Monday, May 12, 2014

The Etiquette of Hand-me-downs

Dear Boy is the latest in a long run of boys in our family and we have been ever so lucky to inherit so many clothes and toys and books and furniture as he's grown. It has been both a boon and a bit of a minefield, sometimes learning the hard way that hand-me-downs aren't just clothes and toys and books and furniture; they can be memories and guilt trips and the opening salvo in a war between family members.

Where's that hand-knitted jumper I gave you?
Do you still have that precious onesie? I want to give it to my best friend.
Why did you let him touch that book? It wasn't meant for touching!
What do you mean you gave it away?

To avoid the family (and friendly) politics in the future, I'm tring to enact some protocols around hand-me-downs. Here's my new June Dally-Watkins rules for hand-me-downs:
  1. Ask if it needs to be returned - sounds so simple, right? Forget to do this and you could land yourself in some hot water with your friends or family if you pass something on that should have bounced right on back.
  2. Ask if it needs to be returned in a pristine condition - if yes, hand it right back or put it straight in a box, because... really... who can keep anything in a pristine condition with kids around?
  3. Be honest if it gets lost or broken - if something was meant to be returned or returned in a nice condition, make sure you are upfront when things go awry. Offer to replace things or an apology if it's irreplaceable. 
  4. Ask if it comes with associated costs or dangers - who knew that friends or family would pass on something to you without letting you know it needed replacement parts or would pinch your kid's fingers if used in a certain way. 
  5. Think about hidden costs or guilt trips - what will you have to give them in return? Are they going to lord it over you and extract all manner of favours? If the cost of accepting free things is too high, just don't. 
  6. Ask if they have a preference for how it's passed on - does it need to stay in the family? Can you give it to charity? Are you allowed to sell it? And if you are, do they want a share of the profits?
  7. Say thankyou - der. It's easy to forget this one in the fog of those newborn days but sometimes folks with older children have forgotten that baby brain is a thing and may get persnickety if you don't thank them or thank them quickly enough or thank them profusely enough.  
  8. Say no thankyou - if you don't need it or want it, it really is easier to say 'no, thanks' right off the bat than have to drag stuff out when they come to visit or make sure you take a photo of your child wearing it at least once before you stuff it back in a drawer.
Now my brother and sister in law are going to have a baby (squeeeeeeeeeeee! babies!), I'm looking at all of Dear Boy's things and thinking about what I can part with and what I can't, what I want back and what needs to stay in the family. So I'm thinking the reverse is also true when you switch from receiver to giver. Tell folks if and how you want things returned or passed on; don't expect everyone to love your stuff and don't get huffy if they say they don't want it; and don't attach strings. Things for babies should never come with strings.

Have hand-me-downs ever caused you big headaches? Do you have any rules about giving and receiving secondhand stuff?

*The original owner/giver of that semi truck/fire engine toy is not in any way implicated in this post. 


  1. I love your new design, Lilybett - it's really lovely.

    Re the hand me downs - my only rule is "do not hand me down underpants". It's a long story. x

    1. Thanks Bron - I'm loving the new design too, especially as it was done as a skills trade with me copyediting some webpages in return for new design. More on that later.

      Oh, scary underpants story *shudder*. Yeah, that's a good rule. I'll add that one to my list.

  2. Oh if only everyone set guidelines like this. many a heartache could ave been saved in our family. Hand me downs are wonderful - as long as they are unconditional. LOVE the new header lovely - it looks fabulous xx

    1. Thanks, Sonia! I'm a little in love with it too.

      I'm starting to think some of these general rules could actually be applied to general family communication, i.e. ask people what they really want or mean, not just assuming what you're doing is okay with them. Definitely save on the heartache.


Thanks for taking the time to respond to what you have read here at Lilybett and Boy. I love reading through all your comments.


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