In Praise of Secondhand Stores

By , November 1, 2016

In many essays on this blog I’ve sung the praises of shopping at secondhand stores. Beginning with
Museum of Lost Desires, and including A Successful Bargain Hunt, we have benefitted greatly from our local private secondhand store, and the Salvation Army’s thrift store.

I’m continually amazed by how often we find precisely what we need and want, even in our small town (pop. around 2500). In this small, insular community, goods circulate from home to home, expanding the utility of each item as it gets used (or proves unnecessary) then passed on to the next owner. Garage and yard sales extend this process even further, as do the many “Free” boxes that dot our roadsides through much of the year.

Lately, I’ve had reason to appreciate this even more; it must be time to remind readers about a valuable resource that often gets overlooked in our hyper-consumptive society (see also Clothing: Essential to Survival and Self Esteem).

On my most recent visit to Talia’s Treasures, our local private thrift store, I found a brand new pair of pants, and a brand new propane tank.

The tank hadn’t even had the label removed, indicating that it had probably never been filled before. The price seemed reasonable, but I also received 10% off, because the tank had sat on the shelf for over a month (how did I miss it on previous visits?). When I filled it at our local propane supplier, they told me their normal price for a new tank of that size. The difference between what I paid “used” for a new tank, and could have paid full retail equaled roughly two fill-ups!

Obviously, someone bought the tank new at some point, then decided they didn’t need it. They consigned it at Talia’s and got some of their money back. I got a bargain on an item that will likely outlive me.

True, I hadn’t been shopping for a propane tank, so this might be considered an impulse buy. We already have 3 tanks that we rotate. However, we have run through all 3 tanks before refilling, and with winter coming on, an extra tank provides an additional element of energy security.

I also found a pair of Carhartt’s® work pants. At $20, I figured it was better than half price off of new. However, this pair turned out to have a flannel lining! I don’t know what a pair like that costs at full retail.

Again, I wasn’t looking for new pants, and I’ve found Carhartt’s® inferior to my favorite pants, as I reported in Comparing Pants (A Pants Off?). But, the flannel lining improves an unlined pair considerably, and I’ve been wearing this new pair almost constantly as I work to bring in the last of the winter’s firewood.

To reiterate my point, here are two examples of perfectly good items that outlived their usefulness in one home, and have found their way to a new home through secondhand retail.

Each time this happens, it represents savings to the purchaser, environmental benefits through reuse, avoidance (or, at least, delay) of landfill or other disposal, and a slight but hopefully cumulative move toward less rampant consumerism.

Our strategy of shopping secondhand first whenever possible pays us big dividends. If you haven’t tried it, you’ll likely find the same true for you.

4 Responses to “In Praise of Secondhand Stores”

  1. Linn Hartman says:

    Thrift stores – I believe we would get along fine – can’t pass a thrift store sign – $3 for a pair of new boots is hard to pass up -it is amazing where all this stuff comes from – may be the subject for an essay – I have a whole room full of ttuff that was too good to pass up – will have an auction (another vice of mine) to unload it – I always justify my purchases by telling myself that surely I can sell it for more than I paid for it – Good roaming

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Linn, I think you and I are rather more common in this regard than a lot of people care to admit. I think there’s still a stigma in this country against buying secondhand, that it’s “common” if you will, instead of smart.

    I kind of wrote the essay you suggest a long time ago: Clothing: Essential to Survival and Self Esteem, but thanks for the suggestion. I need to add this link to the post, and possibly expand on it in a future essay. I kind of shied away, as I don’t like to be a cranky old bastard, but then again, why not? It certainly bears emphasis through repetition.

  3. LInn Hartman says:

    I will be 75 next month – one has a right to be cranky as you age if you want to – My sister-in-law is 88 and she can get real cranky when she wants particularly if her tractor is on the blink and she can’t bush hog – her and the Massey have grown old together

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Alrighty then! Cranky it is!

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