Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Buy Used

The next few weeks of The Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on developing an attitude of non-consumption. Here's the next challenge in this series:


Image by IseFire

Two years ago, my husband and I were trying to sell a house in Maryland in the middle of a very bad housing market. We had already moved down to Raleigh for my husband's job, so half of our belongings came with us and the other half stayed in Maryland to stage our house. It took a year before the house finally sold. A year in which we lived with only half of our belongings, sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a room with no curtains and barren walls.

In that year, I learned that most of what I owned was superfluous. But when our house finally sold and I got all of my belongings back, I also learned how much I love my stuff. And the day all of our belongings were back in one house and put away was the very first day in a year that the place I was living in felt like home.

There are a lot of reasons why we shouldn't buy more stuff: It's a waste of resources. It takes energy to produce. It takes labor - often performed by people who are overworked and underpaid. It forces us to have larger houses than we need. It puts many people into debt. I could go on...But instead let's talk about the positive. Stuff makes us happy. Clothes and books and movies and video games and paintings and knickknacks of every shape and size. They are our stuff, and so we love them.

Does that mean we have the right to fill our lives with the latest brand new thingamajig to be tossed aside as soon as it's out of style? To buy whatever we want whenever we feel like it? To ignore the negative impact because stuff makes us happy?

Of course not. But just because there's a negative side to stuff doesn't mean we all have to live a minimalist lifestyle if that's not our thing. As in all things, there's a way to find balance.

For me, buying used has been the key to balancing my want for more stuff with my need to live lightly on the earth. I remind myself to buy what I need, keep my wants to a minimum, and if it's something I really want (and have the money to buy), try to find it used. In fact, because used items are so much cheaper, sticking to used products has made certain categories of my budget feel like they've doubled. For example, if I get tired of an old but still good shirt, I take it to the thrift store and swap it out for a new one, and rather than putting a $40 whole in my pocketbook, I'm only out $3 or $4.

For all you thrift newbies out there, I've listed below a bunch of places you'll want to get familiar with in the world of used shopping. For the Baby Steps, I start with places like thrift stores because there's a certain amount of reliability since the products there have been screened and found worthy for resale. In the next section, I list places you can find used products online. These are Jogging Stride simply because there's a certain amount of trust/risk involved when buying directly from a person rather than a store. The final category includes places where the used goods are likely more expensive (but also likely higher quality).


  • thrift stores
  • consignment shops
  • used media stores (for books, movies, video games, etc.)
  • Habitat for Humanity Re-Stores (for building materials leftover from Habitat for Humanity builds)
  • flea markets


  • garage sales
  • Craigslist
  • Ebay
  • Paperback Swap (and other sites like it)


  • estate sales
  • antique shops

I'm a Jogging Stride used shopper. Although estate sales intrigue me, I have yet to work up the courage to go to one, and antique stores simply terrify me because I always have three children in tow.

Experienced used shoppers - what tips would you give to the newbies out there?


Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Another great post. I have been shopping at second hand stores, flea markets, yard sales for so long that when I go into what I term a "regular store" I am always shocked. Shopping this way really changes your perspective on the value of stuff. There is very little in our house of which we are the original owners.

Green Bean said...

I love love love buying used! I'm like you. Buying used has helped me bridge the gap between want and saving green/staying green. Indeed, I'm about to go pick up a used loft bed for my son that I saw on Craigslist!

I spent about 3 years as an antique dealer, which meant being immersed in the land of second hand. Don't be afraid of estate sales. They can be amazing! But here are a few tips. If you've got kids or a lack of patience or basically don't want to stand around for an hour, don't go the first morning. There will usually be a long line and possibly even a sign up sheet that started the night before! Prices go down as the sale continues so things are usually full price first day and half off the last day. In my experience, and I'm sure this is not universal, alot of times furniture is leftover on the last day and can be snapped up for a song. It gets to 50% or "make an offer."

Don't forget church and rummage sales. Our school holds an annual rummage sale that consists of hundreds of thousands of quality items.

Oh, one last thing, my favorite thing about buying used is that, when you're done with whatever it is, you can usually turn around and sell it on Craigslist for a little less than you paid!

Daisy said...

I enjoy buying used. Thrift and consignment stores have such unique items, and at wonderful bargain prices.
I also enjoy buying art - real art, not the "starving artist" faux pieces. We're looking for a painting to go on our newly painted and remodeled bedroom wall. It'll cost, but it'll be worth it.

Melissa @ HerGreenLife said...

I just wrote about some recent used purchases we made. The store we patronized, which specializes in retro (50s and 60s) merchandise, gets most of their stock from estate sales. While estate sales intrigue me, they can be hit-or-miss, so I'm happy to pay a bit more at The Future Antique and save the time, hassle, fuel, and pollution of running around to estate sales in search or one or two things myself.

Angelina said...

I really love how you break things down into levels of steps for people to take to make change.

My parents were big buyers of used goods so it has always seemed natural to me. There are some things I prefer to buy new, but so many things can be found in great condition used and most of my very favorite things are second hand.


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