retail me not: greening your wardrobe at the thrift shop

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I dropped off a few pair of shoes and some costume jewelry at My Sister’s Closet this afternoon, adding another dozen or so items to my list of 2011 items that I’ve decluttered from our home this year.  My Sister’s Closet is a thrift shop in downtown Vancouver where they accept and sell clothing donations from the community (both personal and business donations), and the proceeds from sales go to women in need who are trying to re-establish their lives without the influence of violence or abuse.  I try to do a lot of my clothing shopping there, as I’d prefer to buy something that is gently used and contribute to the practice of recycling, rather than purchasing something brand new when a gently used option was readily available.  I was reading David Suzuki‘s Green Guide, last week and a point he made has really stuck with me.  He writes:

By reducing your consumption of goods by 1 kilogram, you can save approximately 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of natural resources and prevent 200 kilograms of waste and pollution.  By this measure, individual acts of conservation can have a huge effect.

I can honestly say that reading that statement and internalizing that piece of knowledge has done more to limit my consumption than I would have thought possible. I don’t think those numbers will ever leave my consciousness.  Anytime I am in a store now, I carefully consider each purchase and keep this idea in mind.  I think that is what is so appealing about shopping at thrift stores: by shopping at a thrift shop, we are able to limit our contribution to the stream of waste we all generate as human beings on this planet.  In addition to the fact that the proceeds from donations are going to a great cause, shopping at thrift shops is a form of recycling. We all need clothing to wear to protect us from the elements and it’s important to feel good about ourselves in the clothes we do wear, so why not try to limit the environmental effects of those purchases as much as possible?

Here’s how to make the most of thrift store shopping:

  • Shop in thrift stores that are local to you.  I am lucky to have two great thrift shops within walking distance of my home, and there are a couple of thrift stores in nearby neighbourhoods on bus routes.  I tend to stick with things that are easily accessible and don’t require a ton of extra effort – try to find a good local thrift shop in your neighbourhood or that you don’t have to go to far to get to.  Otherwise, it feels more like work than like fun.
  • Visit regularly.  Sometimes items are donated to thrift shops and they are such gems, they end up getting sold quite quickly.  Besides supporting a great cause, My Sister’s Closet often has some fabulous finds!  If you’re pretty selective about what you do own and wear (like me), it’s a good idea to stop by your local thrift shop once or twice a week.  I often find I spend a couple of minutes in the store to see if there’s anything worthwhile, and if not, I am on my way.
  • Shop only in season.  Most thrift stores don’t have enough room to store items that aren’t in season, so try to keep this in mind as a good idea for your own closet too.  If you see a nice wool sweater on the rack but it’s the middle of July, consider foregoing that purchase.  You might not even like your impulse purchase by the time the right season comes around.
  • Donate your own items when you are no longer wearing them.  I love going into the thrift shop and seeing things for sale there that I donated.  I feel like I am contributing a bit to the community by donating items that can be sold to others who will use them, and whose proceeds can go to a cause that supports those in need.
  • Consider a capsule wardrobe.  I’d like to go into this further in a future post, but consider the fact that you probably wear only a certain kind of clothing or certain items pretty regularly throughout the week.  My wardrobe consists of t-shirts, leggings, a couple of skirts and two pair of jeans.  This is my uniform.  If I need a pair of leggings, I stick to looking for those at the thrift shop.  If I find a designer purse or a fancy dress that I will never wear, I leave it for someone else to find, no matter how good of a deal it might be.
  • Bring your own reusable bags.  Most thrift shops provide plastic bags, but consider bringing your own bags if one of your goals of choosing thrifting over shopping at conventional stores is to reduce waste.
  • If you’re looking for something specific but can’t find it in the thrift shop, consider an online marketplace.  If you’re looking for something specific but are getting discouraged because you can’t seem to find it in a resale shop, consider posting a “wanted” ad on craigslist or another local online marketplace site.  Someone else in your community might just have the item you are looking for sitting at the back of their closet, just waiting to go to another home.  These sort of online sites are another great place to find gently used items for a great price.
I am not against buying clothing brand new, as I know sometimes it’s just not possible to find what you’re looking for in the right size.  However, I have a pretty minimal wardrobe and I can manage to get by with what I have already and supplement my wardrobe by making a few select purchases from the thrift shop over the course of the year.

Do you ever shop at thrift shops?  If so, do you find it easy or hard to find what you are looking for in your hometown?

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3 responses »

  1. Thrift stores are our first stop when we are looking for clothes. With six in our family, it has been a huge help with stretching our budget! We have quite a few in our area (though not within walking distance!) Sometimes we can’t find what we want/need and end up buying new, but any little bit helps!

  2. Good for you! I can only imagine how expensive a clothing budget could get with a family of six. Does your family practice handing down clothing to younger members? I try to do that too, but I am finding my kids are built so differently that things that look good on my oldest aren’t quite the same on my youngest. Also, I am finding things are getting worn out more quickly as they get older, or maybe this is happening because they are just wearing things longer too.

  3. We do pass down. My boys are built differently, as you mentioned. So, they can’t pass down pants or shorts. And boys are usually harder on clothes. With my girls, I have a “sister box”. After my first daughter outgrows them, they either move to the other side of the closet for the younger one or they go in that box until she can wear them. My sister has four girls so after my girls, they go to them! Sometimes people outside the family pass to us (like at church). We have a clothes closet at our church where we can take items or drop off items.

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