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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Swapping for winter clothes

It’s mid-October and we still haven’t had a killer frost. There are tomatoes still growing and late-summer flowers budding and blooming. A friend is getting another round of zucchini and cucumbers in her garden, and my son is convinced he’ll be wearing shorts to school until December.

“We’re being fooled that winter’s never coming,” a dinner guest said last week, as the conversation bounced from gardens to chickens to cross-country ski trails. That visitor lives in the Adirondack town that consistently has the coldest winter temperatures in the state.

“If we got 2 feet of snow tomorrow we’d be screwed,” she said. “Everything is still out in the yard.”

I know winter will show up one day, probably all in a rush. It’s time for garden cleanup, and yard cleanup. All those flower pots that have been sitting at the garden’s edge since their occupants were transplanted should be put in the potting shed where they belong before they get buried in snow. The cold frames should be dug out and their glass put away for next spring.

Maybe this weekend the shorts-wearing son and I can stage a major cleanup/winter prep.

Then it’s time to turn to the closets. No matter what that boy thinks, he will have to have some cold-weather gear.

We tend to do the bulk of our clothes shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, or through the informal clothing swaps that happen between cousins and friends.

My boy is of the age where he changes sizes dramatically each season, so there’s little chance that last year’s winter jacket — the one that formerly belonged to the son of a friend’s neighbor — will fit him this winter. I don’t think he has a fleece or a sweater in his size either.

Luckily, fall is prime time for rummage sales. And there have to be larger boys who are getting rid of their own winter gear from last year and hunting other sales for items in their new sizes.

Before we start our hunting trips, we need to clean out my son’s closet and drawers of all the clothes he’s outgrown. And before we head into the front door of our hometown church thrift store, we’ll drop off our own discards on the store’s back porch.

Sharing, swapping or buying used clothes solves a lot of problems. First off, it’s a lot easier on the wallet than shopping for new clothes. It’s also better for the environment to get the full use out of clothing: Any item we don’t buy new means that much less in virgin materials used, and in manufacturing, shipping and discarding.

And the new clothing industry is rife with problems, from the insecticides used to grow cotton to the unethical labor practices used to feed our desire for cheap T-shirts and pants. Buying used doesn’t mean your item of clothing was made any differently, but at least it’s not adding to the problems.

If you have a community of parents — at work, a craft group, scouts or a team, the PTA or a book club — you can organize a clothing swap. Plan a meeting where you all bring in clothing in good shape that your kids (or you!) can no longer wear, spread it out, and then others can choose what will work for their families.

Or you can do it a lot more casually. The parents in my office have shared our kids’ clothes for years, and we have a pretty good idea of what size our various children are. (Although we always seem to be surprised by how fast they grow: “Veronica is in seventh grade? Are you kidding?”)

A bag of clothing will show up on someone’s chair, with the understanding that if it doesn’t work for the kid it’s intended for, it will move on to another kid or to a clothing bin somewhere.

And then some other person, known or unknown, will get to share in the cycle.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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