Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Still Wearing Hand-Me-Downs After All These Years

By Cam Mather

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 quickly.

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.

The 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.

I 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 stronger.

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.

I 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 tears.

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.



  1. Cuuuute picture!
    Ah, yes….hand-me-down clothes – no embarrassment here either. In fact I usually wear my ‘outside’ work jeans all summer and only wash the good ol’ dirt off them a few times LOL! My children also grew up in ‘hand-me-down’ clothes – and it didn’t hurt any of us one bit. Now that they buy their own clothes, I see they’re shopping at Thrift Stores and garage sales…..

  2. sean

    I call it the 4 R’s reduce/reuse/recycle/repurpose and all i buy is used cloths (not underwear or socks)

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