Thursday, August 11, 2011

A House of Hand-me-downs

Wherein SustainaMom gives thanks for other people's cast-offs...

The last four years have been tough. My husband started his own business just before the economy tanked — and just after we bought our home. When we moved in, we bought blinds for the windows and put off all other purchases indefinitely. It seemed rather bare for a while, but we decided it was fun to have more room for playing chase with our then one-year-old child.

Around the same time, I started reading green blogs. I realized that living frugally was also eco-friendly — and just plain smart. And so we flew our non-consumerist flag unabashedly.

A funny thing happened: our friends and family became comfortable asking if we wanted something they no longer needed.

It started with bookshelves, when our friends were doing away with their office in order to make separate bedrooms for their kids.

My in-laws gave us an old loveseat for the playroom.

My cousin offered an armoire that had housed a television in her home. Luckily it was too heavy to get up the stairs where I had imagined it in my bedroom. After I walked around it in the garage for three months, it occurred to me that it would make a great storage cabinet for my office.

Our status as hand-me-down recipients is helped by the fact that my husband has a truck. For an hour spent helping a friend pick up a new grill, we got the old grill.

We got an old — OLD — sofa the same way. I’m not sure it was such a great gift, but my husband insists he needs a sofa in the basement; and it does make a great place to wait out the occasional tornado watch.

Then the grill-giver friend asked if we wanted his fiancĂ©e’s patio furniture when they combined households and didn’t need two sets. Once I get a fresh coat of paint on it, it will be a great place to sit and watch our son and his friends play in the yard.

A few months later, the newly married couple started planning their nursery and we got a dresser and a nightstand. We are now planning our son’s “big boy room” with the new furniture.

We started housekeeping, as my grandmother would say, with an antique dresser, an old sewing machine cabinet converted to a table, and an old kitchen table and chairs (that my mom helped me refinish). All were hand-me-downs from our parents. In 9 years of marriage, we’ve only purchased a few big furnishings new: a master bedroom suite, a guestroom box spring and mattress, a good quality sofa and oversized chair that need to be re-upholstered but should last all our lives, and a crib and dresser for our son’s nursery.

As I snapped these pictures of the hand-me-downs that have furnished the rest of our home, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and family. I was planning a garage sale in order to fund the "big boy room." But now that our friends have given us the big items for the kiddo's room, I'm looking to pay it forward with a few thoughtfully given hand-me-downs of my own.

I also want to make a strong push for teaching my son to "pay it forward." After we unwrap his birthday presents (including a few hand-me-downs from his cousin!) next month, I plan to talk about how much he's been given and how we should give to others who don't have so much. Any advice for convincing a 5-year-old that he really doesn't need two Little People barns, even if they were hand-me-downs that didn't cost us anything?!


Lisa @ Granola Catholic said...

Love the hand me down furnishings. Most of our house with the exception of mattresses are hand me downs/thrift store or garage sale finds. With patience I have been able to decorate our home very nicely.

mek said...

I have found 5 a tough age to convince about donating and passing on - my daughter frequently insists that her stuffed animals need her old clothes. But, times when we have been able to pass on to a particular person (clothes to a friend's baby) have been more successful.

robbie @ going green mama said...

We've had some success with our 6 yr old in giving at the holidays and making sure we are "santas" to others. We also impart that if we don't need it, others do.

It does help when they hand down to people they know. While they "need" a dozen cuddle friends, they are willing to give one up to their 5 month old cousin.

The fact that a priest from the congregation in Haiti our church supports came to her school last fall and they learned about how the kids live made a deep, deep impression. To this day, we still have a box of outgrown shoes that we "give to Haiti" through Soles for Souls.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

This is a great story, and shows how "green" it is to be connected to a community. I love that your openness about your needs led to others' openness about their extras. It's nice to be able to give something away knowing that it will be used, and wonderful to receive a well-cared for item for free, esp. when finances are tight.

Birnie said...

In our family, we call them handy-downs. That still makes our 19 year old smile as she happily goes through clothes and things that she doesn't use any more, that she has been given by other friends.

Can't really recall how I used to get my children to give up their extra, and no longer used, things, but, there is also a need for these at shelters where women and children go to escape abuse. Often times these folks leave with just the clothes on their backs.

Jaydemia said...

Great job! Aside from saving money, you're able to get the necessary furnitures for your house and be eco friendly too.

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

Wow you all have been so blessed!!!! What awesome things you have revived, I especially like that piece that had been in your garage that had housed the television it is just beautiful!


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