Well, I never imagined I would write that as a blog title! But here were are.
Now that the shock has worn off a bit and this 'new normal' malarkey is setting in, I've moved on from pressing questions such as whether I will run out of toilet paper, to the more important issue of how to buy second-hand furniture from private sellers in a pandemic. The lock-down is slowing starting to ease in some places, but we still don't know what will come next, so we advise taking precautions.
Here are my top tips:
1. Be respectful
If you go to pick something up from a seller, tell them in advance what precautions you would like to take, and equally, ask them if there are any specific precautions they would like you to take. Not everyone has the same point of view about what the 'right' thing to do is. If you think someone is being too careful, remember that they may have an underlying illness you don't know about. Maybe they have friends or family that are sick or at risk. Don't dismiss their requests for caution, and don't belittle or bully them into doing things they consider risky.
2. Enjoy the fresh air (stay outside)
If you are buying from a private person, tell the seller that you would like to do the transaction outside of their home. If the weather is good, this can be outside the front door. If you can't avoid bad weather, then ask the seller to do the transaction in a covered outdoor space (overhang, open garage door). Request this in advance. This takes away to risk of coming into contact with doorknobs, handrails, or other potentially contaminated surfaces, reduces the risk of coming into contact with viral particles in stagnant air and also makes it much easier to maintain social distance.
3. When you arrive, use the double-handed 'hello' wave
There is a very strong instinct to want to shake a person's hand that you've just met. Some people will insistently thrust their hand out. I recommend pre-empting them with a double-handed hello wave. Hold your arms about waist height and wave both wrists them at the same time. As a bonus, it looks a bit silly and will break the ice.
4. Suit up. Wear gloves.
Ok, so we admit there are differing opinions on this, but the bottom line is if you do it right, it can protect you:
- Wash or sanitize your hands first, before you touch / put the gloves on (this is to prevent you from contaminating the gloves, in case you are unknowingly infectious)
- Don't touch your face when you are wearing the gloves
- Take your gloves off carefully, first pull one off, pulling from the fingers, and then protect your bare hand with the inside of the glove, to pull off the other one.
- We recommend having a designated glove bag / box that you can just drop them in (like a small lunch bag, open at the top).
- Take the gloves off again before you touch anything that belongs to you (wallet, phone, car door, trunk).
- Wash / sanitize your hands after you have taken the gloves off
You may want to consider using re-usable plastic gloves that can be washed with soap and water and sanitized, or even cloth gloves that can be washed (as long as you have a good system in place to avoid touching them before they have been washed).
5. Try to pay by contact-less card, or bring exact change
There are an increasing number of apps and online banking options that allow you to make cashless payments. We recommend these. If cash is really the only option, then you can reduce the risk of contamination by preparing exact change in advance and placing it in an envelope several hours in advance. If you expect to negotiate or aren't sure of the final price, be respectful of the seller and ask them whether you should place the money, don't just hand them a fistful of notes. And be conscious of the order in which you take off your gloves, handle your wallet and the money.
6. Let it be, let it be.
Whether you pick something up or get it delivered, a very easy way to reduce your risk of exposure is to place it out of the way and leave there for a few days. There are a few widely-cited publications, for example in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of Hospital Infection and the Lancet: Microbe, with the latest data showing a 2 day lifespan on wood and cloth, and a 4 day lifespan on smooth surfaces like glass, and none after 7 days on plastic or stainless steel.
7. Wipe it.
If you prefer not to wait, use disinfectant spray or wipes for furniture surfaces such as glass, plastic. Be careful with wood and fabrics and test in an inconspicuous place as you may damage these if you spray them with disinfectant.
8. Walk away if you feel uncomfortable
If you show up at the seller's home and they are obviously ill, coughing, wheezing, it's OK to leave right away without buying the furniture. Not everyone has the same perception of the risks. Our position is that nothing is worth more than health, so we advise to err on the side of caution, even if you feel a bit silly sometimes.