One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure: A Guide to Second Hand Shopping

Contrary to traditional consumer belief, the joys of shopping second-hand cannot be underestimated, and getting your hands on that much-needed item for less is very often only the tip of the iceberg.

Hitting thrift stores, charity shops and flea markets can open your eyes to some wonderfully unique gems and in some cases, items that are even rare or valuable. Why spend your time saving up to buy mass-produced goods from the high street when you can stumble upon some truly authentic and special hidden beauties for next to nothing? Whether you’re looking for a killer shabby-chic ensemble or an original addition your new apartment, cruising the second-hand market can often be the way to do it. So what’s the best way to ensure you’ll end up with something you can be proud of, without being ripped off?

Know What Can Be Bought Second-Hand

There’s a lot of scenarios where buying second-hand works really well. These include:

  • Putting a cheap yet striking outfit together
  • Unique gifts for friends (particularly when the items have a great back-story)
  • Collectibles (vinyl players; modern artwork; Victorian pottery…you get the picture)
  • When looks don’t matter, but function and practicality does
  • Things planned for a one-off use or short-term lifespan (books; DVDs; a mobile phone for travelling etc.)
  • Items that would ordinarily be expensive to buy first-hand (gadgets; appliances; tools).

However, there are items for which second-hand just won’t cut it, or isn’t necessary. These include:

  • Basic clothing like underwear; plain vests or t-shirts. These can be bought cheaply on the high street anyway, and they won’t have been worn by somebody else already.
  • Stuff that doesn’t compliment your personal style or existing decor. Just because it’s cheap, it doesn’t mean its automatically a bargain.
  • Items that look like collectibles (these are often rare to find or sold in specialist outlets and flea markets. Don’t fall for duds!)
  • Toiletries or make-up (you never how old this stuff is, and its probably not that hygienic).

Take Your Time and Be Prepared To Searchsecond-hand-vintage

Whether you plan on spending an hour or two in your local charity shop or are shopping for sellers on eBay, be prepared to take your time and peruse everything on offer. A large portion of stuff you’ll see being sold second hand will be total garbage – and its okay to think this. Amazing finds CAN be yours, but only if you’re willing to look for them.

In charity shops and markets, don’t be afraid to spend as much time as you want having a good rummage through what’s on offer. Be sure to look in all clothing sections for both sexes as very often clothes can be wrongly labelled or organised – and you might even something of the other gender that looks great on you. On eBay, spend time browsing different sellers, taking all of the product information into account and asking sellers lots of questions when needed.

Build Rapport With Suppliers and Sellers

Whether shopping on a second-hand commerce site or in a market or store, take the time to communicate with your seller and get to know a little bit about them. This might be telling them about your loves and preferences; asking for advice on a particular product, or asking them why they sell what they do.

Building relationships with these sellers means they’re more likely to point you towards the good stuff, and can give you an advance heads up when more similar stock comes into their hands. Over time you might even get a few discounts or sneaky bargains – not to be sniffed at!

second-hand-vintage-booksLearn the Stories Behind the Items

Do your best to learn the history of the items you wish to buy. How old are they? Who were their previous owner(s)? Where did it come from; how was it made? Not only will this tell you a lot about an item’s value and condition, it will also make for some pretty exciting stories to tell when people ask you where you got it.

When it comes to eBay or any other commerce site, reading all of the product information in detail should tell you the main things you need to know, such as its condition and why the seller is getting rid of it. However, feel free to get in touch with the seller directly to get to know more about the item in order to make a more educated decision. Responsible sellers on eBay love this and encourage buyers to ask questions as much as possible.

Don’t Let Yourself Be Overpriced

If an item looks shabby, well-used or worn, or has had a long shelf-life, then there’s no good reason why you should pay more than a few pounds for it. One of the underlying boons of second-hand shopping is that it ultimately saves you money. If you don’t feel like you’re feeling that benefit, don’t feel bad about walking away.

Claims that an item is vintage or was used by somebody famous should not have any bearing on your judgement without proper proof. Be prepared to haggle if you feel the price is too much.

Don’t Be Afraid to Restore and Repurposesecond-hand-brooch

Second-hand shopping isn’t always that glamorous, and very often you’ll have to imagine items out of context or with a little sprucing up. Picture how it would look teamed with another garment you already own; on the body of your favourite model or rockstar, or with a little shine and polish. This is usually the case for clothing, jewellery, ornaments, interior accessories or furniture that perhaps look a little unloved or uncared for.

You can get hands-on and make them over yourself, or get an expert to do it if it involves the work of a skilled seamstress or jewellery-cleaner. Meanwhile, you can try repainting, refinishing, combining or embellishing to make your find look good as new.


Other great places to buy (and sell!) used items are:

Preloved.co.uk

Freecycle.org.uk (for furniture and household items in your local area)

Oodle.com (for those who don’t like Craigslist)

eBay Classifieds