The Clothes We Keep

I worry I could end up 80 years old, Rubbermaid bins full of my children's clothes stacked to the ceiling.
05/29/2014 03:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When it comes to dealing with the clothes my children have outgrown, I try to practice as much non-attachment as possible. Some fear an old age surrounded by an army of mangy cats, eschewing the love of people in favor of the four-legged beasts. I've never been a cat person, so that particular concern doesn't apply to me. Instead, without an active crusade against it, I worry I could end up 80 years old, Rubbermaid bins full of my children's clothes stacked to the ceiling. I'd spend my days unpacking and repacking them, pausing at each article to sniff deeply and recall a memory woven into its fiber. The romper my daughter wore the first time she ate corn on the cob and loved it so much I had to surrender mine as well. The shirt my son wore to his kindergarten concert when he had a block solo that my husband and I found out about only as he was called up to play. (He prefers to fill me in on what he ate for lunch that day and everything else is "good" "fine" and "nothing much.")

At least Easter dresses can't pee on your carpet.

Last summer I packed away most of my 2-year-old's things, hoping to get another year out of pieces like the pink-and-oatmeal colored striped sunsuit that ties at the shoulders. She wore it on our vacation in Florida while regaling us with a hilariously on point rendition of "I Love Trash," complete with perfectly timed silver-sandaled foot stomps. I've yet to pull it back out for this year, almost afraid to face the undeniable fact that she's grown. Because that's the thing about clothes: they stay the same size. You can lay a cardigan in your lap, its five tiny pearly buttons in a perfect row, and measure the distance from wrist to shoulder by your outstretched hand. There's a photo somewhere of the person who just told you, "Mama, you pwobabwy didn't bwush your teeth today" wearing it, laying in your lap with tiny arms that fit those sleeves perfectly. But scale can get lost in two-dimensional photos. It's the wool that tells you how small she once was.

I remind myself that as they outgrow the fabric, they're not outgrowing the memories made while wrapped in it. So I pass things on to cousins and friends, shrinking those stacks I worry about. My kids get more joy out of seeing their clothes on smaller people they love than they ever did wearing them in the first place. Each T-shirt and dress traps new giggles in its seams.

Of course, there are a few things you'll have to pry from my cold, dead hands on my way out, but I'm OK with that.

The Stella McCartney for Gap Jimi Hendrix-esque jacket my mother hunted down when my son was 4 still sells on eBay for four times what it cost originally. Yet I plan on shoving my great grandchildren into it while they complain that it smells like old people.

I'll hang tight to the painfully adorable and highly impractical green high-top Chuck Taylors I bought for my son before he was born. Sadly, I stashed them so well that I didn't find them until after cramming his foot in them would have required some sort of torturous act of binding. For six years I kept them in one bin or another until my daughter came along. She only wore them a handful of times, because wiggling the sausage foot of a 9-month-old who can't walk into a pair of high-tops should be a job left to Blue Ivy Carter's nanny. But I'll be damned if they aren't so cute it makes you want to spit.

Perhaps surprisingly, a few items, if not my kids' to begin with, wouldn't get a second glance on the rack at Goodwill. Such as the washed-a-thousand-times lime green T-shirt from Green Up day when my son was just over a year old. The woman behind the registration table handed me an extra small along with our trash bags, saying, "It's the smallest we have. I'm sure it will be like a dress on him, but you're welcome to have it!" She was right. As we marched around the neighborhood that day picking up trash, baby strapped to my back, I smiled at my husband. I felt so proud of the community we were raising a child in and so proud of us for making it better. (Then we found a used needle and I was all, "Welp, that's enough civic duty for today.") Aesthetically there's not much about the run-of-the-mill cotton T-shirt that I care for. No fun graphic, not even a font that I like. The color is meh and even the cut is on the short and wide side. But I remember that hot day in May, feeling like I had made myself a family and the three of us were making a difference. The shirt nearly fits his sister now, our number four.

And there'll be so much more. Christmas outfits, first ballet shoes, band T-shirts and prom dresses. Laughter and tears and memories attached to each. Yet as they get older, I have to choose carefully what to keep. The larger the clothes, the faster those Rubbermaid bins fill up.


More tales of parenting woe can be found at Sara's blog Oddlywelladjusted.