Rachel is a mum of three (soon to be four!) and lives in south west London. Her long-held love for charity shop bargains was reignited when her eldest, Lucas, was born in her attempts to address our consumerist society and reduce our waste. Here, Rachel gives us her top tips on buying second-hand and why we should all be doing it.
Over the last few years I have been trying to change the way I shop, mainly for environmental reasons but also to steer clear of excessive consumerism and fast fashion, and to avoid accumulating more stuff than we need. My shopping model is to either buy better quality items that will last and are ethically and sustainably made, or to buy things second hand. Items we are finished with become someone else’s second hand.
Buying second hand could be considered part of 'Reuse' from the 3 Rs of recycling... Reduce Reuse Recycle, which is key to stopping our damaging throwaway culture. It is not always possible to reuse your own items, but often it is possible to reuse other people's. When buying second hand, the environmental impact is negligible as the environmental ‘cost’ of producing the item has already been ‘paid’ with the original purchase and owner. You are then potentially saving the item from landfill or incineration, both very damaging to our planet. You are also saving the environmental cost that would have occurred had you bought new. In addition, second hand is often cheaper. For me, this leaves more money to put towards those better quality items when I do buy new.
Shopping for children is something that works particularly well with the second-hand market because clothes and toys are often outgrown before they have reached the end of their life. This means you can find almost everything you need second hand! So where are the best places to buy these second-hand children’s items?
Charity shops are great for many second-hand purchases and in particular children’s clothes, toys and accessories. There are a number of advantages: you can see before you buy, your money goes to a good cause, no postage costs, no environmental impact associated with posting - and the treasure hunt can be pretty thrilling! The disadvantages are that it can be time consuming, you sometimes find nothing you want to buy, the quality of charity shop donations can really vary with different shops and towns, and it can be challenging to find a specific item you need. I look out for good quality brands that I love but that I wouldn’t buy new because they are not sustainably made. But I have also been lucky enough to find some organic kids clothes and fair trade sustainable toys!
Ebay can be a great too. The advantages are that if you need something specific, you are highly likely to find it on Ebay, you can buy things from all over the country (or world) and you are protected if you are not happy with your purchase. The disadvantages include the cost and environmental impact of the items being posted, sought after items can rise in price very quickly, and you can’t try before you buy. I use Ebay to look for specific items I need, for example recently a baby snow suit and a wooden rocket toy.
Facebook groups are another great way to shop. You can join groups dedicated to specific clothing and toys brands. For me, this means I can buy organic, ethically-made clothing and sustainable fair-trade toys second hand, lowering the already low environmental impact of these items! The advantages and disadvantages are similar to Ebay, but I would add that it is easy to get carried away with the hype in these groups!
There are certainly lots of advantages to buying second hand and it is really quite easy when shopping for children. But does this mean we should all only buy second hand?
Of course not, because if we did we would eventually run out of things! So coming back to my shopping model, once we’ve bought what we can second-hand, we need to ensure what we buy new is ethically and sustainably made, as far as possible. This also means buying good quality items that are well made and can be passed on to the next child, or eventually sold on or donated. There would be less waste as there would be fewer poor quality items that don’t last and unwanted items would more easily find a new home.