It started with a box of Weebles. A coworker of mine loaded up a small Amazon box with a few dozen pear-shaped plastic creatures. My name was scrawled on the box in permanent marker. At first I thought it was to keep Weeble thieves away. What I realize now, though, was that it was a final act to sign over the toys to me. They were officially out of his basement, no longer his clutter. They were handed down.
At the time, I was about as round as a Weeble and far less coordinated. Since my pregnancy, I have been inundated with opportunities to accept secondhand items. The question is, should I?
Not long ago, our neighbors posted a curb alert. Basically, it was a brief note to let the neighborhood know that there might be some interesting items out in their trash. Come and get it, first come, first served. If it wasn’t claimed that day, it was going to be hauled away the next morning as garbage. When I realized that there were toddler toys like standing walkers that we would be in the market for in a few short months, I did what any sensible person does. I sent my husband.
Nearly a dozen items were put out, but we both agreed that taking one or two would be a wise choice. Not only did we not want to be greedy, we also didn’t want to take more than we needed or had room to store. When it was all said and done, we were pretty excited for these free finds. It’s a no-brainer than getting something for free is equivalent to 100% off. But the financial benefits of accepting things second-hand became most clear to me when I started comparing the cost of similar new items.
One item is listed for $50 on eBay while the other is for sale for $30 at Target. Sure, there is a missing piece on the walker, but other than that, they both look brand-new after about ten minutes of scrubbing. They even came with batteries! By embracing used clothes, toys, and books, we are able to keep our spending limited to $100 or less each month. That frees up a lot of green for other things.
Once I realized HP actually needed a new pair of pants, I spent almost a week deciding what to buy. Baby clothes are cute, but they’re not that cute. I was pouring over articles, posts, research, and pure speculation from the mom hive on baby forums to see if organic cotton was a better choice than regular cotton. After nearly a week of combing the Internet for answers, I was more confused than ever. Some people were convinced that organic cotton might actually use more water than conventionally grown cotton. Others argued that companies who grow and use organic cotton then to treat their employees better. Others still were convinced that any of kind of cotton was akin to poison, and I needed to consider bamboo fabric instead.
Though I normally steer clear of Reddit, I even went down that rabbit hole. It was worth it, though. Because in the middle of another battle of the fabrics, one Reddits left a short comment: If you want to do something really green, stop buying new things. Just like that, I was able to reframe all of our hand-me-downs. That plastic walked that was missing a piece? Sure, it kept us from having to buy a new one. But it also kept all of that plastic out of a landfill. Ditto for the books, the clothes, and even the Weebles.
So Why The Guilt?
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it sometimes feels like we don’t deserve all of the things that we have been gifted. Everyone who learns that we embrace secondhand living seems to let out a huge sigh of relief and heaping of thanks. “My basement will finally have some wiggle room.” “I’ve been dying to go through their books.” “We can finally close the dresser drawers again.”
We have even had a handful of people admit that other families had passed on the items before they made their way to us. What have others passed on? Brand-new board books, gently used hardcover books, and even clothes, some of which still had tags on them. It’s true that not everything we have accepted has been in perfect condition. There have been small holes to mend and stains to soak. But we are both more than happy to put in a little elbow grease to save some green and keep things out of landfills a little longer.
While our family and friends act like we are doing them a favor, we know how fortunate we are. We happily send photos and videos of HP with his new scores, and we also handwrite snail mail thank you cards. We also try to treat one set of friends who is determined to outfit HP with every piece of clothing he could ever need to ice cream gift cards for their kids.
If we put in the work and the gratitude, why the guilt? Quite frankly, it is probably stems, at least in part, from the same beliefs that lead others to turn down the hand-me-downs. We don’t need charity. We know we can afford to clothe our son and buy him books and toys. While we don’t feel the same compulsion to prove that the way some of the neighborhood Joneses might, we are also aware that some of these items may have eventually ended up at Goodwill or other charities had we not scooped them up. As a result, part of me can’t help but wonder if some family that is truly in need doesn’t deserve these things more.
Of course, just like you can’t tell people how to spend their money, you also can’t tell people what to do with their used clothes and toys. The items we have pulled off neighbors’ curbs were destined for garbage trucks. It’s likely that at least some of the other clothes would have been tossed. But we know with certainty that at least some of the generous people who have passed along books would also be able to donate them to schools or charities. Should we have suggested that instead? Would we be better off accepting the items and then turning around and donating them instead of using them ourselves? It’s something I think about more and more.
Final Thoughts on Accepting Hand-Me-Downs
Accepting second-hand items for our son makes my frugal heart sing. Not only does it make having a baby slightly more affordable, it also lets us do things like spend a bit more on organic baby food and save more for his college. It also keeps all sorts of clothing and plastic out of landfills, even just temporarily.
But we are also mindful of the fact that while we are reaping the benefits of these second-hand items, others are not. Rather than turn down the items, we have decided to care for the items as best as we can and then pass them along again when the time is right. Since we are raising a budding minimalist, in some cases, that time is right away.
We are also making sure to grow our monthly charitable giving budget. The guilt isn’t entirely gone, but we are trying to focus on being grateful for the opportunities to make better financial decisions and more eco-friendly choices with the intention of paying it forward as best as we can.
So Tell Me…Have you ever stopped to consider if someone else might benefit more from second-hand items?