I was going through some things I’d bookmarked on Twitter earlier and found this post from a blog I’ve recently discovered and love called Treading My Own Path. Its fascinating and taps into an area of my life that is somewhat neglected. Anyway, that’s not what this is about! We have a lot of second-hand furniture in our house, kitchen table & chairs, kitchen dresser, a sofa, a nest of tables, my big old desk which will be going into my new office/study soon, various shelves and storage units. Some of them have a story attached, others we just liked.
Lindsey Miles who writes Treading My Own Path used to live in the UK, as did I. I’m not sure if she’s originally from there, but like myself, she’s comfortable with the term ‘second-hand’. Her piece mentioned above got me thinking about words. When I moved to Ireland nearly fifteen years ago, it was during the boom. Property prices were insane and what seemed to me to be houses that were really nothing special were changing hands for what I considered to be frankly obscene amounts of money. We were looking for a house at the time so spent hours online, trawling
estate agents auctioneers’ websites and offices looking for our forever home. (There’s an example of word difference straight away, they call them auctioneers over here, but to me they’re estate agents) We probably weren’t an auctioneer’s dream clients, we wanted an old house, with a big garden, near to but not in a town, and ideally a renovation project. We eventually found one but that’s another story again.
What amazed me though was the use of the term ‘second-hand’ to describe a house, and it was often used in a negative way. “Oh surely you’d sooner buy a new house?” “What about building your own? Much better than second-hand”. Now maybe I’m naive (ok, I’m naive) but that didn’t make any sense to me at all. If there were (and indeed still are) a number of existing houses that were perfectly habitable and which you could make your own with decorating and remodelling if necessary, why would we go to the hassle of building? I understand that people should have the choice to build if they want and I’m not advocating denying that to them, but it saddened me (and still does) to see so many houses that had once been family homes lying empty because of the obsession we seemed to have with new builds. Why does everything have to be new??
Back to the term second-hand. I shop in charity shops, I get many of my books from them, some toys for my daughter and clothes for all of us. I buy new items of clothing if I need them (and I’m learning to sew so am making some myself) and I’m very open about the fact that I shop in them. Yet I find that for some people there’s a stigma about doing so. When did we develop this attitude that second-hand somehow equals bad or undesirable? How long do people think we can keep producing goods at the rate we currently are? And don’t get me started on Black Friday and all of the bloated consumerist madness that happens each December. It increasingly disgusts me. (I know that sounds judgmental and it probably is, but you know what, this is my blog, my opinions.)
I see terms like ‘preloved’ or ‘formerly owned’ being used a lot now. Like that sanitises it in some way. I just don’t get it. Seventy or eighty years ago, most of us in the UK and Ireland did not buy everything new. Clothes were swapped, handed down, made over, furniture was repaired not just dumped when it had served its purpose. Tools and utensils were repaired as much as possible. I’m not for one minute suggesting that life seventy or eighty years ago was all rosy and perfect, but I really do feel we’ve gone way too far down the consumerist/built-in obsolescence road. I recently had a sales call from my mobile phone provider, telling me I was entitled to an upgrade and could get a new iPhone (I think a 7?) The poor wee salesperson (who sounded very young) couldn’t grasp that I am perfectly happy with the phone I have, it does everything I need and works just fine. “But do you not WANT a new phone?” she squeaked. I ended the call rather quickly as I could almost feel the steam coming out of her ears.
Charity and second-hand shops are in some cases nearly full to bursting, full of all the stuff we thought we wanted/needed/deserved. And yet we keep buying more and so the manufacturers keep producing more. Drawing on already fragile natural resources and using unfathomable amounts of energy and fuel to produce this stuff. And that’s all it is really, stuff. Stuff that sits around in our cars and houses and workplaces and clogs up our minds and lives. Whether you prefer to call it preloved or second-hand, go take a look in some of those shops. Learn to mend and repair what you have. You might find you save some money. You might even find you enjoy it.
Before anyone accuses me of being preachy, my house is quite cluttered but I’m working on it 🙂