Pro-tips for buying thrift

our-door

 

As if it wasn’t strange enough to sign a lease for the first time in 3 and a half years, it was highlighted by the fact that we had nothing to fill our new place with.  Two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, kitchen and bathroom were all completely bare aside from our two carry-on sized suitcases, a grocery bag of food, and an ottoman we’d picked up at the Salvation Army that day.

The ottoman looked lonely and ridiculous sitting in the middle of an empty house.  It was literally our first and only piece of furniture for the time being.

When we moved into our place almost a year ago, we had a challenging task ahead of us, furnishing this empty duplex.

  1. We wanted to buy only used items.
  2. We were starting absolutely from scratch, as we’d spent the last 3 years living as nomads.
  3. We wanted to do the Airbnb thing, so we were going to be a little picky about furniture.
  4. We had a rental truck for just one week.

Picky and thrift don’t usually go together.  And for that matter, speedy and thrift don’t usually go together either. It’s the difference between going to the grocery store to buy food and going out into the woods to hunt it down. One takes ten minutes, the other can take days.  It really is the furniture equivalent of hunting.

Thankfully, we live in 2016.  Craigslist isn’t the only forum for second-hand goods anymore. Let me introduce you to my thrift-buying tool kit.

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1. OfferUp, letgo, and 5miles

My uses for OfferUp, letgo, and 5miles: furniture, or anything too large to send through the mail.

All three of these apps are extremely similar to Craigslist with the added convenience of being able to communicate through the app.  Like Craigslist, you’re mostly not paying for your purchase through the app, you’re simply connecting with someone in your community.  5miles is the only one that offers payment assistance with its “5miles Wallet.”

Despite the fact that 5miles offers credit/debit payment ability, I find myself using OfferUp way more simply because people seem to price things more cheaply on OfferUp.

2. Facebook Marketplace

My uses for Facebook Marketplace: same as above: pretty much anything that can’t be easily sent by mail.

Facebook Marketplace is very similar to the above apps, but with the added bonus of…well..Facebook.  This may sound creepy, but when we bought my bike on Facebook Marketplace, we were able to go to the seller’s facebook page and see that he did indeed have a wife who was my size.  We went from thinking, “Why the heck does this guy have a tiny 42cm bike? Did he steal this?  Why is it so cheap?”  to “Oh ya.  This guy is just sick of his wife’s bike taking up space in his garage.”

There’s a feeling of integrity and security that comes along with Facebook.  And while we didn’t pay for the bike through Facebook, we could have.

3. Craigslist

My uses for Craigslist: same as above.

Despite these new services and apps, I still find myself using Craigslist just as often.  The thing is, everyone knows about Craigslist, even if they haven’t yet discovered these other apps.  So Craigslist’s optionality is still a little better for many items, at least until these other apps popularize.

And while Craigslist is riddled with scams and fake postings, I mostly just see these scammy posts when I’m apartment hunting- not when I’m searching for home goods or furniture.

4. Poshmark and Mercari

My uses for Poshmark and Mercari: smaller items that won’t cost a lot to ship.

Referral: Poshmark: Use my code “NLGJX” to get $5 credit (and to give me $5 credit.) Mercari: Use my code “VSSANT” to get $2 credit (and to give me $2 credit)

Now we’re moving out of craigslist-like apps and into ebay/amazon-like apps.  These are the sites that I use when I’m not able to find something at the few thrift stores within biking distance.  (There are unfortunately no thrift stores in downtown Austin, and only a few within biking distance.)

5. ThredUp

My uses for ThredUp: pretty much exclusively women’s clothing.

Referral: Use my referral link to get $10 and give $10

Unlike Poshmark and Mercari, ThredUp has only women’s and children’s clothing, and ships from a ThredUp warehouse rather than from the user.  This eliminates a little bit of clunkiness.  For instance, I don’t have to worry about whether or not a user is actively checking their account, if an item is actually still available, or if it will take forever to ship.  It’s just like ordering from an online store, only the entire inventory is sourced from second-hand items.

6. Amazon and Ebay, Used

My uses for Amazon and Ebay, Used: obscure items.

Amazon and Ebay have filtering options for item condition, and for many items, this includes a “used” option.  Ebay offers more items filterable by “used” than Amazon does, but surprisingly enough, neither have as many used items as I expect.

This is a good option when thrift stores fail us.  For example, Drew bought himself something like 65 pairs of athletic socks for $135. He considered this a win, seeing as almost no thrift stores carry socks.

7. Amazon Warehouse

My uses for Amazon Warehouse: for obscure items, as sort of a last resort.

Amazon Warehouse is a collection of used, returned, damaged, or refurbished goods.  We use this as a sort of last resort for items that people almost never sell used. For instance this is how we bought our shower curtain.  While it’s not unheard of for someone to donate a shower curtain to a thrift store or to sell it used online, this is the sort of item most people use until it’s ruined, than throw away.  Very similar to Drew’s sock example, but even more challenging.

Conclusion

When Drew and I first started this discipline of buying thrift, it was more challenging than it is now. I remember feeling like the stars had aligned when I found a shower curtain still in its box at a Goodwill in Charlottesville, where we briefly rented a place 4 and a half years ago. It was one of those super-thin, plastic ones, but I was ecstatic.  And I remember the old fashioned can opener we used for months, because that’s the only one the neighborhood thrift store had. I remember the pair of athletic shorts I swam in when a group of teenagers stole my bikini bottoms off a clothes line in Sri Lanka, and the way I fixed my flip-flops with a rubber-band.  That’s when our discipline really felt like a discipline.

But now, with all of these new apps and services, and with an address to mail things too, it’s actually super easy to avoid buying new things. It’s not really an inconvenience at all anymore.

In fact, even a person who doesn’t like the idea of previously-used items could still do pretty well with returned, or mildly damaged items from Amazon Warehouse.  If you can make use of something that will otherwise go to waste, why not?  You’ll most likely save a little money, and hopefully decrease a little waste in the world at the same time.

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