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Thrifty Gifting: This season, be a ‘giver’, and support the environment

November 29, 2022 Kelsey Sheehy, NerdWallet via AP
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Thrifting is hot, and Goodwill finds are cool again. But while we’re thrilled to find the perfect throwback tee for our own closet, gifting used goods still carries a stigma for some.

It shouldn’t.

Secondhand gifts are better for your wallet, your community and the environment.

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“The planet is drowning in excess stuff,” says Lauren Bravo, 34, the London-based author of “How to Break Up With Fast Fashion .” “It feels more sustainable to buy from things that are already out there in the world than adding to the demand for more, more, more.”

Not convinced? Here are four big benefits of secondhand gifts, plus a few tips and ideas to help you thrift a gift this holiday season.

The case for secondhand gifts

1. It’s better for the environment: Fast fashion and fast furniture generate an incredible amount of waste. In 2018 alone, nearly 21 million tons of textile waste, furniture and furnishings ended up in landfills, according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Buying a sweatshirt, jacket, vase, side table or virtually any other thrifted item keeps it from landing in a heap at the dump or on some foreign shore (where much of our donated clothing lands). Most secondhand purchases are made locally, too, so you avoid many of the environmental impacts that go along with packaging and shipping items.

2. Secondhand is more budget-friendly: You may have noticed, but everything is more expensive right now (inflation hit a 40-year high in September). Even with rising prices, buying secondhand is almost always less expensive than buying new.

This author was recently gifted a set of eight vintage cocktail glasses, which my parents scored for 50 cents apiece at a local thrift store. (Yes, they left the price tags on.) A similar set from Anthropologie currently sells for $56 for a set of four.

And Bravo says shopping thrift shops allows her to gift higher-quality items.

“I can afford to buy pricier brands for people if I get things secondhand,” she says. “And, frankly, they’re often still brand new in their box.

3. You Support Small Businesses: Vintage shops and thrift stores are almost always small businesses — and they’re counting on your support this holiday season.

In fact, 73% of small-business owners say holiday sales like Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are important to the success of their business, according to a new NerdWallet survey of over 3,000 U.S. adults (including more than 900 small-business owners) conducted online by The Harris Poll from Oct. 3-5, 2022.

Money spent at small local shops typically stays in the community, supporting jobs and other businesses. Popular nonprofit thrift stores like Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity ReStore give back to the local community in many other ways, too. Sales from items purchased at Habitat ReStores, for example, help to build and rehabilitate homes for local families

4. Thrifted gifts have a history: There can be something special about a book, handbag or article of clothing previously owned by someone else. The item lived another life and sometimes quite literally has the notes to prove it.

“My wife bought me a book of love poems from a secondhand bookstore, where the previous (book) owner and his/her partner wrote notes to each other,” says Michael Morris, 45, who lives in Brooklyn and runs a men’s lifestyle website. “It’s a book of love poems with a real-life love story in the margins, and it’s unbelievably touching. It’s one of my prized possessions.”

Tips for secondhand gifting

Last-minute shoppers, take note: Thrifted gifting works best when you have time to find the perfect item. So start your holiday shopping now. Or better yet, hunt for secondhand gifts throughout the year.

Thrift stores, vintage shops, used bookstores and Goodwill are all great places to hunt for secondhand gifts, but estate sales can also yield treasures, says Richard Clews, 55, a retail and e-commerce founder who lives in Boston.

“Estate sales are the gold mine for me,” Clews says. “You can find such magnificent objects that have history, care and wisdom all wrapped up into something meaningful.”

Neighborhood listservs, Facebook marketplace and Buy Nothing groups can also yield treasure, especially if there are children on your to-gift list. Kids age out of toys rather quickly (assuming they take to them at all), and you can often find like-new toys for a few dollars — or better yet, for free.

While toddlers will rarely scoff at a slightly scuffed toy, it’s best to show others on your gift list that you put some measure of thought into their gift. That is always the case but is especially true with pre-loved gifts.

“They need to really display that you had the person in mind — that you know them and love them and found something they’d truly appreciate,” Morris says. “If you can let that guide your decisions, you can find an incredible secondhand gift.”


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