Anyone who’s been a parent for any length of time has probably faced the eternal dilemma of modern parenting: how to keep from drowning under all that baby stuff, toddler gear, and related parenting paraphernalia you are no longer using. At some point, containing the clutter and organizing your abode simply isn’t enough; it’s time for some serious editing. Time to move it on to someone who’ll get more use from it than you will.

With any luck, you have a nearby sibling or close friend who’s a year or two behind you in their parenting journey, to whom you can pass along the mountains of stuff as your own offspring outgrow it.

In our house, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of such hand-me-downs, as well as with doting grandparents who love to spoil their first two grandchildren. But we have not been equally blessed when it comes to the other end of the cycle. With no cousins nearby and lots of friends whose children are either older than ours or male, we don’t have a convenient place to pass off those adorable frilly dresses that our girls can no longer wear.

I first began consigning baby gear when Kimmie was a year old. Some of it was stuff I’d bought for her before her birth, with every intention of using, only to realize afterward that there was no way I’d ever get around to it even if I did have another child. What to do with brand-new things that you can’t return to the store? Or with those outfits that looked adorable on the hanger but downright weird once you put them on your sweetie?

  1. Do some research

Fortunately, we have lots of consignment boutiques near us that sell gently-used baby and children’s clothing, along with other baby and kid gear. I’d already started to shop in some of them, and had a sense of what types of items and brands each one sold. After checking with some local mommy-friends about where they brought their used stuff when it was time to sell, one store’s name came up over and over as the best place to go, in terms of the biggest payout (45% of selling price, compared to 40% if consigning and 30% if buying outright at other stores) and the broadest range of stuff accepted.

Reflecting on my experiences with these stores up until that point, I realized that most of what I’d bought second-hand so far had come from Baby Consignment (the name we call this store in our household) anyway. This suggested that the store owners’ tastes, as well as the tastes of their clientele, were already similar to my own. I checked out their website, asked for more details in person about the consignment process on my next shopping visit, and then began to collect my stuff.

  1. Know the rules ahead of time

One of the reasons I initially chose Baby Consignment was because at that time, they advertised themselves as the only store in our area that would accept ALL brands, so long as the clothing was in excellent shape. Moreover, I knew from the merchandise I’d seen in the store that they sold pretty much everything: not just gently-used clothing, books, and toys, but also feeding gear, baby towels and washcloths, diaper bags and carriers, car seats and strollers, and those cute little infant shoes and sets of socks that your newborn never kept on (or never even wore in the first place).

I double-checked on what items they would not accept, took note of when and how drop-offs worked (only 40 clothing items at a time except by appointment, no quantity limits on toys and gear but call first to make sure they have room for larger items), and did another pass-through of my house for things we could live without.IMG_1390

  1.   Check (and recheck) your items carefully

As a general rule, consignment stores will only accept items that are ready to sell: no holes, stains or tears, no missing pieces, all buttons buttoned and snaps snapped, wrinkles ironed out, that sort of thing. After you’ve piled things up for awhile, you’ll want to examine each item closely as you’re preparing for drop-off:

  • Are there any hidden stains or missing pieces that you didn’t catch the first time around?
  • Would a touch-up on ironing or a last pass with some soap and water make that blouse or toy more attractive to a potential purchaser? (Remember, what the item means to you is worthless in the world of resale; try to look at all of your stuff with the detached eye of a critical buyer.)
  • Has the item already been handed down one time too many, whether because it’s excessively worn or excessively dated?

Likewise, unless you live someplace where it’s hot (or cold and snowy) year-round, you won’t have much luck bringing in those bathing suits and shorts at the end of summer (or that winter play gear in early spring). Consignment stores generally rotate stock according to the same rules as the rest of the retail world. If you want to buy (or sell) summer clothes, you have to show up in the spring. If it’s Halloween costumes or Christmas accessories you’re trying to offload, you’ll generally need to bring them in at least two months before the holiday, if not three.

Most stores have plenty of information available in person and on their website about what types of items they’ll accept in which months of the year. Even if your own kiddo wears shorts in winter or hoodies until school lets out, getting top dollar requires following the seasons of the retail world, even as those seasons creep ever earlier. As Essie began outgrowing baby clothes, I began to sort things by season and stack them in computer-paper boxes, labeling each box with a post-it note of what season it was and when I needed to bring it to Baby Consignment.

Also, be sure to leave time for one last check (plus additional cleaning if needed) in the days before your planned drop-off. Even if you put something away looking spotless, baby spit-up stains can magically reappear over the course of six months in storage. And of course, the place where you store things should be as climate-controlled (not to mention free of pets and other critters) as possible. Your dank, musty basement is not going to be kind to books and clothes in storage, nor will your hot and humid attic in the dead of summer. Moreover, no shop owner wants to accept consignment items covered in pet hair – or, for that matter, the odors of mildew or cigarette smoke.IMG_1396

  1. Keep good records

On a whim, I decided to take pictures of everything I was bringing to Baby Consignment for my first few drops. While I knew I’d recognize the stuff we had used regularly when pickup time came, I wasn’t so sure about those not-quite-right accessories and new-with-tags outfits.

I’d already sorted my items by size and type, so it was easy to lay them out on a flat surface, snap a few pictures, and print out 8×10 versions on our color printer. I then wrote in the margins the store name and the date I was dropping the items off, and filed each group of drop-off photos in a plastic folder that I took with me to each drop and pick-up.

Over time, these extra few minutes of preparation have saved me more than once. Whenever I can’t find an item at pickup time, having a visual cue to remind myself (and the store staff) of what it looks like can help us locate it together. And once or twice, when something has gone missing or was mis-tagged and credited to another consignor’s account, I had photographic evidence that it was my item in the first place, so the store has given me credit for the sale.

After trying our bed and the dining-room table, I’ve settled on our front-hall floor as the best place to spread things out; taking pictures from halfway up the stairs, looking down on the items, works well.

  1. Have a plan, and plan your time

If you’re short on time and/or childcare options, then your final choice of store may boil down to who has the best policies and options in place to match your needs. For me, Baby Consignment came out on top because of the flexible drop-off hours and the well-stocked kids’ play area, where my kiddos could happily amuse themselves while I did my thing. Depending on how much stuff I’ve had to drop off and/or pick up, this process has taken me anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to accomplish.

If you don’t have that sort of time, finding a store that will pull remaining stock for you (versus requiring you to come in and hunt down your unsold items) may be a deal-breaker. Likewise, it’s worth finding out ahead of time:

  • Will the store go through your items, to decide what they’ll accept and what they won’t, while you wait? (This takes longer upfront, but will save you time later.)
  • Or is it their policy to go through your “drop” at a later time and make you come back to pick up items they don’t want to sell?
  • And if you’ll need to go back, how much time do you have to get back there – a week, or only a day? (Extra trips out with your little ones can really eat into your day, not to mention your gas budget if the store isn’t close to you.)

The bottom line? Consigning takes time plus a willingness to follow the rules, and you certainly won’t get rich offloading your baby gear this way. Moreover, for larger items, you will make more money – for less time and effort – by selling on Craigslist or through such informal networks as a workplace or community electronic bulletin board.

But if you have nice secondhand stores in your area where you already shop anyway (as I did), selling your own kids’ outgrown stuff can definitely offset the cost of shopping at these stores; and if you have enough credit in your account, it can even make many of your shopping trips “free.”

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