The following is an edited extract with bonus photos from my upcoming book, Shoestring Sustainability:
One of my local op shops.
There are many reasons to buy secondhand:
· surprising range – you might find back issues of favourite magazines, vintage clothing, books from your childhood, spare parts, plates that match your mother’s set, unusual items not available elsewhere
· better quality – solid wood furniture, old hand tools, linen
· health – conventional clothes and furniture have off-gassed most of their residual chemicals
· reduces waste – prevents stuff going into landfill and taking up space
· reduces demand for new goods and uses existing resources (eg. metals, paper) more efficiently
· the proceeds support charity work (in the case of op shops) or your local economy (most other second hand markets)
· it stimulates your creativity – what can I do with this?
· it’s cheaper! You can afford to test out ideas, cut and patch, use multiples, collect materials to use in the garden or make sculptures, unconventional uses.
You never know what you might find!
Second-hand goods are a cheap and ethical way to shop. Prices will vary widely according to suburb, demand and seller’s motivation.
Safe Second Hand Shopping
When does it not work? Some items should be bought new for health or safety reasons, like helmets, baby capsules (unless it definitely hasn’t been in a crash and it’s less than ten years old), and underwear. Used goods often need cleaning, and sometimes fixing. Luckily tip shops usually stock old paint tins, so you can take home some paint to spruce up that old bedside table. Old furniture may be rusty or have protruding screws, old painted wood could contain lead paint, and brightly coloured red or orange enamel kitchenware could contain cadmium. Containers may have been used to store substances other than food, unless sold as kitchen ware. Wooden or fabric items may contain mould spores, and second hand garden goods may be hiding pests or diseases.
You can treat these problems. Scrape out any visible egg sacs or spiders (preferably before you put the item in your car!), and treat mould with salt solution or clove spray. Sunlight, vinegar, salty or hot water can help to brighten and disinfect furniture or fabric as appropriate. Use your common sense. Sometimes items that are no longer suitable for their original purpose can be used safely for something else. For example, an old energy-hungry fridge could be made into an apple store, and aluminium cookware will not rust so it can be used for bathroom storage containers.
Glass, ceramic and metal kitchen ware is common and easy to disinfect.
Where Can I Buy Second Hand?
Some places you can look for cheap or free second hand goods are: op shops, car-boot and flea markets, auctions, e-Bay/Gumtree/Freecycle online, tip shops, salvage yards, garage sales, second-hand stores, wanted ads in the newspaper, Quokka (Perth and surrounds) or other Trading Post type publications, and verge rubbish collection.
What Can I Find?
I’ve found fantastic finds in all these places. When I moved to Perth, I learnt where all the suburbs were by buying items through the Quokka newspaper (a free-to-advertise publication with thousands of items for sale). This method is great for large items, or when you would like to ask the seller questions. The things that you want are often in an area you aren’t familiar with, so with the good old street directory (I haven’t taken to GPS, call me old-fashioned) I learnt to navigate my way around.
On the way you often see suburbs with mountains of stuff piled up, ready for kerbside collection.Verge rubbish picking is best done in dry weather, before rain gets into the couches or TVs or whatever you are chasing. Plastic outdoor chairs, empty pot plants, small tables and chairs are common finds. I used to collect plywood from the backs of drawers and furniture so I could cut it up and paint artwork on it. I have gone on holiday to Perth with my toddler and no pram, intending to pick one up off the side of the road. Over two days I found three, all within a few blocks of where we were staying, and kept the best two! Gotta love kerbside shopping.
Freecycle and other barter groups usually require free membership. Once you are a member, you can offer goods you no longer want, or request things you need. Many cities and local areas have Pay It Forward, barter or swap groups that run through Facebook. Look up your local area to find what’s around. Urban Orchard runs swap meetings for excess fruit and edible produce. Keep an eye out for clothes or kids toy swap events, or consider holding one at your house or local community venue. You might also find book swaps, or a swapping library in a permanent nook. LETS groups also offer bartering of goods.
Car boot sales, flea markets and garage sales are often very cheap, as people want to get rid of things and sometimes aren’t aware of their value or don’t care. If you buy a load of stuff you often get a good discount. The items for sale are usually clean and in good repair, and you can ask the seller questions about how to assemble or use them. Goods range from household, children’s, garage and workshop, and outdoor items, depending on the seller.
Yes, I have a record player!
Op shops used to cost roughly ten percent of the new price, but now that they are more fashionable prices have increased in many stores. But they vary a lot, most are still very cheap and the money goes to charity anyway. The items are all stored inside and kept clean and sorted. They are the best places to go for books, clothes, toys and kitchen ware. They usually have a large range of cassette tapes, records and videos, as well as some DVDs and CDs. Most op shops don’t sell electrical goods, in case the wiring inside is faulty. Some stores do a safety check so they can sell them. Visit a few different stores, as they tend to specialise in particular goods and the prices may vary widely for the same quality. Usually it will be a set price for each category, eg. all records $2.
Tip shops are even cheaper; you can get armloads of stuff for a few dollars. It might need cleaning or fixing, but is often still good. You can find large furniture, tapes and videos, outdoor play structures, bikes, old paint, empty plant pots, and sometimes books and clothes. Usually electrical goods will only be sold here for parts, as they are not checked for safety.
Salvage yards are great for building materials, garden structures or large scale artworks.
Second hand shops are pricier than op shops, being a business for profit, but they can be more organised and you can pick up good finds there. They usually contain furniture, appliances, books and DVDs.
Have fun picking up secondhand bargains!