Stained Shirts and Other Ways I’ve Changed As a Consumer

I’ll just come right out and say it: I sent my kid to Pre-K with a stain on his shirt. Not just any stain, either. It’s a small gray spot of some kind of bother, and no matter how much I treat and soak, soak and treat, the spot is stuck.

Why the story about stains? Because this shirt is actually a reflection of one of the most significant shifts I’ve made in how I think about consuming things.

At one point in my life, I shopped more than anything. If I wasn’t physically at the mall, I was there mentally. I was on a perpetual quest for the newest and cutest, convinced that the most fashion-forward thing to do was to only wear an outfit once.

It’s true.

And I know. I knowwwww.

My shopping wreaked havoc on my wallet and the environment, but I hardly batted an eye. Until it all came crashing down literally. Sitting in a once-organized heap in my closet, I knew things had to change. That change didn’t happen overnight–not even overyear–but it did happen.

With another kid in the mix, there’s certainly even more opportunity to shop. While we do buy things, of course, it occurred to me when looking at my kids’ closets just how far I’ve come.

Here are some of the most noteworthy shifts in my shopping perspective.

Stains don’t mean things are dirty.

I would never knowingly send my child to school dirty. (That’s how I expect him to come home, amirite?) But what about that shirt? Stains don’t mean things are dirty. Maybe this isn’t breaking news to you but, it absolutely was to me. Society, clever marketing, and mall window displays all convinced me that it’s new or nothing. If things don’t look new, it’s time to toss them. Or turn them into a cleaning rag.

While there is certainly a time and a place to get rid of things that are worn (a little denim recycling anyone?), I no longer look at small stains as a marker that something needs to be tossed. Especially when said wearer is a four year old whose very brave Pre-K teacher lets kids use markers, glue, paint, and glitter. That stain? Yeah, it’ll be covered up with new ones in no time.

Hand-me-downs are for everyone.

When my first baby was born, I just assumed that I would get clothes from the stork Target and other places. I would shop sales, clip coupons, maybe even pursue a thrift shop. But I assumed that if my kid needed clothes, I would buy them.

When a friend offered me bag after bag of hand-me-downs, I was taken aback. I thought those were reserved for people who really needed them. Whatever that even actually means.

I’ve since come to relish a good hand-me-down. In fact, passing things along to others had made me realize how joyful the occasion is. They have a positive impact on everything from finances to the environment. And it’s a great opportunity to get some of this stuff crap out of my house.

Second hand gifts are great.

How hard does our society work to make use not believe this? But second hand gifts are great. In fact, my plan is to source as much of our Christmas gifts second hand as possible.

When HP got a new-to-him remote control car right around his fourth birthday from a friend and he played with it incessantly, opting for that over most any other new toy, it really solidified for me how little kids care about new. Since most new toys require the jaws of life to remove from their packaging, I’d say secondhand is actually preferable in more ways than one.

Trash really can be treasure.

Long-time readers know that I’m no stranger to a good garbage pick. There’s something really thrilling about being able to rescue treasure from the trash.

It took a long while for me to get here, but now that I’m here, I’m not above doing the slow roll down the street on garbage day looking for treasure to take home.

I have also gotten in the habit of posting things in our Buy Nothing group before I pitch them. Of course, I would never gift something that was broken (unless I was offering it for parts like I did with our rototiller!). But seeing how people reuse, salvage, upcycle, and even scrap various things makes me realize that there are so many more options for things than just sending them to the garbage.

Borrowing is better than buying.

There were many things I was unprepared for when I had my baby. The way the word “blowout” would take on an entirely new meaning for instance. I also wasn’t prepared for the amount of emotional spending I would want to do. Thankfully, I quickly realized that not only is this kind of spending unhelpful for raising kids, it’s also a recipe for really expensive clutter.

Don’t get me wrong. We do still purchase things from time to time, but we are much more into borrowing. When the urge strikes to buy my children something, we swing by the library for books, DVDs, puzzles, board games, and more. Oh, the board games. They are a family favorite for sure.

I also happily participate in our Buy Nothing group, accepting items for the time they keep my kids’ interest and then passing them along when we are done.

For too long, I used buying as an emotional balm, a way to problem solve and prove my worthiness as a parent. Now, though, I can happily say that borrowing is better.

Final Thoughts on Changing as a Consumer

Maybe we can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but not-quite-middle-aged humans can learn to consume a bit smarter. I am not the perfect consumer. Not in society’s mind. But also not in terms of other lenses. I’m mostly frugal. I try to consider the environment. And yet, I’m still a perfectly imperfect consumer and likely always will be.

But by making shifts like embracing stains and diving into my local Buy Nothing group, I’ve come a long way. Evolving from mindless to mindful spending is easier on my wallet and the world.

So Tell Me…Have your habits as a consumer changed? Or are you mostly the same kind of shopper you’ve always been?


  1. This is amazing. I have had a shift around food. I used to try to scrimp on groceries and then wondered why going out to eat was always more appealing to me.

    I still like dining at great restaurants (though outdoors at present), but most of our groceries now are high quality, healthy, and often local, which makes cooking at home more enjoyable.

    It’s interesting how marketing can influence our cultural and personal choices. Duhigg’s Habit had some interesting insights about this.

  2. Ohmygawd Penny. We love hand-me-downs (even our teenager). My wife’s family has had only daughters. (7 grandaughters!!!) Our family has exchanged boxes of outgrown clothes for years. Also since our daughters are by far the smallest in the family (barely hanging on the growth curve) we have always had plenty of outgrown clothes to keep around for younger siblings.

    We have a wall of plastic totes in the basement labeled with different age ranges. We’d be happy to drop off boxes for Squish when the youngest outgrows them!!

    Not only has it been great for our wallet, but the kids love “shopping the basement” to find back to school clothes. Just this summer one of the kids said that their shoes don’t fit and they want to get a new pair from the basement.

  3. Progress, not perfection, right? I love that you’re deciding what changes you want to make as a consumer and then putting them into action. Like you, we’re nowhere near perfect, and that’s just how it’s going to be.

    As for clothing, we’ve always been kind of thrift shop folks — but the pandemic has more or less made that a no-go since we’re not going inside anywhere if we can avoid it. So we’re just making do with what we have and, despite our requests, new clothes come for the kids. It’s just part of the bargain.

  4. I adore clothing the kids from hand me downs. It feels so good both for the environment and pocketbook. Over the years I’ve been honing my shopping habits to mold them for our circumstances and to be a better steward of our environment.

  5. One person’s trash is definitely another person’s treasure! I used to buy clothes maybe once every two years. Now, it’s been 3 years, going on year 4 and I still haven’t bought any new clothes and I think this trend will continue.

    One day, I will break out from the frugality disease and actually spend money on clothing!

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