My mother grew up during the Depression as the youngest of four children and, as a result, she quickly grew tired of using well-worn items. Seventy years later, she still wants to buy almost everything new.
When I was a teenager and some of my friends discovered the joy of shopping in thrift shops, Mom only allowed me to buy new clothes. Back then, I felt like I was missing out some fun, and now I know that I was. I have learned that there are many benefits to buying things secondhand, whether at a thrift shop, a yard sale, an auction, or somewhere else.
First and foremost (for me) is the low price. For the cost of one or two new outfits, I can buy a whole wardrobe. I confess that I still haven’t discovered many great thrift-store finds for myself, but I often buy my children’s clothes secondhand, and I get many compliments on what they wear.
While I am spending very little, I am also recycling. By using something a second (or third or fourth) time rather than buying something similar that has been recently manufactured, I am reducing the waste that goes into landfills.
Buying clothes at thrift stores and yard sales also improves my chances of having clothes no one else has. Style-savvy thrift shoppers can put together some creative outfits from vintage clothes and create for themselves a unique look.
Secondhand items often have interesting stories attached to them. Put another way, they have character. When I get hand-me-downs, I often hear stories about them (such as the french fry cutter from my grandfather-in-law’s restaurant, which made the best fries in town – and still does). When I get an item from a middleman (such as an auction house), I rarely hear the stories, but I can always imagine them. If I had stronger fiction writing skills, I could probably write a short story or novel based on a garage sale find.
Shopping for secondhand goods also gives me opportunities to meet interesting people. Sometimes when I buy something at a yard sale or garage sale, I get to chat with the previous owners and hear about the object I’m buying or just about their lives in general.
I also find that I can get more variety shopping at yard sales, auctions, and thrift shops than at retail stores. At toy stores, for example, I can only find the latest styles of toys. At yard sales, I find similar toys from different years, as well as toys no longer made.
That’s another reason for shopping at secondhand outlets – finding things that are no longer made. I am often surprised by the types of things that are discontinued. Last year, my parents were searching everywhere for a Dixie cup holder they could screw into the wall of their RV, but they could only find ones to sit on a counter (which doesn’t work well when the RV is moving). Apparently, the company no longer made the wall-mounted models. Sure enough, I found an unopened version of the very cup holder they wanted at a yard sale for fifty cents. (My mom, who is starting to see the advantages of yard sale shopping, was glad to use it!)
I have heard stores like Big Lots describe themselves as having a “new store every time.” With secondhand shopping, that description is always true. For a while, my husband and I visited the same auction house twice each week. We never saw the same combination of goods auctioned off. When you need a specific item and even want a specific brand, it’s great to have stores that you can depend on for consistency of merchandise, but it’s also an adventure to go shopping with no expectations of what you’ll find.
And secondhand shopping does bring some great finds. I never know what hidden treasure I will encounter when I go to a yard sale or auction. I don’t expect to find an original print of the Declaration of Independence in the back of a yard sale picture frame, but I have found some things of value to me. For example, I had been looking for some cereal bowls without a wide rim, which was on all the current styles in the retail stores. When I came home from an auction one night, I was thrilled to discover a set of the exact type of bowls I wanted at the bottom of a box lot I had bought for less than a dollar.
Finally, secondhand goods don’t lose their value as quickly as new items. You have probably heard this argument from people who like to buy used cars, but it is true for almost anything used. If I buy something secondhand, I am almost always able to resell it for a greater percentage of my purchase price than if I had bought it new. Sometimes I can sell it for much more. (Just ask anyone who is making money with an antique shop or on Internet auctions!)
I don’t always buy everything used, even if it’s available. Sometimes it’s a good feeling to be the first owner of a shiny new toy or to cut the tags off a fashionable dress. However, I do recommend to anyone who has been reluctant to own someone else’s castoffs that you try buying something secondhand. You may find many kinds of value in your “new,” pre-owned possessions.