My daughter has an old dress gathering dust on top of her wardrobe. It is – in my opinion – pretty hideous. It is white lace with pink net roses on the waistband, and a large tomato ketchup stain down the front, that despite several soaks and high-temperature washes will not come out. It is two sizes too small for her and she finally, reluctantly, agreed to stop wearing it when the buttons would no longer do up at the back. She loved it and when she could she wore it almost everyday. It came from a charity shop, and it was on its way back there (or more likely the recycling plant) but the evening I did a big clear out there was suddenly a shriek of “Mummy!” after bedtime. I went up to see what was wrong. Had she bumped her head? Spilt her water all over the bed? Seen a spider? A vampire? No. She had noticed that her beloved dress was no longer on top of the wardrobe. “And I’m saving it to give to my daughter one day, because it is so special.” So the dress came out of the charity shop bag and is back on top of the wardrobe.
My daughter’s hoarding instinct has been handed down through generations. My parents have it, my grandparents had it – although they were perhaps rather better at being selective. And I certainly have it. But it was lovely to see my daughter wearing baby clothes that I and my siblings used to wear. And play with our old toys. And I am not ashamed of my hoarding genes. [Those old birthday cards from 15 years ago in a box under the bed still spark joy in me, so there Marie Kondo!]
But I’m getting bogged down in a pile of bric-a-brac here. Because what I really want to talk about is hand-me-downs.
When I was a child and the hallowed bi-annual ‘black bag’ arrived from my extended family, I fell upon those clothes as if they were treasure. They may not have been haute couture, or even the latest fashion. But most often they were clothes that had been worn by older children – even teenagers, and therefore must be the ultimate in cool.
My daughter has also been lucky enough to have had her share of ‘black bag’s throughout her short life thus far, with many of her favourite outfits (so often my least favourites) found buried deep within. Perhaps knowing they are clothes I would never choose makes them all the more special.
It’s not just clothes we have been so fortunate to inherit. When she was born we were bequeathed a lot of baby gear that would have cost us a pretty penny had we had to buy it brand new. A carrier here, a bath there, a bouncer or a bumbo – people’s generosity when it comes to babies can be boundless. And thank goodness because baby kit is a mega bucks industry and we have to do all we can to help each other not be milked dry by Mothercare… (Oops).
And it goes both ways. Children so quickly outgrow the toys, the equipment, the clothes, and when you see a friend about to be sucked into the blackhole that is new parenthood, you want to do all you can to help. (It’s not at all driven by a selfish motive to clear out all the redundant kit cluttering up your house.)
The only trouble is – where does the chain of lending end? If you donate all your baby kit to a friend or family member only to find yourself unexpectedly with child once more – are you within your rights to ask for it back? What if they have passed it on. Or even broken it? Should there be contracts drawn up for this process to prevent against friction between friends, who still bear a grudge about the nappy bin that was never returned? Now I am starting to realise why there are so many lofts stuffed full of old stairgates and Moses baskets long after they are required.
I recently found myself dropped wide into this minefield, after loaning out a portable potty that doubled as a loo seat. A friend was potty training – her need was great and I was happy to help out. We traded for an actual loo seat and the swap seemed more than fair. But then my daughter came home from school and was outraged to find that her beloved folding seat had been replaced. She wanted it back. But I had given it away. What could I do? For days I lived in turmoil. You don’t give things to people and then ask for them back. It just wasn’t polite. But I was putting etiquette before the comfort of my own child – and if there’s one place you need to be feel relaxed while plonking your bottom down it’s the porcelain throne.
So I swallowed my pride and explained we needed it to be returned. My friend got her own portable potty and we re-exchanged. All was fine. The world did not end.
But it has left me a little more wary about the parameters of long-term loans. Perhaps I have just struck upon an ingenious idea for an app that will make my fortune – where we log everything we have leant to people and expect to be returned after use. Instead of storing such information only within our minds to fester over forevermore.
Or, as I have tried to explain to my daughter when it comes to playground swapsies – if you want it back, it’s probably safest not to give it away in the first place.
Disclaimer: If you are reading this thinking this and wondering “Does she want me to give her back that old bottom-of-the-range breast pump she leant me so she can pass it on to her grandchildren?! I’ve chucked it out anyway, it was rubbish.” Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.