Reconsidering my preference for secondhand toys

I like used stuff. Not only are the prices far lower than for new, clothes are pleasantly broken in, lenses and carefully repackaged in their boxes, and good buys retain their resale value. Since before Jav was born, I’ve been buying things second hand.

We found a kids consignment store just up the street, and while it’s more “permanent yard sale” than “lovely vintage store,” if we’re picky we find good stuff. After much pressure from my hubby to do something (other than trip over) the paraphernalia we no longer use, I decided to trade it for a Rainforest Jumper.

My son loves the doorway jumper my mom bought him for Christmas, but since we have no door frames in the living area, we wanted a jumper that could stand on the floor. And because I hate the thought of paying full price for a plastic contraption that my son will use for a few months, buying one used seemed smart.

Then I got it home. I was in a hurry when I ran in to make the trade, with a cell phone in my ear as I tried to simultaneously unload my car and pay attention to a conference call so with a few awkward hand signals and an apology to the shop owner, I was in and out without looking too closely.

This thing was disgusting. Dirty plastic I can handle, but when I took the metal frame apart, bugs fell out. Thank goodness they were dead, but still…. Ew. I freaked and dumped the whole thing in the tub, then took every last piece apart, including those held together by screws.

~~~

Apparently I published accidentally, so consider this part II.

My first thought was, “This is effing disgusting. I can afford better. No more used toys, ever.”

That was my second thought too. Quite frankly, that thought didn’t leave my head for two hours while I soaked the gross thing in scalding hot water and one of various household cleaners in turn. I filled the tub three times, using first a green cleaner, then Ajax, then bleach. {I’ll get back to the actual toy in a second.}

Three hours later, I started to feel bad.

First I felt bad for moms who couldn’t afford the new toy. Taking a toy from disgusting to usable is a lot of work! I scrubbed with steel wool, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, a scrub brush, and a toothbrush. I stuck my hands in too-hot water, got icky rinse water all over my arms, and killed my back bending over the tub to scrub. It felt good to soak off all the gross stickers, but then I wondered if the toy would be as fun without all the sticky bling.

Then I felt bad for being so douchy about cost. Since I was a child and very aware that my parents couldn’t afford everything my well-off friends had, I’ve understood money to mean freedom. With more money comes more choices, and I’m all about choices.

But what about responsibility, if not to the environment, but to those who can’t afford better? And when it comes down to it, is my purchase of a used toy good in the same way buying organic is, or am I taking someone else’s opportunity for a Rainforest Bouncer at half price?

So many questions to ponder. By the time I stopped being disgusted long enough to think (and call the store to complain), I’d taken the whole darned thing apart and wasn’t going to put it back together (in cleaner condition, no less) just so they could sell it for more.

In the end, the thing got (beautifully) clean and is probably the cleanest toy in the house. The hot water soak got rid of the bugs from every nook and cranny, the Ajax and bleach took care of any germs and mold spots (seriously, ew) and the TWO subsequent soaks with regular soap got rid of the bleach and Ajax residue. The last (and sixth, if you’re counting) rinse made sure all of the chemicals were really gone.

I put it all back together and my kid loved it (thank goodness, or I’d have gone through all that existential crisis for nada), but the questions still linger. What is my responsibility to society and the earth in terms of the plastic crap kids love and I’m not against? What’s the best way to “do” secondhand – buying directly from people via Craigslist is now my preferred method, but I don’t think I’ll always stay away from secondhand stores? And how big a douche am I for immediately jumping to the “I don’t have to put up with this HeresMoreMoneyMakeItGoAway”?

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4 thoughts on “Reconsidering my preference for secondhand toys

  1. Ew. I too am a big fan of secondhand and consignment shopping, but that’s unacceptable. I would take it back to the store and demand that they issue you a store credit or cash for the items you consigned or whatever they normally do. I generally assume used toys need to be washed/wiped down, but dead bugs crosses a line and they should be embarrassed to have had that thing in their store.

  2. I don’t think you’re “taking away” from others less fortunate when you buy used. I’m of the opinion that being resourceful and less wasteful is best for everyone. Yeah, you could buy brand new, but I think if we all took steps to recycle and re-use then eventually that would make a significant impact. I’m not about getting a lot of stuff used, or pre-owned. We got a great portable swing for $20 that costs nearly $70 new!

    On the other hand, there are some things I would never buy used, like carseats. A used swing or onesie won’t put my baby in danger like a recalled or damaged carseat would. MIL bought a carseat used, and I cringe every single time she asks to pick my baby up, and offer to bring her to them instead. I just can’t do it! I can’t trust the used carseat. Stroller? Yes. Safety device that could be the difference between life and death in an accident? No.

  3. To add to your list of questions, is there a difference between getting used items and buying a new item which you then donate? My husband and I are lucky that we can afford new items, but I have a mix of some secondhand things and some new purchases. We don’t plan on anymore children, so we plan to donate everything when we are through with them. I wouldn’t donate something without first making sure it’s clean though. Yikes! You are very lucky that those bugs were dead. I lived in an apt. building that got infested with bedbugs and it was truly a nightmare. It’s hard to understand how insidious they are unless you’ve had them. I was never fully rid of them until I moved out when we got married, so I have always been paranoid about bedbugs ever since. My paranoia makes me very cautious about secondhand things that could potentially harbor bedbugs.

  4. Being broke. I don’t care if you get another toy from a thrift store, it’s not like you’re taking food out of my son’s mouth.

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