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“Buy less, choose well.” Vivienne Westwood

Before we get into talking about specific tips for successful second-hand shopping, some of you may be asking yourselves “what’s so great about thrifting?” The simple answer is that thrift shopping is one of those things that answers to just about any possible motivation for choosing a minimalist lifestyle. It allows you to minimize both your spending and your environmental impact while also, when you do it right, having access to a wide variety of high quality clothes and accessories. It allows you to be both selective and creative by not limiting yourself to the style of one single brand at a time. Plus, it’s just plain fun! If you haven’t tried it out yet, you’re in luck. You’ll be heading out there with a detailed road map to thrifting success!

8.1 But First, Watch Out For These Two Traps!

“Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.” Nicholas Burroughs

There are a couple traps you need to be aware of before getting out there and thrifting to your minimalist hearts delight. Some minimalists out there would recommend avoiding thrift shopping as it can easily lead a slippery slope of overconsumption. There are two main reasons for this, outlined in a 2016 article on the minimal millennial blog, among others.The first issue is in no way specific to second-hand shopping as it’s simply the danger of “mindless shopping,” i.e. shopping for the sake of shopping. Or in this case, thrifting for the sake of thrifting. The reason you need watch out for this specifically when it comes to thrifting (and here’s the second big trap to be aware of!) is that it’s easy to be “blinded by the price.” [1]

It’s very, very easy to get into the habit of accidentally accumulating stuff simply because “the price is right.” Especially if you’re someone who’s used to paying full price for new clothes, you’ll likely be flabbergasted by some of the stuff you can find in perfect shape for a fraction of the price it would cost you new. Finding that amazing deal can actually become slightly addictive, no matter who you are. As internationally renowned artist Björk puts it, “I get highs, to be totally honest, in second-hand shops. My hunting instinct, I expect, really kicks in.” Don’t get sucked in by the adrenaline rush! Keep your goals in sight and say no to anything you don’t really need. If you follow the tips laid out below you should have enough criteria to keep you from falling into either of these two traps, so long as you keep tabs on yourself and don’t let temptation get the better of you. Now that we’ve got that covered, without further ado, let’s get started….

8.2 First Off, Clarify Your Goals & Your Budget

“A bargain ain’t a bargain unless it’s something you need.” Sidney Carrol

As Kathleen Elie of “The Good Trade” blog puts it, “thrift shopping without a clear goal is like grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It’s doable, but it’s not ideal.” [2]When you’re practicing a minimalist lifestyle it’s highly recommendable to make a clearly defined list of what you’re looking for before even setting foot in a store of any kind. Perhaps you’re one of those remarkable people who has enough self-control and discipline to never, ever buy anything you know you don’t need, but most of us lowly mortals are still working on developing those types of skills. If you fall into this second category, make a list at home of what your wardrobe is missing and make your shopping a quest for those, and only those, specific articles.

Another way of avoiding the two “traps” mentioned above is to pre-determine your budget and bring cash as opposed to paying with your card. You may even want to leave your cards at home in order to ensure you don’t let yourself be “blinded by the price.”

8.3 Then, Above All: Quality Control

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” John Ruskin

This is one of the basic principles of minimalism in any aspect of your life. Always prioritize quality over quantity. Doing so will radically decrease the amount of stuff you accumulate in your home and life. How do you know if something’s really worth your while when you’re out there rifling through the thrift-store jungle? By examining every piece you feel tempted to buy through the lense of some very specific criteria.

  1. Does the piece “feel good”? If you have any doubt about feeling comfortable (because of the material, awkwardly placed tags that you know will be itchy even if you cut them off, or a weird buckle or seam, etc.) don’t get it. Prioritize things that you love the texture of and that will literally be a sensual joy to wear, when you can.
  2. Check the fit. A plain piece from an unremarkable brand that fits well will look a thousand times better than anything from a swanky brand that doesn’t fit well. Take the time to try things on! This ought to be one of your main criteria. If something needs a tiny adjustment you can consider it, but only if you know you won’t procrastinate in getting it fitted properly.
  3. Look for brand names you know and associate with quality. You’ll be surprised how much practically new brand-name clothes you can find on thrift store hangers! There will likely be some things you would hesitate to pay full-price for but which you can score for a couple of dollars when the thrifting stars are aligned in your favor.
  4. The blog Thistle Harvest puts the next piece well, recommending you “look for classic pieces that you can wear over and over again. Avoid purchasing items just because they are on sale and you may wear them once or twice.” [3]This will vary according to your personal style, but if you’re looking for pieces you can literally wear anywhere you probably want to focus on relatively neutral colours that can mix and match easily and blend in at any type of social function.
  5. Make sure you examine each item thoroughly before deciding to buy. Watch out for small holes, stains, or areas just about to give out from wear. Don’t get things that need small adjustments of repairs if you know you’ll put it off for months!
  6. Keep your eyes peeled for those stand-out pieces that are so one-of-a-kind as to be worth adding to your wardrobe, but don’t just cave in for something because it’s special. Make sure it also fits most, if not all, of the above criteria as well!

8.4 The Secrets of Dressing To Test

If you’re a seasoned thrift-shopper you may know that it’s not always easy to try things on to find the perfect fit in these types of places. Thrift stores often have limited and sometimes no changing rooms, depending on their size. Also, depending on your schedule and when you’re able to go shopping you may end up with all the the other weekend and evening second-hand scavengers, which means potential lineups for the changing rooms. To avoid all the hassle and the potential of not being able to try something on that you’re not sure of, come “dressed to test!” Wear a top and bottom that are easy to slip something over.

Or better yet, simply base your attire on your handy list of items you’re aiming for. For example, if you know you’re looking for shoes, don’t wear those lace up boots that take you a million years to put on and take off. Or if you’re looking pants (possibly the most awkward item, aside from underwear, to have to try on without a changing room! On that note, underwear is one of those things you need to be pretty darn selective about if you’re going the second-hand route…) wear thin leggings or boxers that can pass for shorts that you know you’ll still be able to tell if something fits you properly over.

8.5 Balancing Intake With Output

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

An excellent way to make sure you’re always balancing out your intake and keeping unconscious accumulation at bay is to donate some of your current possessions whenever you get something “new” (or in this case, new but used). Whenever you feel the need to add something to your wardrobe, take the time to go through your clothes and find a couple things to give away. There are a lot of ways to approach how to choose what to get rid of, but basically one of your best friends in this domain is ruthlessness. Have no mercy in applying your quality criteria when finding things to let go of.

Another practical aspect of thrifting instead of buying new: you can bring your donations to the same place you’re going to do your shopping! Plus, for most of us the act of giving creates a positive feedback loop in our brains (i.e. it makes you feel good about yourself), and with good reason.Dorothy Day is quoted as saying, “the best things to do with the best things in life is to give them away.” This is because generosity is literally one of the key elements of long-term happiness in life, according to both age-old wisdom and current-day scientific research.

8.6 How Geography And Demographics Impact Your Thrifting Success

It may sound strange, but depending on the scale of where you live, geography and demographics may have a huge impact on your second-hand shopping success and/or struggles. This is partially because, unfortunately, there are still huge gaps in our society when it comes to class and accessibility to higher quality goods. This inevitably plays into the types of clothing you’ll find depending on where a store is located. If you live in a small town it may not be something you need to consider, but if you’re in a city it’s worth visiting a couple different locations and then zoning in on one store that seems to often have the types and quality of clothes you’re looking for. You may also simply want to consider whether people in certain areas of the city have a style that matches your own and use that as a way of locating stores to scope out. Also, residential neighbourhoods are often a great place for regular turnover given the density of kids and youth who switch wardrobes often as a result of regularly outgrowing everything they own!

8.7 Action Point Summary – Here Is What You Need to Do Now!

“Thrift comes too late when you find it at the bottom of your purse.” Seneca

Shopping second-hand is a great way to make your minimalist lifestyle as holistic as possible (i.e. doing your best to apply minimalist principles to every aspect of your life). It’s a great way to find chic attire while at the same time contributing positively to the state of your pocketbook and the environment. It also makes it much easier to create a style that’s completely unique to you, given that you’ll no longer be getting all your clothes from your habitual one or two go-to brands, and thus coming out looking a lot like a whole lot of other people. With that it mind, here’s what you need to keep in mind as you get started!

  1. Be aware of the dangers of shopping for the sake of shopping and consuming simply because everything is so relatively inexpensive. Proceed with caution and self-awareness!
  2. Outline your goals and budget before heading out to your favorite thrift-shop! Be very clear about what you need to add to your wardrobe and how much you’re willing to spend. Consider only bringing cash if you need extra help being disciplined in the face of great deals.
  3. Get clear of your quality criteria and apply them vigorously. Don’t let anything in that does not meet your high standards!
  4. Dress according to your needs list. Make trying things on easy for yourself in case of lineups or lack of changing space.
  5. Get rid of stuff every time you go shopping. Avoid accumulating stuff accidentally by weeding through your closet whenever you plan to go shopping. Practice the art of giving and letting go!
  6. Find the best thrift store for you. Consider the styles and demographics of different areas populations and check out stores in different areas until you find one that’s your best bet for finding stuff that you love for both style and quality.
  7. Happy thrifting!
  1. Why I Stopped Thrifting,” Emily Torres, 2016, minimalmilennial.com
  2. “10 + Tips On How To Thrift Shop Like A Boss,” Kathleen Elie, thegoodtrade.com
  3. “A Guide to Thrifting as a Minimalist,” Hannah (last name not provided), thistleharvest.com, 2016

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