Babies are an industry: Clothes, diapers, toys, books, blankets, furniture, bibs, pacifiers, bottles, pillows — you name it, they make it, and they tell you that you need it.
But you don’t have to believe them!
Babies need clothes, of course. And they need more clothes per day than we do. (Can you imagine if you had to wash two to five (or more!) outfits for yourself every day? Yikes!) But that doesn’t mean that you have to have drawers overflowing with clothes that your baby may wear once or twice (or not at all) before moving on to the next size.
Borrow and lend
I wonder just how many thousands — or millions — of bags of baby clothes are piled up in closets, garages and storage units. Babies grow so fast that their clothing should always be considered temporary, as items to freely lend and borrow. Baby clothes should flow in and out of your home, fulfilling their purpose of clothing babies as they learn and grow and explore.
It starts before your baby arrives. While pregnant with twins, I began accumulating — both solicited and unsolicited — secondhand clothing. I sent an email to all my parent friends, asking them if they had clothes they were lending or selling, or if they knew other friends who had clothes they were lending or selling. Through this loose network, I received clothing from friends and friends of friends — clothes that may still be sitting in someone’s garage if I hadn’t inquired. And now they’re clothes that my children have already outgrown and I’ve passed along.
Some parents passed along clothes that they wanted back (for future children), while most were happy to have the clothes passed along to the next family or donated to a secondhand store.
I questioned my choice to make direct asks since I didn’t want to seem greedy or cheap. But I knew that I wanted as much of our baby clothes to be secondhand as possible, and that if I didn’t ask, then I wouldn’t know if anyone had clothes to part with.
Wash more often, instead of having more
While I certainly am no fan of laundry, I’m motivated to do a few loads every day or two because it reduces the overall amount of clothing in our home. By washing more frequently, clothes don’t pile up in baskets and closets for an epic laundry day of folding and sorting. Washing clothes frequently keeps clothes in action and fulfilling their purpose. Having large quantities of clothing also just doesn’t make sense because babies truly go through clothes so quickly. (I’m a stay-at-home parent, but lucky for me, my co-parent has more of an affinity for doing laundry than I do, so we are a pair when it comes to tackling this begrudging task.)
Instead of having more things, use your things more often!
(Note: Of course, laundry has its own environmental impact! Consider using eco-friendly detergents and the most energy-efficient settings on your machines for the job.)
Basics and gender-neutral clothing
As the parent of boy-girl twins, I find using basic and gender-neutral clothing is particularly relevant for our family, but this practice can be useful for any family of any makeup. When choosing clothes — secondhand or new — choose items that are mostly gender-neutral. Gender-neutral clothing makes my life easier: We have one bin for all shirts and one for all pants, etc. — and my babies look cute all the time because, well, they are babies! This is just as relevant for all families with multiple children because there is more flexibility for hand-me-downs from sibling to sibling.
(If you spot a set of twins wearing grey hoodies and various solid-colored onesies and leggings (and they are the most adorable twins you’ve ever seen), then you’re likely seeing my twins!)
Have designated outdoor play clothes
Did we buy special pants for outdoor play? No, but when we started playing outside at the beginning of the summer, I chose our thickest pairs of pants (jeans and overalls) and designated them as outdoor pants. Many months later, the fabric around the knees is thinning but hasn’t yet ripped. I fully expect holes to show up as the babies play more and more and harder and harder outside. When that happens, I will mend them, and then eventually replace them with newly repurposed pants to be their outdoor pants. And instead of having holes in all our pants, we will have holes in one set of pants.
I’ve found freedom in having outdoor pants because when the babies are in them, no part of me wants to withhold them from adventure or dirtiness. In fact, I’m secretly excited for them to wear these pants out. Perhaps the more holes they have, the more they explored and learned while wearing them!
Because we have two babies, and because of the global pandemic, most of our outside play happens at home. This makes changing the babies into their “outdoor” pants more feasible because we don’t have to carry extra clothes around town.
Getting new clothes as a gift? Ask for gently used
It’s no secret that people love to buy baby clothes. They are adorable (especially baby clothes that look like adult clothes). But if you’re trying to reduce your environmental impact, buying or using new clothes does not support this endeavor. The culture of gift-giving in the United States definitely doesn’t value reducing environmental impact. More, more, more, it says.
The tradition itself, though, is a time-honored, practical and generous way to support new families. So how do we bridge the gap between consumption and resource stewardship?
My wonderful aunts hosted a baby shower for me — and just in time, as my babies came seven weeks early, just two days after this shower! Before the shower, we let the guests know that I was just as happy (actually, much happier) with gently used items than with brand-new items.
One family friend brought a huge bagful of gently used clothes, jackets, shoes and baby carriers that she found at a thrift store. She expressed her delight of getting so many items. She bought much more than she would have had she purchased new items! They were in a huge bag and I loved pulling out each piece, knowing that each article had been loved before, and would be loved once again after my babies wore it.
Help normalize secondhand gift-giving by giving people permission (or directly requesting) that they give secondhand gifts.
If you get new clothes and don’t need them? Regift or donate
Friends, aunts and uncles, and grandparents will inevitably buy new clothes for your baby. It’s just going to happen. As a family, we welcome all gifts we received with appreciation, regardless of the source.
Between our borrowed clothes and a handful of new items, we occasionally have an excess of brand new (tags still on) clothing. Do we feel like we need to use them because they are brand-new? No! Instead of feeling obligated to take the tags off and throw the clothes in the dresser (knowing you would likely get very little use out of the clothing), you can 1). Return or exchange the items, 2). Regift them to another parent, 3). Thrift them, or 4). Donate them.
Fight the urge to keep the new clothes if you don’t need them, and let someone else enjoy new clothes.
Clothes, clothes, clothes. There will always be baby clothes — stained, new, adorable, ridiculous, expensive, impractical — just so many clothes. But by planning ahead and making thoughtful choices as your baby grows through clothes, you can easily reduce your environmental impact.