• Jessica Whelan

Why (the word) secondhand sucks

Don't even.

Let's face it. Preloved, preowned, hand-me-down, leftovers, used are all euphemisms for garbage.

But who doesn't love a rescue dog? (Or cat, if you're like me and consider dogs excellent pets for other people.)

And who doesn't feel some warm glow of nostalgia when something is labelled "heirloom", even a tomato? It just feels good to carry on the traditions (the ones that work) of the past. It's deeply satisfying somehow, to see things move from person to person across generations.

So let's change the script. It's time to consider clothing rescued (from landfill) or even better, as heritage items.

When I hear the word secondhand, I get excited. To me, buying something I need that had a life before I discovered it is a win for two reasons:

  1. Natural resources aren't going into manufacturing it and shipping it across the planet, and

  2. I can be fairly confident in the item's quality if I'm the second, third or even fourth person to use it

But I'm not most people. A lot of folks feel there's a stigma attached to things that aren't brand new. An icky smell, a psychic residue that generates bad vibes, or poor quality. Some of us unconsciously believe that if we buy or otherwise receive things like that, then we ourselves are of poor quality. Under the circumstances, it's a good idea to rethink the way we talk about it.

Various colourful pieces of trash on white background
An artful collection of junk is still junk. Or is it?

Since we moved to a new city a few years ago, I've noticed people buy new a lot compared to our old neighbourhood. Since I (pretty vocally) don't, and there are a bunch of bigger (i.e. older/larger) kids around here, friends and neighbours offer me stuff frequently. And when they see my kids wearing things their kids used to wear, they feel a sense of joy. Really. The smiles and crinkled eyes are real. Saying, seeing them wear this "made my day" is real. The deep sense of being part of a community is real.

And when I dress my kids, I remember who wore those clothes before they did (I know it sounds insane, but we don't have that many clothes). Even when I go out and don't know the child personally, I love to imagine them playing, learning, and growing out of what I'm holding in my hand today.

A toddler bends down to pick up a stick in the sunny forest
These moments are fleeting, but objects help us remember

So try something new - to you. Just one thing. Choose a place/site you feel comfortable with, and a low-stakes investment like $10-20. See how you feel wearing a t-shirt that's been on a journey. Something with a history. Something you're not owning but rescuing. Something you're inheriting.

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