Learn why I don’t thrift anymore and tips for shopping second hand better. Tips from a former thrift store employee and shopaholic.
If you want to become a more intentional spender and get good with money, check out my new e-book, The Intentional Spender: Why We Buy So Much Stuff and How to Stop.
Why thrift shopping is bad
The main purpose of thrift stores is to help provide jobs to disabled or low-income people and offer a place for newcomers to the country to find affordable clothing.
In recent years, thrift shopping has become popular as more people are choosing to ditch fast fashion and pay attention to how their clothing purchases impact our environment. Thrift shopping can be an eco-friendly way to practice sustainable fashion.
Due to the rising popularity of thrift shopping and reselling among the upper-middle class, celebrities, and fashion bloggers, there has been criticism that this has led to rising prices.
This could potential hurt the low-income and working-class communities who rely on thrift stores for affordable goods. For people with higher income brackets, thrift shopping has become less about necessity and more about following trends.
- 5 reasons why it’s SO hard to stop shopping and how to fix it
- How to stop impulse buying for good
- How to do the no new clothing challenge for a year
The problem with thrifting
While thrifting can be a great way to find brand name and high-end items well below retail prices, there has been some criticism that thrifting has been gentrified.
Thrift store gentrification refers to the phenomenon of affluent shoppers purchasing stuff from second hand stores by choice.
With the popularity of haul videos, online influencers frequently buy more stuff than they can realistically wear and show off their thrift store finds to their thousands of followers.
This introduced thrift shopping to the younger generation who perceive buying used clothing as a cool and fun way to experiment with their personal style, even if they can afford to buy new items.
In the past, thrift shopping catered to low-income shoppers and those living on a tight budget. However, due to the rise in eco-conscious thinking and the alluring price tags of second hand clothes, this had led many young consumers to head to their nearest thrift store to find hidden treasures and vintage goods.
Not only are these shoppers thrifting for personal wear, but many are purchasing massive amounts of second hand clothing to resell for a profit on sites like Etsy, eBay, Depop, Poshmark, and Mecari.
Due to the increased demand for thrifted goods, stores have started to increase their prices, which means that low-income shoppers may be priced out of thrift stores in their neighborhood.
Reasons why I loved thrifting
1. It feels like a treasure hunt
When you go to a thrift store, you never know what you’re going to find. Unlike traditional retail stores, thrift stores are receiving new donations on a daily basis, which makes it the perfect place for finding unique and one-of-kind pieces.
Due to this, it feels like you’re on a treasure hunt and that feeling of suspense can make the search more exciting.
Going to the thrift store or opening a shopping app became a habit to pass the time when I was bored. As I was browsing through endless clothes, it felt glorious to find stuff that you didn’t know you needed.
And the truth is – I didn’t want those good feelings to end. So I would shop daily because it was a low-effort way to boost my mood.
Not every trip to the thrift store would be a success. I would find a few interesting things each time, but what kept me coming back was the chance to find that big thrift treasure.
Thrift shopping was like a sport and each visit, I was playing a game. You win some and you lose some, but you always felt like you were one visit away from “bringing home the gold”. It was highly addictive.
If you want to learn more about how to take back control of your spending and get good with money, check out my new e-book, The Intentional Spender.
2. It feels good to score a deal
I remember spending hours a day refreshing the page and looking for the best deal on thrift store sites. I think my biggest problem was that I was afraid that I would never get a chance to buy the item for the “low” price that it was listed for again.
I would convince myself to buy the item (even if I didn’t love it) because it was such a good deal. If I didn’t buy it right now, someone else would get it, and it would be gone forever.
I would get such a rush when I found a valuable or rare item for “cheap”. But the reality is that it’s not cheap. It’s just less than the average retail price and it also cost me my time to find the item.
Then came the bragging rights and the feeling you’d get when someone would ask, “Where did you get that?” You’d reply, “Oh, it’s vintage and it only cost $5”.
3. It feels like you are doing something good for yourself and the environment
I used to buy a lot of fast fashion. But after watching The True Cost and learning about the dark side of fashion industry, this encouraged me to start shopping second hand.
Instead of learning how to become more conscious about my consumption though, I was buying more clothes than I could possibly wear because it felt good to support charity and it was cheap.
When I was working at a popular thrift store, I also got 50% off everything I bought, which encouraged me to buy even more stuff.
But many of the clothes I bought didn’t fit quite right, I didn’t really love, or they didn’t match well with other items in my wardrobe. I ended up donating more than half of the items back to the thrift store.
Even though I thought I was practicing sustainable fashion by buying second hand at the time, I didn’t realize that my spending habits were costing me hours of my life browsing stores and blowing money on stuff that I didn’t need.
The best way to truly practice sustainable fashion is to wear and use what you already have. Find ways to maximize your current wardrobe by trying my 30-Day Shop Your Closet Challenge
4. It makes you feel richer than you are
Being able to find brand name and designer goods at thrift stores for less than their retail price made me feel like I was winning.
Instead of spending $100 on ONE dress at a regular retail store, I was able to go home with several vintage items from the thrift shop for less.
I felt richer than I was because I could create trendy outfits on a thrift store budget. Even if I only wore the item once or twice, I justified the purchase because it was only $10.
I would get so excited when I found a good deal that it seemed like a no-brainer to put it in my shopping cart.
Benefits of breaking my addiction to thrift shopping
1. I accumulated less clothes
After overcoming my addiction to thrift shopping, I was buying less clothes and getting better mileage from items that I already owned.
I originally got into thrifting after working at a well-known thrift store while I was in college. Within a couple of years, thrifting hauls became more popular on YouTube, where influencers would share all the unique and vintage pieces they found at local thrift stores.
These hauls helped to beak the negative stigma around shopping at thrift stores and aimed to promote it as an environmentally conscious way to buy clothes instead of supporting fast fashion brands.
But the reality is – many of these influencers just promoted overconsumption and the idea that we constantly need to be buying more clothes. More shoes, more books, more vinyl records, more random home décor items, and more “stuff”.
Some influencers were buying more clothes than they needed. While this spending does support the charity (which is a good thing), they didn’t mention what they did with the clothes they didn’t end up wearing.
They could have been thrown away after one wear, which reinforces the idea of fast fashion and disposable clothing.
I’m not saying that it’s bad to share thrift store hauls, but it’s important to pay attention to the message you’re trying to convey to your audience. Are you encouraging over consumption or showing others how to be mindful when second hand shopping?
Read Next: How to do a low-buy year successfully
2. I spent less money (and time)
I remember spending hours browsing through shopping apps or flicking through the hangers at my local thrift store. If I wasn’t shopping, it felt like I was missing out.
This is because I convinced myself that every single item was in limited quantity. If I didn’t buy it today, I wouldn’t be able to get it tomorrow.
This scarcity mentality perpetuated a sense of urgency to shop regularly so I wouldn’t miss a thrift store “treasure”.
After I deleted shopping apps off my phone and limited the amount of time I spent at thrift stores, I found more productive ways to use my time.
For example, I started this blog to share my journey and help others who wanted to get good with money. It wasn’t long before I was able to scale my blog into a profitable six-figure business.
By spending less time shopping, I wasn’t able to agonize over items if I didn’t know they existed. I mean, you wouldn’t want that cute dress if you hadn’t seen it in the first place. The less I shopped, the less I cared about shopping.
I was able to put that extra money towards building an emergency fund, traveling, investments, and creating a life that I loved. If you need some inspiration, check out my post which shares 45 things to do instead of shopping
3. I have a better sense of my personal style now
When I used to mindlessly browse shopping apps or thrift stores, I really didn’t know what my personal style was. I would just follow trends and buy things that I thought looked interesting (or were affordable).
This led to an overflowing closet full of clothes, but it always felt like I had nothing to wear.
Nothing really matched well together or was appropriate for my current lifestyle. I would buy summer dresses in the middle of winter and high heels even though I worked from home.
Since I started buying less, this forced me to wear what I already had. I realized that a lot of the clothes I bought were for my fantasy self, which helped me to re-examine my shopping habits.
I was able to get a better sense of my personal style when I removed the noise from my closet. Below are some tips that helped me and hopefully you’ll find them helpful to discover your personal style.
- Take inventory of your closet – What pieces do you enjoy wearing the most? Why do they make you feel good? What pieces do you rarely wear or don’t like? Think about why you bought these items? Were they on sale? Were you following a trend?
- Look for fashion inspiration – I like using Pinterest to find outfit ideas. I make it fun by trying to recreate outfits using items that I already have.
- Create a capsule wardrobe – This is a small wardrobe which comprises of basics that you can easily mix and match. I try to stick to neutral colors (black, white, grey) because they tend to be versatile and classic. This is a good opportunity to identify any gaps in your wardrobe.
How to shop second hand more intentionally
1. Only shop when you actually need to buy something
I know this can be tough, but now my shopping trips are planned in advance. I avoid going to the thrift store “just to browse” or opening shopping apps on my phone when I’m bored.
I only shop when I need to buy something and it’s done with purpose, not compulsively.
Even if the “price is right”, I remind myself that stuff will always be available. It’s not going away. And if I miss out this time, something better will come along.
I also have a hard rule to absolutely not buy anything until the previous purchase has arrived. This helps me to be more mindful and deliberate with my spending.
2. Avoid buying items that don’t fit your body right now in hopes that you can alter them or your body
Buying clothes to motivate yourself is not a good idea. Clothes are meant to fit us as we are right now. We are not meant to fit into our clothes.
I used to buy stuff that was a size smaller than my current size and call them my “skinny clothes”. These were clothes that would motivate me to lose weight so I could fit into them someday.
But when you open a closet full of clothes each day that don’t fit your current body, how do you think that will make you feel?
I convinced myself that these “skinny clothes” were a good motivator to get healthy, but they only made me feel bad about myself.
3. Avoid buying items with rips, stains, or other imperfections
Most thrift stores are fairly strict about what they display in their store. However, it’s always a good idea to inspect the item for any damage or imperfections.
4. Pay attention to the material and label of an item (avoid buying fast fashion)
Fast fashion garments are not built to last. A study found that fast fashion is usually constructed to last no more than 10 wears.
Due to this, check the material and label of the item so you can avoid buying fast fashion. You don’t know how many times it’s been washed or worn, so it’s lifespan could be shortened.
Buying fast fashion second hand may reduce the guilt we have about our purchases and seem like we’re reducing our carbon footprint. But it’s important to remember that fast fashion can fall apart more quickly, which can lead us to buy more clothes to replace these low-quality items.
No matter how good of a deal it may seem, there’s no point in buying something that you’ll no longer want after a few wears.
And let’s not forget that practicing sustainable fashion is really about shifting to a mindset that takes the time to think through potential purchases and its impact on our finances and the environment.
5. Avoid buying stuff that you don’t absolutely love
I don’t know about you, but every time I bought an item that I didn’t absolutely love, I would always find one that I liked much more later.
But I already spent money on something that I wasn’t crazy about, and it made me feel guilty about my purchase.
Below are some reasons why I would buy something I didn’t absolutely love:
- I spent a lot of time searching for something and didn’t want to leave the store emptyhanded.
- The item was such a good deal, and it would be silly not to buy it.
- I would tell myself, “I could use this someday” even if I didn’t need it right now.
- Sometimes I would worry that it looks suspicious to go into a shop and not buy anything – especially smaller stores where I was the only customer at the time.
Now I find it easier to think through each purchase instead of reacting to social pressure or the “heat of the moment”. I realize that it’s totally normal to browse a shop and leave without buying anything.
Even if the store assistant is kind to you or helps you find something in the store, this doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to buy it.
At the end of the day, being in the store is just a fleeting moment. But once the money is spent on something you don’t need – it’s gone.
Read Next: How to stop buying clothes you never wear
6. Take inventory of what you already have at home
We have a natural tendency to consume more, not less. This can make it easy to overspend and buy things we don’t need.
If you have a large or disorganized wardrobe, I guarantee that there are items hiding in your closet that you’ve forgotten about.
I used to buy stuff all the time not realizing that I already had something similar at home, such as clothes, shoes, books, or random kitchen gadgets.
A good way to prevent this is to take inventory of what you have. You can also use this as an opportunity to declutter by sorting items into three piles:
- Things you use regularly – (Keep these items)
- Things you haven’t used in the past year – (Make a plan to use them or sell them)
- Things you don’t love or use anymore – (Make a plan to donate or sell them)
When you take inventory of what you have, this can also help you appreciate your stuff more. You may discover pieces that you forgot you owned, or it can make you realized how much stuff you already have.
It’s like a mental switch that flips from thinking, “I’m missing out on everything” to “Look at everything I have in my life”.
7. Remember, there will always be stuff out there so don’t feel pressured to buy anything
After taking a break from shopping, I realized that a lot of these items will come around again. If I miss out on something, I just tell myself that it wasn’t meant to be and move on.
8. Have a plan for when you get bored or feel the urge to shop
One of the reasons why we like to shop and spend money is because it makes us feel like we’re in control.
A study found that when we’re more likely to shop when we’re feeling sad, which is an emotion that’s linked to feeling a lack of control.
When we turn to retail therapy, this gives us a hit of dopamine (the feel-good hormone), which can reduce our feelings of sadness and help restore a perceived sense of control.
Instead of seeking instant gratification through retail therapy, I’ve learned how to better manage my emotions.
It’s important to realize that feelings are just feelings. As humans, we are supposed to experience a broad range of emotions. So when I feel the urge to shop, I try to figure out why.
- Do I want to shop because I’m feeling emotional? (Sad, bored, stressed, and so on)
- Do I want to shop because I saw something on social media that made me feel like I need to buy something?
- Do I want to shop because it’s a habit to scroll on my phone and browse shopping apps?
Acknowledge what you’re feeling and let yourself feel it. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but think of feelings as a cycle. Feelings come and go and if you want the negative feeling to go away, you have to let it complete its cycle.
For me, it helps to journal (especially in my gratitude journal), go for a walk, have a nap, clean something, exercise, do 10 minutes of learning a new language, coloring in an adult coloring book, listening to a motivating podcast, or cooking a healthy meal.
Some days, the impulse to shop is extremely difficult to resist. It’s like your brain has been trained to do this shopping thing, like it’s an automatic reaction to distract yourself from feeling sad or bored.
Due to this, you have to train your brain that there are other things you can do that don’t involve shopping. There are healthier ways for you to restore a sense of control.
9. Unsubscribe from store emails
The easiest and most effective way to stop shopping is to remove the temptation to shop. Whenever I got a store email letting me know about new products or a sale, I couldn’t help but click through to browse.
But browsing leads to seeing things that I want, which leads me to spending money on things that I don’t need.
Honestly, it’s best to unsubscribe from store emails, uninstall shopping apps off your phone, unfollow accounts that encourage you to buy stuff on social media, and delete your saved credit card information on sites.
If you use any “buy now, pay later” services such as Afterpay or Klarna, I recommend deleting them as well.
If you have to go on a shopping app, try putting a structure in place so it takes more effort to shop. Below are some examples of structures you may want to consider:
- Instead of using your phone, make yourself pull out your laptop or turn on your desktop computer. It takes more effort than scrolling on your phone.
- Clean something before shopping. Cleaning your stuff makes you appreciate what you already have.
- Delete your saved credit card information on shopping sites. Put your wallet in a different room so it takes more effort to grab it.
- Read or journal for 10 minutes before shopping. This can help take your mind off of shopping.
10. Set a monthly “thrift store” budget in cash
If you want to shop, leave your debit and credit cards at home. Instead, switch to cash-only for thrift store shopping. For more tips, check out my post on how to use the cash envelope system (with or without cash).
Using cash for areas that tend to bust your budget can help prevent you from overspending and be more mindful of your purchases. That’s because studies have shown that we tend to spend less when using cash than a credit card.
In fact, credit card spenders are willing to pay almost twice as much than those who are paying with cash.
This means you’ll only use cash when spending in this specific category (thrift store shopping), such as $20 per week. To keep everything organized, I recommend putting the cash in an envelope. Once the cash is gone from your envelope, it’s gone.
Don’t be tempted to move money around from different spending categories to cover thrift store shopping. Wait until next week when you can refill your envelope with another $20.
You can use cash envelopes for any category to help you take back control of your spending. It’s a fun and simple way to stick to your budget.
Is thrifting sustainable?
Thrift shopping can be an eco-friendly way to practice sustainable fashion. You’re giving new life to something that would have otherwise ended up in landfill.
It can also help reduce chemical pollution, lower your carbon footprint, decrease landfill waste, and aids in water preservation.
However, only 20% of the clothing we donate to thrift stores are displayed and sold in the store. The remaining 80% of donations ends up in landfill or is sold to developing countries that can hurt the business of local textiles workers.
Why is thrifting so popular?
Today, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how their purchases are impacting the environment. Shopping at thrift shops and second hand stores allows consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, save money, and support their local community.
In the past, I remember there was a certain stigma associated with buying and wearing used clothes. But thanks to social media, thrifting has become edgy and seen as cooler because more people are doing it.
Influencers are often posting videos or thrift store hauls on Instagram, Tik Tok, and YouTube, which encourages the younger generation to start thrifting.
Is it ethical to shop at Goodwill?
Thrift stores such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Value Village have been around for years. They are the most popular stores for people to donate their gently used items.
Goodwill is a non-profit social enterprise that provides work opportunities and skill development for those who face barriers such as disability or social disadvantage.
They provide access to affordable goods for families, divert millions of pounds of waste from ending up in landfill, foster social inclusion, and helps to alleviate poverty.
According to Goodwill’s website, the money its stores make goes towards creating jobs at Goodwill, helping fund job training, employee and family strength training programs and employment services, helping people with disabilities and those who face social disadvantage and are marginalized.
However, since thrifting as become a trendy hobby, prices have rose significantly in thrift stores due to increased demand. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult for people who rely on thrift stores to survive.