10 Great Things to Buy Used

Usually, the greenest item you can buy is one that already exists, yet it seems as though a new “eco-friendly” product hits the market daily, leading consumers to believe that they’re killing the planet with every purchase if they opt for anything but these fancy new items.

We’re not saying buying new is a bad thing. We love new green toys as much as anyone. But when it comes to some items, you’re practically flushing your hard-earned dollars down the drain when you don’t buy used. To get you started on your personal reuse revolution, here are 10 things you should buy used every time.

Forget shelling out more than $20 on that new hardcopy. Shop your local second-hand bookstore for some classic finds. Photo: Flickr/trp0

1. Books

Why drop $30 on shiny new printing of A Tale of Two Cities? A gently used copy that can be purchased for pennies on the dollar is exactly the same. Books are often read only once or twice by each owner, and public libraries, book mobiles and schools are packed to capacity with donated gently used manuscripts.

You never know what you’ll find in a 25-cent book bin, and searching for gems is a great activity to share with your kids.

2. Cars

We’re not suggesting you hit Honest Joe’s Car Lot and pick up a Ford Pinto, but with a little research you can find a used car with the same safety, fuel efficiency and performance as a new model at a much cheaper price. We know what you’re thinking, New cars are better for the environment, right? Not always.

It takes a staggering amount of energy to make a new car, and an energy-efficient used car actually comes with a much smaller footprint than a brand new one. Choose the model that’s right for you, and find a reputable dealer that will give you a warranty with your used vehicle. Saving energy and money without cutting corners? Sounds like a smooth ride to us.

3. Kids’ clothes and shoes

They grow up so fast, don’t they? And that outfit grandma bought three months ago is looking a little snug. Buying new clothes and shoes for growing kids can cost a fortune, and considering they usually only wear a given garment for a few months before outgrowing it, there are plenty of good-as-new kids’ clothes out there on the market. But don’t restrict yourself to thrift-store shopping for reused rompers. Set up clothing-swaps with family and friends. When Tommy hits his next growth-spurt there will be plenty of hand-me-downs to go around.

4. CDs, DVDs and video games

Remember how hard you used to rock out to White Snake in your car? Where’s that album now? Our tastes change pretty rapidly, and people often end up donating their music, movies and video games once they lose interest. You can often purchase used entertainment items at a fraction of the cost of new stuff.

Just think: a 13-year-old skateboarder might be picking your old White Snake album out of the bin at the exact moment you spot Nirvana’s Nevermind. Share on, entertainment-lovers.

5. Toys and games

It can be tough to tell which toys and games will be a hit with the kids and what will lay forgotten under the bed. Used toys may not have been the favorites of their previous owners, but they could be your kids’ pick-of-the-week. And when cleaned with a non-toxic cleanser, they are completely safe and ready for play.

Hand tools really are built to last, so scour the secondhand shops before splurging on a new item. Photo: Flickr/_sarchi

6. Hand tools

Hand tools like hammers, screw-drivers and wrench sets are built to last, and if you’re in the market for some new ones, check out neighborhood yard sales before heading to the big-box retailer.

You can often find just what you need for under a buck, and you’ll keep a useful item from hitting the landfill.

If tools are a little rusty, use a wire brush and a rust remover like Evapo-Rust, which you can find at your local hardware store.

Yard tools such as spades, hedge clippers and hoes are also great garage sale finds. And look beyond the dirt! Even yard tools that are rusted or caked with mud can be cleaned with a minimal amount of elbow grease.

Start with a good soak in some hot water to remove mud and dirt, and then begin removing rust. If handles are worn or uncomfortable to hold, sand them down with sandpaper or wrap with a heavy-duty non-toxic tape.

7. Jewelry

Anyone who has tried to sell a piece of jewelry knows that resale value can be shockingly low. Cash-in on these rock-bottom prices as the buyer, and purchase used pieces with a lower price tag and a smaller extraction footprint. Check out used jewelry stores and estate sales, and you will be shocked at some of the classically beautiful pieces you’ll find for prices lower than new boutique items.

Jewelry showing signs of tarnish or wear-and-tear can be cleaned in a snap. Try this trick for tarnished silver: line the container of your choice with aluminum foil, add just enough water to cover your jewelry and throw in a tablespoon each of salt and baking soda.

Let your jewelry sit for a few hours and watch tarnish disappear, with no scrubbing! For precious stones, you may want to opt for an eco-friendly jewelry cleaner, like Diamonds and Pearls by Gemcare.

Who says that guitar has to be brand new? Sometimes a little wear and tear makes it easier to play. Photo: Flickr/Phil Dragash

8. Musical instruments

Buying a brand-new instrument for a beginner is often not the soundest investment, and since classic instruments play just as well, there’s no reason not to buy used. Most music stores sell gently used instruments, and you can often find a cool vintage pick for a price lower than a new instrument. Even if you’re a seasoned pro, you can’t beat a vintage choice for some added musical personality.

Many instruments will only need a once-over with an eco-friendly instrument cleaner, like Brillianize Musical Instrument Cleaner and Polish, but if you’re putting your mouth on it, you may want to do a deeper clean.

Give your brass or woodwinds a good soak in warm water, white vinegar and baking soda. This alone is enough to banish the ick-factor, though you can add a metal-safe eco-friendly cleaner to the mix to make sure you’re truly cootie-free. These ingredients also work wonders on stains and tarnish. This time mix the water, vinegar and baking soda into a paste, and rub it onto your music-maker. Rinse, buff and enjoy!

9. Home décor

Mirrors, wall-hangings and household knick-knacks are usually well-loved but rarely handled. So, used accents typically show little signs of wear-and-tear and add the same personality to your pad as new pieces.

Garage sales, thrift stores and antique shops are great spots to hunt for one-of-a-kind décor items. A cool vintage accent has a lighter footprint and way more spunk than a run-of-the-mill piece from Pier 1.

10. Exercise and recreational equipment

We all have at least one friend that has been using her treadmill as a coat-rack for years. When she finally gets sick of looking at the barely-used fitness find, she’ll likely donate it or sell it for a fraction of its worth.

Let her unfulfilled New Years’ resolution become a welcome addition to your home-gym by buying used fitness equipment. Buying electronic items from a reputable retailer is a safer bet, but you can often find items like free weights for less than a dollar at garage sales or second-hand stores. A quick wipe with an eco-friendly multi-purpose cleaner and these items are as good as new!

Recreational items such as golf clubs and tennis rackets are great used finds as well. They’re way cheaper, and they play just the same.

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Mary Mazzoni


  1. Imagine the impact on both our landfills and our wallets if more of us began to do these things! Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, as well as neighborhood flea markets are great places to find what we need, prevent waste, save money, and help others — win, win, win, win — sounds good to me!

  2. Furniture is a great, cheaper buy when you get used. So many people just toss couches, tables, etc when they find a new one they like.

    And if you are looking to add a fuzzy, scaly, or feathered friend to the family as well, try a shelter, rescue, or the classifieds! Save a life and some cash :)

  3. My mom ‘dragged’ us to the resale shops when we were kids… early 1960’s.. She loved finding
    treasure. You can call it used clothing or furniture, but when you are paying $20 for a $500 dresser,
    or $5 for a $200 pair of shoes..it’s treasure!! I have not shopped retail to buy anything in clothing or furniture in years. It’s more fun to find that ‘one treasure’ that you can share with someone who is a collector. It also keeps more money in your pocket, and the great folks from the Salvation Army stores, etc. are filling the shelves every day with second hand items that are ready to use for a fraction of their value. I am never surprised at the folks I meet there to shop! So I have become a treasure hunter… Mom would have loved that!

  4. Used tools definitely! Scissors, screw drivers, wrenches….you name it….the old ones are made out of hardened steel. What are the ones at Home Depot made out of? Blech, some alloy that gets dull and pitted in no time at all.

    And, I agree with Alysa. Some old furniture is made better and last longer. I’ve reupholstered, scrubbed rust off of and repainted alley finds. These pieces are the ones that make a room unique!

  5. GREAT list, Mary! But, hey, don’t go knocking my Ford Pinto! I had a Pinto station wagon years ago, and it was a GREAT little car! I LOVED it!

  6. I highly recommend FreeCycle to everyone and anyone who will listen. It’s the place to get rid of the stuff you no longer need, or want, or don’t use anyway AND you can get stuff from others too! I’m signed up in my own community, as well as a few a little further out – as far as I might be willing to drive to – in order to have access to more possibilities. Check it out, sign up, then pass the link along to everyone, because the more people in the group – The Better!

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