When to Give Things Away

J Jordan
May 1, 2010

Your son's baby blanket. The outfit in which your brought your daughter home from the hospital. The passies, the stuffed animals, the first books. Yes, there are things that no matter what, no matter your children's eventual age, you will retain, regardless of whether they call you sentimental or a pack rat. These things you will keep and cherish because they represent so much of a time that is both golden and gone but for the softness of that blanket. Those are things that, yes, we should keep.

Then there's all that other stuff. And boy, oh boy, is there a lot of it. In some households, those things grow quite easily into mountains out of what should rightfully be just a molehill. But, even the things we're not attached to our kids often are, and we end up keeping way too much of it. So how and when do we gracefully part with all these things -- especially when the person holding them is looking at you with those puppy dog eyes saying, "Mommy, we HAVE to keep them!" every time you head out the door?

Clothes, toys and sometimes books can possibly be passed on to a younger sibling. That is one sly way to slide an item over without permanently parting with it. The only problem with that is the older sibling, upon seeing the item in use by the younger sibling, may wish to reclaim it. (This never seems to happen with clothing, amazingly.) Also, the item hasn't left the house while inevitably new things continue to come in, which does nothing to support your attempts to clear out the clutter. Still, it is a good first step toward teaching everyone in the house about reusing, re-gifting, and getting the full life out of an item. Aside from the attempts to reclaim, a shared item between children can also make for some really good teachable moments.

Often, despite these "Kodak moments," it seems best to simply part ways with an item. There are a number of ways to do this, each of them easier than the next. First off, there is the friend with a child who is younger than yours who will gleefully accept your used items. In the best of all worlds, we get gently used clothes and toys and the like from someone and then pass along such items after we've gently used them. It feels good to both give and receive these items, and can feel good to your child, too, when you explain how such items have helped your family and can help others. Plus, considering the current economic conditions, the cyclical sharing option is another way of saving money.

Then there's the ever popular Freecycle, an online network that parents are especially fond of for obtaining items for free and finding uses for things they don't need anymore but are still in good condition. Posting ads to this site, and others like it such as Craigslist, can be a fun way to enlist the help of your child and engage him or her in something fun that helps with the parting portion of the activity. Your child can help you write the ad, post it online, sort the responses and reply. Not only that -- there's actually quite a lot of good stuff to be had from such sites, and they truly are a great way to pass on gently used items.

There's also the trusty yard sale. Nothing seems to help a child part with something more easily than cold, hard cash. In fact, you may have to put a halt to your child collecting things he or she actually still needs to sell off! It's often a lot of fun for a child to set the price, even negotiate a little, and walk away from the sale with a few more dimes (or dollars, these days) in the piggy bank.

OK, so we've covered how to give these things away, but what about when? Clothing is a obvious one -- once it's outgrown, rare is the case when a child can grow back into it. But what about the other stuff? Some parents subscribe faithfully to whatever age range is stated on the label or the box. That might be the easiest thing to do, and perhaps the least sentimental. Many parents, however, wait until their child focuses on a new toy or book and then rather skillfully move the item on to its new home.This is known as the switcheroo method, and it works surprisingly well as the child's loss is immediately replaced by something new, which in kid land is generally always better.

Items such as pacifiers or a favorite, albeit ratty old teddy bear can be harder to negotiate. As an item starts to fall apart, it never hurts to draw attention to that fact, and perhaps work with the child to play with the item less and admire it more, eventually leading to a mutual decision to keep the item safe rather than let it fall apart. In either case, eventually parents can get rid of the item, whether it goes in the keepsake box or, sadly, the garbage. Generally, it's easy to tell when an item has outlived its usefulness. The child seems less interested in the item and naturally outgrows it in most cases. The time frame for that can be different for each child, but take stock in noting that most adults don't carry around pacifiers (even if they do still have them tucked away!). Often it's the parents that have a hard time parting with those things long after the child has forgotten about them.

Sometimes it is the parent's decision to part with something, sometimes the child makes the decision, and sometimes it's a group decision. Whoever the decision maker is, however, one thing seems to be clear: Eventually, you will get rid of all this stuff! (And then, years later, you'll be nostalgic for it.)

From the Parents

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