November 15, 2012

My Cheap Addiction.

Mac’s second-hand shop in Boulder Creek

I’m just addicted to buying cheap things.

That’s the diagnosis one of my toddler playgroup friends gave me the other day, when, once again, I was bragging about another great toy I bought for my son in a thrift store.

T-shirt I found in a swap meeting

I must admit I get a thrill from buying something cheap, in good or great condition, with a low impact on the planet.

Today is America Recycles Day, so I thought I would share a bit of my experience as a second-hand shopper, especially recently with our new addition to the family.

America Recycles Day is great opportunity to have a close look at our consuming habits and in which ways we can all make that extra bit of effort to reduce our carbon footprint.

I have to say I’m still puzzled however by the choice of sponsors for the event: PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, Nestle—not the greenest of companies I would have thought…

A trip down toy shopping hell

Everyone tells you that having children is expensive. Every year statistics come out calculating how much a child costs in his first year. If you buy everything new, the figures can be pretty scary. One thing I was not aware of—how many toys and books children need to keep themselves entertained and stimulated.

I quickly discovered that what the toy market had on offer nowadays was well marketed, overpriced plastic toys, made in China. I came out of my first trip to Toys R’Us feeling dizzy and sick. Navigating through the aisles I was overcome by the tackiness, cheap quality, the unnecessary hideous colors, and the unbelievable price-tags. These toys don’t only cost you, they also cost the planet.

I spent hours online trying to find earth-friendly wooden toys not made in China. As beautiful as some of them are, and as much as we wanted to support local manufacturers, we just really couldn’t afford them.

Timeless gems you find in thrifts

Cheap thrills

This is when my knowledge and skills for second-hand shopping came in handy. I’ve been buying in thrift stores for years, for clothes, household goods, yarn, fabrics, books, DVDs, you name it. When I need something specific I turn to eBay.

The keys to second-hand shopping are patience, planning and persistence. It’s also hugely fun and it can become an adult-sized treasure hunt.

When a need comes up, the challenge is to find that “somebody somewhere” who’s getting rid of what you want. It can be really helpful to plan in advance and have a system. For example, this year I’m trying to get second-hand or handmade Christmas presents. I buy most of my yarn and fabrics on eBay or at the thrift. For the rest, I have a list ready, and the quest has started a few weeks ago.

My top seven second-hand shopping options:

eBay: Or, second-hand bargain-hunter heaven. A lot of people use eBay to declutter their house so it keeps the prices reasonable. This is a real case of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. All regular eBayers have their tricks to snatch the perfect match. Mine are creating lists of things we are always looking for: wooden toys, size XL men’s wear, or a specific brand of yarn. It’s useful to prepare a good selection of saved searches indicating specific brands, size, material, make, etc. Another great way to find bargains is by buying bundles and joblots.

Hand-me-downs:For bigger things, you can advertise your needs. Let your friends and family know what you’re looking for. They might have it in their attics or know someone who does.

Photo: Diane Worth

Swaps: Some schools and children’s centers organize swaps. Children outgrow clothes and toys quickly and parents are happy to swap for bigger sizes and more age-appropriate toys.

Exchange: For toys again, you can swap with a friend, so that both your children discover new toys.

Car boot sales and yard sales: This is one of the cheapest way to buy all sorts of things. They’re especially good for children’s stuff. Keep an eye out online and check out the ones close to you.

Charity shops/Thrifts: A good trick I found is to get familiar with what they are good at. Some are great for books, some for clothes, others for household or furniture. You need to visit them regularly and sometimes it might be worth checking at what time they usually display new items.

Freecycle/Craig’s list free ads: Nothing beats free. When we lived in Canada, my husband lost his job two weeks before moving into an empty flat and we had no furniture at all. We completely relied on Craig’s list. There are some truly generous and kind people out there.

Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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