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Remember those days when you had to wear your older brother or sister’s clothes while they were able to go out and buy new ones that fit them better? Yes, the good ol’ days of “hand-me-downs” and who doesn’t remember them? Truth be told, I don’t remember them; I was the older sister, so I never had the pleasure (or horror) of encountering them … until NOW.

No, I didn’t suddenly gain an older sibling. I’ve just been blessed with two sons who have lost so much weight and have grown so tall that they’re outgrowing their clothes in reverse. Ka-ching! That’s the sound of the cash register that I DON’T have to hear as I nab the clothes they’re leaving behind. Their loss is my gain, and I’d like to think of some of their treasures as “hand-me-ups!”

I have become my mother as I search through the bags that my sons have left behind to give away or go to the garbage. “Oh my gosh! This is brand new with the tags still on it! You HAVE to keep it!” I find myself saying. Another golden nugget that escapes my mouth is, “But wouldn’t you just love to keep these T-shirts on a T-shirt quilt?!?” And then there’s the, “Wow! This will fit ME! I’m keeping it!”

I am in between the throw-away generation and the generation who hangs on to everything. There’s a part of me that wants to live a minimalistic life, but then there’s the larger part of me who wants to keep everything … and collect even more.

What do you call this generation? The Hand-Me-Ups! We are the ones who keep our children’s every picture, ribbon, school project, and baby tooth. The ones who hold onto a school letter jacket, even if it’s not our own, just because it just might make a great costume in a future play someday. The ones who keep things for our kids, (even though we have a strong suspicion our kids will never want them) “just in case.” The ones who collect things from our parents for sentimental reasons, even though we know there is no room for yet another chair (even though it once belonged to a beloved great grandparent) in any one of our rooms.

It’s kind of a fun life…this life of gaining new-to-us items. We can pick up a jacket that once was our little boy’s and get more wear out of something he only wore once, just to appease his mother who thoughtfully bought it for him. We can wear a sports, choir, or theater T-shirt and remember the time we watched our kids in action in those beloved activities. We can slip on a sweater that we bought for our son for a church program, even though it was a little too large for him at the time. Lo and behold…he grew and the sweater became too short for his tall body…but perfect for our shrinking body that squishes down almost daily.

The Hand-Me-Up generation also accumulates items from our parents, as they were in the “Keep Everything Because It Has a Purpose” generation, and sometimes that “purpose” is to be handed down through the generations. I know I will fight my sister for the old carrom board, the antique phone on the back porch, and the old “secretary” originally from my grandma’s front hallway, where she used to store games like “Uncle Piggly Wiggly” for her grandchildren to find and play with for hours. These items are not only sentimental, but also can serve a new purpose in our own homes. Yeah, yeah…that “purpose” might be to store it for a period of time until we can pass it on down to our own children…

I’m at the point in life where one son is beginning life after college in his new job, new home, and pared-down wardrobe. The younger son is about to go off to college, ready to live in a smaller room and declaring himself to be a minimalist. The tables have turned. I’m ready. Hand. Me. Up!

The next time you see me at the grocery store wearing a t-shirt that boasts a funny or sarcastic saying, a coat that may be just a bit too large, or a sweater that looks like it could have been bought about a decade ago, no snide comments, please. Smile. You just may be dressed in your best “hand-me-ups” as well.

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Michelle Sprout Murray is a freelance writer who lives in Mason City with her family. She may be reached at sproutmurray@gmail.com.

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