The holidays can be as stressful as they are fun, and all families, regardless of their financial positions, find it hard to stay ahead of the rush — to save, to spend, to give.
For some, the answer is simple: Shop secondhand. Supporting the local economy by putting holiday dollars toward small, local, resale businesses can save both money and natural resources, and it's often easier than navigating the seasonal crush of big-box stores.
"Shopping secondhand is important to me because I like my money to stay in the community," says Deanna Oakley, browsing through Earth Friendly Kids in Ashland. "I can find something that is basically brand-new and get it for a third of the original price, and sometimes I find new things."
For those who consistently find it challenging to purchase even basic family necessities, such as diapers and warm coats, secondhand stores offer a valuable and welcome solution.
"It helps local families that may not have as much," says Oakley.
Earth Friendly Kids recently celebrated its 15th birthday, and owner Cate Jennings says she has many holiday regulars who like to hunt for that perfect toy.
"My customers who have been with me for a long time — their kids aren't used to getting the big, packaged things. We've got a very ecologically conscientious area here," she says. "And that's OK; there's nothing wrong with buying used toys. They still have lots of life in them."
Tami Ross, who opened Medford's Kid to Kid franchise in May last year, is equally enthusiastic about the concept of sustainability and community.
"So many times, when we send everything to the recycling bin, they only recycle a very small part of what's there, and the rest of it goes into the garbage. Here, this is recycling at its best — bringing stuff in and sending it right back out the door to be used again.
"People come in, they sell the items they are not using anymore and buy things for their child that they actually need today.
"We had a lady come in the other day who couldn't pay her electric bill. She sold a bunch of stuff, and she was able to pay it ... It's a very positive thing."
Walking into Kid to Kid is a little bit like walking into a rainbow. The bright oranges, reds and pinks of warm winter coats, hats, sweaters and scarves jockey for position with shoes, toys, bouncy seats, art supplies and books.
"It's treasure hunting," says Ross. "There's great stuff. And there's a lot of great stuff out there that was really going to waste, that you can reuse. You have actually created a place in this world where you are neutral, and you are not wasting anything."
Kid to Kid shopper Elain Mencas says she makes frequent trips to the consignment counter.
"They usually take pretty much everything, and it's a great way to get rid of stuff, clean out closets, stay organized — always a good experience."
Ross says she gets a lot of satisfaction from witnessing the transformation of clutter to cash.
"I have a group of customers who come in to save up for college funds," she says. "They sell their kids' clothes that are outgrown, then they take the money and put it into a college fund.
"What a great idea. It's money that you didn't have — and money that you are saving for your child's future."