Gifting Secondhand . . . without Being Tacky

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe that shopping secondhand is the easiest way to pursue ethical spending. It’s hard to know the whole production story of the stuff we buy, how the raw materials were sourced, the working conditions of the people who made it, the environmental impact, etc. Buying certified fair trade is awesome, but often *feels* very expensive. (I have to add the caveat that it only feels expensive to pay a fair amount because we are so accustomed to paying artificially low prices.) It can be hard to find what you’re looking for fair trade, sometimes, as well.

Buying secondhand clothes, toys, furniture, etc. is a win for my household and makes our footprint on the world a little lighter. I feel like there’s a bit of a stigma to that, but I’m trying to embrace my “secondhand first” stance proudly—mainly for ethical reasons, but it helps the family budget as well.

Buying secondhand for other people is a dicier prospect, however. When giving someone a gift, you obviously want to please the recipient and not send a message with your gift that they don’t understand or appreciate. If you have likeminded family and friends, I say follow the rule any article on “regifting” would espouse: tell them, “I saw this and thought you would like it/could use it!” But not everybody is down with that, and that’s okay!

Nonetheless, there are ways to shop for gifts secondhand without seeming cheap or tacky.

1. Learn these two acronyms: NWT and NIB

“New with tags” and “New in box” are your guides to finding new things online that have already been purchased by someone else (or gifted, perhaps) but sit around unused. Use those acronyms in your searches or filter-toggles on Ebay, Craigslist, OfferUp, ThredUp, etc. and you’ll find brand new things.

I learned this week that there are TONS of Pottery Barn Kids backpacks and lunchboxes listed NWT on Ebay. Basically, I guess people are dissatisfied with the placement of their monogramming, or maybe there was a misspelling, and PBK says “ok, we’ll send you another one”? I found the specific lunchbox my daughter wanted (which was discontinued); the monogram was harder to remove than an online tutorial had suggested (probably because of limited access to the backside of the embroidery) but it was worth it to get what my child wanted and give new life to something someone else had deemed useless.

2. Antique and Consignment Décor Stores

If you’re looking to give someone a unique decorative piece—a cool tray, vase, wreath, caddy, etc., a necklace, or even something bigger like a bookcase—there are amazing options available at antique and consignment stores that deal in things other than clothes. I literally braked and reversed my car (within a strip-mall parking lot) to check out a gorgeous buffet/sideboard cabinet that was just my mother-in-law’s style. I didn’t get it since it was out of my price range and it’s hard to give someone furniture as a gift unless you know they’re in the market for something like that—but under different circumstances, it would have made the perfect gift! 

3. Used Bookstores

It’s hard to tell the difference between a book read once and resold and a book delivered straight off the Amazon warehouse shelf. Plus, used bookstores often have terrific collections of puzzles and games, some that are NIB. 

4. Crafting with repurposed elements 

There’s nothing like a handmade gift, and crafty gifts with repurposed materials are just a Pinterest search away! I’d love to make a book page wreath sometime soon. I’ve seen them made with hymnal pages for the musically-inclined, or classic works of poetry and literature. If you don’t have a book on hand that you’re willing to destroy, visit a used bookstore and shop their clearance shelf!

Before and After

I also recently discovered the wonders of the Habitat ReStore. I bought a chair there once, but I hadn’t made use of their salvage area until I needed some scrap wood to add a shelf and desktop to an improvised office nook for my husband. (He said it was the most thoughtful gift he’d ever received, and all it cost was $3 in salvaged lumber, some leftover paint in our garage, and a few hours of my time.) 

Things don’t have to be fresh off the factory line to make great gifts. With a little effort and creativity, you can find and make unique gifts for everyone on your list!

One thought on “Gifting Secondhand . . . without Being Tacky

  1. Love this, Jessica! I have worked at Judy’s Finest Consignments in Middletown for 23 years. We have so many NWT items – jewelry, shoulderbags, scarves, and clothing items. It’s a great way to save money!! We have husbands and boyfriends who come in to buy gifts or gift certificates. They know their girlfriends and wives like saving money!


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