It began with a handbag.
A Christmas present for my toddler, she loved it with the fervour reserved for only the most sparkly, unicorn-covered accessories. She carried it around for a solid 24 hours, then it completely disintegrated. It had been constructed, transported, sold, wrapped and gifted, all for just one day's use.
Kids require mountains of stuff before they're even home from the hospital. A few years on, it felt like our family was adding to that daily. We were drowning in "stuff", a lot of it barely even making it out of the single-use category. It was weighing me down, so I resolved to only buy second-hand for our kids for the whole of 2019.
The easiest place to start was with clothes. For Theo, then 8 months old, it was no drama. Not yet big enough to care what he was wearing, he was easily clothed with hand-me-downs from bigger friends and cousins. But Tessa, almost 3, had more than enough opinions. For her wardrobe, we started with Trade Me, where I bought much better clothes for kindy than she'd otherwise have worn. Two pairs of gumboots for $1 from a posh house in St Mary's Bay; stacks of clothes being listed from single households doing the annual Marie Kondo.
I bought her a purple dress, which arrived with two identical dresses and a matching top, the capsule wardrobe I never thought my toddler would have. And I wasn't alone in this renewed interest in buying second-hand. Trade Me says the number of listings for childrens' clothing listing is up 83 per cent. Some brands are particularly popular, with tens of thousands of searches a week done for brands like Nature Baby.
But buying online isn't for everyone. When Pūhoi mum Nikki Morgan first had kids, she was exasperated at the amount of stuff they needed but couldn't face the rigmarole of selling it online. Her friend Natasha Duffett faced the same issue, so they gathered up a bunch of friends and held a market for pre-loved kids' items.
They were blown away by the interest and now run their Good as New Pre Loved Kids markets quarterly. Nikki says it's a great community event and helps parents on a budget, however,lately it's become more about the environment.
"People are conscious they don't want to put that plastic dolls house into the recycle bin, they'd like to move it on to another family. We're definitely seeing a move towards people wanting to recycle rather than just throw away. Sometimes we see the same items being bought and sold three or more times."
Some businesses are also taking responsibility for finding their own products more than one home. Wellington business owner Kirsten Macdonald sells Scandinavian children's clothing on website Hoopla Kids. This year, she launched re-loved, which allows people to send the clothing she sells back to her, to be re-sold.
"Instead of selling more new stuff constantly, we wanted to be responsible for the full life-cycle of our clothing. Clothing is listed as excellent, good, or play condition, and owners can either receive store credit or choose to donate their part of the proceeds to a local charity."
Clothing is only part of the challenge; I also wanted to look at the toys and other things I could buy second-hand. My local playgroup set up a Facebook group to share kids' stuff, where I scored a helmet for my budding Evel Knievel. We joined our local toy library, cycling dozens of new toys through the house. The uglier and noisier, the more they appealed to my children, and the happier I was to give them back.
Mount Albert Toy Library's Jamie Teo says some parents join to save money, "Others join because they want to have less environmental impact, and they want to teach their children to share the toys." Some parents of younger children use the toy library for the ultimate birthday and Christmas hack: hire a selection of toys, wrap them up as presents, and see what the kids really love before buying them as presents later on. All of the joy of a pile of new "gifts" but much less waste.
When I was a kid, my parents fixed my clothes when they were damaged. They gratefully accepted hand-me-downs and made me look after my stuff. But a lot of that care seems to be have been lost in one generation. It's not unusual to find a parent who'd rather just pick up another pair of $3 pants at their local mall than spend a few extra minutes cleaning up after a particularly enthusiastic play session.
It's not just disposable nappies but disposable pads to lie your kids on while you change them, along with disposable pouches of baby food. But there's a growing movement away from those attitudes. It's not just hemp-wearing hippies, it's everyday parents like me who're looking at how they can avoid filling the world with stuff.
I didn't spend the whole year shining my halo. Some things I couldn't face buying second-hand, like shoes and hair accessories. There were also a few new toys, things I went out and bought after they were a hit from the toy library. But before I whip out the credit card, I now ask myself, "Is this something I'll be able to give to my grandchildren?". Lego? Yes! Magnetic blocks? Yes! Tiny little plastic cars in a multipack from Kmart … probably not.
It wasn't always clear whether I was making the right choices and I learned that every purchase has a consequence, no matter how careful you are. Things were being posted, I was driving to pick them up and I was buying second-hand goods that potentially other people needed more than me. But short of weaving the kids clothes out of the fur my dog leaves on the couches, I figured everything has a footprint. What I can do is make sure I'm contributing good quality goods back to the second-hand stores I go to most often. And most importantly, carefully consider whether I need things in the first place.
Buying second-hand is a choice for me, rather than a necessity. But my second-hand year was much easier than I expected, cheaper, and most importantly stopped another mountain of stuff ending up in landfill.