Second Hand as Our Default Setting

When I was a wee lad growing up in Loxton North, South Australia, we lived on a dairy farm. Our humble farm house was furnished with mainly second hand furniture because that was how it was done back then in the 70’s.

Gavin (left) and James in Loxton North

I remember that the bunk bed I shared with my brother Jim was purchased at an auction, as were most of the other furnishings. Lots of kitchenware was passed down, as were our kitchen table and chairs. Even my chemistry set was bought at an auction. Many of these auctions were deceased estates or farmers selling up. They were a treasure trove of goodies for an eagle eyed man like my Dad.

In fact, just about everything had a second life and things were built to last!

Back then, people used to share stuff as well. If you didn’t own a certain tool that you needed for a once off job, more often than not you could borrow one from a neighbour and friend. There was no hyper-individualism like there is today.

With designed obsolescence, and cheaply manufactured crap, those days of hand-me-downs and borrowing have all but faded into history. This makes an event like Buy Nothing New Month difficult for the average bloke.

I have been thinking a lot about Buy Nothing New Month since I pledged to take up the challenge. It soon became evident to me that our Con$umer Kulture is so out of kilter with the basic premise of this challenge, that to be successful I would have to reshape my default setting of buying new stuff, to one of buying, borrowing, sharing second hand stuff instead.

This leads me to the conclusion that to make this work permanently, I would have to make buying second hand my default setting, and revert to the ways of my parents and grandparents. This is not a bad thing by any means. It is just a different way of thinking. Instead of buying from, say Target or Kmart, I make my first stop second hand instead.

So far my challenge has been on track, and I haven’t bought anything so far, but I know that will change soon. I do have an ample supply of beer that will be ready in two weeks, so I am okay there. It is just that Kim and I are planning to teach soap making workshops soon, and need to source a stick blender and a digital kitchen scale.

We will put an ad out on our local Freecycle, but I am not holding my breath. I will also scour the op shops and secondhand stores we have in our town, so maybe we will come up trumps there. We could also ask friends if we can borrow these items, but I am after a more permanent solution, as we plan to teach these courses at least once a quarter.

I could buy these items under the ‘personal hygiene’ part of the challenge as we are making soap after all, but I would feel that I had cheated a little.

Fingers crossed, we will get lucky. I am very excited about what I may discover around town.  I may also discover something of my past as well!

I am now ready for my default setting to be reset. How about you?


  1. says

    Hi Gavin

    If you cant source them from anywhere second hand you can borrow my digital scales!

    I am in Bacchus Marsh and its no problem for you to borrow them for the weekend.



  2. says

    Hi Gav,
    I’m a biochemist by trade: I’ve never measured any of the ingredients for soap – its bucket chemistry. The volume of the oil will be listed on the container it comes in, and the caustic can be an eyeball measurement based on the volume in the plastic container. My soap has never come out covered in caustic spots.

    I don’t use a stick blender, either. You can use the heat of the caustic-water reaction to melt any solid fat you are using (saves on power), then add the oils and give it a good stir (a long stick in a tall bucket works well). Stop stirring and weed the garden for a bit. Stir some more. Garden again. More stirring, followed by more gardening. After about an hour, you have a great veg patch AND the soap will have hit trace. Trace seems to be more a function of temperature than mixing, so you could prepare both solutions before hand (“and now here’s one I prepared earlier”) and mix them when they are both almost at room temp.

    Other options if the above method doesn’t work (may not be best suited to a class….): every op shop known to man has one of those hand-held egg beaters: get the class participants to take turns. If you have an electric drill, attach a hand whisk to it and power it up (I haven’t asked You-Tube how to do this, but I’m sure someone’s made a clip). Ask family members if any of them own one of those truly crap hand-held mix masters – offer to take it off their hands. It’ll probably die about the same time the soap reaches trace.

  3. says

    Awesome – Interesting – Relevant – So much to comment on so if it is alright with you I will link back to blog post of yours and write a post of my thoughts on this on my blog. Cheers, Wendy

  4. says

    hey Gavin
    thought you might like to check out Eilleen’s blog – Consumption Rebellion – she didn’t buy brand new for a year.
    Right down to taking old zips out of clothing, saving thread – you name it she did it.
    Birthday presents, Christmas – all done without buying brand new.

    the only exceptions I think from memory were underwear, medicine and I think they were already half way through their house being built.

    eta this is the post on completion of the 1yr
    I can’t get to the ‘start’ post because E has redone her blog and it’s not showing (I’ll let her know and see if it’s still there smoewhere). Hope it’s helpful anyway, Gavin.


  5. says

    Gavin , I have a magic trick for you that has always worked for me. When I need something … I wish really hard for it to be in the op shop . When I turn up , it is always there. So far I have bought a second hand stick blender, Kenwood chef mixer ( for soap making- from the 70s and still as good as new ) , an iron and a bread maker. The op shop wish always works….just try it.But the key to it all is making sure you give things to the op shop too that you don’t need too that way the circle completes itself.

  6. says

    What a lovely picture of 2 cute little lads.

    Here in S.A. we have a Scouts recycling depot where lots of good stuff is waiting to be purchased e.g. an opened packet of tile grout that I bought, I only needed a cup full then I returned it to be sold to someone else. Tile grout, as you are probably aware only comes in 5kg bags so this was a great find.
    My husband found a piece of corrugated iron just the right size for the job he was doing, brand new, a cut off piece from someone else’s job. Maybe there is a place like this near you.

  7. Louise says

    Amazing timing. Minutes ago my husband and I were bemoaning that several new items in our house (12-18 months) are showing signs of impending demise! We actually said that in future we will shop second hand for quality versions of these items.

    By contrast my husband has owned a retro office chair for 30 odd years. It was grubby and yuck so we discussed disposal, however it was a favourite piece and rather cool looking. So for his birthday I had it reupholstered and it arrived yesterday – freshly polished timber, beautiful wool fabric. It wasn’t cheap but it’s solid and beautiful and will last another 30 years at least.

  8. Anonymous says

    I was only thinking the other day the bulk collection we have in perth is 100% because nothing lasts everything is disposable. Nothing was wasted moons ago and still had value. I doubt if things lasted these days people wouldnt be leaving it on their curb side
    Thankyou for making the world richer :)
    Emma Perth WA

  9. says

    See Gavin, you just have to put it out into the universe :-)
    I will go one further. Shop from what you got! (sorry for the bad english). More than once I have been able to put something together from what I already have around the house. Now the trick is to get my hardware store loving husband to do the same.
    I have made my 4th batch of soap. Rather than buying soap molds, I have used clean, empty milk cartons to make it. Our recycling depot will not take them, so they get one more life by molding my soap.

  10. says

    I have a stick blender you are welcome to have. It was a gift for our engagement party 15 years ago, but we were given 2. Not fancy, but I assume still working because it is still in the box. Let me know if you’d like me to send it to you.

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