The Hand-Me-Downs at the End of the Chain

Between my three daughters, who are all elementary age, but not consecutive sizes, I feel like we have wardrobes for every size of kid. Our closets are full of too-big or too-small boxes of clothes, which I’m saving for the next child in line. But it’s ok—I have a system. It’s all part of one of my favorite chores: shuffling clothes from one child to the next. And I’ve just discovered the final missing piece of this chore so that it all gets tied in a tidy bow.

I like to take an entire morning when the kids are not home and really get organized. (That’s a pro-tip if you need it—never do this chore with your kids around! You won’t be able to get rid of anything.) I always start in my oldest daughter’s room, clean out her clothes that are too small or too worn, and replace them with clothes from older friends and cousins that have gifted us with their hand-me-downs. If there are any gaps in her “new” wardrobe, which there rarely are, I’ll write it down for a future shopping trip. Her “too small” clothes get shuffled into the next sister’s room, and so on until I’ve cleaned out and re-organized Sister Three’s drawers and closet. 

At this point, I’m left with my biggest problem. What to do with the clothes that are too small for my youngest? 

First, I pour a glass of wine and cry over every little item that my girls won’t wear again, and take a minute to remember each one of them in it. I’m kidding. I’m not actually that emotional about their clothes anymore (my youngest is 6). But years ago, when I was cleaning out our last onesie ever, you better believed I cried! This is one of the reasons I love this chore. It really is an opportunity to sit with the memories that flood back to you when you pick up a certain shirt or pair of shoes that was someone’s very favorite for a while.

Once I’ve done my version of Marie Kondo’s thanking of the clothes before tossing them aside, I am ready to move them on out of the sister shuffle. I divide the remnants into three categories: 1) hand down to a friend, 2) donate to a charity, 3) recycle. 

Category number one consists of a select few items that have sentimental value, and still look like they have good wear in them for another kid. I put those in a box until my next trip home when I can give them to a cousin who has little girls. 

Most of the rest of the clothes, I donate. Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, I will just drop it off at Goodwill since it’s around the corner from my house. But I prefer to donate clothes to CAM ministries or my school district’s clothes closet who give directly to families in need.

Since most of my children’s clothes were handed down to begin with and then worn by three more children, they aren’t all in the kind of condition that they could be worn again. And here’s where I’ve always gotten stuck in the past. These clothes usually end up in their own little landfill, in a corner of my closet where they can spend a lifetime disintegrating. I’m aware of the waste problems in our country and I just can’t stomach throwing clothes in the trash, even if they have holes and rips and stains.

So I’m excited to report that I have found the solution to my personal clothing landfill! It’s a local community recycling company called SA3. SA3 will come pick up your clothes from your doorstep and recycle them. 

And, if you don’t have a specific charity where you like to donate wearable clothes, SA3 can be your one-stop shop. They sort through your piles and repurpose items before recycling the unusable ones. They first look for a local home for donated clothing, and if there isn’t a need for them here, they export thousand-pound bales of clothing to third world countries. 

I called SA3 recently to get the low-down on what actually happens to the unwearable clothes meant for recycling. They aren’t the actual recyclers, but they do send clothes to a recycling company who breaks down the materials for reuse. I’m so happy to have found a non-landfill destination for our well-worn clothing! 

Since I spoke with SA3 directly, I can give you some other reasons you will want to add them to your regular cleaning-out routine. 

They give back. They support three different charities each quarter by donating three cents for every two pounds of clothing they process. This past quarter, they were able to give to SA Youth, SA Sports Foundation, and the Humane Society. They are open to your suggestions for what charities they should add to their give-back list! They also do this on a permanent basis for their regular partners, like the NEISD Clothes Closet. 

You never have to leave your home. Since the pandemic, they’ve begun a curbside pickup program. They also have an app you can use to get on their schedule, which makes it all super easy: SA3 Curbside Recycling. They’ve divided San Antonio into four zones, each with its regular pick-up day of the week. I’m in zone one, so my pick-up days are Mondays. 

You don’t have to sort or even fold. They will do all the sorting for you, so you don’t have to decide which clothes have more life in them, or which should be recycled. That eliminates an entire step of my chore! Make sure you leave the clothes in a garbage bag or cardboard box that you don’t need back. (Because they aren’t going to make another trip to return your nice plastic bin.) 

They take more than clothes. They actually take tons of household items off your hands! You can look through the list of accepted items on their website here. It’s pretty much everything. 

By the way, school uniforms and baby clothes are always in high demand, so if you have any of these items that your little ones have outgrown, consider giving them to SA3.

Now you are ready to do that spring cleaning clothing shuffle with me this year, without the inevitable “I don’t know what to do with these so I’ll stuff them here for now/forever…” Happy organizing!

I grew up in Dallas, went to college and grad school in the Carolinas (Furman-->Wake Forest) with degrees in art history and ministry/theology. I work for organizations that allow me to do things I care deeply about: advocacy for immigration, public education and religious liberty. We moved to San Antonio in 2012 for my husband to pastor a church here. When we moved here, our two older daughters were babies/toddlers, and we eventually added a third. They are now 5, 8 and 9. We chose to live really close to the church and hit the neighborhood jackpot. I'm a bookworm and always have 2-3 books going at once. I have learned to love good music by osmosis (my husband has great taste!) (my current favs: Brandi Carlile, Lone Bellow), but I'm pretty happy with silence too, since it's hard to come by with small children. We don't have grandparents or immediate family in town, and I'm insanely jealous of those that do. But luckily our friends here have become like family. Favorite Restaurant: El Mirasol Favorite Landmark: Eisenhower Park Favorite San Antonio Tradition: 4th of July neighborhood parade