I haven’t wanted to post anything in a long time, and I hesitate even to post this, because it’s so easy to look at other people’s photographs of one little slice of time and not see all the other slices of time that are so very unphotogenic. Things are generally messy and ever so slightly hectic and just yesterday I had my first hair cut in six months, and there is some insane toddler behavior and babies who crawl around trying to put everything in their mouths and husbands who travel for work and all of that. We are at a point where scrambled eggs constitutes a fancy dinner. True story.  But it’s summer and we don’t have to wear coats and socks and gloves and hats to walk out the door! And these babies are fat and healthy! And John wakes up with them just about every morning so I can sleep in a tiny bit! And things are beautiful in an intense and crazy sort of way, and I am thankful. DSC_1915.jpg

Happy Father’s Day to Him & so on

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Almost a year ago today you straddled the bathtub next to me and caught our baby girl. The paramedic rushed in and gave you a blade and your cut her cord with your own two hands. I know you didn’t believe I was really in labor until she was literally on her way out, but you did a beautiful job nonetheless.

This has been an exhausting year: potty training the toddler, moving, job stuff. Lots of bath times and cleaning food off of small people’s faces and hands (jam hands!). Lots of laundry and diaper changes and sweeping floors. Car repairs and shoveling snow and taking the trash out, over and over and over.

Thank you for being a hero to all three of us in the midst of the hectic and mundane. For reminding me to slow down and enjoy the little in-between moments. For taking Will on adventures. For inventing beautiful and curious games to play with him. For all the stories you read and music you play. For all your patience and goodness. For planting that little mint yesterday on top of everything else. I can’t believe I get to do this whole crazy life with you. Happy Father’s Day, sweetie.

(And a very happy day to our dads, too. We love you each so much. Thank you for everything.)

A Creative Economy is the Fuel of Magnificence, Parisian Onion Soup, and Other Things

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I’ve had M.F.K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf on my list for ages, and I finally got around to requesting it from the library. Because I am trying not to buy every book I want to read on Amazon. Fisher wrote this book in 1942 to teach women how to cook and eat well in the midst of the scarcity of war. How to make do, but do it well. Chapters include “How to Rise Up Like New Bread” and “How to Be Cheerful Though Starving.” Gorgeous. Even if you have no interest in cooking any of her recipes the writing is stunning. Her chapter on eggs had me in hysterics.

One of the chapters’ epitaphs, a quotation from Emerson, reads: “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.” Yes. Amen.

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(This table of contents should look familiar to everyone, because I know all of you own Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal by now.)

It was only after I had started caramelizing a heap of onions in my second-biggest stockpot this morning, in anticipation of making an onion-potato soup for tonight’s dinner, that I read far enough to see her recipe for “Parisian Onion Soup” followed a few pages later by her recipe for “Cream of Potato Soup.” I will call my soup Parisian Onion Soup with Creamed Potatoes. Because it sounds better than “Random Vegetable Soup That I Plan to Puree So That Will Will eat the Onions.” (Because this child eats everything, but he doesn’t like little pieces of onions in things).

We are so conditioned to think that every meal requires an enormous, solid chunk of animal meat with it, and that to me seems such a violent and inelegant way to nourish oneself and one’s family. And we forget that a nicely cooked pot of vegetables can be a supper worthy of a Frenchman, maybe just served with a glass of red wine and a tiny morsel of cheese. Better a supper of herbs, etc.

So anyway, How to Cook a Wolf is lovely. A good cookbook, but mostly a book to be read for the stunning prose. It is more delightful than any novel I’ve read within recent memory. And borrowing books from the library feels strangely thrilling and sort of subversive. I do not need to buy all the objects! A creative economy!

Anyway, in the life of the family: Margaret is 8 months old and sort of floppily sitting up. Eating like a champ and basically being the most sanguine, happy, darling baby of all time.  We started moving her crib to the living room at night, and she immediately started sleeping the night through. It’s a bit Gaffigan-esque of us, but that’s how we like it. Who needs a bunch of bedrooms, anyway? Not us. Will adores her and requires her to sit right next to him at all meals.  When he pretends to be anything, she is a baby whatever it is: baby baseball player, baby kangaroo, baby fire dog (when he’s a fireman).

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Anyway, we made it through February, and we only have to exist in Ithaca for 10 more days before escaping to Nashville for the remainder of winter!!!!!!!!! Will is officially out of diapers, both night and day. It feels like I won the lottery. So life is good, except for Donald Trump and income taxes.

p.s. This is Hilarious (youtube video for parents. If you’re not a parent, this will probably not be funny, or even make sense). I have been dying all week.

Valentine’s Day & Good poems for Lonely Hearts

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John was out of town for work all of last week. My mom came monday night, just in time for Ithaca to get cold again. The temperature was in the negatives this morning. She brought heart-shaped cookie cutters and we’ve made cookies and heart pancakes and oh lots of things.

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John came back & he and will made this heart garland (above) for me. (Based on this little Valentine’s Day book we’ve checked out from the library to read with Will. Kind of a deep book about how a little mouse makes a huge valentine and wants to find someone to give it to, but it’s too big for anyone else so he and the little girl mouse cut it up into smaller valentine’s to give to lots of people. I mean, that’s really deep for a children’s Valentine’s Day book, right?)

On these cold days we need all the strung up hearts and little honey-spice cookies and treats we can get. My toes refuse to warm up, even in thick wool socks and shearling-lined slippers. I vowed last year that I would never do another winter here, and well, here we are.

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(Above: Will and my mom doing one of many baking projects together; Will eating raw batter. Below: Keeping things classy with orange paper plates.)

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And maybe it’s just me and my enneagram type or my idealism or having read too many Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery novels at an impressionable age, but even with all these babies and this really, really good man (and the sweetest parents ever and friends far beyond what I ever deserved) my heart still feels so lonely and so sad sometimes. And I wanted to write a whole thing about this, about Simone Weil and Augustine and the void and our hearts being empty and restless and all that, but I just am so exhausted from babies and toddlers not sleeping that I can’t.

But just very briefly. I wanted to say, especially on this particular day, that our hearts are made with this infinite empty space and this space aches so much sometimes. Even when you’re married. Even when you have little darling babies who are latched onto you 24 hours a day.

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And I wish I knew how to make it stop, but pretty much everything from Jesus to Anne Lamott seems to suggest that we just have to sit with the emptiness and let it be a little empty, without trying to stuff it down with all the chocolate in the world, cough, cough. not me, other people, I mean. Other people do that.

But Jesus, annoyingly, showed us that sometimes we have to sit in a garden and cry. Sometimes we have to pray, “God, why have you left me completely forsaken and alone?” And that is a hard prayer to pray. There is nothing fun or easy or cute about that prayer.  But maybe one of the main reasons I believe the Bible to be true is that the longest book in the whole thing is a book of poems.Poems for empty hearts. Poems for the betrayed, poems for the angry, poems for the soul-starved. Ok, so they are poem-prayers. And ok, the first and second ones are a little austere, if you’re starting from the beginning. You can skip around. 3, 4, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 42, 46, 56, 62, 63, 69, 73, 84, 90, 91, 121, 130, and 143 are some particularly good ones.

And the beautiful thing about these particular poems is that they don’t leave us in our misery. There is plenty of room for wallowing and languishing and angst in these poems. They say that every single one of our tears is counted. Matters. But these poems carry us through the ache and into the holy, shining radiant love of God. They gently teach us that our own empty heart is not the center of all things but that the beautiful Home of God is the center of all things. And that that dwelling place, that lovely home, is what our hearts long for (Psalm 84).

And the other beautiful thing is that Jesus prayed all of these poems for us. He became the loneliest and most forsaken for us. And there are no depths we feel that he has not felt. And he is just gathering us all up &  oh so soon will mend all the broken hearts & wipe all the tears from the saddest faces and bring us all home. (speaking of which, pleasepleaseplease listen to this song.) Anyway, happy valentine’s day, y’all.

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January: Some Good Things, a Fat Baby, Weather, etc.

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DSC_1879Life around here is so beautiful and so crazy. We all have terrible colds so I’m making little potions for us of cayenne pepper and honey and apple cider vinegar and kleenex are strewn about hither and yon in the way you’d imagine they would be in the home of an INFP mother of two babies.

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It has been a mild winter so far; we have had several days above freezing so far. Unlike last winter. But we won’t speak of last winter.

I bought plane tickets to take the children and myself to Nashville in late March, by which time the South will be all daffodils and sunshine and joy and low taxes, and Ithaca will be 14 degrees and miserable. I cannot wait. I’m flying by myself with a baby and a toddler and I don’t even care.

Some good things around here lately:

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Bullet journal!!!! I want to recite all of shakespeare’s sonnets to you every day.

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Making butter with some cream I found on sale at the co-op. Awesome toddler activity.

Watching lots of Jeeves and wooster with the toddler. He’s obsessed. It’s the best.

This baby:

There are lots of other good things I wanted to write about, but I am being clawed at by a toddler. More later.

The New Year and Just About the Best Thing I Ever Did

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Just a quick update. Life is beautiful and crazy. I just started a bullet journal yesterday (using this as a guide) and I love it more than life itself, pretty much.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to cook my way slowly and haphazardly through Jerusalem, a cookbook I’ve heard about over and over the past couple of years and then finally cooked no fewer than 6 recipes out of with my mother in law one afternoon over Christmas. The dinner we made was epic and insanely delicious as of course anything with that much garlic and cilantro and lemon juice and za’atar would be. It was exhausting, but glorious.

Which, by the way, pretty much sums up my entire year. Exhausting but (or maybe I should say and) glorious. A toddler, being pregnant, being a chaplain, living through last winter in Ithaca, giving birth in a bathtub in complete terror and ecstasy, and now two babies, another winter, and potty training the toddler. Heights of glory and depths of, well, something.

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I also want to listen to more music this year and read more novels. So those are my resolutions or hopes or intentions or whatever.

Next on the agenda. So obviously the best thing I ever did was to marry the most amazing man in the world. And then the next best few things I ever did were: go to Davidson College, birth two babies without pain medication, and sing in a gospel choir when I was in grad school. But maybe the next best thing I ever did is this:

Right before Christmas I had John take Safari off my iphone. I don’t have a facebook app, instragram app, or any other social media apps on there. I also have disabled the email on my phone. So now I can: text, make calls, take pictures, and use a map. Oh, and listen to podcasts. That’s all. At first I kept looking frantically for the safari icon, desperately wanting to check email or Facebook or read something to make me feel good. But now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all, I don’t even have words for how awesome this is. Now I have to use the actual computer if I want to check my email or facebook, so it happens maybe 3 times a day instead of 500.

Maybe you are not like me and you have self control and you don’t get sucked into all that crazy not-real stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to share. I am un-tethering myself from that blasted thing & just feeling better and happier and more present than I have in awhile. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, and I’m not trying to be all, “Look how awesome I am.” But it just feels good not to have access to those empty sink holes any more.

Anyway, now i must return to my bullet journal and some trashy tv! Love & joy to everyone and hope your 2016 is going beautifully so far!