Lessons From A Year Of Shopping Second-Hand

February 04, 2020

Lessons From A Year Of Shopping Second-Hand

Buying pre-owned is something I've being doing for years, more for the thrill of the hunt than as an intentional way of being more environmentally friendly. I liked saving money and finding a bargain, it was a bonus that my habit was good for the planet. But I wondered what would happen if I set myself a challenge of only buying other people’s unwanted stuff for an entire year? Could I find everything I’d need? Would it even be possible?

Second-hand has an image problem. The perception is that, by buying something that has been pre-owned, you're buying something not as good. The reality is that second-hand doesn’t mean second rate, and I wanted to prove that. So I challenged myself to a year of shopping second-hand. Everything from clothes to homewares I had to thrift for with a few exceptions. I wanted to shift my spending habits so that I always looked for a second-hand option before buying anything new, and see how easy (or difficult) it would be to find every I needed or wanted for the year, pre-loved.

This is what I learned from a year of shopping second-hand.



There Is So Much Stuff

Unfathomable amounts, in fact. Charity shop rails are bursting with clothes, online marketplaces are full of ads, and eBay is a never ending stream of auctions. Much of what I found when thrifting, online and off, is that there are a lot of unwanted things and much of it is unused, still in its box, with the tags on, being sold for less than retail price. I purchased all sorts: books, jars, a mirror, trainers, furniture, and essential oils. I even picked up a few second-hand gifts. There is so much stuff ranging from heavily used to never used; thrifting doesn't always mean buying worn out things, it can mean buying something that's literally brand new at half the price. You can even find things being given away for free.



Patience Is Necessary

Shops make it so easy for us to purchase things on a whim. We want instant gratification and it’s right there at our fingertips. We can shop via our computers and phones, and with a couple of clicks we can make a new purchase that will arrive on our doorstep the very next day. Thrifting isn't so easy and it's one reason (excuse?) a lot of people give for not doing it more often. You have to have a little patience if you want to find exactly what you're looking for, or otherwise compromise a little. Sometimes it's really easy to find what you want. I found all sorts of things from trainers to hats within seconds of looking, other items took a little longer to find. It's the luck of the draw and you have to be willing to wait to find exactly what you want at the right price.



New Skills Will Be Learned

Thrifting made me more resourceful. I looked for ways to repurpose what I already owned or make use of what others wanted to throw away. My partner and I took an unwanted blind left behind by someone moving out of our apartment building and installed it in my office instead of buying a new one. It was a little scrappy looking but it works. I even taught myself how to alter a pair of second-hand trousers so that they fit me. It feels really good to make use of unwanted things that would otherwise be thrown away and, in the process, learn new skills I otherwise wouldn't have learned.



Some Things Are Worth Buying New

When you've been thrifting a while, you realise that some things are worth buying new. That might be because of the type of item it is and sometimes it's because of the price. On a few occasions, I discovered sellers wanting almost all their money back on an item that had been used and I noticed charity shops bumping up their prices, which I shared my frustration over here. Without a doubt, buying pre-owned is better for the planet and often for your wallet too yet on the rare occasion you'll find thrifting for what you need doesn't pay off. Some items are better purchased brand new. I ended up buying a new hoover (ours unexpectedly broke), a set of Le Crueset pans (we'd been thinking about it all year), and a kitchen trolley (because there wasn't a suitably sized second-hand option). I don't regret any of those purchases because they're investments. More on that here.



Money Will Be Saved

Thrifting does require a little finagling to score the best bargains. You have to be prepared to learn where the charity shops with the best prices are, how to barter with online sellers, and when to wait it out for a better deal. But thrifting can, and often does, save you a lot of money. When something has been pre-owned, it's hard to resell it and get your money back even if it's never been used or worn. To give you an idea of the kind of money you can save, I'll share with you the best purchases I made. I won an eBay auction for a pair of second-hand but never worn NIKE trainers for £28 (RR: £100). I found a Mid-Century Magazine Rack for £4 (typically £20-30 online). I purchased an essential oil set for £10 (RRP: £30) and vintage jumpers for £1. With so much stuff, it's easy to buy things because they're cheap. It's important to stick to a list of wants/needs (something I should have been more strict with) otherwise you can find the money you saved being spent on things you didn't really need.




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