At least 40% of the items I own are hand-me-downs, and I love it.
In Boston, there is something called “Allston Christmas.” This refers to a period of days leading up to September 1st, the day on which most Boston leases begin. Items are shuffled out of residences to make way for people moving in and out. The sidewalks are littered with furniture, appliances, clothes, and odds-and-ends. Some items will make it into their intended moving trucks, some will be packed into groaning cars. The end result is seen a treasure trove of items abandoned on the side of the road. Boston becomes a giant, unofficial flea market.
Allston Christmas is a bizarre bazaar, a paradoxical acceptance of re-purposing and hand-me-downs, and the casual discarding of inconvenient items. I once found an awesome steam mop, and a giant bag of pennies. Literal free money.
I have moved 7 times in the last 7 years. Moving everything I own so many times in the last few years is a literal pain in my side. I’ve considered selling everything and moving into a hostel. Ultimately I kept my lot, and shuffled it from one end of Boston to the other. I get it – there’s a host of reasons to get rid of things, especially when you move. I’ve been there.
When I moved out on my own, I learned the hard lesson that my single, poor, self would not have the same standard of living as my established, dual-income parents. I thought once I had my own place, I could go nuts and decorate it just like I wanted, and as re-do it as often as I wanted. That’s what TV and the internet said would happen, and they never lie! Turns out that decorating is expensive, even if you’re a shrewd Marshall’s shopper. I have learned to embrace hand-me-downs, and to enjoy the fact that I don’t have to deal with all the expense and decision-making that comes with re-decorating.
Hand-me-downs seem to be an incredibly divisive topic. One camp embraces the practice, and the other eschews it. For example, there are not many eight-year-olds that want to wear their older sibling’s cast-off jeans. A child turning up his nose at a hand-me-down is understandable. The parent, in that scenario, understands that clothing kids can be an expensive process, and re-using a pair of jeans can be a godsend. Flash forward to adulthood, and some people still hold on to that mentality – they want something new, not something previously used. Another might, with equanimity, embrace a hand-me-down phone.
No one blinks if you mention upgrading an electronic gadget. If a new device has just come out, well then there’s no sense in holding on to the old one, right? When a new sneaker line drops, a queue will wrap around the block for the launch, though those folks likely own several dozen pairs already. If an appliance breaks, no one will judge you for just buying a new one – repairing becomes a distant second thought. There is an element of truth to upgrading; items are not built to last indefinitely. Bust when repair is possible, that’s when it’s a great time to embrace the hand-me-down mentality.
Not only is it economical to have secondhand goods, it’s environmentally sound. Less material is put into landfills, and the earth is stripped of fewer resources. The bed frame that I’ve transported from one apartment to the next has incurred fractional monetary and environmental costs in gas, but has saved the manufacturing and transport costs of new bed frames each time I’ve moved. Passing a smartphone from one person to another means that the rare earth metals and plastic won’t sit in a landfill for the next few thousand years. Going through my friends’ closets to source an outfit is cheaper than buying a new one, and means I’m not buying stuff I just don’t need.
I would like, for a moment, to empathize with those who avoid hand-me-downs. There is something a little magical about getting something new. I love it when I get a new game, or new jewelry. Perhaps not possessing hand-me-downs is a personal triumph – it can mean someone is (perhaps) climbing the socioeconomic ladder. I won’t bash that person for a moment, since the thrill of achievement, and the hard work it took to get there, sometimes is as well-deserved as the new shoes/vacuum cleaner/phone. In that sense, I applaud them.
On the whole, I think it’s time to accept and embrace hand-me-downs. Scale down waste, look out for others, and enjoy what you have. Secondhand stuff is nothing to sneeze at; be glad you have anything at all.