My inspiration for starting this blog (and before it, a Facebook page) was my growing conviction that buying things used (secondhand, pre-loved, vintage–however you like to phrase it!) was the easiest way to reduce my personal impact on the globe. New clothing uses tons of energy, water, and raw materials to produce, not to mention the often undervalued and abusive labor of women in developing countries. Always buying new contributes to a throwaway culture, where things that are still so useable get cast aside for newer, nicer, better.
So, 2-3 years ago, I started a “secondhand first” policy for myself. Whenever I need (or really want) something, I will try my best to find it used. In so doing, I have found more and more ways and places to find things secondhand. Here’s a list of some of my favorite places and ways to shop secondhand.
1. Online Consignment Stores
I have to start with this category because the advent of online consignment stores has revolutionized secondhand shopping. I am obsessed with ThredUp, an online consignment site for women’s and kids clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. Pretty much any item of clothing I buy for myself I get from ThredUp. In addition to offering fabulous clothes for a fraction of the price (a great motivator in itself), the company takes seriously the values and benefits buying secondhand represents, even offering further waste-reducing options like shopping only from your closest regional warehouse and using a previously-used box. If you’re specifically looking for luxury items, there are other online consignment stores that only carry the chichi stuff.
2. Consignment stores/sales
I actually don’t shop much for myself in brick-and-mortar consignment stores (mainly because I don’t really like shopping, browsing household knickknacks, trying things on in-store, etc.) but I do buy most clothes for my kids either at consignment stores like Kid to Kid or Once Upon a Child, or (more frequently) at seasonal kids consignment sales held at churches to benefit their programs and missions, or in rented spaces like sports complexes or hotel ballrooms. Typically, organizations hold a spring/summer clothes sale in late February or early March, and a fall/winter clothes sale in September or so. You can search for sales in your area at KidsConsignmentSales.com
I became an ebay shopper when my firstborn was a newborn. I exclusively pumped for her, so in those many, many hours hooked to the pump at our kitchen table, I also liked to feed my obsession with cute baby clothes! This was 2009, and I wasn’t aware of other used-baby-clothes sites online, so ebay it was. I got a dud or two in there before I learned how to look at items more closely, but I found so many sweet things for her, and one big “lot” of fall outfits from Gymboree still stands out in my memory. I’ve used ebay less over the years, but still search for specific toys, books, or other items I’m in the market for. Most recently, I wanted a pair of authentic Hunter rain boots, so I tried some on in a department store to figure out my size, then bought a barely-used pair on ebay for half price!
4. Thrift stores
Don’t forget about your local thrift stores, vintage shops, and used bookstores. For charity-type shops that get their stock from donations, consider doing some research on who is really benefitting from the sale or the employment model. An independent store or locally-based chain is likely to do more good than a national chain. I’m more of a know-what-you-want, get-in-get-out sort of shopper, which doesn’t work that well in a place with racks upon racks of stuff. That said, I once thought I’d try my luck looking for a new wall clock at Goodwill, and of the handful of options they had on the shelf, I happened to find exactly what I was looking for.
5. Local buy/sell/trade
I’ll throw good old-fashioned yard sales into this category too, but the Internet has made commerce between neighbors even easier. Craigslist has been around a while, and more and more local online options keep popping up to connect with people nearby with stuff they want to get rid of. Nextdoor, the neighborhoods site, is great for buying and selling stuff without the hassle and randomness of a full-on yard sale. OfferUp is another app I discovered recently for easily posting stuff to buy and sell locally. We sold a bunch of stuff through those sites when we moved recently (in addition to having two yard sales), but when it came to finding a bike trailer we were searching for, I kept coming up empty. It was finally Facebook for the win–not one of those buy/sell/trade pages but a simple “Hey, anybody got one of these sitting around in their garage?” I had two responses within a half hour!
6. Swap Parties!
I love this idea, which is basically to call together a group of friends, invite them to bring stuff they’re ready to part with–clothes, accessories, books, movies, kids’ stuff, however you want to set the parameters–and basically “shop” from your friends’ castoffs! I’ve heard of more formal arrangements where you give guests tickets or assign values to items you bring and items you take, but the two I’ve been to were very informal. We had wine and snacks, chatted for a while, and I don’t recall any conflicts over who took what! In fact, most of us took only a small fraction of what we brought, leaving a lot to be donated after the party.
7. Antique stores
Last but not least, we have antique stores and architectural salvage stores. They feel like a category all their own, since it feels less thrifty and more prestigious to be dealing with things owned by someone 50 or 100 years ago than things owned by other people just last month. And it is different, acquiring something with a history and character unlike our own times–but it is also another great way to extend the life of things already in existence and reduce the demand for newer, better, cheaper things.
What is your favorite way to shop secondhand?