While secondhand shopping is often associated with buying clothes, technology or household goods for yourself, it’s also an affordable and environmentally conscious way to find the perfect gift for others.
Instead of pre-loved items ending up in landfills or incinerators where they can release harmful greenhouse gases, heavy metals and other pollutants, secondhand shopping puts items back into circulation, reducing their overall environmental footprint. Plus, when you choose secondhand, you’re avoiding the destructive extraction and production of raw materials that would have gone into making a new product.
In particular, the improper disposal of old technology as electronic waste, which is often shipped overseas, can have detrimental effects on the environment and human health. High-risk informal recycling techniques, such as wire burning, are particularly dangerous and can lead to heavy-metal contamination. The risks are highest in countries that lack resources and infrastructure to manage the growing waste burden.
The quick turnover of new devices also contributes to unsustainable demand for mined rare earth minerals, often through practices that harm wild plants and animals, cause pollution, and violate human rights. While electronics recycling and corporate trade-in programs have become more accessible and convenient in the past few years, secondhand and refurbished devices make great gifts, save money, and protect the environment.
Shopping secondhand isn’t just for electronics, of course. Clothing, furniture, home décor and just about everything else can be purchased used. And shopping at neighborhood brick-and-mortar secondhand stores is a great way to support small businesses and invest in your own local economy.
If you can’t find what you need at your local thrift store — or you don’t have time to shop in person —you’re in luck: The rise of reselling and social e-commerce platforms such as GoodwillFinds, thredUP, The RealReal, Poshmark, AptDeco, Kaiyo and Depop as well as long-standing platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist, have made secondhand gift-giving even easier and more widely accepted. Additionally, secondhand and refurbished devices from tech stores such as BackMarket are a great way to score more affordable and thoroughly tested secondhand electronics. All of these online stores can easily be included in a SoKind alternative gift wishlist.
A recent thredUP resale report found that secondhand shopping is expected to keep rapidly increasing over the next decade, as growing numbers of people express a willingness to buy secondhand. This growing enthusiasm has the potential to keep millions of used products out of landfills and extend their lifespans, creating a shift toward a circular economy.
1. Match the gift with the person, and make it meaningful: Although a growing number of people (66%-72%) say they’re open to receiving secondhand gifts, it’s still important to choose meaningful gifts the recipient will love. Since some secondhand gifts can’t be easily returned, consider whether the gift will be the right fit, literally or figuratively. For example, an antique flowerpot for your aunt who enjoys gardening might land better than a vintage dress that may not be her size or style. Younger generations (particularly Gen Z) report higher rates of interest in secondhand gifts and secondhand items in general, so keep age in mind when shopping.
2. Gear up with gently loved gifts for future adventures: Giving secondhand gear and other items that support a hobby is a great way to give a gift that keeps on giving, including gifts that may otherwise have an out-of-reach price tag. For example, buying secondhand camping gear or a preloved easel can open the world to future adventures for family members who hike or paint. Check out our advice for other ways to transform gift giving through alternative gifts.
3. Less is still more: Just because secondhand shopping is cheaper and more eco-friendly than buying new, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a cost to purchasing things you don’t really need. Overbuying and dumping secondhand items will continue to perpetuate harm, pricing out families who don’t have as much choice in where they shop based on the affordability of items and increasing the waste headed to landfills. Choose items you know will be loved, think about the long-term usefulness of the products you buy, and consider giving gifts of experience instead of material items.
4. How we donate matters, too: Although secondhand shopping helps keep used products out of landfills, some things that secondhand shops can’t sell are still disposed of, so it’s important to only donate good reusable items. The popularity of fast fashion means that lower-quality apparel and other items, like cheap harmful plastic products, are increasingly ending up at secondhand stores and having very real negative impacts for families who thrift out of necessity and the stores that sell the goods. Some donation centers even ship excess products overseas, competing with local businesses in emerging markets. These global issues demand larger transformations in consumption and production, but as individuals we can help by considering the durability of an item — whether it’s new or secondhand — before purchasing or donating it.
5. The greatest gift might already be at home: Finally, if you want to save money and declutter, consider regifting an item you already have at home. If you’ve ever received a gift that ended up just sitting in your closet, regifting offers a way to give it to someone who will appreciate it. With growing interest in regifted items, a gift that isn’t quite right for you might end up being perfect for someone else. One way to regift things is through a SoKind give list, which lets you share gifts you’d like to give with friends and family.
SoKind is a registry and wishlist service that encourages the giving of homemade gifts, charitable donations, secondhand goods, experiences, time, day-of-event help, and more. Here's to more fun and less stuff!
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