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3 Steps to the Seasonal Swap in Hand-Me-Down Heaven

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…
Photo by Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1st Step to Organized Spending ~ Shopping Lists

1st Step to Organized SpendingOne thing many people don’t think to organize is their shopping lists.

I think this is crazy.  An organized list is the first step to organized spending.  Organized spending means I can stay within my budget.

I not only organize my shopping list, I maintain multiple lists and they are organized in a master list.

Now you think I’m crazy.

But I’m not.  At least not in this way…

I use an app on my iPhone to maintain my shopping lists.  I don’t really like the app I use for a whole host of reasons, so I’m not going to tell you what I use.  There are a lot of good apps out there, I simply haven’t had time to switch apps.

I’d suggest looking for a shopping list app with the following features:

    • Maintain multiple lists
    • Add headings to individual lists
    • Allow multiple users to modify and sync to the same list from a variety of devices (computer, phone, tablet)
    • Dynamically choose whether checking off an item removes it from the list or crosses it out (so you don’t have to recreate your lists every time you want to shop – especially when some items on the list are regular purchases like eggs and milk)
    • Operate offline

OK, so once you find an awesome app, here’s what you can do:

1.  Comment, e-mail, or text me with the name of the app so I can change too!

2.  Make a separate shopping list for each type of shopping/errand-running you do.  I have maintain these lists:

    • Groceries
    • WalMart
    • Lowes
    • Hobby Lobby/JoAnn’s
    • Sams
    • Staples
    • Clothing
    • Items I Want to Find
    • Ikea
    • Cookeville
    • Knoxville
    • Nashville
    • Texas/Oklahoma
    • Delaware/Pennsylvania
    • Library
    • Vacation Grocery List
    • Thanksgiving Grocery List
    • Gift Ideas
    • Car Travel Snacks
    • Homeschool
    • Replacement Parts

3.  Within each list I have subcategories or headings.

In my Grocery List, I have headings for each major area of the store in the order I like to shop based upon how our store is arranged.

    • Returns
    • General Merchandise
    • Dairy-Eggs-Refrigerated Breads
    • Deli-Hot Foods
    • Refrigerated Foods
    • Aisles
    • Raw Meat
    • Frozen Foods
    • Produce-Bakery
    • Check-Out Items

In my Replacement Parts list I keep information for odd things we need replaced at odd intervals.

    • Appliances:  here I list things like the model for our refrigerator filter, the bulb needed for the oven light, the filter for our air conditioning unit
    • Batteries:  it might seem obvious, but these are specialty batteries for key fobs, watches, and a variety of toys that use watch/hearing aid type batteries: Hex Bugs, Lego Hut, voice changer
    • Cars:  wipers, headlamp bulbs, bulbs for blinkers, model numbers in case we need to replace key fobs entirely
    • Clothing:  Here I keep sizes for people who don’t change – my husband’s undershirt size, neck size, pant size, etc. that I can never seem to remember once I start looking at all the different sizes.
    • Light Bulbs:  kitchen floods, under cabinet halogens, basement spots, it’s amazing how many unique light bulbs we seem to need!
    • Printers:  ink cartridge numbers for our various printers, paper feeding rollers, etc.
    • Contacts:  the current prescription information needed to reorder contacts for the many contact wearers in our house
    • Sewing Machine:  I can never remember which size needle, bulb, bobbin without having the information written down.  And since I have a sewing machine and an embroidery machine and my daughter also has a sewing machine, there are a lot of parts to get confused!
    • Misc:  I keep my hair color information, the type of flossers we like to use, razor blade info for the shavers in our family, and other little things I might not remember exactly what kind we use when it’s time to re-buy.

In my Gift Ideas list I have headings for all the people for whom we typically buy gifts. When I come up with an idea to buy or make, I put it on the list so I don’t forget to find it.

You may have different places and types of shopping than we do. But the concept is the same. For instance, I have lists for certain locations, too.

Since we live in a small town and infrequently travel to the “big city,” I want to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity to pick up things we can only get when we are in the city.

I also keep lists for where our families live so that when we visit we can pick up regional favorites – like Herr’s Salt & Vinegar chips when we are in Delaware or Doguet’s Roux or Fiesta Fajita Seasoning when we are in Texas.  These lists are a great place to list items I need to take with me when I make a visit as well.

One of my favorite parts of my list organization is that my husband and kids can add items to the lists when needed.  My husband usually puts the date he adds something as part of the item so I notice it’s on the list and not a mistake.  We can also divide and conquer when shopping – as we pick things up, we check them off, and the other person’s list is changed, too, so they know not to toss it in their basket.

We also use the list to divide and conquer on shopping trips. We’ve split into three separate teams and raced to see who could finish their part of the list fastest (without crashing into any other customers and while still checking unit prices to make sure we get the best deal).

So there you go – the first step to organized spending is an organized shopping list!

Photo Credit:
Shopping List by Bruce Turner from AustinTX (shopping list) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

6 Steps to Maintaining a Healthy Weight (in the Closet)

There is this concept in physics called entropy.

Entropy describes the tendency for systems to go from a state of higher organization to a state of lowest organization on a molecular level.  — wiseGEEK

While what happens in our closets, purses, cupboards, and playrooms isn’t exactly happening at a molecular level, it’s a great analogy for entropy.  These places don’t get orderly on their own.  And the more “stuff” we put in them, the greater the potential for chaos.  And it will take a great deal of energy and work to set it back in order (see the three laws of Thermodynamics for another great analogy!)

{{Daddy, you were right!  A degree in physics does come in handy!}}

So on to that closet…

Wouldn’t you love to have a refreshing closet like this:

Insufficient Space is Not the Issue

Here’s the simple truth: insufficient space is not the issue. 

The picture above is not my closet.  I cannot get into my closet to get a good picture.  It’s just not big enough.  And I don’t buy all my clothes in varying shades of the same few colors – a trick of photography that misleads about what “order” looks like….)

I share my closet with my husband, with gifts we’ve purchased for future giving, and with sewing projects waiting in the queue.

But my closet is orderly, for all it’s varied uses.

What about your closet?  Do you know what is in there?

It will never be any more ordered than it is when you first put it in order.  It’s all down hill from there.  But with a little bit of effort on a daily basis, you can maintain order.

And I’d say, the first step is to eliminate a lot of the chaos by eliminating a lot of the contents.  There are a few ways to do this, but since most people aren’t able to be completely honest with themselves about how often they wear that sweater, the last time they could fit into those pants, or how holey and pit-stained their t-shirts really are…  may I suggest reading 2 Steps to Lose 15+ Pounds in the Clothing Department.

6 Steps to Maintaining a Healthy Closet Weight

  1. Sort your clothes into two categories: what you wear when the weather is generally hot, and what you wear when the weather is generally cold.  Whichever weather is not happening right now, take those clothes and fold them up neatly and put them on a high shelf or in a bin in the attic, or in wardrobe boxes in the basement.  Don’t clutter up your guest room closet with out-of-season clothes.  It’ll save lots of apologizing when a guest arrives and you try to squeeze stuff back so they can have two inches of hanging space…
  2. Take everything off the hangers and put the hangers in backwards.  So the hook wraps the rod from behind rather than in front.  When you wear something and launder it and put it away, hang it in the more traditional fashion.  At the end of the season, anything still hanging on backwards hangers can go.  Fold it neatly and put it in a bag to give away.  Don’t look in the bag.  You have proof you don’t wear it.  Pass it on and feel good about it.
  3. Take all the folding clothes and put them in neatly folded piles on the shelf backwards too. Same concept as hanging clothes.  If you get to the end of the season and there is still a t-shirt from camp when you were 14-years old sitting on the shelf with the neck pointing outward, it’s time to throw it away, turn it into a dust cloth, or cut it up for the family t-shirt quilt.  It doesn’t belong in your closet.
  4. The next time you are folding laundry, throw away any socks with holes. Keep a notepad or your shopping list app handy for a few weeks so you can make a note of what you need to replace.  Same thing with undies.  If the elastic is stretched and frayed, if there are pit stains on your husband’s undershirts, if you have a pair at the bottom of the bin you only wear when you’ve run out of everything because they give you the most horrible wedgie… throw them away.  Again, no one at the Salvation Army needs saggy panties or dust cloths.  These are not a giveaway items.  {On the other hand, if you do a lot of wood staining, old t-shirts have lost all their lint and make great cloths for applying stain!}
  5. Make a list of what you like to wear together.  When I pull out the out-of-season clothes, I like to try everything on and make a list of coordinated outfits based on what fits and different combinations of accessories.  I keep the list on a closet shelf as inspiration in the mornings.  It helps me wear everything and not wear the same thing over and over and over again.  With pre-planned variety I am less tempted to “pick up something new” I don’t really need simply because I am bored with my wardrobe. Anything that doesn’t fit or coordinate with anything else can go right into the giveaway box.  But what I keep, I hang backwards at the start so I can evaluate what I actually wear.
  6. Ditch the dresser.  I personally don’t use a dresser.  I know, this sounds like heresy, right?  No dressers? But it’s true.  I like shelves in the closet.  I do have a couple of bins on a shelf to contain my unmentionables, socks, and swimwear.  Otherwise it’s neatly folded piles I can see.  Nothing gets wadded up in the back.  I gain floor space in the bedroom.

** Now, I don’t want you to go away thinking we can do this because we have loads of closet space.  We don’t.  We don’t have a huge walk-in closet.  As a matter of fact, our closet space is fairly limited by most American standards.

I’ve already mentioned my husband and I share a closet with each other and with a few other household storage needs.  We also keep in- and out-of-season clothes in the same closet – rotating which things hang with those folded on the highest shelves based upon the weather.

My boys’ closet is 3-ft wide and 5-ft deep.  It opens on the 3-ft side.  Five (yes, 5!) boys share this closet.  They each have one shelf – 3-ft wide, 20″ deep – with a small locker-crate for socks.    The floor under the shelf houses their hamper bags for dirty clothes. Along both walls between the door and the shelves we have two rows of hooks for hanging clothes.  

The girls’ room is equally limited.  They have a 5’ft wide closet, but it is only 20-in deep. It opens at one end of the long side.  They have floor to ceiling 12-in deep shelves for the first 4-ft, and double hanging rods at the far end for hanging clothes.  You have to be pretty thin to fit between the wall and the 12-in shelves to get to the hanging rods, but so far it works.  And there are only two girls, so that helps.  

Limited space limits our purchases.  It works well because we also live on a limited budget with seemingly limitless kids.  🙂

My point?  Insufficient space is not the issue.

You may not be able to change how much space you have, but you can be creative about making limited space efficient.  The real issue tends to revolve around excess (see last week’s post on decreasing closet contents) and order. And these are things you can change… if you are willing.


Photo Credit:
No Skeletons in this Closet by Wjablow (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2 Steps to Lose 15+ Pounds in the Clothing Department

2 Steps to Lose 15 lbs.jpg

2 Steps to Lose 15+ Pounds in the Clothing Department

  1. Pick three shirts and three pants with holes in them to wear for grubby work (painting, putting insulation in the attic, wrestling pigs in the back pasture…)  Seriously, you’ll have one to wash, one to wear, and one to save a seat on the shelf.  How many days in a row do you really do hard labor?  Throw the rest away. No one at the Salvation Army needs grubbies.  When was the last time you met a person at a shelter who only had formal wear?  (And if you haven’t met anyone at a shelter, perhaps you should find some time to volunteer.)
  2. Scan your closet for all the things you have a negative feeling about.
  • These are the clothes you bought and didn’t work and now you feel guilty about wasting the money so you keep it hoping to find a way to make it work.  {Think about this a minute:  are you redeeming your mistake by holding onto that garment?  Wouldn’t it be more redemptive to own your mistake, figure out how to avoid it in the future, and pass along the lesson learned to someone who could actually enjoy it?  You are not un-spending the money by cluttering your closet.}
  • Or the shirt that you love, but the neckline hits just wrong so you never wear it.
  • Or the jeans from high school that looked really good 30-lbs ago and even if fashion repeats on a 30-year cycle, it is unlikely you’ll wear them again anyway.  And you don’t have a daughter to pass them on to if that particular version of fashion returns…
  • Or the sweater your husband gave you when you were engaged and you never liked it but there it still sits
  • Or the shorts with the rough seam around the waist, so you never pick them because they are uncomfortable.
  • Or the socks you keep as a last resort because they inch their way down your ankle into your shoe as you walk.
  • Pretty much anything you avoid wearing or keep for guilt or hope for skinnier days.  {The one caveat here, if you are pregnant, don’t despair!  I know you haven’t seen your toes in the past eight weeks, but you really are likely to fit into those clothes again.}

OK, so all those “negative-feeling clothes”?  Fold them neatly and put them in a box to give away.  Don’t look through the box again later.  It is not a place to shop.

If you are on a tight budget, it can seem really hard to let go of “good” clothes.

Don’t buy the lie.

There is always a way to be generous.  Hoarding is not the fruit of the Spirit.  Sometimes clinging to clothes is our way to make sure God provides.  He will.  You don’t need a back-up plan for if he fails.

So what do you do with what’s left?

Tune in next week for a post on Maintaining a Healthy Closet Weight.

Photo Credit:
Scale photo by Roman Harak (North Korea – Samjiyon airport) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Laundry Room

The Laundry Room.

Laundry Room

You’d think it’d be a clean room, given that the primary function of the room is cleaning.  Yet, it seems to be “Most Likely to Succeed” in the contest for clutter.

I know many houses don’t have a laundry room.  They might have a hall closet.  In Tennessee we see washers and dryers on the front porch sometimes.  I can’t decide if it makes a small laundry room to have it on the porch or a huge one, since you’ve got the whole great outdoors.

Anyway, whatever your laundry space is, it needs to be orderly if you are going to get in there to do laundry.

In our current house, we have a decent sized laundry room/half bath.  If you don’t mind your knees hitting the dryer while you sit, it’s really not a problem.  And what is more entertaining if you are going to be there a while, than watching clothes tumbling around in front of you?

I’m just kidding.  There is enough room to sit comfortably without hitting your knees on the dryer.  But you really cannot open the dryer door, so don’t even think about using the closed potty as a seat while you fold clothes.  🙂

Our laundry room is in the finished basement.  The walls are cinderblock and theres’ just a tiny window near the ceiling, which made it feel a little dungeon-ish at first.  Once I got over my Cinderella complex, I spent a little time trying to make our laundry room fun.

Laundry - Loads of Fun

I let my littlest two (at the time I was painting) smack paint-covered hands on the wall for this one:

Please Wash Your Hands

And over the potty, Mike thinks I got a little carried away…

Need to Pee?

By the way, the walls are more of a spring green than they look in the pictures.  Here it looks like we peed on the walls.

We didn’t.  Really.

The bright color and fun images, along with white cabinets and adding an Ikea desktop for a folding counter, work together to make the laundry room feel less dungeon-ish and more like a room I’d like to spend time in.  I’m sure I would really enjoy it if I liked doing laundry.

I don’t.

But laundry happens, so I thought it was a good idea to make the best of it.

One thing that helps me is to have what I need handy and accessible.

  • We have a rod with hangers for clothes which need to hang straight from the washer or dryer.
  • I have hooks to hold mesh bags for delicates.  We also use these for socks.  It keeps the whole lot together which makes them easy to fold, keeps them from disappearing by halves, and helps me know to whom they belong.
  • A shelf over the washer and dryer holds laundry soap, baking soda, oxy clean, spot cleaner, and dryer sheets.  (Oh – here’s a nifty trick!  Cut your dryer sheets in halves or thirds or quarters.  They keep the static away and last 2-4 times longer.  We have a large capacity washer/dryer, so halves work well for our LARGE loads.  But I used to use quarters in more traditionally sized machines.)
  • The ironing board lives at the end of the washer/dryer area.  Since I really only use it for sewing and crafts, I’m about to move it to the sewing area, though.  But if you actually iron clothes, it’s nice to have it nearby.
  • And empty laundry baskets sit on top of a low cabinet near the washer and dryer.

That’s it.  A simple, organized, easy-to-use, fun-ish laundry room!

Oh – and extra laundry supplies live with all my other cleaning supplies.  I just refill as necessary.