Sorting It Out

As your kids sprout out of their clothes -- and you shrink back into yours -- what are you to do with the "baby things" that were a necessity, but are now clutter?

New babies grow all too fast. In the first year of life they graduate from cradle to crib, bouncy seat to baby gym, and infant carrier to car seat. They whiz through several sizes of infant clothes and diapers, and cast aside bottles for sippy cups.

And while your baby is moving up the growth charts, you, the new mom, are moving down them. Maternity clothes will be replaced by "in-between" clothes, which will in turn be traded in for a wardrobe closer to your pre-pregnancy size.

Amidst all these physical changes, you are faced with quite an organizational challenge: What to do with all of the "outgrown" stuff?

Well, the answer may not be as daunting as you think. The very first step is to ask yourself the big question: Do you hope to have more kids, or are you fairly certain you've completed your immediate family tree? With this answer in mind, the rest of your efforts mainly involve sorting. Quite simply, you divide all "items" into three categories: things to toss, things to donate, and things to store. Here's how:

If you are hoping for more children...

What to toss
Do away with maternity and infant clothing, furniture, and accessories that are stained, broken, or worn out. "If it's too yucky and stained for you to continue using now, you won't use it again for another baby," says Rita Emmett, organizing expert and author of The Clutter-Busting Handbook (Walker & Company). These items are not suitable for donating either, says Emmett. Nobody wants to wear clothing that's in bad shape, and unless a piece of furniture is easily repairable, take that to the dump as well.

What to donate
Start with your maternity clothes. Although you may think it's a good idea to save these, be realistic. With just a few exceptions, such as the fancy cocktail dress that you only wore once and the plain white blouse that is a wardrobe staple, most maternity clothes are better off donated. For one thing, maternity clothes, like regular clothes, are seasonal. Unless your next due date is close to the same time of year as your last one, your maternity clothes will not be able to be recycled. The sundress you wore in the ninth month for your first pregnancy will be of little use to you if your second baby is due in January. Additionally, remember that it only takes a year or two for any type of clothing to go out of style. "Save only the basics," says Emmett.

Ideally, you'll have a friend or family member you can pass the clothes to. A number of charitable organizations, including battered women's shelters, the Salvation Army, and Veterans' organizations, also welcome maternity donations. Many of these groups have trucks that will come to your house for pick-ups, says Emmett. If you have business-style maternity clothing, organizations such as Career Closet can provide them to needy women in search of suitable work attire.

Also, give away those baby gifts that you didn't like or use. If someone gave your newborn an outfit that did not appeal to your fashion sense and you never even took off the tags, chances are you won't dress child number two in it either. Give it to someone who will use it.

There's no need to hang on to perishable baby items. Formula and baby food that was not consumed by your first baby will probably expire before your second child comes along. If you don't know anyone with a younger baby, most food banks, daycare centers and parenting centers will gladly accept donations of these food items.

What to store
Keep your hands on everything that's in good shape and you think you will use again. This includes infant furniture, clothing, toys, bedding, bottles, and even disposable diapers, which will last for years. For successful storing use clear plastic storage boxes, says Emmett. "The more clearly you label, the easier your life will be later." She suggests marking the boxes with very specific notations such as "newborn boy clothes" and "newborn toys." "Things shoved in the attic in unlabeled cardboard boxes or plastic bags will never be found again," she explains -- or not until your kids are at least 15.

If you have no plans for more...

What to toss
If you're fairly certain that another baby is not in your future, consider doing some serious spring-cleaning. It's time to clear your house of all gear that is no longer of daily use.

What to donate
Make more room in your closet by donating all your maternity clothes. In addition, get rid of all nursing paraphernalia, including clothing, breast pump (you may be able to sell this) and extra nursing pads. Also, give away all "ordinary" baby goods and clothing that have no special significance to you, including toys, bouncy seat, infant carrier, and baby backpack.

What to store
Don't let anyone talk you into giving away items that you want to keep for sentimental reasons. This may include a christening dress, a blanket knitted by a loved one, the teddy bear that was a best friend, or the outfit that was just one of your favorites. "Pack away only the cherished, really special things," advises Emmett.

A few items may be kept for practical reasons. The crib and highchair might be needed when your grandchildren come to visit one day. However, Emmett reiterates, "Be very discretionary when deciding whether to save items such as toys and books. Don't save everything because you think someone will eventually want it. Usually, people want new things for their baby."

Meagan R. Dubreuil is a freelance writer, and the mother of three young children, in Covington, Louisiana.

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