Still Wearing Hand-Me-Downs After All These Years

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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I’ve noticed that when you call yourself
an environmentalist people like to give you their old stuff. They don’t
have the heart to throw it away, so they appease themselves by giving
it to an environmentalist. Their thinking is something along the lines
of, “He’ll have to do something with it. He cares about the planet. Take
that “green boy!” They usually call this “recycling.” I have to explain
to them that this is in fact better than recycling which is the last of
the “3 R’s.” It’s actually “re-using” which is way better. And if we
all “reduced” then we might not be filling up our landfills quite so

Don’t get me wrong. I love free stuff. And I love used
stuff. Much of my clothing was worn first by someone else. I purchased
some of it at the Salvation Army Thrift Store or Value Village, and some
of it was given to me.

Like a lot of people I began wearing
“used” clothing at a young age. They were called “hand-me-downs” back
then. You would think with an older sister I wouldn’t have had to wear
hand-me-downs, or I would have been wearing girls’ clothing. Nope… it
wasn’t that interesting! Mom had a network of friends who traded
clothes. Her friend Helen gave her clothing that her son Mike had worn. I
rode the school bus with Mike and he was a couple of years older than
me. And a bit of a loudmouth. And a bit of bully. So you can appreciate
the dynamics of riding the bus every day with a guy who had worn the
clothes that I was now wearing. This is where I learned to smile and
wave at bullies. Resistance is futile.

I deserved to be teased
about some of that clothing. I remember in particular some corduroy
pants from him. One part of the pants was wine colored and the other
part was gold. And they weren’t made of normal corduroy with evenly
sized stripes; they had a fat strip and then a skinny strip. I still get
violently ill thinking about them. I should be in therapy. OK, I’m
kidding, I don’t think I really paid much attention to how I looked back
in those days.

hand-me-down theme has stayed with me all my life. My neighbor Ken is a
big, tall guy but his dad was about 5’8” and 150 pounds, just like me.
When his Dad died a few years ago, Ken offered me some of his Dad’s
clothing. I got some great white t-shirts that I wear to bed every
night. They fit perfectly and they’re made of a great material that
doesn’t get all “static-y” in the winter. He must have had these shirts
when he was in a retirement home in his later years, because they are
labeled with his name. So now every night I pull on the shirt of dead
man. It’s kind of weird. I didn’t know Ken’s dad very well, but I liked
him when I met him. He was a frugal man and I like to think he’d be OK
with me wearing his shirts. You can tell that I like them and wear them a
lot because they’re starting to get threadbare.

This perception
of me as a good candidate to be used as a dumping ground manifests
itself within my own family too. My daughters often buy products that
they don’t like or they lose interest in. I rarely have to buy shampoo,
or deodorant or moisturizer since there are often bottles of the stuff
sitting around the bathroom needing to be used up. I think consumers
like new products. They like to buy and open and use full products. But
when they start to get used up they’re not as fun anymore. My daughters
can buy new stuff guilt free because they know their “old man” is so
cheap that he’ll use up the dregs. I believe there was a time when this
was the role of a mother, but I seem to have taken it on in our house.

have often blogged about baths in our house. I am obsessed with energy
and in particular how hard it is to make hot water. So when Michelle has
a bath with water hot enough to boil a lobster, it’s still comfortably
hot 20 minutes later when she’s done, so I don’t let it go to waste.
Taking a bath in water someone has used before you is repugnant to many
people in our germ-free, sanitary-obsessed world, but I’m just fine with
it. And since I’ve only had maybe 3 colds in the last 20 years it
doesn’t seem to be a problem. That which doesn’t kill you makes you

Sometimes being a “re-user” has its challenges. Right
now my favourite sweatshirt to wear when I’m working outside has a
woodland scene on. It’s a dark blue material, but the graphic in the
middle has trees and birds and a deer on it, with a bit of green and
pink in the graphic. It’s just the right weight to wear over a
turtleneck for chain sawing, and it has just enough cotton in it so it
doesn’t get all “static-y.” But it is … well …  a woman’s sweatshirt.

know! I’ve spent a great deal of time working through this with my
therapist. I don’t know when it came into the house and how I started
wearing it, but one day Michelle informed that it had been, in fact, her
mother’s. This presents a huge dilemma, because it’s the best
sweatshirt I’ve ever owned for working in. I have to be careful to only
wear when I’m on my own property. My concern is that someday I’ll leave
the property with it on, and end up helping a pickup truck full of
lumberjacks with a flat tire, and they’ll start asking me about the
woodland scene on my shirt. It’s not a good scenario. It’s gonna end in

And of course the graphic has proven indestructible. Heaven
forbid it’d be a nice cheap one that would fade out with constant
washing. Nope. It just won’t go away.

So I’m good with wearing
other people’s hand me downs. I’m good with wearing dead men’s clothing.
I’m good with wearing my mother-in-law’s discarded sweatshirt when I
chainsaw. Earlier I jested about working through this with my therapist.
I was kidding. I don’t have a therapist. I don’t need a therapist. Yet.

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