If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I would ever be caught dead in a thrift store, I would have said “not in a million years”, in a voice filled with both a mixture of offence and disgust. Having grown up poor, I spent many years in my life associating thrifting with lack, poverty, shame, shabbiness and inferior quality. Thinking back, this line of thinking seems very naive to me now.
While I lost many years feeling too proud to thrift, I now know better, and both the Earth and my pocket book are better off for it.
There are many ways and reasons to shop in second hand or in a thrift store, as well as to donate your unused or unwanted things to keep them circulating in the second-hand economy. He are 6 of them, just in time for the holiday season.
New to Me
As the demand for second hand items continues to rise in parallel with the minimalist movement and the success of Japanese-style decluttering, the quality of items that make their way into second hand stores is also on the rise. That sweater that had been bought on the hope that its owner might some day fit it in, or that second measuring tape accidentally bought from amazon and that the owner couldn’t be bothered to ship back can all be yours at a fraction of the cost.
There are also a large number of items that have remarkable longevity – consider a good weighted chef’s knife, a ceramic flower pot, or all-wood dresser (all items I have found and bought myself for less than 90% of what they’re worth new); these items can appear to be brand new even after many years of previous use, and a little of bit of TLC on your part. After a day or two, you’ll have forgotten the items were pre-owned, if that’s something that bothers you. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll get a little extra spark of joy knowing you got the item for a fraction of the cost.
A New Lease on Life
When items are discarded in the back of a closet, in a box in the basement or, worse, in a paid storage facility, they don’t bring anyone any value and don’t fulfil their potential. Instead, people who need them and can’t find them second hand must now buy new ones, adding unnecessary pressure to our natural resources.
Consider donating your unwanted items to friends and family, your hyper-local Buy Nothing group, a charity/thrift shop, a non-profit, or even leaving a few things on your curb with a “free” sign over them. In this way, you ensure that they can be made useful again and that someone else gets to enjoy them too. By the same token, when you buy used, you’re ensuring that this stuff doesn’t end up in landfill right away — or ever — if taken care of properly.
High Quality, Low Cost
One of my favourite things about buying previously owned items is that it allows me to regularly afford quality or brand named items that would ordinarily be outside of my price point. Case in point:
- Coach leather ballerina shoes? $8 CAD after a 20% off coupon.
- Breville Cofé Roma esspresso machine? $12 CAD.
- Lululemon workout leggings? $14 CAD.
- Never used Columbia winter boots that will last me a decade if I take care of them? $18 CAD.
- DeWalt Air Compressor? $80 CAD
- A grocery bag’s worth of toddler and infant onesies? $4.99 with on a 50% off sale day.
If I had bought all of these perfectly functioning, like-new items in store for retail prices, they would have cost me well over $1,000. Instead I paid just over $130 CAD for them (of which $80 was for a high quality workshop tool!). I can instead focus on paying for things that are higher priority for our family, like experiences, trips, or being able to send our son to daycare while I focus on my maternity leave with my infant daughter.
While you won’t always be able to find high street items at fire sale prices, keeping your eyes open to opportunities, and where possible, delaying gratification until you find the right item does pay off. It’s part of the thrill of the hunt.
Making a Side Income
According to Kijiji, 80% of Canadians participated in the second hand economy, and 2.3 billion items were given a second life in 2017, so there’s a lot of potential here. I’m not suggesting you quit your full time job to become a reseller, but most of us could find a use for a little bit of extra income.
Browsing through thrift shops and online marketplaces not only offers the possibility of getting a good deal, but also of making a little bit of extra money, when the opportunity arises. One way of making some extra cash is by taking advantage of the selling price for some of the products you find in one setting and comparing them to the price in a different setting, and making a profit on the price difference (otherwise known as arbitrage).
For example, just last month, I purchased a like-new Soda Stream machine, with 3 extra chrome bottles at my local Value Village for $20. While my initial intent was to keep it for myself, I quickly realised that I had no room for it, and that it would likely just end up collecting dust. When I looked on Facebook Marketplace for its selling price, I was surprised to see it was listed used for $75, with fewer accessories than the one I had bought. I decided to give in a good polishing and a thorough wash, and listed it that day for $65. I received multiple enquiries and had sold it within the hour.
How’s that for easy money? Just make sure what you’re selling is in good working order and that there’s a market for what you’re selling and you could be making some walking around money in no time. So go ahead and flip that vintage Chanel dress on PoshMark for a sweet little profit (or wear it yourself a few times first!)
Another way to make a little bit of extra income if you’re creative is to upcycle inexpensive or free items you find, such as restoring old furniture with chalk paint, making candles in vintage tea cups, or spray painting old pictures or flower vases frames gold or white (one of my favourite redecorating hacks). There are endless possibilities, and you could turn a DIY hobby into a little bit of side income by either reselling them in second hand markets, or even listing them up in your very own Etsy shop.
You Already Use Used Items
If you’re not among those 80% who are already actively participating in the second hand economy, you’re very likely still making use of used items daily and don’t even realize it.
Have you ever dined out and used the restaurants plates and silverware? rented bowling shoes? sat in a taxi or bus? slept in a hotel? visited a friend and sat on their couch? If so, you’ve made use of items that others have used multiple times before you, and yet there is no stigma associated with these activities. Living in a society means interacting with other people’s things, and the question of ownership, or previous ownership, becomes blurry and often irrelevant.
While there are are many valid reasons to be cautious, pride of original ownership is not one of the most rational ones.
No One Need Know – Although They Should
Some years ago, I would have been embarrassed to walk into a second hand store, let alone admit that I regularly shop in a thrift shop – as I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of misplaced feelings about it. But there are ways to overcome this anxiety.
If you’re unsure about shopping in a thrift shop on account of what others might think, odds are you’re worried for nothing. In fact, unless you tell them or leave the stickers and receipts lying around, there is almost no chance that your entourage will ever know. If you’re still nervous and are afraid to be seen in a secondhand store, you can take a trip to the store on the other side of town, or purchase items anonymously online.
There are other ways you can make your shopping more clandestine, but my advice would be to just own it. The benefits are multi-layered and you should be proud to be making wise, responsible choices. Those who don’t respect your choice may not be worth your time or friendship.
You’ll also be raising awareness about the benefits of the second-hand economy in the process and who knows, you might discover that you and that your peers may also have a secret passion for thrifting too.
It’s understandable to be concerned about a used item’s remaining lifespan, the wear and tear it has received, whether it may be defective or have been recalled for safety reasons or, worse, may come with some unwanted features (bedbugs anyone?). It is true, adventures in second hand shopping don’t always work out, and some purchases end up being lemons and a waste of money. Buyer beware is definitely the name of the game here.
But the game can be played wisely, by doing some homework, inspecting the items carefully, not being afraid to bargain to reduce your risk, and walking away when the item is not right for you or seems too good to be true.
While it may be unrealistic for everyone on the planet to buy everything second hand — items do break and new technology is helpful for maintaining a certain quality of life — there are more than enough items to go around to last a lifetime.
Buying second hand is financially smart, and by reducing the demand for new items (as well as the resource requirements for producing and shipping them), it’s also a smart choice for the environment.
Stay tuned for a future post about the Giving Economy, and how that can be an even better boon for your pocketbook and the environment.
I’d love to hear about some your adventures in the second hand market. Have made a shrewd resale? bought a unique or out of reach item for a great deal? Let me hear about it in the comments below!