Treasure Hunting: Why Secondhand Shopping is Sustainable.

When I was young I was a treasure hunter.  I grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton books filled with exciting adventures and discoveries of ancient treasures.  I made up my own treasure maps and buried them in the ground.  I trailed behind my older neighbour friend who had a metal detector, to watch him find treasure.  I searched through jars of pennies to find old ones.  I dug through 100 year old dumps to look for ancient (albeit broken) china.  I searched through bags of hand-me-downs with thrills of excitement.  And I would shop at the only old antique/junk store my tiny town had, looking for fantastic finds.  I blame it in part on my reading, in part on my frugal parents, and in part on my aunt who could kick start excitement in any child while touring ghost towns and antique shops. 

Today I still treasure hunt.  I don’t bury or search for ancient treasure maps anymore.  I don’t bother with a metal detector.  And you will no longer find me peering into old, abandoned houses with my aunt.  But you WILL find me wandering through thrift stores with my radar on high.  Treasure doesn’t mean buried gold ingots anymore.  It means unique decorating ideas, clothes that were never worn out, and kitchen utensils that most people think they will use and never do, like clay baking dishes and canning jars.  Treasure means old Fisher Price toys that I grew up playing with and that are still around because they were made well.  Ice skates for my children’s ever-growing feet.  Old story tapes that my kids will listen to over and over and over.  And so on. 

Treasure hunting serves a variety of “green” and “frugal” purposes.

  • First and perhaps most importantly, you are reusing, instead of buying new.  There is so much unwanted STUFF in our landfills.  New furniture is cheap, and with payment options and deferrals, most people buy new rather than secondhand. Buying secondhand gives these items a new life and keeps them out of the landfill for longer.  Our disposable society can only last so long.  Already over-full landfills are causing huge problems.  Buying secondhand is one way of keeping something else from heading to the dump. 
  • Secondhand shopping saves you money.  Ever looked on craigslist?  There are SO MANY of the same kind of things there, that the price HAS to be low or it won’t sell.  I know someone who bought new furniture, kept it for about a month, and then decided she didn’t like how it looked in the house so she bought MORE new furniture.  Her items were available on craigslist for a fraction of the initial cost and it was basically brand new.  Baby and child items are a great thing to find secondhand, since they aren’t always over-used.  I buy almost all our kids books at thrift stores because they are cheap, and it doesn’t matter as much if a page gets torn out. 
  • Secondhand shopping reduces your carbon footprint.  Secondhand items have already been made, packaged, shipped and sold.  That means that the item you are buying does not have to use up valuable natural resources, add extra pollutants to the environment during its manufacturing, or jeopardise the health of over-seas labourers who are working under pathetic conditions.    The money will not go into the pocket of big business. 
  • Secondhand shopping gives you the opportunity to find things that aren’t even available anymore.  Antiques are a good example of this.  Vintage clothing and toys.  Old books that are no longer published.  And if you are sentimental like me you’ll find things you had when you were growing up that you think are better than their later replacements. 
  • And finally, if you are shopping at thrift stores a portion of your money will go to a charitable organisation to help others.  Ask your thrift store to find out who benefits from their sales. 

There is still a bit of a stigma attached to secondhand shopping and I am doing my best to eradicate it. I know people who refuse to set foot in secondhand stores because they are above buying people’s old things.  The thing is, thrift stores aren’t just for poor people who can’t afford anything else.  They are for shoppers who want to make a difference.  Who want to green their purchases and reuse things that have absolutely nothing wrong with them. 

My love of treasure hunting has been passed on to my own children.  Secondhand shopping is a regular part of their life.  I hope that my children will never be looked down upon for it.  And I hope that secondhand shopping will develop into an integral part of the REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE mantra so we as a society can make better use of our purchases and live in a more sustainable manner. 

Common sense requires buyers to beware:  do your research.  You don’t want to end up with a recalled car seat or crib, or toys so old they are painted with lead paint.  Also, bedbugs are a growing concern in secondhand stores just as they are in hotels and other areas. 

This post has been linked to The Prairie Homestead’s Homestead Barn Hop. Frugally Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Attainable Sustainable’s Patchwork Living, I Thought I Knew Mama’s Green and Natural Link Up, Common Sense Homesteading’s Living Well Blog Hop #26, Our Simple Farm’s Simple Living Linky and Natural Parenting Group: Monday Blog Hop.