How do you handle free gifts?

Play i-pod good, but 2h better?

I knew when this music-loving teddy was picked for the cover of my new book, Homemade Kids (out on 1 July) that the gorgeous line drawing would soon haunt me.  And on the very weekend that I’m giving a 20 minute speech about the evils of consumerism (exact title: why be a green parent) to mums at the NCT’s Big Conference, in Telford, my 11 year old is back home collecting an unwanted i-pod during a sleepover with her 11 year old friend who had upgraded to a better/slimmer model.

I’m not happy about this i-pod exchange. Lola wasn’t in line to get an i-pod. And even if she was I would have prefered it to be for an occasion, like a birthday. But I think this bit of over-easy passing on (and goodness knows we should be grateful too) is a classic conundrum for green parents.

Just because something is cheap – (eBay, sales, secondhand) or free (swapped, Freecycle, a gift) – doesn’t mean that it is going to be 100 per cent welcome in everyone’s house. There need to be gifts of love, or earned, or eagerly looked forward to…

Looking at this situation from another way – as someone living with thrifty, creative and eco-friendly values – I really ought to be praising Lola – and Nell – for their willingness to accept secondhand. It’s also good that Lola’s got the opportunity to fiddle around with music – learn to download, learn to spin the volume, etc.

Easy come: easy go

Being given stuff mums – or dads – aren’t 100 per cent happy about is part of parenthood. During the bump stage I was passed a sterlizer, moses basket, two stair gates and a load of clothes that were absolutely unnecessary. Some of the previous owners had used them successfully, but as Pete and I found our parenting style (as much influenced by living in a small flat as having green principles) we realised a lot of what we’d been given was of no use to us. So we put the still untouched gifts into the never-to-be used baby bath and eventually were able to pass them on.

Good manners
Sometimes this attitude wouldn’t be right – buggies can be hugely expensive, i-pods are too – and so a good way to prevent a friend or family fallout is to just check that when an object isn’t wanted you know if they want it returned, or passed on to someone who will use it, or sold (and if so what to do with any money it makes).

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift?

I remember my mum hissing “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” at me if I looked downcast when opening a not very perfect gift. The agony is that sometimes those attempting to be greener may also cause this sort of unhappy situation with our quaintly made gifts, hand drawn cards and lopsided oven-baked offerings. Obviously no one would be upset by a child doing this, but when it’s an adult getting a jar of chutney or a mini bottle of flavoured gin/vodka who feels out of sorts because they have spent far too much in John Lewis, or the online equivalent, present-giving can end up being a battlefield.

Luckily it’s nearly midsummer and once Father’s Day is passed (Sunday 20 June) there should be few gift confusions for more than six months – unless you have birthdays along the way. No sooner written than argh: the door opens and in walks Pete with a massive suitcase he’s picked up from Nell’s super generous godmother Julia, whose children have outgrown… a beautiful tweed riding jacket, Arsenal shirt, walking boots, 2x school skirts, tights, I love Wales t-shirt, maths cassettes…

We’re very, very lucky (and Julia has saved me a fortune over the years) but sometimes I think maybe my kids would benefit from having just a little less. And of course I pass on these lovely things too…

Question: What do you think? Is attempting to have less possible? Or a kind of vanity? Have you found it difficult to stop your child accepting something passed on from a friend? Or are you still resistant to the charms of secondhand? Ideas please!

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