Do you thrift? You do if you’ve ever been to a store that sells previously owned goods like clothes, electronics, furniture, books, or music. You do if you’ve ever used an online used goods site like eBay, Etsy, or Craigslist. Ever shop at a consignment store? That’s thrifting. You can even call yourself a “thrifter” if you’ve donated items to an outreach organization like Goodwill.
The world of thrifting is large and growing. It includes people from all walks of life, all nations, and every possible interest. Some people intentionally shop for thrift at every possible opportunity because thrift merchandise is much less expensive than what they would pay in a retail store. Others shop at online thrift stores to make a statement about sustainability and the environment. What is thrifting? The thrifting definition is purchasing second-hand goods rather than new ones.
To get the most out of the thrift experience, it’s good to step back and take a look at the whole thrifting world: the concept, what they offer, how they offer it, and what impact it can have on us and our world. Some surprises are in store as we take a close look at the benefits of thrift shopping.
If you’re wondering if thrifting is a really good idea, here are a baker’s dozen reasons that shopping in-person or online for thrift is a good idea. We’ll unpack some of these ideas more as we go forward. Remember that this list is just for you: reasons you personally will benefit from thrift shopping. We’ll also explain why it’s suitable for lots of others as well.
You can find practically any item that was once new and either sold or was available for sale in some type of thrift setting. It’s important to know that some items that could have sold legally in the past are now illegal. For instance, merchandise made of an elephant’s ivory is only available for sale under certain very specific conditions. Food, drink, and medicinal items with dates also have sales restrictions. Apart from such exclusions, retailers can resale virtually anything.
Many thrift markets specialize in what they offer. In-person or online consignment stores may specialize in name brand designer clothing or high-end furniture. Non-profit brick-and-mortar stores may seem to have a little of everything, but a close look reveals they specialize in clothing, furnishings, and household items.
Recent years have seen a burgeoning list of new web-based second-hand retailers. Many of these maintain lists of items that they do not allow posting for sale. Internet search engines are quite effective at finding sites that will enable the sale of specific items, whether you desire to purchase a specific piece of merchandise or sell it. (check out or selection of the 23 Best Online Thrift Stores)
Some shops specialize in acquiring brand new items that failed to sell the first time at big-brand retailers. They often deeply discount overstocked merchandise such as this from the original retail price. Fortunately, such merchandise often comes with an intact factory warranty.
This is the age of home goods stores that specialize in selling discount clothes, shoes, electronics, and decorations. A close look at the price tags on these items often reveals markdowns, new labels placed over old labels, or partially removed tags. This merchandise probably started at a large, fashionable department store and, when it didn’t sell or the marketing season changed, they sent it to a deep discount store—a thrift marketer.
The practice just discussed for for-profit stores buying inventories from more prestigious retailers is only one of the many types of thrifting organizations today. We could go so far as to say that any merchant offering any form of used goods is a thrift marketer. Of course, that would mean yard sales and pawn shops are thrift destinations. Rather than getting that far into the weeds, let’s take a look at the significant versions of thrift marketers.
The one aspect of thrifting about which there is universal agreement is that thrift shopping to buy and sell is environmentally beneficial. Thrifting is the essence of sustainability. Every item purchased is one less item that makes its way to a landfill or which negatively impacts the planet in other ways.
For instance, the “fast fashion industry,” of which so many appearance-conscious individuals are enthralled, produces over 15 million tons of waste annually. According to the New York Times, if this material is not donated or recycled, the industry often burns the excess - 85% of it. The polymers in the burned material emerge as air and water pollutants. Of course, these pollutants prove unhealthy for breathing. But additionally, the microfibers often end up in the ocean where fish consume them, who are, in turn, consumed by human beings. What is true for textiles, in principle, is also true for other forms of merchandise as well. With this in mind, it’s good to know that every resale item you purchase is a form of recycling.
Also, to the extent that buying used clothing online or in brick-and-mortar shops means there is one less item you need from the retail store. As such, thrifting diminishes the need for the sort of new clothing that fast fashion mass produces. While this might seem to imply merely a small overall impact, note that up to 17% of shoppers each year use local thrift shopping in place of regular retail purchasing.
Thrifting is also good for the human environment. Through both in-person and Internet sales, thrifting provides direct jobs. Also, it promotes the continuous circulation of usable items, which implies the need for more workers in ancillary positions: movers, shippers, clerks, IT professionals, warehouse workers, launderers, and repairmen and women.
Consumer sales stimulate the economy. In fact, 70% of the economy of the United States is made up of consumer sales. We are all abundantly aware that many retail sales practices are not environmentally friendly and are not sustainable. Thrifting demonstrates that consumer sales can be healthy for the environment and simultaneously healthy for the economy—to the tune of $18 billion a year.
Beyond all the reasons listed above for why thrifting is beneficial, there are many other reasons thrifting has become popular. However, we should recognize that thrifting has been popular for the last 120 years since first introduced in North American and Europe, from where it spread around the globe. In the previous 25 years, the Internet has caused this long-prevalent practice to grow exponentially in popularity. There are several important realities behind this growing popularity.
The Internet makes locating unique, specific items and acquiring them much more practical and possible. Thrifting makes those items affordable and provides a more sustainable purchase option.
Thanks in no small measure to social media, trends in fashion and accessories now go viral globally. Thanks to the Internet, the second-hand market, and DIY suppliers (think Etsy) can respond to these trends by promoting the available merchandise sought by consumers.
Thrifting has also enabled treasure hunting. A growing number of entrepreneurs seek out brick-and-mortar shops and search online for underpriced brand name items they can purchase and remarket. Flipping is not just for houses anymore.
When it comes to furnishings, especially for new home buyers or those living on their own for the first time, thrifting makes it possible for the décor in your residence to “hold hands.” In times past, people often settled for whatever piece of furniture or needed accessory was available and affordable. This style of decoration was often called “early marriage.” With the advent of online thrifting, matching accessories and furnishings are readily available and affordable—and often, shipping is free.
Essentially there are two basic ways to thrift shop: in-person or online. Several factors will help you determine which of these is better suited to your needs. First, do you know precisely what it is you’d be looking for? It’s okay to answer, “No.” Casual, patient browsing is allowed. And nobody is going to hassle you, either in a brick-and-mortar shop or on the Internet. If you’re just browsing, any local shop in your community will serve. Online, search for web-based thrift that has the sort of items that intrigue you.
If you do know to an extent what you’re looking for, you have to ask whether or not a second-hand shop in your community is likely to have your item. If so, the best course of action is to plan your schedule so you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the available merchandise. Who knows, you may discover something you weren’t even looking for. Or an item that you “can’t live without” and you want to leave plenty of time to talk yourself into buying it.
The greater possibilities these days, however, are found online. There is an astounding number of resellers out there. The best way to proceed is to launch an Internet search for that item you want. It will take you to a website where you can use the site’s filters and FAQs to your heart’s content. (click here for our picks of the best online thrift)
Thrift shopping is a creative process. It’s interesting to note that early 20th-century mission workers used thrift to teach newly arrived immigrants how to manage money and understand American fashions and habits. Just so, thrift shopping today offers a clear, enlightening vision of American culture at a particular time of dynamism and change.
Beyond the fun and the multitude of benefits, thrift shopping quietly transforms our attitudes and undermines our negative prejudices. Many of us frown upon second-hand merchandise, notably clothing. For this reason, it’s worth noting that resale clothes have been scorned in the past, only to prove their worth repeatedly. Thrift helped overcome the stigma of used clothing in the middle of the 20th century when synthetic fibers began to be used commonly in new fashions.
Many individuals sought out resale shops to purchase items they otherwise could never have afforded. Others turned to thrift to snatch up styles they loved that were out of fashion and unavailable in retail stores. Thrift proved its worth for families in the early fall enabling many parents to afford clothing to send their kids back to school.
They are thrift sites of endless possibilities, joyful creativity, and perpetual hospitality. Thrift stores will always welcome you, even if you can afford to shop anywhere you want.