Thursday, August 6, 2015

The challenge of buying used

Even the idea of searching those racks make me anxious. [photo: gnosis / john r]

If you start reading up on how to go green or simplify your life, one of the most oft given tips is to buy used. Frugal living blogs tout buying used because of the immense savings.

And who could argue with any of that? Of course buying used instead of buying a brand new item saves energy and resources and enables us to get more mileage out of those that have already been expended. Plus, I really love to save a buck.

But even though I'm on board philosophically, buying used is one of the things other frugal, planet-saving minded people seem to do all the time that I struggle with the most.

Take clothes. Of course I'd love to pay $5-$10 per outfit rather than the quadruple to ten times more I pay for new clothes (and that number would be a lot more if I wasn't so cheap..I mean frugal). But I have a really hard time finding used clothes that I love, fit well and don't already look, well, used. Several times I have purchased used clothing items only to never wear them again before finally, guiltily returning them back to the same thrift store I purchased them at. Despite numerous shopping trips to thrift stores to find clothing, I can only count  7 pieces of used clothing I've purchased in the last say 10 years and worn extensively, while other people have created entire blogs out of their thrift store fashion finds.

Why is this, I wonder? Am I just unlucky? Perhaps it's that I don't thrift often enough, don't have a lot of patience to hunt through rack after rack. Or maybe it's a matter of being too tall (I'm 5'11), not skinny enough (although the thrift store I like best seems to have a surplus of 1X items and larger, which is bigger than I wear). And sometimes I think other locales must just enjoy better selections of items than we do, because I see a lot of heavily used clothing, but there again others who nearby prove that theory wrong.

I'm extremely squeamish about buying soft furnishings (bed bug fears you know), shoes, plastic food items and books from thrift stores due to hygiene concerns, so those are off the table entirely.

One of my few thrifting successes

I have had luck in recent years buying purses at my favorite thrift store, which is somewhat hypocritical compared to the list above since you can't throw then in the washer. Instead I leave them in my hot trunk for a number of days to weeks or freeze them to kill the nasties and use Lysol to disinfect. Although I have noticed used purses start to show wear far sooner than new new ones. Over the years I've also purchased a few household items used, mainly decor items like the piece of Pyrex pictured above.

So what about you? Do you have good thrifting karma? Am I the only one who doesn't? Any tips? I'd really love to hear about your thrifting experiences.


  1. The only successful second hand purchases in our house are furniture- a sofa and a table from a charity shop, and a wardrobe from an antiques/collectables place (it is definitely not antique!) Oh, and a couple of ornamental bits and pieces.

    I have tried buying clothes from charity shops but I seem to not have the knack. Possibly not aided by the fact I like natural fabrics!
    Maybe I will have another attempt next time I need to buy something...

  2. Well... I think thrifting is a mixed bag. It's really easy to come home with a bunch of crap that you don't really need because it was so cheap. And if you go looking for something specific - well, it can be a challenge!

    I had my 30th high school reunion last weekend, and I decided to wear a dress that's been hanging out in my closet for years - one I bought at a thrift store & LOVED (it still had the tags on it) but I never wore it because, well, I don't have many occasions to play dress-up! So I decided to wear it, but it's sleeveless, and I was afraid I'd be cold with the air conditioning & all. So I wanted a little shrug to go over it. I set aside an afternoon and plotted out a route that would take me to 5 different thrift stores. I gave myself 30 minutes at each one. I ended up buying 3 shrugs plus a scarf - I wasn't sure which would work - but one of them ended up being perfect. Not sure I really saved anything there since I probably spent a total of $15-$20 when you add it all up.

    BUT...I also had a list of things that I was less urgently looking for, and I totally scored at one store and came home with 3 practically new bike jerseys (the tops with the special pockets in the back.) They usually cost upwards of $50 each, and I paid about $4 a piece for them - total score!

    Anyhow, I think the secret is to go thrifting with a "take it or leave it" attitude, rather than "I really need to find a ____". It also helps to bring a tape measure and know what size waist, inseam, etc you need - that way you don't have to waste so much time trying things on - because sizes are almost meaningless these days!

    1. I think you're right about having the right attitude, Cat, I have the best luck finding anything other than the one item I really wanted on that trip. And that's part of what annoys me about thrifting. Now that I no longer enjoy shopping I want to get the item or two I need and get out. Occasionally that works. Visting thrift stores regularly o stocking up on items I might need soon is rarely appealing.

  3. Before I had shoulder surgery, I shopped for tops that zipped up. Neither style nor color matter since all outfits were accompanied by the chic sling (gentle smiles). I bought 4 tops on the extra discount aisle and tossed them away 8 weeks later.
    I buy scrubs to wear when I do animal rescue work, which protect my regular clothes. Gail.

    1. /very smart, Gail. For things one doesn't care so much about and limited use items buying used makes a ton of sense.

  4. I do very well on craiglist, much better than I do in thrift stores. I got my piano -- originally $11,500 back in 1991, off craigslist for a mere $450, and the only problem with it is that it has a few scratches and it's OLD. One of the best used purchases I've ever made.

  5. Thanks for writing this! I'm seriously shopping-challenged, and have such a hard time finding clothes (and furniture and what not) in general. If I were to look for things used aswell, I'd never find anything and I'd go crazy (I'm already half-crazy trying to find some clothes I like). I try to look at least a little bit for used furniture if I need something, but I rarely succeed. So I've just sort of accepted that I'll buy mostly new stuff, and try to just don't go there with the eco-guilt. I generally hate shopping, so if I find something I like, it's likely I'll keep it for a while!


  6. I have the same bad luck with thrift shops, probably because I'm not the most patient of shoppers. You definitely need the right attitude and not expect to find the exact item you're looking for. You'll have a much easier time if you just browse and stumble onto a find. I have better luck with eBay, even factoring in shipping cost, because I can focus on getting what I want. No returns though.


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