Months ago I was charmed to read Jen’s early forays into the world of thrifting. It was fun to see someone’s first foray into secondhand shopping, because I grew up that way. Glamorous as it sounds, taking people’s old used stuff home with me is in my blood. It’s a way to save money, sure, but also a way to help the planet and to avoid supporting unethical business practices. And don’t get me started on the thrill of the hunt!
1. Don’t buy toys at Goodwill. At our local Goodwills, the prices aren’t actually that great, usually, and the condition is mostly awful—broken, important bits missing.
2. If you’re with your children, don’t even browse toys at Goodwill. You’ll end up guilted into stuff you don’t need, which isn’t saving you money even if the toys are cheap. We do have one Melissa and Doug house with keys and a doorbell that’s been a big crowd pleaser with all of my kids, but even at the low price, if I take into account the dumb junk I’ve had to buy while browsing to get out of the store calmly, it’s probably not actually a deal. Other friends have better luck at our local charity thrift shops, but I’m ready to give up on the quest myself. Toys: that’s what grandparents are for.
3. For clothing, especially secondhand shoes, keep a list on your phone. I use the boring old Notes app on my phone, though my mom and I just started a shared Google doc for the things she’s helping me look for. I prefer to list what I already have rather than what I’m looking for, with a separate list for each child. Then buy in advance, as you come across good quality shoes. Sometimes I can waltz straight into a children’s consignment shop and emerge with exactly the shoes we need right this very week, but most of the time I have to be patient to get shoes that are a good price, good quality, and good condition.
4. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at gift shopping at the thrift store. I know it sounds grungy or cheapskate-y, but for the cost of a birthday card (often a lot less), I can find something lovely and thoughtful for a friend for whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a gift. It requires a major mental shift, though. You have to abandon the idea that you can substitute niceness for thoughtfulness — in thrifting, you can’t. No longer can you fall back on a nice gift basket of generic fancy soaps, or save yourself browsing time with a gift card. Instead, you’re putting all the emphasis on thoughtfulness, and that takes being on the lookout in advance. For kids this is easy: I just keep a stock of books in my office, books I pick up thrifting that are in excellent shape, titles we’ve loved ourselves. For grownups, it can be harder. A well-chosen book is often good for my bookish pals, and I also love gifting little things like milk glass vases, which you can often find for a song. Or you can pair a cookbook with a particular grocery store ingredient or an unusual kitchen tool.
5. Librarian pro tip: If you buy secondhand board books (and I think you should, although I didn’t always feel this way), you can allay your germ phobia by wiping each page down with a disinfectant wipe before handing it over to your drooler. Certainly don’t buy ones that are already ragged with teething marks, but a lot of people receive board books at their baby showers and then (I hope) just never let their babies touch them or worse (I fear) don’t touch them themselves, either. And board books are expensive!
6. When shopping for your own clothes, really insist on perfect fit. Unless it’s a dress for a special event, once you’ve factored in alterations, it’s not a deal anymore. If you can only wear it with some of your wardrobe, it’s not a deal, either. (I struggle a lot with finding shirts that are just a little short, because I have a long torso.) But if it’s dry clean only or has a small stain, it might be worth hazarding in the laundry — you’re only out $5 if it self-destructs. And be sure to look really carefully for sneaky holes.
7. Other things I haven’t (yet) bought secondhand and wouldn’t recommend thrifting: underwear; socks; bras (although I 100% will buy a rare-size nursing bra off a craigslist rando); wooden kitchen stuff I don’t feel like I could clean to my satisfaction. Limits must be respected—once in the throes of pregnancy misery I tried to buy (prohibitively expensive!!) anti-night sweat sheets secondhand on eBay and my sensible husband firmly put his foot down.