Winter House Cleaning
Knowing when to clear the closets of your kids’ belongings
By Linda L. Esterson
Rachael Schwartz regrets that she has little left from her childhood.
“When I became a mother myself, it was a source of sadness that I didn’t have much to pass on from then,” says the 42-year-old mother of Madisyn, 13, and Andrew, 10.
To ensure her children would have a few of her memories to share, Schwartz kept her Barbie dolls, both the “real” and the “fake one,” for Madisyn to “see what I played with and the fashions the Barbies used to wear versus what she has now.”
To ensure her children can pass their heirlooms to their children, she keeps bins in her basement filled with their childhood toys. She estimates as many as 10 large bins reside there. One is full of Disney princess costumes.
“Disney never goes out of style,” says Schwartz, who is director at Beth Israel Congregation’s Joseph and Corinne Schwartz Preschool. “I have them to pull out one day for my granddaughter and be able to say, ‘This was your mom’s.’”
Another bin houses large Duplo blocks, Hot Wheels cars and action figures for any grandsons who may come along. The granddaughters will also benefit from Madisyn’s American Girl doll collection.
“It not only preserves the memory because it was a favorite toy for them, but it was a quality toy,” she says. “Disney, American Girl, Barbie, they’re not going anywhere in my opinion.”
By keeping so much of her children’s possessions, Schwartz is the exception. As preschool director, she takes calls often from community residents and synagogue members wanting to donate toys.
Stephanie Blockston has started weeding out some of the belongings of her children, Harrison, 5, and Ava, 2.
She recently gave away two of the three ride-on toys her children had accumulated. She felt they didn’t need 10 rattles, so they parted with five of them. Three toys in their Owings Mills home coordinated shapes and colors.
It was necessary to keep only one.
“My kids have so much that it was hard to come up with a Chanukah list,” says the 33-year-old. “As we made the list and got new things, we put away some [toys] and gave away others.”
Harrison, for instance, has many trucks. His mother methodically put three in front of him at a time and he chose one to keep and the remaining two went into a box to give away.
There are some items Blockston will keep that hold sentimental value, like Ava’s first baby doll, “Baby Charlie,” who accompanies her everywhere and eats dinner with the family. The family will also keep the eight stuffed animals given to Harrison when he was hospitalized at 7-weeks for nearly a month.
Blockston has her own toys to pass down. Her Barbie dolls and Barbie townhouse await the time when Ava is old enough to care for them. Harrison will get her husband Rodney’s soccer equipment and Orioles hats handed down from his grandfather.
Liz Weatherholtz has a few tubs in her Reisterstown basement with infant clothes and baby blankets that she can’t part with. Aside from her husband’s old Fisher Price schoolhouse, airport and garage that her children play with, their unused toys go to those who are less fortunate.
“Our favorite thing to do is bring things to Hannah More Women’s and Children’s Shelter,” she says. “I am constantly collecting for it. It’s just a matter of how often I get in the car and go.”
Weatherholtz keeps a pile of items in her closet and when it grows large enough, she packs them in the car and heads to Reisterstown Road. Piles are comprised of toys Talia, 8, and twins Saul and Hannah, 5, no longer play with, and clothing that they no longer wear.
For instance, the kids are “done with Dora [the Explorer]” so if something has her friend, Diego on it or they no longer fit in it, it goes to Hannah More.
The children understand the need to “give to others who don’t have any toys or don’t have any clothes,” says Weatherholtz, 38.
“It’s wonderful that people donate rather than throw away,” says Schwartz, who suggests that children be part of the process. “What a mitzvah they are doing by sharing what they are not using anymore.”
In addition to going to local shelters, preschools and other centers, some choose to sell their used items on consignment. The Tot Spot owner Heidi Koelbel sees a lot of baby equipment like bouncy seats and toys, which are often sold to enable the purchase of other toys.
When is the right time to rid yourself of these items?
“Infant items are cut and dry,” says Koelbel, who operates her shop in Owings Mills. “If the baby starts to sit up, he shouldn’t be in a bouncy seat or baby swing anymore. The bouncy seat can tip over. If they’re at a milestone, they shouldn’t be using it.”
When a child can walk, get rid of the Exersaucers, Jumperoos, walkers and Johnny Jump Ups, she adds.
Many baby items and clothing are “long gone” and Weatherholz has discarded her car seats, which have expiration dates on them, precluding her from handing them down or giving them to the shelter. She did keep a high chair, Pack N Play, and bassinet for use when her brother’s family visits or to lend to her friends.
As she collects for the next outing to Hannah More, she reflects on her own bin in the basement with her favorite baby doll, which her children do not have access to. “They don’t love it the way I do,” she says. “They wouldn’t care if it ripped.”