Recreational Thrift Shopping

As you all know by now I like to encourage people to buy secondhand rather than new. This is better for the environment. Of course I encourage you not to buy at all wherever possible because most of what people do buy is absolutely unnecessary.

Now let me combine those two ideas. What are the potential outcomes of recreational secondhand shopping? Yesterday’s eco tip gave you the answer to this question.

  1. When you buy something secondhand that you don’t need you are potentially forcing someone else, who has a need for the item, to buy new.  Also that someone may not have a lot of cash to throw around and may have to go without because they can’t afford to pay new prices.
  2. While the item you buy secondhand that you don’t really need will become just another potential clutter item in your home. You may not think this while you are enjoying the moment of acquiring but think about it now. What feelings run through you while seeking, finding and purchasing? Are they feelings of need – as in actual need, or feelings of need – as in I NEED to have that. How often people get confused between need and want.

I know a couple who spend most of their time scouring the thrift shops in search of potential bargains. They regale me with their stories of what beautiful things they buy and what bargain prices they get them at. I often ask them ~ “So are you going to sell it on and make a good profit?” The answer is always no we will keep it in the house with the rest of our stuff. They rent two homes and both are packed to the rafters with only enough space to move around.

This is all very well and good for them if they are happy to be hoarders, which they are. However it drives me spare when I think of all the lovely furniture and useful items just hidden away being of no use to anyone. The only purpose these items serve is that the owners are delighted with their bargain and know it is buried somewhere among the clutter.

So if you have things cluttering up your home, hidden away in closets, attics, sheds and basements, think about releasing them to someone who will really appreciate them. Lets just hope that the new owners aren’t someone like the couple I mentioned above. I also hope that if you are visiting the thrift store you are only there for something you really need or are dropping stuff off.

Today’s Mini Mission

Start using up greeting cards and wrapping paper rather than buying something new for every occasion. I have noticed that many people have a stockpile of these sorts of items but still buy new more often than not. Time to reduce the stockpile and leave only enough in case of emergency. It is the thought that counts and what you write in the card that matters most anyway.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, this is a good one. I have some friends who do this with yard sales. Every Friday morning they go hit these sales and then tell be about the great buy they made. Their garage is full of things they bought but don’t use. It’s sad because they really don’t need these things. I think they only do this because it is something fun they can do without the granddaughter they have taken custody of and drop off at school before they “shop”.

    • Hi Deb J, I think you are right it just becomes a fun thing to do. I dare say they have a great appreciation for the items and the bargain but that is usually where the story ends. I used to love garage saling myself so I understand the thrill of getting something useful for a great price. I am pleased to say I got lots of use out of most of the things I bought but ~ did I need them? No!

  2. Hi Colleen, I have recently discovered your blog and love it. I was wondering if you could include a pinterest button? I would love to post some of these on my simple living / minimalism board.

  3. A bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it, want it, or use it.

    • Exactly Cindy. The trouble is they always want it, they just don’t always use it. The thing is that if the item wasn’t a bargain it would be passed by and never missed but once they have it in their possession it becomes just that, and only that sometimes, a possession. The biggest novelty of the item was the price and always will be is the price.

      • I love fleamarkets, too but I learnt two things along the way: 1. Don’t go if there is absolutely nothing you are looking for (for some Magic reason I can come Home empty handed when I focus ob what I really want/Need whereas I might buy some knickknack if I am aimlrssly browsing)
        2. don’t ask for prices out of curiosity. some Things are so chesp you just can’t resist then. Ignorance is bliss 😉

  4. I used to love to stop at yard sales to see what was there but now as I drive by the yard sale sign, I pat myself on the back for not stopping. I am so proud of myself. All I’d be doing is adding to the clutter still at my house. If I am really looking for something specific, I try to make do without it or make something else work in its place.
    At Christmas, I purchased some clothing from a catalog and they sent me a gift of softsided luggage. I immediately donated that in my pick up for the Salvation Army. I did not need it and I knew someone else could purchase it at a good price and it would be brand new. Whenever there is a free gift when I order office supplies, my boss says I can have it. It goes straight to my donation box. I have gotten some nice things this way and I’m happy that another person can have something new.

    • Hi Maggie, if free gifts are offered in store I just politely refuse to take them. I think sometimes the staff think I am crazy. Little do they know I am not the crazy one.

      • Colleen, are you positive?? 😉

      • I do the same thing, Colleen, refuse the freebie. The clerks tend to look at me funny. I guess there aren’t many people that turn down the freebies.

        I never know whether to chuckle or be annoyed though, when after I refuse a freebie, my husband volunteers to take it!

        • Hi Becky, I bet they do not have too many people who don’t want their freebies. I love the looks on their faces sometimes. I did this when making a memorial day donation one day and the young high school student who was taking the donations thanked me profusely like my donation was better than the rest because I didn’t expect anything in return. I think that is the only time a person saw the situation as a positive thing.

          As for husbands taking freebies I would be annoyed. Mine came back with a whole pile of stuff from a TEDx talk in Sydney last week. My daughter was happy to take the first class airplane toiletries bags off our hands but I am not sure what is happening with the rest of the “junk”.

  5. Great post….I do frequent both thrift stores and yard sales but I am very disciplined and only get things that I make something out of to resell. Many times I come out empty handed because I know what I need but have to shop often to find the “new” stuff that may have just come in. 🙂 Ironically, I did today’s mini mission a couple of weeks ago after my husband announced to his family we were no longer exchanging Christmas gifts starting this year. So, no need for the mountains of gift wrap I had. Gave lots to a friend with a big family and combined my everyday and C’mas wrap into one box. I hope to get down to using only the comic section of the newspaper for my everyday wrap. Young and old alike get a kick out of it!!! We always reuse the wrapping paper anyway and I’ll get the same gift bag many times from my family ! 🙂 I didn’t even go out to get Mother’s Day cards this year! I used up homemade tags my mom made from the tops of greeting cards with a handwritten note! My husband and I made a pact to only give “love notes” on the major holidays (to each other) instead of buying cards….even though we got them 2/$1.00, it wasn’t so much the cost but the waste.

    • Hi Kim, buying to resell makes sense. That is a business not hoarding. I have been tempted to do this myself at times but there are only so many hours in the day.

      I love that your husband announced to his family we were no longer exchanging Christmas gifts starting this year. That is the sort of potentially tricky duty that often falls to the wife. Good for him and for you. It does cut back on the requirement for wrapping paper that’s for sure. My family and family-in-law came to this agreement a few years ago and we all love it. If we are together we do a Secret Santa where everyone buys and receives one gift but when we aren’t we just send cards and phone. For out kids birthdays they usually end up wanting money for something, or concert tickets or the like so usually very little gift wrapping involved there either.

      • Colleen,

        I have a question for you. Do you get gift cards for your parents and in laws for Christmas or for birthdays and Mother’s day and Father’s day? Do they do things for your birthday? Are they offended if you don’t send them gifts or gift cards? It seems as people get older, they have enough money for what they want and can buy it themselves. Also, do you have people who send cards, but expect gifts? This is a touch subject with some people. I would appreciate hearing other people’s experiences.

        • Hi Marianne, good line of questions. As all my siblings got married and some of us moved away we all just stopped buying gifts for each other. We bought for the nieces and nephews to begin with but then they got to be too many so we all stopped. That just left parents. We found ourselves mailing money to each other at birthdays and Christmas when my family moved to the USA, then we continued on with that habit when we returned to Australia because postage is expensive. A few years back I decided this was ridiculous and asked my parents and in-laws what they thought. We all agreed that we would just send cards. This makes sense for those who can afford their own stuff and for those who can’t because it all works out equal in the end anyway.

          So no, clearly I have practical family members and have never had a problem with them being offended by this. I do however have a friend who is inclined to lavish people with gifts including me. She knows me well now though and complies with my wishes buy either taking me out for a treat on my birthday or giving me something with the receipt attached so I can return it if I like. We don’t discuss whether I keep things. For her I do the same unless there is something that I know she will really appreciate that is consumable. It may seem that she is the one making all the concessions in this arrangement and that would be true enough. However she has multitudes of other loved ones in her life that she can lavish gifts on and I figure one less isn’t much in the big scheme of things. She ribs me about it of course and her and my daughter gang up on me about it at times but we a such good friends that all is taken in good humour.

      • Colleen, I think you are Smart Not to buy for resale. Making it a business and hoarding really are so Close together in that field and I fear it’s Not too few resellers who slip into Harding before they nötige because buying is so much less Time consuming and fun than selling.

        • You are so right Ideealistin. I know a friend of a friend who used to be a secondhand dealer. She stopped selling but she can’t seem to stop buying and now her home is that of a hoarder from all accounts. I have tried to give her some advice but although she seems to listen I don’t think it makes a difference. She needs more help than I can give. One has to be ready for help.

        • I agree completely. Think of all the time it takes to acquire things to resell. You can make money, but aren’t there things you would rather do with your time than churning clutter in order to make a buck? Why not spend the time doing something you love or taking care of the things you have. Unless you are struggling financially, it just doesn’t seem worth the time. It is an addiction like couponing. It is good to ask yourself why you do what you do. I guess when it is all said and done, do you want people to remember you as a nice, kind person or someone who could get a great deal.

  6. I have recreationally shopped at thrift stores on occassion, but never in the excess that you are discussing here. Occassionally I would decide that I’d like a new (to me) outfit even though I didn’t really NEED one and I’d go browsing the thrift shop near my house. I would wear the new outfit though. I suppose on occassion I still do that, but far far less than I used to. Currently I have 4 pairs of pants that I can wear to work. I don’t NEED another pair, but I have been kicking around the idea of browsing for another pair in the next 2 months if time allows as it’d be nice to have a lighter weight pair for the summer and I would use them.

    • Totally acceptable thrift store shopping there I would say Melissa. That is how I shop for clothes these days too. Better to buy secondhand than new but in moderation.

  7. Hi! I don’t think shopping should ever be considered a recreational activity. Of course people feel a surge of well being when they buy a nice object for 1 tenth of its original price. But why do it? Because people have distanced themselves of real recreation and leisure time. I think, as has been said here before, that we have been conditioned, by our cultural outset, by media, that we can only “be” when we buy. And searching bargains is a way to feel a “victory” (buy more and pay less – acquire more stuff). People who think that recreational shopping is a nice way to spend time, have to really want to change their ways. It took me a long while to understand that I could be happy, even though I was not buying every item I ever fancied in my lifetime, and I think because I am not buying I am happier. I agree with you Colleen, wholehearted, that if you don’t need anything then you don’t buy anything. However, as a whole, our society not only encourages over consumerism, but applauds it vigorously. Whereas when you start preaching that buying too much is a problem, many people think you are deprived and that is why you are advocating such harsh measure.

    • Andreia, I whole-heartedly agree with your analysis – – the “be” and the “victory”. The downtown area in my town is all cute boutiques and coffeeshops and I never walk the few blocks from my office to wander around. Why? I do not want to be tempted. My boss took me out to lunch a few weeks ago and I was looking in the windows thinking how cute everything looked and then I wanted to throw my hands over my eyes to shut it all out! Here I’ve been trying to get rid of things that I never use and that someone else may have a use for and in the blink of an eye, it was me with the “wants”. Ugh.

      When I first started talking about Colleen’s blog to a friend and to my mother as well, I got some funny looks. That’s okay. This is working for me. I enjoy the cleaner look. What it means to me (and I am only referring to the living room at this point) is that when I look around, everything in the space is there because I want it to be and because I love everything in the space.

      Oh Colleen – do you recall when I said that we had just bought a new work coat for my husband and then I found in the attic the new one we bought last year? He just got his Safety Award at work and (palm slap to the forehead), he got another work coat and a leather jacket. Hubby is not really a leather jacket guy but he thinks it is grand so I’ll see if I can gently pry it from his hands. LOL

      • Well done resisting temptation Michelle. But Oh Dear those coats. Time to make him choose his favourite/s and send the rest to the thrift store. My husband has been a little guilty of bringing stuff in lately also. Being as he is the keenest about downsizing to travel I don’t understand how he then has become the saboteur of our previous efforts. I think I will have to use that wording in a conversation about it this weekend.

      • Michelle – if they are in good condition, what about selling them on ebay and then getting him something he’d really like and use a lot?

        • Ever since I found this blog (which was during the wintertime), I started a “pile” of stuff in the attic for a yard sale, which I hope to have before the end of June, but the remodel is taking up a lot of my free time. My plan is what can my favorite cat rescue use that I can donate to them? What can I sell at a yard sale to help defray the costs of the remodel? Whatever doesn’t sell will go to charity.

          And my husband’s problem is that he sees all of these as “good” coats and why on earth should he get rid of a perfectly good coat? He is one of those people who think they need to keep things “just in case”. LOL And he is also a “guilt” keeper. If someone gives him something, he feels obligated to keep it whether or not it is useful to him. Argh!

          • I feel your pain Michelle. There is little you can do but encourage him with a gentle nudge occasionally to get him to see your way of thinking. Aside from that there is not much you can do without causing a rift. Good luck and happy decluttering your own stuff in the meantime.

            Good luck with the yard sale when it eventually happens and well done having a back up plan to get rid of the leftovers.

    • Andreia – I meant to reply to this, I really like the way you describe ‘victories’ – so true!

  8. I have no problem with buying 2nd hand clothing, the majority of my clothes growing up were 2nd hand but I do find it can be considerably more time consuming than retail shopping. I suspect this is because the local Save Mart (its warehouse size) is about a 15 min drive from home and the racks are arranged by type ie skirts – which is great but not by size, which some of the ones in other towns are, so it means looking at every single item and then checking to see if it is the right size.

    I have found that when I take my girls to Save Mart they get a little carried away because everything is cheap and it is easy to let things be added to the basket that normally wouldn’t be bought otherwise. My older daughter has her School Ball coming up – her date for the evening said he was going to have to buy or rent a suit, but I suggested he try my son’s from a few years back if he wanted to save the cost. The trousers fit good, although I have to take up the length a bit, but the jacket was too long, so we went to Save Mart and found him one for $16. His mum was thrilled.

    But to be honest, most of my clothes are bought new. I live by Project 333 and I have to be very particular about what I add to my wardrobe, especially as I am short and have a figure issue to consider. I have bought clothes off trademe (like ebay) but have decided that I do need to try things on before buy unless I already know the brand’s specs and sizing.

    Most of my current clothes were bought new after holding out a long time after a fair bit of weight loss – so a bit of a reward but also I needed to re-think what styles I could now wear.

    Don’t laugh everyone, but my BEST purchase for this winter is a Onesie. An adult size stretch and grow made of polar fleece. Yes I look silly, but I am sooooo cozy. For around home wear only.

    • I did not know what a Onesie was so I googled it. I laughed out loud! It was a great thing to acquire for Winter though. 😀

      • Andreia – pleased to have made your day! The key is NOT to answer the door wearing it and if guests have made their way into the house while unaware, climb out the window if need be hide.

    • Hi Moni, I have an advantage when it comes to secondhand clothes shopping and that is that I volunteer at the thrift store so I just look when I am there and tidy the racks at the same time. For the most part I need very little so I don’t find clothes shopping time consuming at all. What I do not like about it is having to try things on, what a bother! Well done with the suit purchase. Only way to go.

      Another name of a onesie is “Not tonight dear.”.

      • Colleen – LOL – that’s so funny. I will have to tell Adrian. Fortunately Kiwi blokes have been brainwashed over two centuries in our colder climate to think that flanelette and bed socks are sexy.

        • Moni ~ It just gives them a little more challenge as to how to prize it off you I guess. 😉

        • you crack me up 🙂
          And it reminds me of an advertisement Slogan from Years ago: Love dies at 60 degrees. It showed White cotton longjohns and other rather grandmotherly drying ob a line. Forgot, what it was trying to sell though … Definitely Not longjohns.

  9. I like that you have shared this Colleen. I love ‘spotting’ items for friends and family in thrift shops. I can browse the thrift shops, looking for specific items that other people need. A friend needed some fine wine glasses and I managed to get her 5 for $1.
    No matter how you acquire stuff, thrift shops, yard sales or inherit it, it can become a problem. With the couple you mention, they would support each other in accumulating stuff and probably have friends that are like minded. The concept that their collection is precious and growing would be a concern. It is a shame that others cannot enjoy what they have.
    I know a man that collects pottery from the thrift shops, usually well known potters (to him) his house is full of pottery and he has bequeathed it to the local Art Gallery when he dies.
    When we insure our furniture , we usually work out what it would cost to purchase new, each item. So sometimes we have tens of thousands worth of insurance. Yet when we list this furniture as an asset , its value is quickly reduced to what we could purchase it for at a garage sale. Which is a lot less!

  10. Great post today. Definitely it is better to pass on excess things, that one is not using so that others who have an actual need and use for excess items would be able to benefit from them. It serves no one, the collector nor a potential recipient, any good for things to sit in someone’s home going unused or worse, getting ruined or degrading to the point that there is no use left in them.

  11. I found myself wandering aimlessly around the Salvo’s yesterday and had to bring myself up short by asking: “What am I actually looking for?” The answer was “Nothing” so I forced myself out of there! Lately I’ve been browsing all the op shops, looking at the girl’s clothing section for cute stuff for my 12 yo, but honestly, she doesn’t look after the clothes she already has, and tends to wear the same Roxy t-shirt (my old castoff) and shorts when she’s not in her school uniform anyway. We went to the Races last week and she did look adorable in her op shop ensemble of grey wool dress, grey hat and silver shoes, so I don’t need to buy her MORE dresses, hats or shoes:-)

  12. I just re-discovered your blog after somehow losing it a few years ago… wait, that didn’t sound right. 🙂

    Well, anyhow… I’ve recently scouted a route to my local thrift store via bicycle. And I am vowing to use this information for the sole purpose of dropping things off, not acquiring more! If the weather holds, I’ll be heading out in a few minutes to drop off yet another bag of clothing that I don’t wear. Woo Hoo!!!

  13. I enjoy reading decorating blogs, and many of these are written by women who enjoy thrift shopping. If you’ve ever read any of these, you’ll notice that they usually take lots of photos of their “hauls”.

    I just shake my head because I couldn’t imagine having all that knick-knacky and other excess stuff laying around. It would drive me nuts.

    Sometimes the “vintage” blogs are the worst. It seems that they try to buy everything up because it’s old and “rare”, and might not be available again.

    The vignettes they put together with all this stuff usually come out looking very nice, but still, I couldn’t stand having all that clutter around.

    • I know what you mean about this Becky. I have a friend who love all that vintage stuff and has multiple vignettes in her home. They look nice but all that stuff makes me antsy. Too much stuff. Too much work to keep clean.

    • I feel the same way Becky. I can appreciate the beauty of it but I don’t want it in my house.

  14. In the past I have transferred my ‘new stuff’ shopping to ‘second hand stuff’ shopping, thinking I was doing better for the environment and my finances. Oh, how wrong I was.

    You make some excellent points. Thanks for your insight.