9 Things You Should Always Buy Used

New consumer goods are hard on the environment and your budget. Here’s what the experts always purchase secondhand.

September 16, 2016
thrift store

Repeat after us: Buying new things won’t make you happy.

Well, actually, it may. But only for a moment. The new wears quickly wears off over time (and takes a big hit when the reality of your adjusted bank balance hits). It’s a process psychologists refer to as habituation: the longer you live with something, the less joy it brings you. And considering the toll on the environment that manufacturing takes, is it really worth that momentary high for a lifetime of “oh, right, that old dresser?”

Buying secondhand just makes sense. It diverts items from landfills and decreases demand for new goods. That means fewer raw hardwoods being plucked from the forests, fewer metals dug up from mines, and fewer gasses being belched out of factories. Even better: used goods usually don’t come wrapped in a thousand layers of plastic packaging like new things do.

And there’s never been a better time for buying used. Facebook sales groups and sites like Craigslist and Ebay make it easy for sellers and buyers to connect. Between the three sites, you can find anything you might need. So before you head out to your local big-box store, think twice. If you’re about to buy one of the nine items below, you’re probably better off getting it secondhand. 

(Sign up for our FREE newsletter to get clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more delivered straight to your inbox!)

furniture store

Hardwoods are incredibly slow-growing, so buying wood furniture new is not eco-friendly. “And if you buy used, you often get better quality than a lot of the furniture that’s manufactured today,” says Seth Leitman, author of the Green Living Guy site. Years ago, furniture was made from solid wood—not particle board and a few wood pieces. Find a vintage dresser, table, or bed, and chances are it will last much longer.

You may be able to avoid buying anything at all by repurposing what you’ve already got. Diane MacEachern, the green shopping expert behind BigGreenPurse.com, says she’s kept the same sofa for decades by simply reupholstering it when needed.

View Apart/shutterstock

Fast fashion is both an environmental and ethical nightmare. Factories with dubious human rights records crank out hundreds of thousands of cheap garments that are bought, worn, and discarded within a six-month span. Currently, the EPA estimates that 85% of all clothes worn in the US are not recycled, and that textile waste occupies 5% percent of our landfill space.

You can opt out of the fast fashion cycle by heading to your local secondhand store, where you can often scoop up clothing from earlier in the season. Or seek out vintage coats, suits, and other timeless items: Like furniture, older garments are often sewn to last a lifetime, not a season. (Just be sure to avoid these 7 Toxic Thrift Store Finds That Aren't Worth The Bargain.)

digging up a plant

When MacEachern has a space to fill in her yard, she skips the corporate nursery and instead contacts her local horticulture club. “I’ll say ‘I need some plants for a shady spot,’ and people will split plants that they have and share them with me.” In return, when MacEachern has extras, she shares those. “It’s great, because I know what I’m getting works in my area’s microclimate,” she says. Whenever plants are shipped long distances, there’s a risk of importing invasive pests.

cat in a cage
Tomas Urbelionis/shutterstock

There is no reason to buy a dog, cat, or other critter from a breeder when shelters are absolutely overflowing. Even the “I need a hypo-allergenic dog” excuse doesn’t hold up, since studies have shown that these dogs produce just as much (and sometimes more) allergens. “At an animal shelter you can get an animal very cheaply, and it’s a win-win because it needs a home,” says Danny Kofke, a financial literacy author and educator. Also, many shelters take care of the animal’s shots and neutering and sometimes they’ll even help with training.

red chair
Office Furniture

“Office furniture is generally really sturdy and there’s no need to buy it new,” says Kofke. Keep your eye out for local business that are shutting down or redecorating. You can often score high-end chairs, desks, lamps, and even printers for cheap. 

used cars

Okay, this one is complicated. Kofke says he’ll never buy a new car because the depreciation is just too hard to swallow. “You can lose $5,000 the moment you drive away,” he says. “It’s better to buy a car that’s a year or two old—so someone else took that hit for you.”

But from an ecological standpoint, Leitman isn’t convinced that used is better. He says that because emissions have improved so much in the past few years, if your choice is between an ultra-low emissions vehicle or one that’s older and not as great on gas mileage, it’s better to buy new. If, however, the emissions are the same between the new and old models you’re looking at, go with the old one. Manufacturing cars is an energy-intensive process, and the barges used to ship cars overseas are gas guzzlers, says Leitman. 

kids toy
Basically Anything For Your Kid

Kids grow quickly, so toys, clothing, and books are all transient things in a toddler household. That makes them all worth buying used—especially when you realize that every onesie and pair of PJs is probably going to be on the receiving end of some projectile vomit. “Obviously, avoid anything with lead-based paint,” suggests MacEachern, and make sure any furniture, toys, or car seats are up to current safety standards.

Hobby items are worth purchasing used, too. “When my daughter joined the band, we had no idea if she was going to stick with it, so we bought her a used instrument,” says Kofke. (As a bonus, many stringed instruments get better with age!) Similarly, sports can be a love it or leave it affair, so wait until it’s a proven passion before sinking a ton of cash into new gear. The only caveat here is helmets, which, for safety reasons, should be purchased new and replaced after every impact. 

cell phone and coffee
Cell Phones And Electronics

There’s an entire subculture that wants the latest and greatest of every phone, computer, or TV screen. Which means every time a new release happens, barely used versions of the now-obsolete model flood EBay and Craigslist. Often used phones can be bought for around $100, when new retail prices are upwards of $600.

For items like computers, scan Apple’s “refurbished” offers. “Say you bought a Macbook Pro but you decided you didn’t like it and returned it,” explains MacEachern. Apple can’t sell it as new, but they can clean it up and sell it as “refurbished.” It’s a great way to score a nice computer for much less than retail. 

Related: How To Recycle Your Old Phone, Plus 9 Other Things You're Not Sure How To Get Rid Of

french press
Hand Tools And Small Appliances

“A used hammer and a new hammer are basically the same,” says Kofke. Same with a screwdriver or gardening shovel. If you can find these at a yard sale, buy them. You’ll save a ton of cash and you’ll keep them from a landfill.

MacEachern keeps an eye out for good-quality small appliances at yard sales, too. She says cheap plastic coffee pots are the most thrown-away appliance in the United States, and it’s better to skip them completely and buy a used, but sturdy, coffee apparatus—like a French press or a pour-over system. Other things like used slow cookers and ice cream makers can have wonderful second lives when purchased pre-loved. Just plug them in and make sure the motor works before parting with your cash.

Related: 9 Things The Guy At The Hardware Store Knows About You In 2 Minutes