Thoughtful Thrifting: 5 Good Reasons to Shop Secondhand

I still remember stepping out of the car and looking furtively around the parking lot, squinting in the sunlight and with the full throttle of a 12-year-old’s self-consciousness. Once I had ensured that no one I knew — not a teacher, classmate, parent of a friend, or someone recognizable from church — was in sight, I nodded to my mom. We crossed the asphalt expanse, pushed open the plate glass doors, and were greeted by a welcomed rush of cool, conditioned air and a familiar smell. We were back-to-school shopping at Goodwill.  

When I was younger, I had mixed feelings about shopping secondhand. While I dreaded seeing someone I knew at any of our local thrift stores — or worse, having a classmate catch me wearing an item they had donated! — even as a preteen I appreciated the delight of finding 75 cent tops and dollar jeans. Sure, it was a bit of a nuisance to sort through disorganized racks, but the effort was well worth it when I found that perfect pair of pink jelly sandals to accompany my dress-code abiding polo shirts.  

Like adolescent acne, any reservations that I once had about shopping secondhand have cleared away, and as a 20-something now, I have nothing but enthusiasm for thrift-store shopping. If you haven’t yet, it’s worth checking out the used-clothing shops in your area. Here are five good reasons why:

1. It’s environmentally friendly  

Shopping secondhand encompasses the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” mantra. Filling your closet with new-to-you clothes is one way to keep valuable resources from filling a landfill, and donating the pieces that you no longer wear is another. I’ve set a one-in-one-out rule that keeps my closet containable: I only shop at my favorite thrift stores if a bag of donations accompanies me, and I only buy as many new (to me) items as I’ve donated. I feel good knowing that even if my donations don’t sell at that particular store, they’ll likely be put to good use, some sold at bargain thrift stores (yes, even the Goodwill has outlets!), some sent to overseas markets with more demand, and some processed to be reused as filling for furniture or insulation.  

2. It breaks the link between commercials and consumption

In an age of internet pop-ups, commercial breaks, sponsored content on social media, and celebrity endorsements, advertising infuses the air that we breathe. Explicitly and implicitly,  companies entice us to buy their products, suggesting that a happier/healthier/more attractive life is no more than a click away. It’s easy to buy into the myth that the we need to have the latest, hippest purse or sneakers, even if our good sense tells us otherwise, and shopping secondhand is one way of actively resisting this myth. When I shop at thrift stores, I often find many gems, and they’re not the ones I was told to buy through a commercial.  

3. You can save a lot of money

It’s rare that even the best clearance rack can beat the $4 blouses and $6 jeans that you can snag secondhand. Consignment stores don’t typically offer as low of prices as thrift store chains like the Salvation Army, Savers, and Goodwill, but they are more consistently stocked with stylish, barely used items and you can often find designer and other high-quality goods for a fraction of their original price tag. I head to a consignment store when I’m looking for something specific (skinny black dress pants that look new, with preferably no belt loops, in my size) or a particularly special item (I found my wedding rehearsal dress at a consignment store).  Online consignment retailers like ThredUp are a great option if you don’t have a store nearby, or if you crave the convenience of a search bar that makes finding a little black dress as easy as typing those three words.  

4. It makes ethical shopping an affordable possibility

Ensuring that the brands you purchase aren’t made in sweatshops or that your favorite companies’ materials were fairly sourced are two ways to consume ethically. However, these practices can also be expensive and time-consuming. Thrift-store shopping offers an alternative option. Through purchasing used goods, you’re not creating a fresh demand for inexpensive clothing. Buying secondhand cuts out ambiguity when shopping with labor justice and the environment in mind.

5. It’s one way to support good causes and local shops.

Many thrift stores are nonprofit organizations whose proceeds from selling donated items are directed toward charitable causes, like homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or health centers. Other thrift stores make it their mission to provide job training and employment to people with disabilities. And many consignment shops are local, family-owned operations. You can feel good about shopping at any of these establishments.  

No matter which way I look at it, secondhand shopping offers tremendous benefits. And so just as my mother initiated me into the circle of bargain-hunting, environment-supporting, and ethical-trade-seeking enthusiasts before me, I’ll keep introducing friends to the wonders of used clothes. The occasional eye roll as I wax poetic about the glories of thrift stores is more than worth it when I finally succeed in taking them shopping and see their eyes land excitedly on a pair of two dollar pink jelly sandals, which, incidentally, are back in style.  

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