Learn what to look for in thrift stores so you can increase your eco-friendly habits and reduce your environmental footprint.

A feature image for a blog post about what to look for at thrift stores.

Recycling is in the news almost every day, and we see the labels on nearly everything: “100% recycled”, or “This product made from 75% post-consumer waste”.

We see entire programs on cable TV channels telling us how to build homes from recycled tires, or concrete, or cardboard.

Most grocery stores and food courts have recycling bins, at least for plastic, glass, and aluminum, and sometimes paper and cardboard. Most people genuinely want to help save the environment.

Letting Go of the “Throwaway” Culture

On the other hand, our culture has been one of consumption for so long that we tend to look down on “used goods”.

The general message seems to be “throw that away and buy a new one!”. It seems that used goods aren’t good enough. And it’s a message that marketers embrace to get us to buy more.

Embrace Using Secondhand Items

If we are to improve our efficiency as a culture, however, we need to shake these ideas. People discard perfectly useful goods every day of every year. Some of those people choose not to send their goods to landfills, but to thrift stores instead.

This offers us all an opportunity for recycling and reusing with three significant benefits:

  • It increases our overall efficiency as we use less energy for manufacturing.
  • It saves us money as we get exceptionally low prices at thrift stores (usually).
  • It helps whatever charity is sponsoring the thrift store you choose to patronize.

There are several categories of goods in used stores that usually offer up excellent finds for cheap. But you really never know what hidden treasure you might find.

Reusing Furniture from Secondhand Stores

An excellent category for shopping at a used store is furniture. Perfectly good dressers, tables, chairs, and appliances all end up in thrift stores.

Secondhand Stores for Shabby Chic Décor

Sometimes you have to shop for a while, but it’s not uncommon to find a wonderful dining set in good shape. And, depending on your décor, some people like the “shabby chic” look of a few scratches and dings.

One caution about used furniture is to take care with anything that contains fabric or cloth material. You would need to be sure you’re getting something that isn’t going to bring unwanted visitors into your home.

Buying Used Clothing at a Thrift Store

Clothing is another great category for thrift stores. People donate clothing for all sorts of reasons, but most boil down to one thing: their life has changed.

They gained weight, they lost weight, they got a new job, moved to a different part of the country, you name it.

Styles Don’t Change Fast

A person that’s handy with a sewing machine can do alterations and create stylish outfits – but many types of clothing don’t change style so rapidly as to be useless.

Think business slacks, or jeans, or button-up shirts. You can purchase entire outfits for the price of a single pair of new slacks. And many used stores have ranks of clothing with the tags still on and never worn.

Use a Washer and Dryer for Comfort

However, if you’re worried about someone else having worn the clothing, you can put them in the dryer on high heat for a few minutes and/or wash them as soon as possible to feel more comfortable about it.

Housewares and Home Décor at the Thrift Store

Another popular category that is frequently shopped at the local thrift store is housewares and home décor.

New Items Show Up Regularly

A lot of people clean out homes regularly and there are often shelves and shelves of perfectly good items for setting up a home or finding something you need.

These categories are excellent ways to get a child set up who is leaving for college or for their first apartment on their own. It won’t cost a fortune to get the basics.

Look for Antiques

Some people check out these departments often to find potentially antique dishes or utensils to add to their collection. You never know what will turn up.

Baby and Children’s Products at the Used Store

The stage of life that probably has the most rapid turnover in products is from infant to later childhood. And most parents will tell you that it’s a strain on the family budget.

Plenty of Items for Babies and Kids

Fortunately, most thrift stores have large sections devoted to used baby and children’s products that can be a boon for parents and guardians looking for a deal.

And the secondhand store is a great place for people to keep recycling and donating these products as their family grows out of needing them. It helps everyone at this stage of life avoid unnecessary buying and spending.

Shopping for Electronics at a Used Store

Some categories of items don’t lend themselves well to the thrift store model – electronics, for instance. But it’s not uncommon to discover a toaster that looks like it’s never been used or a blow drier in the original box.

A Handyman Can Fix Things

For the person that’s handy with such things, though, a thrift store speaker set can be a great find. Some people even repair and resell items in their spare time.

The flip side of this discussion, of course, is this: Don’t throw away items that are still useful; give them to your local thrift store so that someone else can use them, saving the energy required to manufacture another one.

Take the Kids for a Recycling Lesson

You may also find that taking your kids along to the thrift stores is an excellent way to teach children about recycling and caring for the environment as a natural way of life.

If we all start paying attention to such things and working to save energy and increase the efficiency of our culture as a whole, the thrift store can become the hub of a community recycling project that’s a great deal for everyone involved. We can save energy, save money, and contribute to charity, all at the same time.

2 thoughts on “What to Look for at Thrift Stores”

  1. Thanks for a timely reminder of reuse and recycle! I’ve been thrifting since 1987 at 22 years of age. Thrift stores enabled me to buy necessary things for myself and my young family when I didn’t have the financial resources to shop in regular retail stores. My parents had also taught us repairing and reusing things was economical and resourceful long before recycling programs and sustainability became part of our vernacular. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fruitful career but continue to thrift because it’s fun and the money you save can be used for other life essentials, travel, etc aside from the environmental aspect. I also donate regularly and encourage others to do so as well. As a reminder, make sure your donation items are clean and in working order otherwise there is a good chance they will be disposed of at the store, they do not have the time or equipment to wash or fix what you’ve dropped off. Living with less is better for your mental health, your financial health, and the planet 🌎

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with using thrift stores. And for the good tips about how to donate so that the items get a chance to be useful.

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