There was a time when I wouldn’t set foot in a second-hand store. I figured they were all old, musty and run down filled with junk other people didn’t want. If they didn’t want it, why would I?
Since that time I discovered the thrill of shopping at thrift stores, consignment shops and salvage warehouses. Not only do I enjoy hunting for treasure and getting a deal, but I really love that I’m doing something good for the planet.
Why second-hand shopping is good for the planet
Not only is shopping second-hand good for my pocketbook, it’s a great way to keep discarded items from ending up in the landfill.
According to the Council for Textile Recycling (as reported on the EPA web site) the textile recycling industry keeps 2.5 billion pounds of postconsumer textile waste out of the landfills each year. This amounts to 10 pounds for every person in the United States.
Top 15 tips for shopping at thrift stores
- Not all thrift stores are created equal. Some specialize in particular types of items. Habitat for Humanity’s Home Improvement Outlets carry more home goods like furniture, appliances, and construction salvage. The Treasure Trunk in Wheatridge sells more clothing and small household goods. Some charities that run thrift stores, such as the Humane Society of Boulder County, have specific missions which you may or may not agree with.
- Watch for sales and coupons. For extra savings, many thrift stores have special discounts. For example, ARC Thrift Stores offer 50% off most everything in the store to seniors on Tuesdays and to the general public on Saturdays.
- Set a budget and bring cash. Some second-hand stores don’t accept credit cards or checks. If you limit yourself to the cash in your hand, you’ll be less likely to overspend.
- Wear comfortable clothes. If the thrift store has dressing rooms, wear an outfit that is easy to change in and out of. Slip-on shoes are essential. If there’s no dressing room, or if you don’t like the idea of trying on used clothes, wear a pair of tights or leggings (wear a skirt over if you’re body conscious) and a snug-fitting top like a t-shirt or tank-top. You’ll be able to try items on over your clothes in the aisle if you have to.
- If you want to find buried treasure, you have to spend time digging. Shuffling through the racks, digging through the bins, and reaching to the back of the shelves to find the really good buys takes time. Be patient and plan to spend an hour or more.
- Never buy anything just because it’s cheap. If you won’t use it, won’t wear it, won’t resell or regift it, don’t buy it.
- Watch for favorite brands or designer labels. I was ecstatic when I found a nearly-new pink sweater-dress with a YSL label and a $6.99 price tag. I regularly find designer-label bags, scarves, shoes and jackets.
- Look for items with new tags. It’s surprising how many items you’ll find that have never been worn or used. These could be overstocks or closeouts from department stores, or gifts that didn’t fit or were never used.
- Make friends with a tailor. My husband found a tuxedo that was like new for $4. It fit okay, but not the crisp way a tux should. After taking it to a tailor to be altered, he had a perfectly fitting tux for less than $40 that wowed everyone at his company’s holiday party.
- Look carefully at every item, then look it over again. Nothing’s worse than getting home with a fab pair of jeans and realizing there’s a hole in the pocket and the zipper is broken. Things like a missing button can be easily fixed; a stain on the sleeve or a worn collar can’t.
- Check labels for washing instructions and fiber content. Don’t buy those merino wool slacks if you can’t wear wool without itching, or that silk blouse you won’t want to wash by hand.
- Wash everything before you wear it. Thrift stores ask that donations be cleaned and pressed first, but you can’t always count on that. Never buy anything with perspiration stains. They will likely never come out.
- Carry critical measurements with you. Most thrift stores stock household items including furniture and appliances. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect dresser or pair of drapes, then getting it home and finding out that the size is all wrong.
- Review your stash. Before you hit the checkout line, take one last hard look at everything in your basket. You may have found 10 fabulous blouses, but do you really need all 10? Pare it down to the four or five you really love and are sure to wear.
- Don’t be a hoarder. Try the one-for-one plan. For each item you bring in, take one item out and donate it. You’ll keep your closet clear and the recycling system moving along.
The Denver-metro area offers a wide selection of second-hand shops, from small boutique consignment shops like Your Best Friend’s Closet to entire buildings full of construction salvage like Bud’s Warehouse or Extra Building Materials. To find a list of thrift stores in your area, plus lots of tips and ideas, visit The Thrift Shopper.
Shopping second-hand is good for your wallet and good for the environment. It takes unwanted items out of the waste stream and puts them back into the use. Plus it satisfies the human need to hunt and gather. If anyone asks you where you got that gorgeous outfit, don’t be embarrassed; just tell them that you found it at a little boutique that sells one-of-a-kind items.
- Kid’s clothes. They’re often grown out long before they’re worn out, so why buy brand new?
- Books. Be sure to do a quick flip to check for any missing pages.
- Outerwear. Look for hats, gloves, scarves and jackets.
- Accessories. Belts, scarves, jewelry and bags abound at second-hand shops.
- Cheap shoes. Look for well-made shoes that have seen little wear.
- Electronics and appliances may or may not operate. My advice: “Buyer beware.”
- Board games and puzzles may be missing pieces or instructions.
- Cookware and bakeware. Stay away from non-stick pieces that could be chipped and peeling, and metal items that may be scratched and rusty.
- Undergarments, lingerie, socks. No explanation necessary (I hope).
- Bicycle helmets may have damage that can’t be easily seen but could decrease protection in an accident.
- Toys or stuffed animals that can’t be cleaned thoroughly.
- Mattresses. Reselling used mattresses is illegal in Colorado. Colorado Recycling Services has more information on recycling used mattresses and box springs.
Teri Robnett is a Colorado native, urban farmer and avid second-hand shopper. At the beginning of 2010, she and her husband pledged not to buy anything new (with a few specific exceptions) for the entire year. She scouts out the best thrift stores, teaches classes on second-hand shopping, and arranges group shopping trips. You can find her on Facebook as the Second-Hand Scout.