Forget Black Friday. Secondhand gifts are easier on the wallet and mind.

Shoppers pack the Tysons Corner Center mall in Virginia on Black Friday in 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post

As soon as I saw the bright green blazer, I knew I could cross a name off my Christmas shopping list. It was perfect for my niece.

It was size 2, the brand was Banana Republic, and the original price tag still dangled from it, making it an especially rare find.

That meant it was new. . .ish, which is as new as it gets when you’re secondhand shopping.

In the past few years, I have become passionate about buying resold items online.

This is different from in-person browsing at a thrift store, which is more of an adventure than a hunt. When you go to a thrift store, you don’t know what you’re going to find, so it’s hard to look for anything specific. When you come across something valuable (at least to you), it’s a happy discovery. It’s an unexpected get. You couldn’t have known that Pillsbury Doughboy cookie jar would bring you joy until you saw it.

But secondhand shopping online, unless you want to waste hours browsing (and if you do, I’m not judging), requires having a target in mind. It requires knowing not only that you want to find a boy’s hoodie, but also that you need that hoodie in size 6 and in the color red.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my behavior as a consumer has changed, because it’s that time of year when it’s impossible not to think about what we buy and how we buy it.

Right now, across the country, ’tis the season for shopping. If your screens look like mine, you are seeing advertisements with flashing “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” reminders. You are getting nudged and yanked at by stores promising “40-65 percent off sitewide!” and “VERY merry deals.” You’re also probably seeing lists filled with the “best toys,” the “best gifts for him” and the “best gifts for her.” (I’ll admit that I’ve already glanced through “Oprah’s Favorite Things 2023.”)

When looking at those holiday gift lists and advertisements, it’s easy to feel you have to buy everything for everyone on your list now or lose out on critical deals. But it’s worth remembering what people who regularly buy secondhand items online know: There is another option for gift shopping, and it is easier on the wallet and mind.

Secondhand shopping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially among younger generations, but it is still far from normalized. That needs to change. That needs to change for the environment and that needs to change because there’s good stuff out there that people are missing out on.

One of the best used gifts I found online was an old Luby’s cookbook that I bought for my mom. We frequently went to that restaurant when I was a kid, and I always ordered the same meal: a half portion of Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and corn. I know now that it resembles a classic TV dinner, but at the time I viewed it as what picture-perfect families on TV ate. I don’t expect my mom to use that cookbook. That’s not why I gave it to her. I gave it to her as a reminder of the many good times we had as a family at that restaurant.

Another used treasure I found for her was a pair of pants similar to a pair I had given her when I was in college. We often described them as magical because she wore them regularly for more than a decade and they never seemed to lose their stretch. I wanted her to have another pair as a backup, just in case that magic waned.

We, as a society, have gotten better about consuming used goods. Consider the proliferation of Buy Nothing groups, in which neighbors exchange everything from furniture to opened containers of food to avoid creating waste. But many of us are not there yet. Too many of us are still tossing out clothes others would gladly wear. In the United States alone, more than 11 million tons of textiles end up in landfills every year.

I would never tell someone how to spend their money. I am sharing with you how I spend mine in case it eases some hesitation about secondhand shopping and helps reduce the amount of items that get thrown away.

Having children is what nudged me into shopping online for used items. It felt wasteful to spend $50 on a mid-quality coat my sons would barely wear. So, I started clicking through thredUP, Poshmark and Mercari to buy their clothes. I soon found that if I was strategic about how I searched and what I ordered, I could get better-quality items at cheaper prices than similar new items, and I would feel less guilty when they outgrew those clothes in a season.

Once I filled the holes in my sons’ wardrobes, I started shopping for my own clothes on those sites and others. I tiptoed in with skepticism. I worried that the items I ordered would come with snags, tears and deodorant stains. But I now buy about 90 percent of my clothes that way, and with rare exceptions they have arrived without flaws. For the most part, I have gotten dresses and shoes that have sat in someone’s closet, barely touched or unused at all.

Even so, despite how I shop in my home, I have mostly avoided giving my (very large) extended family secondhand gifts. Over the years, other than an occasional “vintage” find, I have almost always bought their presents from stores or artists.

This year, I plan to change that. I plan to do my small part in normalizing the consumption of used items. I’ve decided to try to find as many gifts for my family as I can through secondhand shopping and let the recipients know.

When I bought my niece that blazer, I didn’t tell her it was secondhand (although she will now find that out because I’m telling you). I also didn’t tell her the facts I learned when I made that purchase. A note on that site read, “By choosing to buy a secondhand blazer instead of new and wearing it 10 times, you can save the equivalent of: 1048.1 glasses of drinking water; 1243.37 hours of powering an LED light; 8.77 miles of driving emissions.”

Recently, I sent that same niece a text asking if she wanted a pair of designer boots that normally cost more than $400 but that I found secondhand in near-perfect condition for less than $100. Her response confirmed that she wouldn’t have cared where I got that blazer. She was grateful for the gift.



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