COLUMN: We’re not used to used

Why isn't giving second-hand gifts socially acceptable?

My cousin and I were recently in one of my favourite shops for children’s clothes, a consignment store called Not for Long in White Rock.

She spotted a brand-name winter coat for a toddler for a third of what it would cost new, and thought it would be perfect for a friend. This jacket looked brand new, but the fact that it had a previous owner gave my cousin pause.

Which made me think, why isn’t it socially acceptable to give someone a second-hand gift, particularly children?

Other than well-loved favourites, they grow out of clothes and toys so quickly that it’s easy to find items in excellent condition at consignment stores and swap meets.

The saying goes, “it’s the thought that counts,” yet we concern ourselves with whether the proper monetary amount was spent and if it’s shiny and new.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. National Retail Federation released its 2012 holiday consumer spending survey: The average holiday shopper is expected to spend about $750 on gifts, decor, cards and all that junk that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Christmas. The federation forecasted America’s total holiday sales at $586.1 billion.

And the headline on the press release was, “Shoppers to Remain Conservative With Holiday Gift Budgets This Year.”

A total of $750 per consumer is conservative?

If we’re seriously concerned with the impact of society’s rampant consumerism on the environment, wouldn’t a great solution be to re-gift once-loved items in good condition?

I’m not against gift giving. People often find pleasure in discovering something they feel the recipient will find joy in. Even little ones like to give – a recent study published in PLoS One (the Public Library of Science) found that toddlers under the age of two seemed happier giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves.

I also enjoy giving gifts, but I’m disturbed by the pressure we feel to buy things for people because we “have to” and not because we happen to find something that reminds us of them.

A few friends and I have tried to imbue some sentimentality and effort into our gifts by going the handmade route.

But I’ve yet to give someone a used gift. I buy my own family second-hand clothes and toys all the time. I just have a difficult time bringing myself to do it for other people, even if the $5 Radio Flyer trike I spotted at a Cloverdale thrift store that I know is $60 in stores looks like it just came out of the box.

My cousin did buy the little girl’s coat for a Christmas gift, and I say, good for her.

I think some of my friends – particularly my swap meet- and consignment-crazed new parent pals – would understand.

For the rest of the people on my shopping list, your gifts will be new or handmade – this year, anyway.

Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to 18-month-old girl Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues.

 

 

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