Buying Used & Secondhand: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re reading this, you’ve already figured out that buying things secondhand is a wonderful way to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. The reasoning behind this can get pretty complex but here are the bullet points:

  • You’re opting out of the resource extraction, energy consumption, carbon emission, and toxic by-products associated with the production of many new products.
  • It keeps more items out of landfills. 
  • There is frequently less packaging involved, so it gets closer to zero waste. 
  • It tends to have a smaller price tag. For me this is an eco-friendly factor because it saves my dollars for the other sustainable and humane practices that cost me more (i.e. buying pastured meats or choosing a renewable energy provider). 

Like any sustainable choice, shifting to buying things secondhand or used can be an adjustment. Here are some points to remember as you’re leaping into this adventure:  

  • Buying secondhand doesn’t have to mean digging through piles of stuff. Though I enjoy this kind of treasure hunt, there are many people who just don’t. There are still loads of ways to purchase used in a more targeted and convenient way- often online. 
  • Patience may be necessary. You may have to keep an eye out on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist or eBay for a couple of weeks before just the thing you need appears secondhand. Your willingness to do this is going to vary depending on your own life situation and where you’re at in your sustainability journey, and that’s ok.
  • Some things you just won’t be able to find used. In that case, I do my darndest to find an item that was produced sustainably and with good labor practices. This is often more expensive, so it’s a good thing I’ve been saving all my money buying used!
  • Steaming and cleaning is very important. I learned the hard way that buying used wool and other natural textiles has a very significant downside- moths. It is a really good idea to invest in some sort of steam cleaner & use it on any secondhand textile that enters your home. I do this for clothing, rugs, couches, armchairs, everything. Of course, a simpler solution for clothing is washing it before use. For woolens though, which need to be washed cold, you might consider leaving it in the sun for a day or sticking it in the freezer for a couple days (seriously) after washing & drying.  
  • Different stores specialize in different things. The Re-Uzit near my boyfriend’s family home has amazing furniture and books. The Village Thrift across the bridge in NJ is the place to go for kitchen appliances. The salvage shop down the street is best for tools and totally random home goods.  Poshmark is my go-to for shoes and underwear (yup- you read that right!). Each resource will offer something different. So don’t give up if you want to try thrifting or buying used online but the first place you look doesn’t have anything you’d want to buy. It will take some time to drop in to each spot and figure out which ones are a good fit. 

 

Brick & mortar locations for just about anything:

Vintage shops: My roommate is a big fan of this type of shopping. He loves buying gifts and home goods at vintage shops. And of course, clothing is also a popular purchase here. You can plug “vintage” into Google Maps and see what pops up.

Consignment stores: These can have a similar feel to vintage shops, but tend to have more modern options. There is consignment for everything from furniture to clothing, including luxury goods. This is also a place where a search on Google Maps comes in handy. 

Yard sales: Saturdays are best for these, but we do Sundays too, and you can still find great deals. Check out the Yard Sale Treasure Map app. You can also find them on Craigslist. Read through the descriptions to see if the sale is likely to have items you’re looking for. 

Flea markets: I usually find these through Google (not maps) and word of mouth. I will typically google “flea market NJ” or “flea market Pennsylvania” or whatever state I’m searching in. This often brings up articles and aggregate sites that I can browse through to find something near me. Once I’m there, I make a point to ask the vendors what other flea markets in the area I should consider.

Thrift stores & charity shops: Goodwill, St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Savers, Village Thrift, Re-Uzit, Impact Thrift, the names change depending on your area. Many are affiliated with charities; some are for-profit. I do a search on Google Maps for “thrift stores” and this usually brings up lots of options in my area. The prices can vary widely. So don’t be discouraged if you drop into your local Goodwill and they’re charging more for a top than you could buy at Target.

Estate sales: Find these on estatesales.net  Similar to yard sales, you’ll want to read the descriptions to see if a particular sale is likely to have the things you’re looking for.

Goodwill Outlet: I’m including this on the list, but it isn’t for everyone. Clothing here is sold by the pound, out of giant bins. You may have heard the Goodwill Outlet referred to as “the bins” for this reason. This is where Goodwill clothing goes after it leaves the main store(s). Our outlets in NJ and PA are very civil, but loud. I’ve heard that locations in other states can actually get a little rough. So I’d only recommend going this route if you are super into thrifting and if buying items by the pound sounds really exciting to you. A lot of the people who shop here are online resellers, including myself. 

 

Online resources for just about anything:

Craigslist: You hear lots of crazy stories about Craigslist, but I’ve only had cool, interesting experiences purchasing and acquiring free goods through this site. I believe this is because I screen pretty carefully. I read listings closely and pay attention to the language the seller is using. If the person seems flaky or fishy I don’t bother. I make my first contact very polite and professional and if the ensuing email interaction raises any red flags I just say “never mind, no thank you”. When picking items up, I do sometimes take my boyfriend with me for safety. The result of all this has been great experiences and lots of cheap and free local stuff. If you’re perusing the free section of Craigslist, you have to act super fast when something you want comes up. I set alerts when there is something specific I’m looking for, like plant pots or bookcases, and my email tells me as soon as there’s a new listing of interest. You can do this through Craigslist directly. 

Freecycle: I follow the same rules here as for Craigslist, avoiding anyone who comes across as sketchy. The cool thing about Freecycle is that most of the people on it are earthy, crunchy types. So it’s a neat community to interact with. You have to act fast on these listings as well, though some do stay active for longer.  Freecycle is especially good for moving boxes- I’ve gotten them from someone on the site, and then turned around and passed them on to someone else after unpacking. I love the idea of my cardboard boxes getting used time and time again.

eBay:  This is a pretty big go-to for me. It allows me to find precisely what I’m looking for in a short period of time. You will want to select the “used” filter on the left toolbar while shopping. Be sure to review the seller’s feedback rating and ditch them if you see any red flags. If a seller has zero feedback I don’t buy from them. I also pay attention to the language in the listing pretty closely here too. If it sounds angry, weird or fishy, I don’t buy from them. I also only buy from U.S. sellers. This has cut down on cheap, imitation products that don’t look like the listing, and increased my satisfaction rate with my purchases. Another cool thing about eBay is that many are resellers who appreciate recycling. So if packaging is a real deal breaker for you, you can write and ask if they are able to package in a way that will help you to recycle the materials (i.e. newspaper) or whatever your preference is. Some may be annoyed by this, but many are much more open to it than you might expect.

Mercari: Similar to eBay, with less robust searching tools. You have to do a little more work to find what you’re looking for, but you can also find better deals.

Facebook Marketplace: This is especially good for finding large items that you don’t want to ship. I’ve purchased a grill and a composting system through Facebook, both at about 70% less than I would have paid new. You can sort by distance too. 

LetGo: Similar to Facebook Marketplace. You can also sort by distance on this app. And there is a website for those who don’t want to install the app. 

OfferUp: Similar to Facebook Marketplace. You can limit the results by distance. And there is also a website for those who don’t want to install the app.

Etsy: A wonderful spot for vintage and upcycled items. You can often make packaging requests on here too. 

 

Clothing & accessories only:

Buffalo Exchange: These stores are usually in or near major cities. It’s worth checking to see if one exists in your area. My boyfriend loves shopping here because it’s organized well and has quality goods. So he can usually find exactly what he needs in a pinch- things like dress pants or shoes for work. 

Plato’s Closet: They are all over the country. They are designed with the high school and college age shopper in mind, but some stores carry a really diverse selection. I still shop there pretty regularly. It’s definitely worth checking out a few locations near you. 

Greene Street:They exist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A very pleasant locally owned store.

Poshmark: Excellent for finding secondhand shoes, underwear and socks. For undergarments I’m specifically looking for New With Tags secondhand items. This platform is also great if you’re looking for something specific, like gym shorts, dress pants, black flats for work. You can find an item easily without the hassle of a thrift store. Non-secondhand items are sold on this platform, and are labelled as “boutique”. So if you’re aiming to shop secondhand, you’ll want to stay away from anything boutique. Both an app and a website. (Find me as @thegreenpuffin.)

The Real Real: Focuses on luxury brands.

Tradesy: Also has a focus on high-end, but does offer some mall brands too, such as J. Crew. 

 

Books (in addition to options listed above):

  • Used bookstores
  • Library sales (my absolute favorite)
  • ABE books 

Building & remodeling materials (in addition to options listed above):

  • Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store
  • Local salvage stores
  • Reusewood.org – an excellent starting point for finding places to source wood & other building materials in your area

Musical instruments & gear (in addition to options listed above):

Camera gear (in addition to options listed above):

Phones, electronics, tech (in addition to options listed above):

Furniture (in addition to options listed above):

Camping & outdoor gear (in addition to options listed above):

 

If you didn’t find the resource that fits your needs here, don’t give up. A google search for that specific product will probably net a few solutions. Feel free to list them in the comments below!

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