Sunday, November 30, 2008

Secondhand is Sustainable Shopping

Everyone says "It's not the value of the gift but the thought that counts", yet somehow we feel that we have to pay full price for something shipped half-way around the world to make it a real gift.

Fiddlesticks! What is more thoughtful than saving money and the planet with sustainable shopping - buying items with minimal impact on our environment. Sometimes nothing will substitute for A Surprise In A Box, but who wants to be environmentally wasteful or pay top dollar?

A secondhand good has already had its environmental cost paid for by the first buyer. In giving it a second use, you are getting it for almost free from an environmental standpoint. The key point is the thought that went into the gift, and prowling secondhand stores takes extra thought, while giving extra benefits.

Types of Second Hand Stores

  • Thrift Stores typically sell goods donated from the local community, and therefore tend to reflect community tastes. Thus, for high-end product, go to thrift stores in high-end communities. However, it is a rare thrift store indeed that never produces a hidden treasure from time to time; much of the fun of a thrift store is the unexpected delight. Last year I found a 1960s-era golf-club cigarette lighter that delighted my father-in-law; for $2 it was the gift of the year!

    You don't have to sacrifice quality to shop thrift. I have many times bought thrift store items new, unused and in the original factory-sealed box.

    You may wish to pay attention to the thrift store's mission. Most, but not all are associated with a charity, whether public or private; you may wish to assist your preferred charity by shopping its thrift store, thus increasing the impact of your shopping.

  • Secondhand Books and More. There is a huge industry of secondhand book stores, ranging from small mom-and-pop storefront to large operations like Third Place Books to national chains such as Half Price Books. While they differ in size, ownership and the number of cats prowling the premise, they are very similar in economics, offering perfectly readable works at much lower prices than news. Often they offer out-of-print titles not available at your supermarket's book section. Many feature related items, such as music, games or model airplanes; whatever fits on a shelf and suits the owner's whim.
  • Consignment Stores & Pawnshops. A consignment store lets you display your "something" at a cut price; when it sells, you and the store owner split the proceeds. At a pawn shop, you get the money up front, using the goods as collateral; if you repay the loan, you get your stuff back; if you don't the shop sells the stuff.

    Either way, these shops tend to offer higher value items than thrift stores, because both the store owner and the goods owner must agree there's a chance they'll get enough money to make it worth their time and/or shelf space.


Move Your Stuff: You can double the value of your shopping trip by bringing along a few of your own items when you to consign, pawn and/or donate to a thrift. While it's unlikely you'll make a heck of a lot of money from your old bridesmaid's gowns or ABBA 8-tracks, you'll be giving yourself the gift of space at home ... effectively increasing your living area at ZERO environmental cost!

This is especially smart at 2nd-hand book stores. Don't expect to get anything near the face value of your book; instead, think of the best-seller you just finished as a 10%-off coupon for your next read. Some bookstores give you the choice of $X cash or double that in store credit; what is more fun than taking in a stack of books you don't want anymore and walking out with something effectively for free!

Schmooze! Thrift stores are often staffed with volunteers, who enjoy talking about the goods they put out, their community, or whatever. You have to be sensitive to their doing their jobs, but if you make friends, you'll make the entire experience worthwhile for both of you. They might alert you to upcoming sales (e.g. end-of-month clearance), or help you find a particular item shelved in a place you wouldn't expect.

Use The Internets: New venues come along frequently. You should google "your town" and "secondhand" at least quarterly to see if what new has popped up. Use customer recommendation facilities, such as Yelp to decide if the new spots are for you. Some communities have their own wiki, in which community members list useful things like thrift stores, e.g. SeattleWiki (... and don't forget to post your own reviews; this pays forward the benefit you got from past reviews, and encourages others to add reviews that you can use later.) Use mapping facilities like googlemaps or mapquest to plan your trip for maximum efficiency.

Secondhand is not the only form of sustainable shopping but it is a valuable addition to your toolbox. Let others pay full price!

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1 comment:

Small Footprints said...

Hi! I'm here from Eazy Cheezy. I really like your "green" posts ... this particular one could serve as my mantra. I love the whole concept of buying "previously owned" things ... and the less we require of manufacturers ... the better off the world will be.

I'm an ex-Seattlite (still have webbed toes). Hope you're enjoying the snow ... and rain.

Small Footprints