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Secondhand Style: Meaningful Gifts Aren't Always New

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Wooden blocks - MARIA MUNROE
  • Maria Munroe
  • Wooden blocks

Through the years, I've watched thrifting become mainstream. This practice that some people used to consider gross or unsanitary has become not just acceptable but also celebrated. Reusing salvageable clothes and goods is less wasteful — and more affordable — than buying new.

But has secondhand gifting followed the same trajectory? I'm more than happy to receive a gently used gift, but I wasn't sure how others felt. So I posted a question about it in the Kids VT Facebook group. The responses I got were both heartwarming and thought-provoking.

There were two major themes I think are worth sharing, because they made me think a lot about the intentions behind gift-giving — and the privilege of being a gift recipient. I'll try to remember them as we head into the holiday season.

It really is the thought that counts.

Gifted "Christmas sweater" - MARIA MUNROE
  • Maria Munroe
  • Gifted "Christmas sweater"

Secondhand gifts that were clearly well thought out and well matched to their recipient generated positive responses. In other words, these gifts weren't just someone's old things being passed off. They were items with more life in them that would be more appreciated in a new home.

An example from my own life: One of my closest friends, another avid thrifter, gifted me with a beautiful woven basket she had found secondhand. It was a perfect fit for my home and my style, but it was also an incredible find. I know how much time and digging it can take to find something that beautiful. It meant the world that she passed it along to me.

The value of any gift has so little to do with how much was spent on it and so much to do with how useful and desirable it is to the receiver.

There's power in a hand-me-down.

Vintage wooden puzzle - MARIA MUNROE
  • Maria Munroe
  • Vintage wooden puzzle

One response particularly struck me: Maggie Wilson expressed sometimes feeling even more appreciative of a used gift than a new one, saying, "It feels intimate to be gifted something used by a friend and like you're closer to them when you use it."

When I read that, I immediately thought of the time I first put my daughter in a sweater that used to belong to our friends' now 4-year-old daughter. When we met them for a playdate later that day, they were happy to see my girl was wearing their own daughter's "Christmas sweater," so named because it had only fit her for a few days right around Christmas. As an avid thrifter, I was already pleased to have a cute, functional layer that fit my daughter, but in that moment I realized it was more than just a piece of clothing — it also held their memories of their baby. Being gifted with it felt like a privilege. I treasure that sweater.

This year I'm thrifting all of my daughter's gifts for Christmas. It's a good year to try it — there are no supply-chain issues with secondhand gifts! I've been having so much fun hunting on her behalf and finding things that match her little personality. So far, I've found a voice recorder that I think will be perfect for her newly discovered singing voice and a set of wooden blocks she'll enjoy for a long time. But my favorite is a vintage puzzle that I found while thrifting with my mom. She mentioned having a similar one as a young child, and I thought that made it extra special.

I'm considering doing this every year for my kids, having them do the same for others and making a tradition of it. But I can't guarantee that everyone on my list would be open to receiving a secondhand gift.

Instead, I'll emphasize these ideas that our readers helped me flesh out. And I'll model for my daughter and children-to-be that giving a gift is an act of care rather than a transaction. Being given a gift, whether new or used, is something for which we should all be grateful.

Thrifted Gift Ideas

Need some suggestions to get started? Try these:

  • Secondhand books: Include a note on the inside explaining why you chose it.
  • Vintage wooden toys: These can be found at many thrift stores and seem to last forever.
  • Arts and crafts kit: Put together extra supplies you already have with some that are new.
  • T-shirt or other merch: Look for something featuring a favorite band, TV show or team.
  • Vintage jewelry: Find a piece with a birthstone or other sentimental element.
  • Thrifted glassware or mug: For adults, I love the idea of a secondhand decanter paired with a bottle of their favorite wine or spirit.
 For more thrifting tips, follow Maria Munroe on Instagram @mariamunroethrifts.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Purposeful Presents"