Updated on 08.28.14

The Challenges of Buying Used and How to Overcome Them

Trent Hamm

I revel in used stuff.

I use PaperBackSwap almost religiously. I love shopping at thrift stores and consignment shops. I look forward to yard sales and make a day out of “community yard sale day.”

Undeniably, though, there are drawbacks. Sure, you get a nice financial bargain, but no purchase is a perfect one. Whenever I talk about my love of buying things used, I hear from people about the problems of buying used – and some of the same topics come up time and time again.

Buying Used: Common Complaints and My Responses

“Used stuff smells funny or isn’t clean”

Used books can sometimes smell musty. Used clothes sometimes don’t seem perfectly clean. The same goes with used dishes and countless other items. The amazing thing, though, is that things can actually be cleaned really easily.

Take those used clothes home and give them a washing before you wear them. Take used dishes home with you and scrub them. It doesn’t take that long and isn’t that hard – really!

If an item smells musty, it’s probably got a high moisture content and a touch of mold. Sit it in front of a running fan for a while, then put it in a box with a dish of baking soda for a few days. The musty smell will be gone.

“It takes too much time to buy used stuff”

Compared to just running down to Wal-Mart and picking up whatever $3 shirts they have freshly imported from China, buying used does take more time than buying new. However, if you normally invest at least some time in the purchase of an item, it’s not particularly more time effective to go to a “name” retailer than it is to buy used.

The key is patience. It’s not a matter of taking too much time to find what you want when shopping used. It’s more a matter of convenience. If you expect that you’re going to go out for a day of shopping and come home with two outfits, period, then you’re missing the point of buying used.

The point of buying used is to slowly make a list of the stuff you need. “I sure could replace that lawnmower … and I do need some new shirts … and maybe I could use a few cheap books, too.” That’s the attitude to take when you’re shopping used.

“I feel cheap buying used stuff”

The good old cult of the new rears its ugly head again and again. The idea that something “new” is inherently better than something “used” is often wrong, particularly when you consider that the “used” item is for sale at a lower price than the new item.

I view it a bit differently. For me, a good used item often has most of its lifetime left, but you’re only paying a fraction of the cost for it. Used books. Used shirts. Used pants. Used dishes. Used Kitchen Aid stand mixers. Most of the time, when you find these items used, most of their useful life is ahead of them.

I have a used stand mixer in my kitchen that would have cost $600 if I had purchased it new. Many (possibly most – I’d have to count) of the shirts in my closet, the ones I don’t mind wearing to any event, were purchased used.

The idea that we need new, new, new is planted in our heads by marketers who have a product to sell, so they make new look as sexy as possible and used look as unsexy as possible. In truth, used merely means you’re finding a new home for something great.

“Used stores and sales simply don’t have the specific item I need”

If you’re shopping for something highly specific, you’re likely going to have to pay for that specificity. Specificity has a price. If you must have a blue striped shirt made with at least 80% cotton, you’re going to have to search more and likely have to pay more than if you simply need a new dress shirt for work.

This is particularly true when buying used. If you go to a used sale with a highly specific item in mind, you’re likely going to be disappointed. The more general your desire, the more likely you are to find success.

So instead of looking for a very specific shirt, simply go in with the mindset that you simply need a shirt that fits. Instead of looking for a specific kind of dish, go in with a general idea of dishes you might buy. You’re much more likely to find just what you need if you’re a little less specific in your desires.

“Used stuff is junk; no one else wants it”

Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of high quality items to thrift stores. I’ve taken barely-worn clothes that just didn’t fit but were missing tags and gift receipts. I’ve taken countless gifts such as dinner plates because they were gifted without receipts. I’ve taken piles of barely watched DVDs and barely listened CDs. I’ve taken children’s toys that our kids simply don’t play with – practically new items.

And so do other people.

There’s an awful lot of good stuff at secondhand stores. Yes, there’s some dreadful junk, too. But that’s easy enough to handle – just ignore it and look for stuff you actually want.

I have no interest in 95% of the junk at an average thrift sale. I also have no interest in 95% of the junk at your typical department store. So what’s the difference?

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  1. Kathy says:

    Very sound advice. I used to have this attitude. I think some of my attitude was borne of having to wear second hand clothes all the time when I was a kid, and they were seriously outdated at that, when meant I got picked on a lot. But you can find some really great and stylish things at thrift stores if you have the patience and the desire to search for it.

  2. Rex Huston says:

    I buy a lot of items used on craigslist, amazon, and other non store fronts. The number 1 reason for this besides being cheaper is that there is no sales tax!

  3. lurker carl says:

    Well said.

    It may take more time to shop for used items than new but it takes considerably more time to earn the money to buy new over used. It’s all part of living beneath your means.

  4. The vast majority of my daughter’s toys and clothes were purchased (or given to us) used. She doesn’t know the difference and most of it ‘looked’ new!
    I purchased a used living room set (Couch, chair, loveseat) from a gentleman who had just broken up with his fiance and had no room for it in his apartment. It had warranty left and the same model was still for sale at the local Ashley furniture store for double what I paid.
    Also, there was the additional savings of not paying sales tax on the private transaction.

  5. Rachel says:

    Not to mention that it’s good for the planet. Used stuff doesn’t add to the waste of resources or exploitation of third world workers that new stuff does. And, if you’re willing to just kind of keep a running list of things you may need in your head as you shop, you get the fun of serendipitous discovery! I find shopping for new stuff incredibly boring.

  6. Johanna says:

    Trent, how many times are you going to recycle this post?

    Also, I think it’s a bit rich that the guy whose time is so precious that saving $10 is not worth 20 minutes to him is now telling the rest of us that we need to be more patient.

    I have nothing against used stuff. Just the other day, I bought a big bag of books from a great used bookstore. But there are certain other things that, for me, are not worth buying used. And I don’t understand why you seem to have such a problem with that.

  7. Julia says:

    Trent, buying used is a great idea, but it depends a lot on the other people in your area being used to giving up perfectly good items. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such great items to buy and you wouldn’t consider buying second hand that easily.

    I lived in the US for 2 years and was amazed at the incredibly good items I could buy for a little fraction of the price. I went a little nuts at the garage sales and goodwill stores, hoarding clothes and accessories to bring back with me. (And really, I don’t plan on buying clothes for a few years).

    Back at home, in a way poorer society, the second hand market has a higher content of trash and takes a lot more work (although it’s not dead). Even with items that get used for a relatively short period like baby stuff or text books, the second hand price is like 60% or more of the new item, and you don’t get exactly the feeling of scoring the deal of the century. Rather the opposite, you feel that with a little more money you can have some guarantee and no spots or tears.

    With general furniture the price of used is inverse to the size: the bigger the thing the cheaper it is… because we don’t live in giganto houses, like you do there. Second hand electronics… forget it! People don’t gut renovate and discard their kitchen / living room / etc. electronics, they hold onto them until they fall apart. Unless you have a rich relative, second hand big or small appliances are pretty much out of the question.

    To sum up, buying second hand is a really good idea. But the poorer your environment is the more restricted your choices will be.

    PS. Ah, and a poor society means… poor libraries! Here libraries collections are pretty sad to say the least. And second hand bookstores do carry interesting things, but mostly is outdated crap or books of very specific interest. I envy you when you talk about the library because that’s what I miss most!!!

  8. Chelsea says:

    I’d like to know why every single comment I’ve ever tried to make here had been rejected but Johanna’s near daily nasty comments always make it through.

  9. Annie Jones says:

    I’m a big fan of buying used, from clothing to cars. It just makes sense to me. Used shopping often yields one-of-a-kind items; I like having things that aren’t exactly like a hundred others on the department store racks. Today I found a long, blue sundress at a thrift store that I just fell in love with. It’s extremely likely I would never have found something I like as well in a retail store.

  10. Marinda says:

    It takes time and that’s what I have now. My daughter’s work wardrobe had to updated, new job, new dress code so out I go and I get 5 pairs of dress pants and 4 shirts for $50.00. I’m talking LL Bean, Talbots, and other designer labels. With two pair of new shoes, she was ready to go. Everything went with the existing wardrobe and now her first paycheck is hers to sock away.

  11. J says:

    @ Chelsea
    It’s because she’s a professional troll.
    Also, I love used stuff. :)

  12. Michelle says:

    Disagreement doesn’t make a troll, being nasty makes a troll, and I have yet to see her be nasty. She just disagrees with Trent, frequently.

    I agree with Trent, if you think about the hours spent in the mall, compared to the hours spent in a thrift shop, I usually spend LESS time in the thrift shop, spend LESS money, and get equivalent stuff.

    Now, if you got issues with wearing other people’s clothes, and using other people’s stuff, that’s your problem. More good quality stuff for me!

  13. Maureen says:

    I would probably just skip any clothes that looked dirty (stained) since they couldn’t be returned without the tags if you couldn’t get them clean. There are plenty of other options out there.

    I wouldn’t buy anything musty either. Most of the items for sale second hand are not musty or dirty.

    I would be very cautious about buying upholstered items due to the bedbug risk (ugh).

  14. marta says:

    “Trent, how many times are you going to recycle this post?”

    As many as needed. The point is to buy everything used, including TSD posts.

  15. BonzoGal says:

    Some folks may not be trolls, but they seem to spend a LOT of time carping on Trent. Disagreement is one thing, but some constand commenters seem to feel that Trent is writing this blog as a direct criticism of their lifestyle, and they resent it. Weird.

    Trent, one other thing about buying used: it can be fun to discover things you hadn’t thought of. I shop library book sales and find out-of-print books; I’ve found clothing at thrift stores that is beautiful vintage stuff; and I’ve found furniture that matches my kitschy decor. It’s always an adventure.

  16. Gretchen says:

    There’s a couple things I’m not cool thrifting and one would be musty books (nor do I understand how plates would smell unless they still had food on them). Pretty much everything else is okay.

    (this does, however,somewhat contradict the opening paragraph of the morning mailbag about buying things to make a market for them. )

  17. blake says:

    I have found I have better luck watching sales at department stores and the mall than using coupons over thrift shopping. Plus I am more likely to find my sizes in clothes that don’t smell like homeless people.

  18. Chelsea says:

    Thanks J, Now I get it. I was just being too constructive ;)

  19. Julia says:


    Thank you, now I know I’m not the only one. I’ve made comments to a few posts and they’re never published… I wonder where’s the negative unsupported criticism, not contributing to the growth and thoughtfulness of others… I thought I was saying something interesting, but seems the author thinks otherwise.

    No wonder he makes a living writing a blog and I don’t!

  20. Rebecca says:

    @ blake, homeless people rarely have enough clothing to donate to thrift stores. And even if used clothing smells less than fresh (usually it smells like its been in storage, not dirty or stinky) its nothing a trip through the washer can’t fix.

    a lot of the time, I find new items at goodwill. My daughter has about 5 pairs of shoes in her closet just waiting for her feet to grow. they are all brand new, tags still on, all for $1 each pair.

  21. Bill says:

    @#5 Chelsea

    The reason your post are awaiting moderation is that you are new. Johanna is not new. If you had been reading as long as Johanna you would have read many post about the “time value money” feel free to search for it. That is what she is very correctly referencing.

    As for me, I’m always worried about getting ripped off. I recently bought a pool cover pump from a overstock website. I paid $125 last one cost $225 and lasted 5 years. New one lasted 3 months and no warranty. I consider this a mistake. I might be wrong but a lot of decision making is “feeling”

  22. Bonnie says:

    @Chelsea – Johanna’s not a troll and she’s not nasty. Just because someone disagrees does not make them nasty. It’s concerning to me that you think her tone is nasty. I live in a culture where it’s normal to be genuinely friendly to strangers all the time and even I don’t think she’s being nasty.

  23. Andrea says:

    The last time I tried to buy new jeans, I must have tried on 15 pairs and didn’t find one pair that fit… and I am a slim woman. The sizes vary from brand to brand, and often a brand was out of my size. My last pairs fo jeans were bought at thrift shops. As for other clothing items, it is frustrating to buy a new shirt, only to have it shrink, fade or fall apart after a few washings. One thing about used clothes is that if they still look good in thrift shops, they’ll look good after the first washing. Another good reason to buy used clothing is that the range if styles is much broader that what is for sale retail during a given year. However, it is true that thrift shops have become pricier and some things are more expensive than deeply discounted new items. I do better at yard sales and rummage sales.
    Most adults have more clothes than they need, and so buying additional clothing is really entertainment. Since it is just entertainment, I don’t mind leaving a thrift shop empty handed.
    I prefer to decorate my home with used items over new items, and would even if the price was the same. I like vintage and antique look-a-likes.
    I look for things that are interesting and have character. For example I bought two goose-neck desk lamps, circa 1930, for $1 each at a yard sale. They typically sell for $30 at flea markets and thrift shops. They were just what my sewing room needed. It takes way more time to furnish a house this way… as opposed to a single mega shopping trip to Walmart. But I like collecting things over time… I’ve been furnishing my house for twenty years. I enjoy sprucing things up… repairing, repainting, refinishing. Some days when I clean house, I pause and think about a specific item, when I bought it and the memories I associate with it.

  24. Stacy says:

    The vast majority of my clothes come from the thrift store, and I assure you that very few people could tell the difference unless they asked me. I’ve even found clothes that were fairly specific. I was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding and she was kind enough to simply insist on a dressy navy blue dress somewhere between knee and ankle length. I started checking thrift stores a few months before the wedding and it didn’t take long at all to find a perfect dress. I paid $10 and got nearly as many compliments as my sister (the bride) did. I also paid another $10 for the shoes to go with the dress.

  25. Jane says:

    I don’t think the musty smell you talk of in clothing is as simple as you describe to remove, especially if it is mildew. One thing that I would advise NOT buying is a book that smells at all like moth balls. My husband’s grandma stored a bunch of his comics for a long time and at some point put moth balls in the bins. It was impossible to get that smell out. I’ve also had some clothes that got mildewed, and I was never able to get rid of the smell. I tried everything – vinegar, baking soda, sunlight, etc.

  26. Leah says:

    I buy used for some stuff and not for others. Trent’s right — specificity can make a huge difference. I get all my jeans at the thrift store, and I can even manage to be a bit specific (I prefer Gap, American Eagle, or Mossimo) because jeans are such a common, general thing. Same with funny t-shirts, local sports team t-shirts, etc. I’ve also gotten plenty of nice work shirts at the thrift store simply by saying “I’m looking for a shirt that looks nice, can be worn to work, and matches my current clothes.”

    I hit the mall for more specific stuff, like “I must have a dress in X color and Y length.” That’s so difficult at thrift stores. I’ve gotten plenty of dresses at thrift stores (mainly by browsing when I stop in for jeans), but I do go to stores when I need something special or specific.

    I appreciate Trent reiterating this post, mostly because there are so many people who just won’t shop in used stores. I guess I don’t care that, as they leave plenty of good stuff or me. But, really, all your clothes are used the second you wear them the first time. Thrift store clothes have never smelled once I’ve run them through the washing machine. And, best of all, I like them because visiting is like a giant treasure hunt to find the cool, on-sale stuff amidst things that just aren’t quite right for you.

  27. I love buying stuff used especially if it is not going to make me any money

  28. Esme says:

    Johanna may not be a troll but I think I have seen only one single time where she didn’t find fault with, grumble at or criticize Trent’s post in some way. Its not constructive, its a silly game of being contrary for the heck of it. It does get repetitive and tiresome. I usually skip her posts now, because I know exactly what kind of tone to expect. But enough about that.

    I didn’t know about the tip of putting a book or (or whatever) in a box with baking soda for a few days to lose the musty smell.. its obvious to me now, but didn’t think of it. Thanks!

  29. ML says:


    I agree, Johanna’s tone is not nasty. I have disagreed with Trent on a number of occasions also. I think we all come to TSD for a healthy, constructive discourse. You cannot have that if we all have the same viewpoints. I think Chelsea (and Chelsea I do not want to speak for you) is referring to Johanna’s passion with respect to her arguments. Sometimes I want to tell Johanna, it really is not that serious. Relax!

  30. Lots of misconceptions here.

    One, if you knew how much you could save by buying “used”, you may not feel so cheap–or at least you’d get over it quicker.

    Used stuff is not junk, at least not all of it is junk. A lof of it is almost brand new.

    The term “used” has such a negative connotation–its a shame.

    If you know where to look, a lot of it really is barely used, or actually, almost brand new.

  31. deRuiter says:

    Used / recycled is great! Shop yard and estate sales in upper middle class or rich neighborhoods for wonderful stuff at pennies on the dollar. Buy the best, pay the least! Men’s dress shirts are always a bargain, usually they’re on hangers, from the cleaner’s and wrapped in plastic. The shirts cost less than the money which was spent to launder and iron them! Pick through and choose the all cotton ones in the correct size, and get them for a dollar each! It is technically cheaper to buy shirts this way, wear them once, and throw them away, than to buy and have them professionally laundered and pressed after you wear them once! Buy elegant designer clothing which is barely or never worn and get it altered by a tailor. Buy real designer sheets and comforters, and wash them, they are no different than if you bought them new and used them and washed them, except you’ve saved a bundle of cash. Buy gently used all wool rugs and drop them at the rug cleaner on the way home, you can get gorgeous, pricey, elegant and CLEAN rugs this way. By buying prewoned, you will look like you’ve spent huge amounts for your things, and only you need to know you’ve spent little and banked the money you saved. Don’t like to buy used? GREAT for you! Great for me too, as there’s less competition for the really good gently used stuff. Want to disinfect dishes, child’s toys bric a brac? Wash with mix of half cup of Clorox bleach in a gallon of water. Washing or dry cleaning solves that “long stored” smell in clothing. Airing stuff in bright sun works. I’ve bought designer clothing, designer linens, vintage linens, antique quilts, sterling flatware, vintage dishes, $950. window treatments for $20., antique cut glass, a car, a cat, three pet frogs in a bowl, fencing, garden sculptures, architectural salvage (now all installed in restored vintage buildings), books, paintings, prints, war souvenirs, a working antique gas stove, and tons more stuff, all vintage / used / pre owned / antique. Saved massive amounts of money this way, helped the environment, helped the balance of trade, and dressed better and surrounded myself with better things than almost anyone, while spending less. The British “priviledged class” recycles old family furniture, rugs, jewelry, silver, prints and paintings. The men wear “bespoke” (custom tailored) clothes, and they wear their shirts until the collars are worn through, they aren’t all that enchanted with “new and shiny” like Americans, and we are talking people with real money here who revere the preowned and think new and shiny is tacky beyond words. “Real Money” means people whose children are chauffered to school in a helicopter. I don’t mind the habits of the nouveau riche, they keep the American and Chinese economies functioning, but I refuse to particpate in the “new=good” syndrome. Nothing wrong with you buying new stuff though.

  32. kristine says:

    Even better than buying used- curb shopping! I have 10 gigantic planters in my yard growing produce, all in someone’s cast-aways. They are gigantic- and ornate- the kind that cost 30-50 a piece at home depot. Go used!

    Oh, it helps to “shop” in a rich neighborhood.

  33. Steffie says:

    Daughter got invited to 8th grade dance, need dress, thrift store less than a mile away, lots of selection, beautiful dress $8.00, happy daughter who won’t look like everyone else who went to Wally World etc ! I did notice though that in the last few years the prices have gone up at the thrift store, in some cases almost to the same as ‘new’ prices. Thrift stores got the message that they are becoming ‘popular’ among people with a bit more cash than the previous customers. And I like to read Johanna’s comments for the same reason I read a book, they are usually very well written discourses.

  34. Ohio says:

    I agree! I am delighted that it is finally yard/garage sale time! I have found some absolutely amazing deals and my friends are always shocked as our house looks like one you’d find in a magazine. Deals are out there, you just have to be willing to search. My husband and I love to do this together. We work entirely too hard for our money and love the feeling we get when we’ve scored a bargain!

    Love this post Trent!

  35. Evangeline says:

    Maybe if Johanna had her own blog she would quit harping on TSD.

  36. Kevin says:

    I don’t think Johanna is a troll or being “nasty.” While it’s true that she may often provide a “negative” viewpoint, I can’t ever recall reading one of her comments and thinking to myself, “that’s just not true, she’s way off base.”

    The truth is, Johanna is usually right. She’s not making stuff up, or factually incorrect – she’s right. It may not be the most positive way of looking at things, but her points are almost always valid, and she writes respecfully and constructively (for the most part).

    I think Johanna provides a useful counterpoint to Trent’s posts. I’ve read other blogs, and few things are more boring or useless than reading a post, followed by 100 comments that all just say “Great post!” “So true!” “Another home run!” *yawn*

  37. Stephanie says:

    Half of my daughter’s books and toys are used and so is 90% of her wardrobe and I constantly receive complements on her outfits (and discreet questions about how I can afford all that Gap, Mini Boden and Gymboree). Yay yard sales and consignment shops!

  38. Sandy L says:

    I actually love reading Johanna’s posts..and any others who frequently have an alternative point of view on a particular article. I don’t usually view it as criticism but a nice debate.

    I have found over the years that the best leaders almost always surround themselves with people that are much different from themselves. This allows leaders to see a more complete view of a problem or potential solutions vs just one point of view.

    As far as recycling articles goes, there are some topics I can read over and over even if I’ve read them 100 times. I’ll always read the “should you pay your mortgage off early articles” even though there hasn’t been anything really new about that topic in a while. This article falls into the oldie but goodie category in my book.
    Is it just me or are thrift stores getting pricey? I’d like an article ranking the various used venues of where to get the best deals vs time spent. Ie, yard sale may be the cheapest route, but also the most time consuming…ebay has better variety than craigslist, but then you have to pay shipping. My choices of where I look first really depends on how common the item is.

  39. laura k says:

    @Marta (#10): I think that’s the best comment I’ve seen on this (or maybe any) blog!

    Buying from a thrift store can depend on the quality of the store. Some of the “last resort” stores may have some pretty dingy stuff. There are several nicer thrift stores near me that I use for almost my entire wardrobe. When I’m near one, I pop in to see what is there, and I’ve found several pairs of Eddie Bauer chinos (the only ones that fit me well) over the years. They also frequently have overstock there, so you can buy brand new.

  40. Ward says:

    I quite enjoy shopping the thrift stores. The fun is in the hunt for a bargin. I have found numerous books for less than a dollar and found most of my clothes at thrift stores. You can usually find brand names there for less than the cheap junk in the big box stores. Happy hunting.

  41. t says:

    In truth, used merely means you’re finding a new home for something great. – Very similar to what I teach about budgeting – A budget is simply you in control of your money.

    Great advice – thrift stores are great sources of much needed items such as children’s clothing because they outgrow them so quickly. There are drawbacks anywhere when you need harder to find items, but in general you can find anything you want or need.

  42. Joan says:

    When I buy dishes or anything else that bleach won’t harm I immediately wash the item with bleach. I can go through a yard sale rather quickly and I only buy what I need, or for the collections of other members of the family. Estate sales are upper end quality; and they usually have half price sale on the last day. My son-in-law needed a really good suit for a wedding; and he is hard to fit. I directed him to a sale that had high end suits in his size and he bought all of them. He actually called me and thanked me for telling him about the moving sale.
    Johanna’s remarks seem unneccessary to me. If she doesn’t like what the subject is that day, she does have a delete button on her e-mail. People disagree with Trent all the time, in a constructive way and I always read those posts; sometimes I agree with some (never all) of what they say. I skip reading Johanna because I find her comments rediculous and negative. If Trent writes about something I’m not interested in; I still read the post or at least skim through the post because lots of time there is a sentence or a paragraph that catches my eys and I think, Wow–I never thought of it that way. I read the comments because there is also much more helpful information in the comments. Thank you everyone.

  43. Steve R says:

    When I sold my house I took a lot of clothes, dishes and furniture to the Sally Anne. All were in excellent condition. Some one was sure to get a real bargain. My only regret was that I didn’t have the time to sell the articles and make some money back.

  44. eh438 says:

    Trent, I hope you don’t feel you have to apologize for buying used things. It’s a kindness to the earth, to your budget, and to the many who learn from you. Plus, please permit me to confess that it has been so long since I used a “new” place to buy anything (except groceries), I forget they’re out there! Even my ‘new’ car was a 10-month-old dealer demo that came with a new car warranty and a $10,000 markdown. My sister only half-jokingly says that I get more mileage out of a dime that most people do from a dollar. Blessings on your enlightenment.

  45. andrea peck says:

    Finding good used stuff is an “art” form. We have been shopping at thrift/yard sales for years. My brother’s friends always wondered how my mom found the “good” stuff. So funny, because you just develop an eye and can scan aisles and piles after a while. I’ll never forget one time I needed a new pair of jeans and on a whim went to Goodwill. For $5.00 and five minutes (I now have the eye!), I found a pair of brand new, very expensive, perfect fitting jeans that I wore for at least two years before they either they started to wear or I got too big after having kids. What a scoop! (as my mom would say!)

  46. Mel says:

    I just wanted to say that in the UK, ‘pants’ means ‘underwear’. Reading this with my UK-filter on, I did do a double-take! :)

  47. Laura says:

    If people knew what kind of chemical residues are on the brand-new clothes and dishes, the used stuff wouldn’t seem any “ickier” in comparison. Also, for me buying a lot of clothes on Ebay is so much faster and easier (and, of course, cheaper) than going to the mall, I’m amazed more people don’t do it.

  48. Sonja says:

    I regularly shop thrift stores with friends. We make a day out of it and have a great time together. My best buy so far is a white gold ring setting. I had it cleaned up and put my own stone in it. My daughter, who is a gemologist, told me that it would retail for about $1,000. I paid around $2.50. Amazing. Most of the clothing and shoes I own are from thrift stores, but many of them were new, or nearly new, when I bought them. I’m going to go put on my $150, 7 For All Mankind jeans right now (for which I paid $6.50).

  49. Tony says:

    Here’s a tip for dealing with the “specificity” issue when trying to buy used. I set up “saved searches” on my local Craigslist. Basically, just do a search for an item like you normally would when checking Craigslist classifieds. As an example, search for “canon lens”. Your search results will show up (if there are any matches), and if you scroll down to the bottom of the screen you will see a link for RSS. If you use FireFox or Chrome, clicking on the link should ask if you want to subscribe to the feed using Google Reader. If you want to use a different reader, right click and copy the link and subscribe to it manually. Now, any new posts that match your search will be automatically pushed to your newsreader. I’ve found this to be a good passive way to keep an eye out for deals on niche items. A secondary benefit is that you get a sense of market prices over time. I used this method to help judge the market when I was selling my car last year. Hope this helps someone.

  50. WendyH says:

    My opinion is the difference between “used” and “second-hand” verses “vintage” and “antique” is in the price-tag and the mind-set of the person doing the purchasing.

    People are afraid of purchasing dishes that have been used or clothing that has been worn because they think it’s “dirty”, but I’ve seen the same people eat an apple without washing it first and not think it’s a big deal.

    I don’t mind negative comments as long as they aren’t ALWAYS negative. Unfortunately I have had a hard time finding any positive comments from specific people, so I don’t value their opinion as much as someone who finds a balance. How long ago was the post about the Cost of Negativity?

  51. christine a says:

    @#5 Chelsea
    For all those who think Johanna’s statements are trollish please read this one
    #3 Johanna @ 8:37 am May 18th, 2010
    Seems to me like there’s a step missing here. From his letter, it sounds like Archie hasn’t even spoken to his wife about the debts yet, and she doesn’t even know that he knows about them. Nor does he know how she came to run up the debt. The first step is how to broach the subject.

    My guess is that Archie’s wife already feels embarrassed and afraid about the debts, so approaching her with accusations (”You violated my trust!” “You’ve ruined our finances!”) aren’t going to do anything right now but make the situation worse. And Archie says he doesn’t want a big fight.

    I’m the last person who should be giving marital advice, but maybe he could try something like this: “I got a call the other day from Citi that made me worry, so I opened some of your mail. So now I know. And we are going to get through this, and it’s going to be OK.” Then take it from there.

  52. Sue says:

    For me, buying household items used from the thrift store is a little like renting them to try. I can try out that waffle iron or bread maker without much investment. I can discover what features are important to me, discover if I really use it often enough to warrent investment in a new or upgrade version. And of course, donate it back when I’m done. A couple years ago I had a desire to make fondue so found a fondue pot that looked brand new at the thrift store. I took it home, used it twice within a couple weeks and then never used it again. After a few months of taking up space in my cupboard it went back to the thrift store (and the cupboard space then was filled by that aforementioned waffle iron). I’ve found a variety of kitchen utensils or time savers in the thrift stores like you see on TV. I’m guessing people bought them from the TV infomercial and then didn’t like or use the item. Instead of paying $19.99 plus s/h, I can out try that chopper/salsa maker/all-in-one gadget for a fraction of the price. Anyway, that’s my relationship with thrift stores – try it used, figure out what you like, donate it back.

  53. marta says:

    Johanna’s comments aren’t even close to being trollish or “nasty”. Disagreeing is not necessarily trolling, people. Neither is expanding the advice from the post (as seen in the comment quoted by christine above).

    Some people seem to disagree most of the time they post comments, but that’s hardly surprising: some people don’t bother to comment when they feel they have got nothing to say.

    This is not news. This is what, the eight or ninth round of this debate? We should be due another one in three weeks or so.

  54. Chris says:

    Used doesn’t always mean “old”

    I buy all my gadgets “used” and at great prices.

    Macbook $300 (Craigslist)
    Mac Mini $200 (Craigslist)
    Ipod Touch 32gb $150 (Craigslist)

    For $300 instead of a Macbook the only new computer I could buy would be a greatly inferior netbook. The quality products are good new or used.

  55. Bob says:

    I normally go casual but needed some fancy duds for a couple of events. A quick trip to a Goodwill store netted me two new sport jackets, tags still on the sleeves, two ties and a shirt for less than $20.

  56. joel says:

    One thing I find when I go to thrift shops (mostly good will, our local salvation armor closed down) is that the majority of the items have been cleaned by the store. The clothes have been washed (I definitely wash when I get home but I don’t have to worry about them being gross at the store when I’m picking through.

    I also love having that ‘find’ of an item that I can flip. Recently I bought a never used vintage Zippo lighter… bought for a dollar and sold on ebay for $75. I have found many awesome items for the house and for my closet at thrift stores and I will always continue to do so. As the old saying goes, someone else’s junk is someone else’s treasure.

  57. Evita says:

    I appreciate Joanna’s comments because she is quick to write what I happen to think. She has common sense and a clear mind which will ferret out any contradictions in Trent’s posts.

    Actually, I am often more in agreement with her than with Trent, but I praise Trent for writing all those tought-provoking essays! Be sure Trent that I am reading and enjoying every one! even the recycled ones!

  58. valleycat1 says:

    I prefer thrift stores run by auxiliaries & women’s organizations (think Junior League, hospital volunteer guilds, etc) because a lot of their donations come from the members & tend to be a little more upscale. And their stores are usually smaller than the big-name places like salvation army & goodwill. I seem to end up buying skirts and kitchenware. Although I’m a voracious reader, I use the library almost exclusively for books I don’t plan to read more than once.

  59. Todd Carney says:

    I often buy used items, especially books, but I have decided to should not, as an ethical consideration, buy certain things used in thrift stores: cloths, vital household items, and important appliances. My point of view here is that there are a very large number of people who need the bargain much more than I. I have a good and almost bomb-proof income. I don’t really need the savings, but many do. If I buy a used article of clothing, I feel almost as though I’m taking it off the back of a needy person. I have also decided that demand for used clothing among those such as myself who have money to buy new clothing simply drives the price of used clothing up for the needy. Somebody needs to buy the new stuff and then make the donations to the thrift stores. Who should it be? People with a decent income or the working poor or unemployed? The answer seems obvious to me.

  60. I rarely, if ever, have time to visit yard sales because I always seem to be working on the best yard sale days. Plus I get frustrated if I do hit the yard sales because they are always picked over by the time I do get there. But I’ve found that the next best thing, at least for children’s clothes, is our local outlet mall. Brand new Children’s Place, Carters, OshKosh and Gymboree toddler clothes for $1-$2? (Not stained or irregular or poor quality, either…just last season’s leftovers). I have no problem doing that, rather than buying the cheap stuff at Walmart. My kid has many more name brand clothes than I do!

    Someday I will take vacation from work and have a yard sale to sell all this stuff…and it will be epic.

  61. Fashionista4real says:

    I am a budget fashionista, and I ADORE “thrifting”…yes we hipsters have a name for it. Its absolutely wonderful. I love the comment Trent made about the type of stuff he gives away. I am the same, I’ve turned some great stuff over to thrift stores. And I’ve also found some amazing finds. You have to keep an open mind, use a lot of patience, and in a lot of cases have a really “great eye” for good finds. I love clothes, and shoes, and my entire apartment was furnished with 2nd hand furniture, really trendy designer looking stuff and really fun items. I love it! Its fun, and I don’t break the bank! Thrifting rocks! Heck I’m wearing a blouse that I bought at The GW a few days ago..(THE GW..GoodWill) and I’ve received TONS of compliments on it!

    Great article Trent!!

    your fellow thrift store, secondhand purchasing enthusiast….

  62. walkamungus says:

    Don’t forget consignment stores. While you’ll pay a little more than at a thrift store, consignment stores are more aggressive about requiring things to be clean, in good condition, and not more than three or four years old.

  63. Crystal says:

    My friend and I actually had a lot of fun going clothes shopping at a big Goodwill in our area. Sure, we passed by a ton of things we wouldn’t wear, but I do that at Kohl’s and Dilliards too.

    We ended up spending about $30 each two years ago and I still love 4 of the 6 blouses to this day. I accidentally got stuff on 2 of them and just wear them around the house now.

  64. Skirnir Hamilton says:

    I also have to say that Thrift stores are more expensive than they used to be. I was looking for a simple polo shirt in my size. Found one at the Goodwill store for $5. Do you know Kohl’s new was $7? (BTW, did not buy either one. Hoping I can do better at rummages.)

    At one time I could go to Goodwill and get canning jars for $.10 then after they built the new store in our area, I went in and they were $1 each. Do you know you can go to the grocery store and buy a dozen for less than $1 each?

    St. Vincent de Paul has better prices in my area, but worse selection. Salvation Army does not have a place to try on clothing anymore. They relocated for some reason and have a much smaller store. If I went back to Salvation ARmy today though, that would be less of a problem, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what size I would be. Been doing the weight loss thing. (Not sure how much I can now, as I broke my toe last night.)

  65. Claudia says:

    Went “yarding” today. I bought some more baby clothes for our grandson due in Sept. Some of the clothes are SO clean! Where were the spit-up stains? Some outfits were brand new with the tags still on. I paid 25-50 cents each for brand new onesies and $1 to $2 for new outfits.
    Last week, DH and I bought a rattan sofa, chair ottoman and coffee table for our breezeway. I checked out the brand and new it would have been about $2400.00. We bought it for $110 and are now going to sell the new set we bought last year. Although a medium priced set, it has really cheap cushions and is no way as comfortable as the used set we bought.

  66. Claudia says:

    Yard, rummage sales etc are much, much cheaper than thrift stores like Goodwill. The Goodwill here I rarely go to as I can find clothes on sale in regular department stores for less. I do go to a couple church run thrift stores though. I find some really interesting knickknacks.
    At a yard sale, I found a set of silverplate flatware from the 1930’s for $10. I found the same set for sale on an antique site for $600.

  67. CaliforniaGirl says:

    Same as poster #5. I don’t understand why my comments, good or bad never make it through.

  68. Georgia says:

    I love to shop at thrift stores, but DH does not. He doesn’t like the way they smell. Only one hitch – the ones I like to shop at are 279 miles away. I do shop at yard sales, etc. & have found some great deals. Brand new sweaters for both of us (& the kids when they were still at home).

  69. Pat Chiappa says:

    I love buying used (smart) and have done so for 30+ years – everything from clothes, to furniture, books, appliances, you name it. But I don’t buy just to buy, I buy only when I need stuff.
    I’m a huge Craigslist fan and have been buying, renting, selling, job hunting, for years and just now had my first bad experience. Just last week I got my first clunker – a really loud washing machine. Yeah – it works, but it’s crazy loud. If it were to be run in the garage, it would be fine, but inside the house is a nightmare. But no problem, I’ll sell it myself, with full disclosure and look for another. I even asked for a partial refund, but the previous owner refused – oh well, if it were me, I would have done it.

  70. ellie says:

    I’m the same as #5 and #67. I’ve never had a comment get through. I think I’ve given up.

  71. Good points. I liked your punchline/ending. :)

  72. Carol Cripps says:

    My sitsters and I have our own name for Value Village, the major second hand store here. It’s the VV Boutique, and when asked where we got a specific item, half the time, that’ll be the response. I also buy books there, and housewares, if it’s something I need. I’d love to find a good stand mixer there, though! Most of my book-buying is fiction, and I often use the second-hand stores
    to “try out” a new writer, whose work I haven’t sampled before. Then, if I hate it, I’m only out a dollar, rather than ten. I’ll often find “an old friend” as well, of whose work I’m very fond. I once found a book printed in the 1920s, written by Thorne Smith (Topper) for a quarter. You can’t beat that with a stick!

  73. Karen says:

    I’m a hardcore yard sale shopper – out almost every weekend from the beginning to the end of the season. I love the thrill of the hunt and I also find tons of fabulous stuff (I post pics of my finds every week on my blog). The used items in my home far outnumber those bought new and I very much doubt the average person would be able to tell which was which.
    I love buying used because my home (and my wardrobe) is filled with many unique items I’ve found over the years and it feels distinctly “mine”, not like it just walked out of a catalogue. My dh and I were just discussing the other night how much we enjoy the fact that so many items in our home have a “story” behind them about how we came to own them (including quite a few that we reminisce about when and where we trash-picked them, lol!)

  74. teresa says:

    One thing I havn’t seen mentioned is that most Thrift Stores are non profit and so the money you spend there goes to help any number of charities. Even shopping at yard sales maybe helping out a family that is in need of a little extra cash. Just think about that when you lay down a bunch of cash for “new” stuff, you choose what you support with every dollar you spend.

  75. Mari says:

    @54 Todd – Thanks for an interesting point that made me think. I used to worry about taking deals away from those less fortunate but certainly have no worries buying clothes at Goodwill and Salvation Army and similar thrift shops, as those funds go to help people. Also, this kind of restraint (though noble) is unlikely to help all that much — in my experience, poor communities need infusions of cash and targeted services — it is rare that a shortage of inexpensive clothes is a poor person’s biggest problem.

    Another great reason to consider used clothes is that new textiles and clothing production causes environmental damage.

  76. leonard waks says:

    We buy every single garment except underwear at yard sales or thrift shops. People love our outfits because of their unusual quality. Why buy a dacron blazer from China at Walmart for $79 when you can buy harris tweed for $5. Really. Really. I have beautiful harris tweeds in a dozen tweedy colors, and when I go out someone will always come over, admire the cloth, and ask “Harris?”

    I still have the 1993 Plymouth Voyager that gets 23 mpg because its a stick shift! I would have traded it in during the Cash for Clunkers Rebate program, except it didn’t qualify as a Clunker. You can no longer get any regular mini-van with stick shift.

    We live below our means, don’t have credit cards or TV, and every day we have to pinch ourselves about all of our family blessings.

  77. mary says:

    Lots of great comments about buying used!! I get all my books at paperbackswap,Goodwill and lastly, the local library. Sometimes feel guilty about not visiting my friends at the library more often now.
    Haven’t seen anyone mention shopgoodwill.com,the Goodwill website. Love this site since they have a lot of vintage,quirky items from all over the country. Their prices aren’t dirt-cheap b/c of the shipping,but love their “going,going,gone” feature where you can bid on items that are close to auction end. I happen to like retired Vera Bradley bags and have found several that were barely used. It’s fun to look at some really WEIRD things that people have donated,too. Talk about cheap entertainment-LOL

  78. Stephanie says:

    This is a super helpful post, Trent! I have to admit: I’m often guilty of avoiding thrift stores because of the funky smells, the general dirtiness, and the lack of organization.

    That said, I think you have me convinced. Dirt can be washed off. Smells can be eliminated. And – treasures can be found.

    Your concluding paragraph solidified the argument.

    I’m going to give thrift stores and yard sales a second chance. :)

  79. Sacred Cow says:

    Goodwill has some great bargins, buying the time to explore all of those bargains with kids can be a hard nut to crack

    A good list of tips on how to shop goodwill with kids would be a nice appendice to this article

    for ex. When you bring the kids, make it fun by asking them to be your assistant ‘bargain hunter’; it’s easy to afford a little toy as a reward for patience at Goodwill, as well.

  80. Holly says:

    I have been a long time thrift store shopper.
    I have been complemented on my clothing only to shock the complimenter in response to their “where did you buy it?” question.
    On one occasion, a supervisor of a volunteer organization I worked for was suspicious of my designer jeans (she knew I was on a strict budget) and peppered me with statements such as “You can’t get jeans like that around here”, and “How can you afford designer jeans?”. Some people do not respect boundaries, nor have any clue as to how someone on a budget can “afford” something of quality.
    All in all, my experience with reactions to my thrift store choices have been mixed. I will always shop thrift stores. It is wise and responsible. I also contribute to thrift stores.

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