It’s no secret that while I am a frugal gal by necessity, I am not a member of the simplicity movement. Put simply, I like my stuff. I need, and want my stuff.
Admittedly I have done some downsizing, as have many empty nesters and retirees who move to smaller housing. I’ve eliminated some of the chaff from my life, but I still enjoy “things” as much as “experiences”. Dishes for every season, clothes, quilts, nice stuff for the house and garden are all part of my life. So what’s a gal on a fixed income to do when to do when she really wants a new cashmere sweater or Halloween themed dishes? In my case the answer is look for it in the second hand market.
Before you stop reading, let me say that used stuff gets a bad rap. We assume that if it is used it must be garbage, of poor quality, or in terrible condition. In fact, the opposite is often true. Generally, its quality that survives long enough My favorite day to day t-shirt is this brand, usually selling for twenty to thirty dollars new. I purchased the shirt for two dollars in the summer of 2007 at a thrift store. It was in excellent condition (I assumed the owner either lost weight or decided red was not her color). It is my favorite t shirt, still in good condition and it will hurt me when it finally is not wearable. That same summer, I bought two Lands End sweaters for three dollars each. Recently I purchased two Department 56 Christmas village pieces for ten dollars. They were working, with no damage other than the fact that they had no boxes-a problem for a person collecting for value, obviously. For someone who just wants to add to her extensive collection, no problem. In just the past few years I have purchased community silver, crystal, polish pottery, clothing, Longaberger, seasonal dishes and more. Almost all of these were bought at approximately ten cents on the dollar, maybe less. A new Department 56 piece like I recently bought would have sold for well over $100.00, just as an example.
This is where someone says “she may find good stuff, I never have any luck”. To that person I say simply this: Getting used stuff requires thinking and going about shopping differently. Shopping the used market requires its own set of tricks:
• You need to have a mental idea of what you want or need, if it’s only on a single sheet of paper you put in your wallet. I have a kind of running list and occasionally add on. I have both just noticed needs and things I always look very (really cool pots for the patio, for example)
• Know thyself and thy style- my house is casual, comfortable contemporary. No matter how much I might like the look of a certain item, if it’s not my style and I’m not in love with it (I don’t get it). In my case the exception is books and other things I buy for resale.
• You need to be patient and do without things that are not emergencies. In other words, make do and be willing to wait for that perfect item. Obviously there are times when we simply “have to have something” now. Most of the time, that’s not true. This is true even of the non-used market. I’m still looking for that cashmere or nice wool sweater set. I have yet to find it. But I have other things that look nice on me meanwhile and I know I will find it eventually.
• Think ahead in terms of needs. This really almost falls into the previous category. In my house, we brutalize coffee maker carafes on a regular basis. It’s no use trying to change, it is what it is. This means that if I see a carafe by itself, it’s clean and in good condition and the right size, I’m probably going to get it. I won’t wait until I drop the next one, o go the appliance store and buy or order a replacement.
• Shop regularly. Although this is one of the last hints, it’s probably the best one. In order to be successful shopping in the used market, you need to make stopping at those places part of your weekly and monthly routines. I have a thrift store I visit once a week. The time spent there is not long (I am very good at scanning) Some weeks that ten minutes ends up be unrewarding, and other times I end up with goodies that fill my car (such as two wooden quilt stands for twenty dollars).
• Get rid of the ick factor. Remember that people try on clothing before buy in a regular store, and that you have no idea of their hygiene or what they were wearing. Our hands generally carry the most germs, and often up to hundreds of thousands of hands have touched everything you buy. Detergent is cheap, as is disinfecting cleaner and dishwasher soap. Obviously we all have certain things we choose not to buy used. In my case that includes underwear, shoes (I have no fear of germs, but I have a certain way I walk and want to create my own “squishy” part of my shoe). I generally don’t buy used pillows or mattresses for the same reasons.
It’s rare that I find everything used. I still buy some new clothing and shoes on rare occasions, and all of my quilting fabric is new. But a walk around my home or my closet yields at least as many used items and new, and the chances are if you comment on something you see, I’m likely tell you that I found it at a flea market or a yard sale and had to have it. So please, especially if you are on a tight budget, consider giving the “second hand world” a chance. Given a choice between my two dollar shirt that’s lasted me six years and a ten dollar Wal-Mart item that lasts a year, I choose the former.
Coming up next-the best places to get used stuff.