Getting the things you need secondhand instead of new is a great way to reduce and reuse. First, if it’s an item you would otherwise buy new, by buying secondhand you’re helping reduce the demand for raw materials like paper and wood (from trees), plastic (from fossil fuels), water (from freshwater sources), metals (from mines in far-away places like Australia and Brazil), and minerals (like coltan, needed to make electronic devices like cell phones and a leading cause of gorilla habitat devastation). At the same time, you’re reusing, playing a very important role in extending the useful life of something that’s already been created. It’s also fun reuse because the item is new to you!
I’ve known about the joys of acquiring things secondhand my whole life. When I was a kid, my family and I used to go to garage sales on the weekends. Some sales were duds, but at others I was able to score cool stuff like toys, collectibles, and vintage board games for a few dollars. My dad is an avid Craigslister, and loves the thrill of the hunt. And there’s always the curbside marketplace — some of the furniture in my parent’s house was definitely set out by somebody on trash day.
Still, it’s only been recently that I’ve personally gotten into secondhand shopping and making secondhand my first thought when I need something. It was a book I read this year, The Story of Stuff, that drove home to me how everything is made up of resources from the Earth, a lot of which won’t regenerate anytime soon or ever. Everything we buy or already own has a footprint, and between extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, that footprint is often larger than we can comprehend.
Interesting food for thought from The Story of Stuff:
“Once we start examining them, we soon find that each key ingredient for our stuff requires a lot of other ingredients just to get it out of the earth, processed, and ready for use. In the case of paper, we don’t just need trees. We need metals to make the chainsaws and logging machines; trucks, trains, and even ships to cart the logs to processing plants; and oil to run all those machines and the plants themselves. We need water for making the paper pulp. We usually need a chemical like bleach or hydrogen peroxide to get a desirably light shade of paper. All in all, making one ton of paper requires the use of 98 tons of various other resources.”
That’s just an example of a single type of material — imagine all the resources we’re indirectly and inadvertently using every time we go wild at Target! In the U.S., we have just 5% of the world’s population but we account for about 30% of all resources consumed. Overall, the 25% of the world’s population in industrialized countries consume about 75% of global resources. Buying less and, when we do need something, trying as hard as we can to buy used is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our children and future generations, and the planet.
Now that we understand why it’s so important, let’s get into some ideas for secondhand shopping in and around Gwinnett County. In case I miss anything, I’d love for you to share YOUR recommendations (and secondhand scores!) in the comments!
Buy Nothing Gwinnett Facebook Group and Freecycle
Let’s start with stuff you can get secondhand and absolutely FREE! In Gwinnett County, there are several private Facebook groups in which neighbors list items they are giving away. There’s a spirit of karma — if you give away something good, you might get something good later — and since it’s also nice to just declutter your home without the stress of making a listing and negotiating a deal, there is often valuable stuff listed in these groups. My best score so far has been a set of metal dumbbells, which would probably be worth a million dollars now with how sought-after workout equipment has been during Covid. I’ve given away party decorations, a gazebo, and even a door.
Not only are Buy Nothing groups places to find great stuff (and you can even post things you’re in search of), they allow you to donate a wider variety of items (like opened toiletries, vitamins, mattresses, etc.) than you could at a store like Goodwill. And you know your stuff is going to someone in your community who wants and needs it! The largest group is Buy Nothing Gwinnett; there is also Buy Nothing Duluth, Lawrenceville, Suwanee and Norcross and Buy Nothing Suwanee.
Don’t have Facebook? There’s also Freecycle, with pages for communities in and around Gwinnett. Through Freecycle, I was able to find a family to donate window blinds to when we replaced ours. Old window blinds are otherwise hard to recycle or donate, so this was a big win.
Facebook Marketplace and Other Resale Marketplaces
If you’ve never clicked the little storefront icon in your Facebook navigation, you’re missing out. After discovering it for the first time a few months ago, I am officially addicted to Facebook Marketplace! You’ll find thousands of items, from holiday decorations to plants to kids’ stuff to cars and trucks, posted by neighbors around town. It’s easy to message the seller via Facebook Messenger to ask any questions, negotiate the price, and arrange pickup. As someone who is currently decorating a home, I’m inspired by the example of interior designers who have beautifully furnished their home with Facebook Marketplace finds. The sky’s the limit!
Craigslist and eBay are of course still around, and app-based selling sites have also emerged. Check out Poshmark, thredUP, and TheRealReal for clothes and accessories, as well as apps like Mercari for buying and selling everything else. To find stuff for sale close to home, check the “For Sale” section in your Nextdoor neighborhood app. There are often free items in this section, too!
Brick and Mortar Stores and Amazon
Why am I listing stores that are known for selling new stuff? Well, because these stores typically have an option to buy used instead. Stores like Best Buy often list an “open-box” option for items that have been returned. I’m currently typing on the keyboard of a laptop computer that I bought off-lease, refurbished from Micro Center in Duluth. It’s in great shape, with great specs, at a fraction of the price for a new laptop. When I need a new cell phone, I plan to buy used and save the gorillas!
Amazon Warehouse resells millions of like-new, open-box, and pre-owned items that have been returned by customers at a great discount, and independent sellers on Amazon also sell stuff used and note the condition of the item. Just click the “Buy used” button to see the available options for getting your item secondhand on Amazon.
Thrift Shops and Consignment Shops
If you’d prefer to shop in person, there’s a vast world of thrift and consignment shops in metro Atlanta. For home improvement items, check out Habitat for Humanity ReStores and Atlanta’s Lifecycle Building Center. For books, give 2nd and Charles in Buford and Liberty Books in Lawrenceville a try. For other household goods, visit your nearest Goodwill, Salvation Army, Furkids, or local independent thrift shop. For clothing, stop by a Plato’s Closet, Clothes Mentor, or a local consignment shop.
When I was last shopping for clothes, I discovered a few consignment shops in the Atlanta area that carry higher-end and designer brands. Since these brands cost more new and are ostensibly better quality, I love the chance to buy them secondhand at a big discount, sometimes with price tags still on. These stores cater to an older clientele than Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor, which tend to target teens and college students. The next time you’re ITP, visit Labels Resale Boutique and Alexis Suitcase.
Garage Sales and Estate Sales
Garage sales are a classic in the secondhand shopping category. They’re usually held on Saturdays and Sundays in the morning, and you can find them by following yard signs. Estate sales are another option, with discounts reaching as high as 75% on the last weekend they’re open. Look out for yard signs or posts on Nextdoor, or use EstateSales.net to create alerts for sales in your area and plan ahead.
Lately I’m loving the eclectic design style you can get from shopping antiques shops. A room made beautiful with antique or just pre-loved decor instead of new decor is an eco-friendly room! I’m an amateur antiquer, so I’d love recommendations for the best antiques shops in Gwinnett County and surrounding areas. My favorite so far is the Antique Factory in Chamblee. It has over 8,000 square feet of antiques — everything from retro, art deco, midcentury, and more! So much eye candy.
Shopping secondhand is not only an environmental imperative, it’s also fun and rewarding. The next time you need something, ask yourself first if it’s something you could get used instead of new! And tell us in the comments: What’s the best thing you’ve ever found secondhand?