Brands & Hand-Me-Downs: A Thrifty Dilemma

A couple days ago I wrote a post about brands and their place in a simple, minimalist life. One of the comments really caught my attention. It was by a reader named Ellen, and I’ve reproduced it here:

I think the issue for me too comes down to buying with intention. However, I also strive (out of necessity) to be frugal in every aspect of my life. Not working with a baby at home makes it tough to be so intentional. If that makes sense? It meas that sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. But, being in that position irks me in that some of the things that I get for free are not things that I would choose to purchase if I were purchasing with my own intentions. So where does that leave me? Advertising the Mercedes dealership on my free coffee mug or having my kid wear Toy Story clothes and other licensed items that I would never choose for him. Two things that I really don’t want to do, but since I didn’t have to shell out any of my scarce $$ to do it, does that make it ok? Can I be comfortable with that choice (or lackthereof)? That’s my dilemma.

I really appreciate the dilemma Ellen is facing. When sincerely-held values clash with the reality of your life situation, it’s tough to figure out the right thing to do.

I’m inclined to say that if something comes into your life without cost, and it’s useful, use the heck out of it and enjoy it. If the coffee mug is the porcelain kind, you’ll probably only be using it at home so the Mercedes logo won’t matter. If it’s a travel mug, the logo will wear off eventually as it gets washed repeatedly.

The same is true of the clothes. If the clothes are free and in otherwise good repair, I wouldn’t let a Toy Story brand dissuade you from letting your kid wear them.

What I would do is figure out how to use the circumstances you’re faced with to teach your kids useful life lessons. I honestly think that the single greatest factor influencing how your kids perceive brands is the example you set for them. Liberally sprinkle the value of frugality and thrift throughout their early childhood, and show them what it means to live those values in the real world.

Explain to them about brands and logos, and why you sometimes choose second-hand clothing. Teach them about reusing things until they’re worn out, and help them appreciate what they have. When the kids get old enough, you can even joke about how crazy it is that a Mercedes dealer spent a bunch of money on a coffee mug that will never earn the dealer a dime in business!

Sometimes it’ll mean Toy Story clothes. Sometimes it’ll mean plain t-shirts and sweatpants. Exercise as much control over obnoxious corporate logos and licensed stuff as you can, but find a way to make use of it all. Have fun with it, and pass on your values. Those will have a far more lasting impression than a few licensed Toy Story outfits, I promise.

As always, I’d love to hear other peoples’ opinions on this issue….let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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5 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted March 28, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

I had a similar discussion with Ellen on my blog. I draw the line at actually wearing huge logos, but I wear small ones all the time because that’s how clothing comes, and there’s nothing simple about hiding or covering up logos.

I’d much rather see a child playing with or wearing something that promotes a wholesome commercial cartoon, for example, than to see them promoting cowboys with guns slaughtering Indians. In general, I think parents should think about the messages they present to their children, and many don’t.
Gip @ So Much More Life recently posted..Best Decisions: Rethinking How I Handle Trash

Posted March 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

It gets even more sticky and complicated when the baby’s hand-me-downs and toys that I wouldn’t choose come from family – especially in-laws with ‘stuff attachment disorder’… LOL They either want the stuff back or would most likely notice if I chose to not use it! That’s a tough one! But like I said, beggars can’t be choosers, and more often than not, frugality wins out over idealism… But, I’m still struggling with the situation. While I appreciate everything that’s given to me, I still have thoughts that I don’t want to use the stuff, or the stuff doesn’t support my purchasing criteria.

I think its a good idea to use some of these instances as teaching moments, however, I see how kid’s are such sponges and pick up on so much that’s around them… I just have the over-arching attitude that less commercial, licensed stuff in their lives, the better. I just want my son to learn that there doesn’t always need to be a Disney or Pixar character or some sort of brand present of everything that surrounds him. There’s the teaching moment, I guess!

Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

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Terry recently posted..home remedies for constipation

Posted April 8, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

I think in that situation, it’s all right. As long as the items themselves are being used properly. :) And as long as she does indeed pass on wise learnings to her kid: think of it as an opportunity to teach rather than something negative: it’s a free item as well as a concrete chance to teach crucial lessons about responsible consumerism.
Mel recently posted..Moving

Posted April 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

If I’m choosing the product, I don’t usually mind reasonable branding. After all, I chose the item, so I shouldn’t be ashamed to let other people know what it is. With freebies, however, I’m a bit pickier. I won’t advertise something I don’t like or don’t believe, even in exchange for a free garment or drinking vessel. OTOH, I might not mind advertising a product that I like or a cause I believe in as long as it costs me nothing AND the product is otherwise acceptable to me. For example, I won’t use a poorly insulated travel mug with a leaky lid just because it was free, even if I don’t mind the logo or don’t expect to use it in public anyway.
Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Intersection of Naturism and Minimalism

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