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Children’s “Stuff”

Philipp Muessig
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA)

For eighteen years, the clothes, toys, furniture, equipment and creations of your child will be like flotsam and jetsam flowing into your home. Or perhaps flooding into your house is more accurate. The sheer volume of clothes, toys and art projects alone, to say nothing of car seats, strollers, bikes, rollerblades, skis, ice skates – well, we’re talking a lot of stuff, and potentially a lot of money, manufacturing waste and eventual trash! If you have two children, that’s almost twice the impact.

Acquiring, storing, fixing, saving – or not saving – all this stuff requires some thoughtful management. Like preparing for floodwaters, you must plan for things to flow into your house, and then to flow out. You and your child will use and enjoy literally tons of material. But you won’t want to dam it up inside your house: most of it won’t be worth saving, you won’t have the physical space to store it, and you won’t want the mental “burden” of storing it.

There will, however, be a few keepsakes you and your child will want to save: the proverbial “silver spoon” from your grandparents, a doll, a few beloved books, selected artwork, clay creations, etc. Some things you will save (for yourself, or for grandma and grandpa), and some your child will save. These constitute a generational bond among grandparents, parents and child. Plan for a safe, dry, accessible storage space and select items carefully.

The keys to managing children’s things are to stay at a manageable level by trading goods with family and friends, making clothes and toys, buying used goods, and selling used goods. In these ways a parent can save money and lessen the ecological impact of children’s stuff, all of which has to be manufactured and eventually trashed.

Friends and family love to give newborns, infants and toddlers items like clothes and strollers. Rounding out the essentials can mostly be done at garage sales and second-hand stores. Some toys, such as blocks and dolls, can be made at home. A few items, such as a crib, should be carefully selected with safety in mind (no lead paint, no wide bars) and might warrant buying new. By the time your child reaches preschool, the quantity of clothes and toys you now have needs serious organization. Several benefits stem from this tedious work:

  • Previously acquired stuff (especially clothes) won’t get overlooked and require reacquiring.
  • Toys won’t get heaped into a pile where pieces get lost or damaged.
  • Fewer toys need be acquired because you can “rotate in” old toys that, when they come out of storage, are greeted as long-lost friends.

Preschoolers up to middle-schoolers wear out clothes and love toys! At this age they can be influenced to not be so picky about used goods, so here is where lots of time and money can be saved by shopping at neighborhood-wide garage sales. Visit sales where you will find books, toys, clothes (that fit now and will fit next year), the next size of skates and skis, presents for birthday parties, etc.

Middle and high schoolers can also be influenced to shop second-hand, especially if parents set an example. Second-hand stores such as Ragstock, which sells vintage wear, allow teens to develop style and frugality. Teens are also able to learn the valuable habit of parting with toys and clothes now, and can earn money by staging a multi-family garage sale with friends.

Garage Sale Hints

* The Star Tribune typically publishes each a list of metro area garages sales organized by churches and citizen groups each April.

* Good May garage sales include those by the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association (612-377-6241) and the Seward Neighborhood Group (612-338-6205).

Children’s “Stuff”

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