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When Free Isn’t Free

It’s common in some circles to pass along clothing that your children have outgrown. We’ve gotten and passed along a lot of clothing over the years and it’s helped our budget considerably. I’m sure that the clothes we’ve passed on have helped other families too. When someone offers you their child’s outgrown clothing to use, it’s always a good idea to clarify what they mean by “use”.

I just assumed that the rules were the same for everyone: you get a bag of clothing, use what you can and pass the rest along. Once your child outgrows the clothing, you take what is still in useable condition and pass it along again. I assumed too that all moms would understand that some outfits would get very worn, ripped or stained and that they would need to be discarded. I learned that my assumptions were not correct all the time.

When I was a single mom, I had lots of offers of help. Several people from church had offered to let me “borrow” their children’s outgrown clothing. I didn’t really fixate on the borrow word—I was struggling financially and I was glad for the clothes. Turns out it was an important thing to consider. Borrowing clothes means that the person giving you the clothing expects you to return the clothes to them when your child is done with them. It sounds easy enough, but the real world is very rarely easy.

I had several women offer to let me borrow clothing that particular year. I took them all up on their offers. However, none of them wanted the clothing marked and when my daughter outgrew the clothes, I had trouble remembering who had allowed me to borrow what piece of clothing. There were some pieces that were stained permanently and I wasn’t able to get the stains out.

One of the moms was very upset when she saw that her daughter’s favorite shirt which she wanted back now had a juice stain on the collar. Because of this experience, I found that I was following the children around making sure they didn’t get dirty. I was obsessing over stains and dirt too! I was also worrying about keeping the different borrowed clothes separate to not confuse who gave me what. I didn’t do such a great job despite my efforts either.

After a particularly stressful day, I decided that the free borrowed clothes were costing me too much in emotional energy. I returned them to their owners and thanked them for their kindness. After that, I declined offers to “borrow” clothing for free: the free clothes just “cost” me too much! I would have been better off just buying second hand clothes.

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