Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Conscious Consumption

From the bean of Green Bean.

If you've been around the green circuit for a while, you've come face to face with the realization that conspicious consumption is not such a great thing. The Compact, Riot for Austerity, The Story of Stuff all bring home the basic green tenet. Buying new stuff=bad.

Buying used stuff, however, is not so bad. In fact, sometimes it can be downright good. Like when you keep an item out of the landfill. When you breathe new life into something headed to the dump.

I am quite the fan of second hand. Indeed, long before I was "green", I spent a couple years as an Ebayer and antique dealer, stalking estate sales and flea markets, cleaning up my treasures and putting them back into use through a booth at a local antique store. Even before then, I shopped garage sales to furnish my first home, find treasures for my garden, and toys and clothing for my children.

As a confirmed lover of used goods, here is a list of my favorite ways to save resources - natural and economic - by acquiring second hand.

1) Thrift stores:

PROS: Benefits charities; usually good prices; new to you items year round

CONS: You'll be most successful if you visit regularly and look for general items of need rather than a very specific item.

WHAT YOU FIND: Clothes, toys, games, bedding, yarn, backpacks, lunchboxes, books, furniture, the list is endless.

THOUGHTS: Not all thrift stores are created equal. Scout out different ones in your area and when you visit friends and family. Some are overpriced, dirty and/or full of junk. Some are great for one type of goods but not another. I have a favorite thrift store for clothes, especially kids clothes, and another favorite for everything else.

2) Resale and consignment stores:

PROS: Higher quality and a consistently better selection than thrift stores. A lot less sifting through junk.

CONS: More expensive than thrift stores; for profit instead of benefitting charities

WHAT YOU FIND: You can sometimes find shops the specialize in certain categories: used books, used CDs, used clothing, used sports equipment, and so on.

THOUGHTS: These are often independent, locally owned stores that reinvest their funds in the community. Double bonus for shopping here. Just this weekend, I scored a new outfit for a school fundraiser and some shirts for $20. All brand name and super stylish.

3) Garage sales, rummage sales and estate sales:

PROS: Cheap, cheap, cheap. Lots of selection though you never know what you'll find.

CONS: Requires a bit of planning and driving. Seasonal.

WHAT YOU FIND: You name it.

THOUGHTS: Hit city-wide garage sales or block sales if you have the chance. Saves time and gas to be able to cover several sales on the same day. As for estate sales and some rummage sales, you may need to sign up the night before or line up an hour or so early if you want the best selection. Best deals, however, come at the end of the day.

4) Craigslist:

PROS: Great for locating specific items; local.

CONS: Often more expensive than yard sales and thrift stores.

WHAT YOU FIND: Bigger ticket items like furniture, bikes, sandboxes, strollers, etc. Any smaller items, such as clothes, tend to be sold in lots or more expensive, designer labels.

THOUGHTS: I've not had much luck with the "Wanted" section. If you are patient, however, you can find virtually anything. Follow Beth at Fake Plastic Fish's directions for subscribing to a particular search. And, if you want to get rid of something and cannot donate it to a charity or find any Freecycle takers, I swear by the Craigslist Free section. Rather than setting up a time for pick up, though, I've had much better luck leaving an item at the curb and listing it on Free section, indicating that the listing will be removed once the item is gone.

5) Freecycle:

PROS: Free; can put up Wanted posts; local so easy to pick up.

CONS: Limited to what people willing to give away for free - which is more than you might think.

WHAT YOU FIND: Nothing super upscale. I doubt there are any new iPods on there and the Freecycle moderators get a bit irritable if you ask for that kind of stuff.

THOUGHTS: I turn to Freecycle first whenever I have a need. I very frequently find what I need.

6) Listservs and yahoo groups:

Tap into email lists for your kids' school, local mothers' club, work, and other groups for specific items. I usually post a WTB - wanted to buy or borrow.

PROS: You can locate very specific items when Craiglist searches and thrift store haunts leave you empty handed; get items from people you have some sort of connection with and can usually trust.

CONS: Sometimes, you'll pay a bit more than you would at yard sales and thrift stores. Of course, sometimes, you'll find exactly what you need for free.

WHAT YOU FIND: I outfitted my kids for the snow for free this year, bought a like new breadmaker, a bike trailer and was given soccer cleats for the boys. Items tend to be more focused on stuff people on the list would use. For instance, schools and mothers' club boards will yield more in the way of kid stuff than tile for your bathroom remodel - though it's worth asking.

7) Ebay:

PROS: Great for specific or hard to find items.

CONS: As these are national listings, the deals are a bit less. You need to pay for shipping and consider the emissions related to shipping an item. You have to rely on a photo and the seller's feedback rating - though I've only been burned a couple times.

WHAT YOU FIND: You really can find anything but, as most stuff will need to be shipped, smaller items are better. They cost less to ship.

THOUGHTS: Ebay is one of my last resorts because shipping usually renders an otherwise great deal unaffordable.

8) Swap Sites:

Paperback Swap, Book Mooch, Title Trader, What's On My Bookshelf, Swap A CD, Swap A DVD, Swap Tree, and the like. These sites allow you to build up credits by sending the item type (book, CD, etc) to someone else in the service. You can then use your credits to request particular books from other club members.

PROS: Free.

CONS: Takes time to build up credits and shipping is often media mail (e.g., VERY slow). Limited availaility but you can put things on a wish list and be notified when the item you are looking for is listed. The shipper pays out of pocket for shipment.

WHAT YOU FIND: Most often limited to items that can be sent economically - books, DVDs, CDs, video games.

THOUGHTS: I've used this service to supplement cirriculum for a parent taught class at my son's school when it became too difficult to keep requesting and renewing the books from the library.

9) Library:

PROS: Free or a small reserve fee.

CONS Limited to what the library has in stock or can acquire through inter library loan. A blogger librarian friend suggests putting in requests for libraries to purchase the item you're seeking.

WHAT YOU FIND: Books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, VHS.

THOUGHTS: I love love love the library. I almost always get a book at the library before deciding whether to buy it. We also canceled Netflix and rely on the library for most of our movies, and have they got some good ones!

10) Online Resale Shops:

PROS: Very targeted searches; huge selection; some of these lists enable thrift stores and others to sell items for more than they would sell for in the store and/or to move merchandise more quickly.

CONS: Shipment costs; time for items to ship which is often via media mail.

WHAT YOU FIND: Abe's Books is a good independent site for used books and lists items at thrift stores and resale shops around the country. SecondSpin is the place for used DVDs and CDs.

THOUGHTS: Amazon also offers used items but I prefer to purchase from littler guys. Amazon, in my opinon, packs stuff in too big of packages using too much plastic though they are supposed to be working on that. After reading Big Box Swindle (review coming soon), I'm biased for the smaller guy in almost every respect.

11) Borrowing:

PROS: Free; you don't have to store the item.

CONS: You may feel beholden to the lender; you can only keep the item for a limited period of time.

WHAT YOU FIND: Ideal for items that you don't use often or will only use once like tools, sewing machine, targeted small appliances (ice cream maker), specific cake pan, books, snow equipment, etc.

THOUGHTS: Tap into your network of friends, family and neighbors. You can even sign up with Neighborrow if you want to get serious about borrowing and lending in your community.

12) Bartering:
PROS: Often free or close to it; tax free.

CONS: You have to have specific skills or goods that someone would be interested in trading for; often you need to be close enough with the other party to broach the subject.

WHAT YOU FIND: I've come across quite a few babysitting co-ops. I have a friend who bartered clothes from her boutique for yoga lessons, a family member who bartered dental services for plumbing and accounting services, and another family member who barters her homegrown lemons for credit at a local restaurant.

THOUGHTS: Aside from trading play dates, I've never done it. I guess I don't feel that I've got unique enough skills to offer and I'm shy about trading stuff.

13) Flea Markets:

PROS: Inexpensive; often "under the table".

CONS: Many flea markets are full of cheap knock offs but some offer vintage or other used goods.

WHAT YOU FIND: I've mostly found antique or collectible goods but have also seen clothes and household goods.

THOUGHTS: Ask around before schlepping down to a flea market to make sure it's one that will carry second hand items.

There's a peek into my second hand but very well cared for little black book. Do you have any great resources for saving resources to share?


Willo said...

Love this article and love all these options. I visit this online consignment store called www.ilikeitmama.com I love it because I search by size for me in the kids in my own home when I have time!

Jessica said...

Your post is so helpful for people like me just learning about vintage items, much less all the rest. Thanks!

scifichick said...

I love going to the local Salvation Army store for clothes for me and DS. They always have something that fits and looks good and is dirt cheap. I also use Freecycle a lot. People do give away a lot of things for free. This was a very nice post. I'm going to look into the sites you listed.

Carmen said...

What a great list! I LOVE Freecycle - more for giving away stuff - it's so easy.

One CON I'd add for eBay is all the extra packaging and shipping.

Green Bean said...

Willo: Awesome. I like it www.ilikeitmama.com :)

Jess: Hope you can pick up a few deals because of it.

Scifichick: Isn't Freecycle the most amazing. And I swear by thrift stores. Most of my clothes come form them. :)

Carmen: Good point re Ebay. So true!

Anonymous said...

Hi Green Bean. Great post! I would add tool libraries and car sharing. In fact, I have a post scheduled for tomorrow morning all about the Oakland tool library. I've linked to this post as a great list of other ways to borrow or buy secondhand. Thanks for putting it together.

Green Bean said...

Beth: Doh! How could I have forgotten the tool library after being eaten up with jealousy during our Facebook exchange! :) And the car share thing is awesome! Thanks for sharing the resources and for the mention!

Electronic Goose said...

Love this post!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful list! Thanks so much for this post! I am a strong believer of re-using.
I want to add that I have been an E-Bay buyer and seller for a few years now and, keeping in mind the shipping cost, you can still get some great deals. Many sellers are offering free shipping now! I buy and sell my son's clothing on E-Bay and I have gotten 8-12 pieces at one time from one auction and with shipping have only paid around 50 cents per piece!! You just have to take time to search the auctions and keep an eye on them. There are often huge baby clothing lots at great prices.
I have also bought many used toys for my son on E-Bay at great prices. And used kids books too! The books are often shipped by Media Mail but Media Mail is much cheapter if you are willing to wait.
At gift giving time, especially around Christmas, I have found great deals on new gifts like videos and CD's.
Please don't completely discount E-Bay!
I just recently found a wonderful and clean Goodwill store and I like what Goodwill's mission.

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

You and I are SO on the same wavelength! I've recently joined One Green Generation's 'Buy Sustainably' challenge so conscious consumption is on my mind a lot. Thanks for compiling an incredible list! I will use it as an absolute resource and pass your post along in my 'Friday Faves' this week!

Green Bean said...

EG: Thank you.

Cheri: You are right. I've done Ebay for years and sometimes there still are really good deals on there. I have no problem with media mail - love it, in fact, because it is cheaper but I just need to be prepared that it may take a month for the item to arrive. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sellers on Ebay who don't ship media mail or the cheapest route. Paying $6.50 to ship a DVD is obscene. The key is to find the individuals selling, like yourself, who offer a true price.

Jenni: I'm so glad that it was helpful and appreciate the mention in your Friday Faves. :)

melissa mcgregor said...

I am a huge fan of online shops like


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