Letting go of your kids' old clothes

Athena Tsavliris is having a hard time parting ways with her kids' too-tiny outfits.
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Photo: iStockphoto

Behind the door of my two-year-old son, ANTIMO’s, bedroom is a tower of boxes filled to the brim with pint-sized pullovers and printed jumpsuits that he and his older sister, Iole, now 4, have outgrown. Some things are pristine, while others are tatty and worn, missing a button or two, sun-faded or stained with ice lolly and spaghetti sauce.

Occasionally, I sort through the piles and marvel at how small my kids once were, and how fast it all moves. There’s the cotton cardi and matching hat, knitted by their Nonna, that both my children wore home from the hospital; the gingham romper that my son wore just once at three months old to his aunt’s wedding; my daughter’s first frocks with smocking and puffed sleeves; and the watermelon-pink velour jumpsuit that she wore on her first trans-Atlantic flight. Sewn into every seam, hem and buttonhole are the stories of their little lives so far, and the thought of parting with these things makes me teary.

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Some moms are far more practical, making regular runs to their local donation bins. Others will stuff bags with too-small clothes and send them off to siblings and friends. One woman I know has given almost everything away, even though she hopes for another child because she just loves buying baby clothes that much.

I’m too sentimental to get rid of everything; doing so signals the end of babyhood and closes the door on any fantasies of more children to come. But as the piles continue to grow, I have started a supply chain to friends and neighbours. I grew up in England, and my childhood pals are scattered all over the map, so sharing hand-me-downs with faraway friends somehow makes me feel more connected. A powder-pink jumpsuit went to baby Thirza in New York, and I sent all my son’s gorgeous Fair Isle sweaters to little Thomas in the English countryside. I love the thought of Iole’s tutus and party dresses enjoying a second life in London on Astra, Eva and Cleo, daughters of lifelong friends.

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Local pals receive surprise parcels, too. The post office knows us well, and my children love sticking stamps and scribbling doodles on the packages. My dearest Toronto friend’s daughter, Julia, spent the whole summer on her Ontario farm wearing little else but a polka-dotted cotton dress that belonged to Iole. It’s a lovely sight when I spot a neighbourhood kid racing around our local park in Antimo’s woolly hats and striped leggings.

We also love getting hand-me-downs. Iole wears Amelia’s lime-green flamenco dress with aplomb, and Antimo benefits seasonally from Austin’s preppy-chic wardrobe. Recently, my daughter inherited a cotton tunic dress that a friend’s now-teenaged daughter wore on her first day of school. Her mom had held on to it for more than a decade. Perhaps my strong-minded four-year-old brings back memories of her own girl at that age.

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Of course, there are things I’ll never part with: my children’s handmade christening outfits, crocheted blankets and the odd cotton sundress that cost nothing but hold value beyond measure. One day, I’ll find them all in a dusty box at the back of a cupboard, and I’ll remember how tiny my children once were, and how fast the time flew.

Athena Tsavliris is a writer with a penchant for pretty dresses and shoes that sparkle. Her children love to play dress-up in her closet.

A version of this article appeared in our November 2013 issue with the headline “Clothes call,” p. 52.

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