3 Things to Keep In Mind When Shopping Second-Hand


For the longest time I gave shopping second-hand a bad rap.  When I would think of thrift stores and consignment shops I would envision dirty, poorly lit spaces with clothing that couldn’t possibly be stylish or in good condition. Years later, through some humbling and personal experience, I’ve found that this image that I had had in my mind couldn’t be farther from the truth. While shopping second-hand can be hit or miss, for the most part it is really an enjoyable experience.   Thrift stores and consignment shops are just as attractive if not more so than big box stores and the merchandise that they sell is generally of good quality.  You'd really be surprised what you can find!  After giving it a try a couple of years ago, I've never looked back; shopping second-hand is simply the way to go.

Especially when it comes to shopping for second-hand clothing.  Zero Waste author and advocate, Bea Johnson notes that, "the greenest product is inarguably the one that you already own.  I believe in reusing before buying into green claims, in shopping our closets (ours and that of other family members), thrift stores, vintage shops, consignment boutiques, or flea markets before buying a new garment that is organic, vegan, recycled, compostable, or biodegradable..." (Johnson).  Since adopting a more minimalist lifestyle back in 2015, I've been slowly working to alter the way that I shop for clothing - purchasing through sustainable brands or through second-hand stores.  I still have a ways to go but I'm getting there! I strongly believe in Bea's sentiment that this is the most sustainable practice for shopping.  Since adopting this new philosophy, I've learned a few things along the way that can be applied to more than just clothing.


Dress for the Life That You Live

I have always been in love with fashion.  To me it has been more than just clothing but a form of storytelling.  How you present yourself to the world says a lot about who you are as a person, not in a superficial way (i.e. what you can afford) but in regards to your style and values. 

Growing up, I used to equate a closet full of clothing with security and success.  It was re-assuring in a sense, to know that I had an outfit for every occasion.  But as the years went on I began to notice that a lot of those occasions never came.  It turns out I didn't need five clubbing dresses because I didn't go clubbing.  I much preferred getting dressed up and going out to dinner with the girls.  I also didn't need a collection of expensive pant suits and dresses that I had purchased for my future corporate job because I ended up starting my own business, working out of my home office. After going through my closet, reevaluating how I live day-to-day and taking bag after bag of clothing to Goodwill I began to understand the concept of dressing for the life that I live. To be honest, I still have an outfit that could be pulled out for a spontaneous night of clubbing but this outfit can also be paired down for a more causal night out on the town. By learning who I am, what I value and my personal style, I have been able to ensure that the clothing in my closet is a true reflection of my taste and current lifestyle.


Tips for Shopping for the Life that You Live:

  • If you are on the fence about a piece but decide to go ahead and purchase it, make sure to keep the tags on it when you get home and try it on. See how it feels and how it works with the other pieces in your closet. If you find that it’s not a good fit, promptly return it.

  • Questions to ask yourself: where do I plan on wearing this piece of clothing or placing this piece of furniture? Will it pair well with the other pieces in my closet? It’s a little small… how realistic is it that I would lose the weight to fit into it? How would I feel stepping out of the house in this? Would I feel comfortable wearing this to the grocery store or to a client meeting? How often would this get used?


Quality Over Quantity

When it comes to shopping in general - whether it’s at the mall or at a consignment shop - the rule of quality over quantity always applies. The older I get, the more I find myself applying this rule to my purchases whether it be to clothing or a new piece of furniture. By taking the time to evaluate where the item was made, what it is made up of and how it was made, I am protecting myself from buying something that might fall apart a couple of months from now.


Tips for Shopping Quality Over Quantity:

  • When shopping for clothing, take the time to look the clothing over. Check out: what’s it’s made of (some materials hold up better than others), where it was made, and the feel of the piece (do you foresee future piling or the piece quickly wearing away?).

  • Questions to ask: Is there something that I already own that could function in the same way? How many __ do I already own? If I waited a few months, could instead purchase a similar piece that is better made?


Need vs. Want

Whether your shopping at a big box store or at a thrift store, it’s always important to go in with a clear idea of your needs vs. wants. When looking through the racks of clothing at your local thrift store you might stumble upon a beautiful piece that you feel that you must have however do you really need it, becomes the question. To help me stay focused when shopping and to help me avoid buying something that I do not need, I keep a short list in the “notes” section of my phone of items that I am on the look out for (i.e. a white t-shirt, a pair of boots, a pair a black jeans). I come up with this list every few months when I go through my closet and shed want is no longer serving me. During that time, I also identify pieces that I am lacking and would like to incorporate.


Tips for Shopping for a Need vs. Want:

  • Questions to ask: Do I have space for this? Is there something that I own that could function in the same way? Can I borrow a similar piece from a friend/family-member? How is this going to serve me?



Johnson, Bea.  Zero Waste Home.  Scribner; 2013.