The other day a friend of mine, who is expecting her first child, asked if I had any advice about getting ready for baby. My immediate reply: Whatever you can get used, take it!
She turned up her nose a bit, which didn’t necessarily surprise me. People are funny about “used” or “second-hand,” maybe even more so when it comes to babies. When T was born, there were only a few things that my husband and I agreed we needed to get brand new: A crib and mattress and a car seat. I registered for new sheets and towels since I wanted organic cotton, and we received them as gifts. We were flexible on everything else; most of the clothes my little guy wears come from friends or the thrift store, as do his toys. I’ve gotten so good at this that I have a head start on keeping this kid in clothes and shoes until he hits kindergarten, if not longer.
It’s no secret that kids are expensive and that the economy sucks. My husband and I both work, but we decided a long time ago that we’d rather have an extra $100 to spend when we go on vacation than J have yet another pair of new, name brand sneakers. While saving money is great, it’s even more important to us that our kids grow up to understand that consumerism comes with social and environmental responsibilities. Just a few short years ago we could not get through a store – any store – without J’s incessant whining about all the items he “needed.” Now he keeps a list of items and ranks them in order of those he absolutely needs (like sports equipment that he’s outgrown or should be replaced) and those he wants (the never-ending supply of new video games). He’s learned that swapping games and equipment with friends, or finding a used lax stick instead of heading to the mall, means he may have some cash left in his pocket. And he’s getting better at asking himself if he really needs something before he buys it.
Our family takes recycling seriously, and it goes beyond paper, plastic and aluminum. A few times a year we round up all the stuff that’s outgrown or no longer used, and we find a new home for it – whether it’s Goodwill, the local woman’s shelter, or just someone we know who could put it to good use. Clothes often go to the next “new mommy” in the neighborhood. When we do a project on the house we to find somewhere that can reuse or recycle the bricks, cement, wiring, metal venting, plastic pipes, or whatever else we’ve ripped out that weekend. I’m not sure if this is a Baltimore thing, but stuff laid out on the sidewalk is considered “fair game” for anyone who needs it – we’ve gotten rid of several ceiling fans, some old closet doors, and several pieces of furniture this way. A pile of electronics went to the old guy around the corner, who uses his magic touch to get them working and then resells them to supplement his Social Security income. Even old ripped towels and sheets find new use at the local animal shelter so homeless dogs and cats can have somewhere soft to rest their heads.
We put so much effort into reusing and recycling that it makes sense that we would, in turn, be the recipients of reused/recycled items. I know plenty of people who would balk at shopping at a thrift or secondhand store and to them I say – thanks so much, more for me! One more pair of brand-new shoes, still with tags, for $3. A beautiful antique sideboard and hutch, $85. Three pairs of new jeans, $4 each. A ginormous bag of toys, retail value over $300, for $22 (and I almost laughed a few days later when I saw a woman paying $32 for something for which I’d just paid $2). The knowledge that we kept all this stuff out of a landfill, helped support local economy and provide job opportunities, and possibly helped reduce the environmental impact caused by the manufacture of even more stuff? Priceless.