One of the first changes I made to start living more sustainably was thrift shopping, but there are so many reasons to thrift shop even beyond sustainability. At first it seemed a bit daunting, and how good can used clothes and items be? Answer: Pretty darn good!
I absolutely love buying secondhand. Not only is it really fun and satisfying when you find “that” item you’ve been looking for, but it’s the best way to purchase items from a sustainable point of view. I’ve found gifts for others, professional work clothes, genuine sports apparel, and good quality casual clothes, dishware, and shoes at thrift stores. All of this at far below market price!
Many people are turned off by the thought of secondhand items, but I have eight reasons why everyone should be thrifting.
1. Cheaper, sometimes a lot cheaper
Because the items are used, they will generally carry a very reduced sticker price. Some examples: I have a couple pairs of jeans that cost $3-4 each. I bought a genuine Red Sox jacket for $8. My husband bought a long men’s overcoat for $28 with the original tag inside that said $375!
The savings don’t stop at clothing either. You can find very cheap working small appliances like toasters and mixers. We bought all of our glassware secondhand for about dollar per piece. Thrift shops also sell gently used furniture items.
2. Variety of colors, styles, and items
Unlike some other stores that sell certain clothing items or styles, the thrift store will have apparel from formal wear to graphic tees. Beyond clothing, you can find accessories, shoes, furniture, housewares, toys, etc. all in one spot! This means all your shopping can be done in one stop instead of wasting time, money, energy, and emissions running around to various stores.
The variety also helps spark inspiration. You will be drawn to certain things more easily than if the rack was filled with the same shirt in a few different colors in all the sizes. And you can find completely unique items that can’t be found anywhere else to give your wardrobe or home décor a special touch.
3. Fit and quality
Fit and quality are our next reasons to thrift shop. The good thing about used clothing is it’s already stretched and shrunk. The fit later will be true to how it is in the dressing room. I always hated buying an item, washing it, and having to give it away because it shrunk too much. Now I don’t have that problem!
You can also judge the quality of thrifted items much easier than new. If the sweater pills, it will likely already have some. If the shirt wrinkles easily, it will likely already have wrinkles. Toys that still work have already withstood rough play from other kids. So there’s far less guesswork that comes along with purchasing secondhand.
4. Boost trading economy
By buying someone else’s items, you boost the local trading economy. This reduces the need for companies to produce more new items. It’s all about voting with your wallet. If you don’t buy new clothing, demand goes down, and then companies will adjust and produce less to meet that new demand.
As a side note: In addition to thrift stores and consignment shops, there are other more direct options for secondhand shopping. Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and eBay are great online resources along with the traditional neighborhood garage sale.
5. Not supporting unethical production practices
This goes hand in hand with #4. By not buying clothing new from “fast fashion” brands, you are rejecting their production practices. Refusing to support these unethical companies and instead using my dollars to extend the life of items are my personal top reasons to thrift shop.
The clothing industry is rife with unsafe working conditions and very low pay. I suggest watching the documentary “The True Cost” if you want to learn more about how companies like Forever 21 and Old Navy can profit on those low sale prices. I cannot justify buying new items knowing others are suffering for my “great deal”.
6. Reduce waste
Buying items secondhand prolongs their lifetime and delays their final stop in a landfill. Thrift stores won’t try to sell you trash. The items in stock have plenty of life left in them. They’re just waiting for someone to give them a second chance.
And once you’ve finished with them, you can either re-donate or sell them if they are still in good condition or turn them into something new. Old clothing can be turned into wash rags, hankies, or patches. Glass and electronics can be recycled. Furniture can usually find a new home quickly.
7. Donating overseas can harm their economy
Lots of people donate clothing in the hope that it helps the less fortunate. Donated clothing to charities and clothing items that fail to sell in thrift stores often get sent to developing countries. Before the 1980s, Kenya had a thriving garment industry and imported donated clothing was distributed for free. Then donated clothing was being sold for cheap and the garment industry workforce has declined by over 96%. A couple years ago, a few African nations enacted clothing import bans, but they were then subjected to backlash in trade agreements with the US.
And when organizations send these garments overseas, they wrap them in giant plastic bundles like this. So not only will buying clothing secondhand prevent it from being sent either to a landfill or to a struggling country, but it will also reduce a huge amount of plastic waste and transportation emissions.
Finally thrift shopping if FUN. You never know what’s going to be in stock today, and you can usually count on finding something that puts a smile on your face even if you don’t end up buying it. Thrift stores are a big collection of random items. Maybe you’ll find “12 Days of Christmas” glasses (I did!) or a shirt with your elementary school’s name printed on it.
As they say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Thrifting is sort of like a treasure hunt, but it’s best to go in without a specific item in mind. Look for a nice blouse for work rather than a cap sleeved red blouse with a v-neck. Maybe you’ll find that, but most likely it’ll be green or 3/4 sleeve with beading. But maybe that’s way better than what you thought you wanted anyway.
What are your top reasons to thrift shop? In addition to physical stores, what apps and websites do you use for online thrifting?