As a relatively frugal person, I’m usually happy to accept hand-me-downs from friends. Got a bread-maker you no longer use or shirt that doesn’t fit? I will take it off your hands! But some items just shouldn’t be shared — and that’s where things can get awkward.
Recently, a friend offered me her used Diaper Genie. For anyone who is unaware, this is a receptacle used for dirty diapers. You can imagine how disgusting it can get. But instead of politely declining her offer, I thanked her for it and brought it home. I didn’t want to be rude. The next day, I put her Diaper Genie outside in the trash, where it belonged.
I’ve also been offered five bags of old clothes at once, car seats that no longer meet safety requirements, and a crib that had been recalled after being deemed dangerous. (It was a beautiful, $600 crib, but still, I’m not putting my baby in anything that the federal government has declared unfit for use.)
The problem is that it can be uncomfortable to turn down a friend who has made a kind and generous offer. Just how do you tell someone that you would prefer not to wear her party dress from 2008, even if it carries a designer label? And especially if it has a stain on it?
Read on to find out more about this awkward etiquette situation.
To help navigate this rocky etiquette terrain, I developed some basic guidelines on when, and how, to decline used items. Here’s what I came up with — and please share any additions of your own in the comments.
First, let’s discuss the rules about just what does — and doesn’t — make an acceptable hand-me-down. As mentioned above, anything that has been come into regular contact with bodily fluids should not be shared. That includes the obvious (Diaper Genies) but also mattresses, undergarments, swim suits, and make-up.
Items that pose safety risks should also be avoided. In addition to baby-related items that tend to face frequent recalls such as cribs, car seats, and high-chairs, we can also rule out bike helmets (they can sustain invisible damage in accidents) and car tires.
Anything that is easily damaged also belongs on this no-go list. Laptops, camera parts, plasma screen televisions, and other high-tech equipment are relatively delicate, which means they can be broken in ways that is not apparent from the outside. So while there’s no real harm in accepting a free gift of these items from a friend, it makes sense to keep your expectations low.
Now for the hard part: When faced with an offer you don’t want, what is the best way to politely decline? Of course, to save face for everyone involved you can always do what I did and say “yes” and then trash the item later. But this is a waste of time and energy. In retrospect, in the Diaper Genie situation, I should have just said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” No explanation required. Other variations include mentioning that you already have plans to get your own, you don’t have space right now, or you’re looking to pare down your own home and are trying to avoid accumulating anything new.
Of course, the list of items that make great hand-me-downs is far longer than the list of no-nos. Clothes that you actually want to wear, children’s clothing and toys, furniture, books, jewelry, and artwork are just the beginning.
When offered one of those items, the answer easy: “Yes — and thank you!”