vintage picnic baskets holding fabric and thrifted flowerpot

I hadn’t planned to share any of my goals publicly, and in fact, had said that I was very certainly not going to share them. And yet, in reviewing last years’ ambitions, I realized that perhaps one was really quite appropriate to include here as it’s been an important step in our efforts to simplify. A year ago, I made a conscious decision to source more of our purchases and acquisitions secondhand.

Now, an important distinction here is the difference between my goal, and the typical act of shopping. I have always enjoyed poking around flea markets, thrift shops and antique stores in pursuit of a good deal or something interesting, but most of those endeavors have been purely recreational, with the added bonus of scoring something useful from time to time. It would be easy to simply shift the practice of retail therapy from new to used. However, there’s more than one end result to be gained here, and the mindless acquisition of more stuff is not one of them. The first step in this goal was to eliminate shopping as a form of entertainment.

It’s perhaps a little easier to move away from buying something just because it’s a good deal when you don’t have much money, which was certainly the case when our family was living in separate states and just scraping by. Even in meager times though, you really have to condition yourself to remember that if the purchase isn’t a necessity, then you’re not really saving any money by buying it, no matter how low the price is. In fact, the only way you’re saving money is by not buying it, whether it’s secondhand or brand new. This line of thinking is completely opposite of what the stores and media try to tell you, as evidenced by that obnoxious line at the bottom of your receipt touting how much you “saved.”My family has never been wealthy, so this step was maybe not quite so difficult for us as it might be for some, but there is still a definite shift required.


secondhand console, rug, trunk as table, and even the popcorn bowl

To be a secondhand shopper, one has to be both patient and prepared. If something in my kitchen breaks, I can walk into Target and buy a replacement with minimal effort. I will probably find a suitable product in multiple colors and made by more than one brand at a variety of price points. However, with my commitment to shopping used, I have to just keep my eyes open, and it might be several months before I find what I want at a price I’m willing to pay. And when I do, I have to be prepared to buy it right then and there, because it might not be there when I come back. This requires keeping some cash on hand just for these types of situations, which is yet another change to how we typically operate. It’s very rare that either of us have cash, and I don’t think we’re odd in that respect among people our age. I’ve started a wish list that I keep in my wallet, folded around a small wad of bills, so that I’m able to be both patient and prepared.


pre-loved cardigan for Beans

I know you can’t always anticipate when an appliance is going to break, or when you’re going to need new tires, or when your child is going to blow out their sneakers or outgrow their snowsuit. And I won’t pretend that we’re perfect in our new shopping habits. When I busted the crock for my slowcooker this summer, I went without for several months before we purchased a brand new appliance. I can rationalize it all I like – the old one was ten years old and missing a handle; the new one is far larger and was less expensive than we’ve seen previously; I hadn’t seen a good used one anywhere, and we use it all the time. The reality is that no one is perfect, and we will just keep trying. Doing what you can is better than doing nothing.

It seems to be easier to shop used for my kids than for any other items. I think that because they grow so fast, even people who wouldn’t normally buy secondhand are more willing to do so for their children, and you can usually find really good quality at lower prices. It’s rare that I buy something brand new for my girls, and it’s usually shoes when I do.

I do have some criteria for what I will and will not buy used. Underwear and socks and bathing suits are a no, as are upholstered furniture (unless from a friend) and mattresses. Anything that can’t be tossed in the washing machine or dishwasher, or easily scrubbed gets nixed. Pretty much anything else is fair game.

Some of my most favorite and useful possessions belonged to someone else before they became mine. I have a beautiful cast iron skillet that once belonged to J’s grandmother. When she downsized and moved to a smaller home, we took a walk through the old farmhouse and chose some items to save; the skillet was a definite yes. She didn’t need it, and I think she’s glad to see it have a new life with us, helping me feed my family. We are always open to accepting useful items when they’re offered to us for a second life, and have benefitted from numerous gifts of treasure, including handmedowns for the girls.


Where? Where do I look to find the things we need? 

Yard sales: These are touch and go, and usually I only find things that would be nice to have, like knicknacks. Yard sales seem to be filled with things no one really wants, but they’re selling as a last ditch effort before donating them. Most recently, I’ve gotten several sets of candleholders for a dollar each, a pair of brass taper holders and a pair of mercury glass votives.

Goodwill: I often think that Goodwill’s prices are inconsistent, but if you have a few minutes to poke through the racks, it can be worth it. We’ve found an LLBean barn jacket for $12, Sigg and Camelback water bottles for $1 each, a handmade cardigan and the above mentioned OshKosh pants. We need curtains in our rental, so I’ll be heading back soon to look through their linens.

Small thrift stores: In Baltimore, most of the secondhand shops focused on high-end brands, and were still way out of my price range. However, if you can find a good shop, the bargains can be excellent. The girls’ snowboots, hats and mittens this year were purchased at a privately owned shop nearby, and all for under $20.

Craigslist: This used to be my go-to, though it doesn’t seem to be as useful in our new area. If you’re careful, you can find some great items. Craigslist is usually better for furniture and large purchases. Our living room rug was a Craigslist find.

Facebook: Almost every area has at least one yard sale group now, and many have groups dedicated to kids. The thing to remember is to meet in a very public place. I’ve bought and sold quite a few things through these groups. Swee’s winter coat this year was acquired through Facebook: new with tags, original price of $60, and I paid $15. Our new TV console was also a Facebook find. We chose not to move our hunk of junk from Baltimore, and decided to find something else when we got here. For $30, I got this upcycled Zenith console, and only had to change out the fabric in the speaker openings.

Freecycle: If you haven’t heard of this one, check it out. While not available in all areas, the concept is pretty cool. Eco-minded individuals post items for free in order to keep them out of the landfill. This is especially great when you’re looking for construction materials. You can find posts for a pile of bricks, or a stack of odd-sized boards, or half a can of paint. My best finds were a bike rack for the car, and a working breadmaker.

Ebay: Don’t underestimate this old standby. I like to check Ebay for gifts because you can often find unused items for sale.

Why? Why make this a goal, and why lay out such strategy to achieve it?

One reason is certainly financial. Why would I spend $30 on a pair of OshKosh pants for Swee, brand new, when I can get them gently used for a dollar, simply by planning ahead and popping into Goodwill while I’m out and about? If you keep your eyes open, you can find most anything you need at a lower price.

Another reason is ethical. The next time you walk into the thrift store, just stop for a second and look around. Look at the aisles and rows of stuff that people just gave away. Everything in that store is there because someone decided they didn’t want it. That means they have a house full of stuff they do want, and there are stores and houses like that in every town, all across the country. That’s a lot of stuff, most of it still perfectly good. Why would I want to use up more of our resources to buy new stuff when all this good stuff is being discarded?

Anyway, that’s enough talk about stuff for one post.

Do you shop secondhand? Why or why not?





One thought on “secondhand

  1. I certainly do shop at thrift stores! I find, in our area of Maine, that the little church-run ones have the best bargains. In fact, just looking down, everything I have on except underwear and sox came from the thrift shop! And I have lot of kitchen stuff, bedding, and especially books that are all second hand. Have been finding canning jars lately, and just found one of those crank apple peeler thingies that I will use to make applesauce, got it for $4. “My” thrift shop is in a nearby college town so there’s lots of good stuff there, especiallyat the end of semesters

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