How do I shop for second-hand items?

Buying products that are second-hand, or “thrifting,” can help you save money and the environment - learn the tips, tricks, and risks!

Why should I go thrift shopping?

The process of buying used items at discounted prices is called “thrifting.” Many people go thrift shopping because:

  • It saves shoppers money. Everyday items that may be too expensive at retail value are usually heavily discounted when they’re used. 
  • It reduces waste and is good for the environment. Used items often end up in the landfill, even if they’re in good condition. Producing goods also has a huge negative impact on the environment. If everyone got into the habit of recycling and reusing goods, then we would make and waste fewer products as a society, and could collectively have a positive effect on the environment.  
  • It helps people connect with each other. Thrifting can be a way to get to know more people in your community including other thrifters, neighbors doing yard sales, and local businesses.
  • The money they spend may go towards a good cause. A lot of thrift stores are not-for-profit organizations, meaning they’re goal is to offer affordable and sustainable shopping options, not to make a profit. Some also partner with charities and make donations to them. 
  • You can get unique items. Used items can hold a lot of value for different reasons. You can get collectibles or technology that manufacturers no longer produce, or products from different countries that may not be sold here. 

People go thrifting for a variety of reasons, and there are many places you can shop. If you decide to buy second-hand items, it’s important to shop responsibly so you get the best deals and minimize any risks.

What items can I get second-hand?

Getting something used doesn’t mean that it’s bad quality or damaged. In fact, thrift stores check the quality of the items that people donate, and refuse certain types of products that shouldn’t be sold second-hand. 

Many people donate items that they or their children have outgrown, like clothes, or that they’ve upgraded, like electronics. They may also give away things that are in great condition because they’re moving away and can’t take everything with them. 

There are many kinds of products you can buy pre-owned, including:

  • Clothing, including winter jackets and shoes 
  • Furniture 
  • Electronics
  • Home goods, including cookware, small appliances, and decorative items
  • Sporting equipment, including camping gear 
  • Books 
  • Toys 

Where can I buy second-hand items?

Many kinds of sellers put up pre-owned items for sale, including big chains, local small businesses, and even individual people

Some places you can check out are:

  • Thrift store retailers like Value Village, Goodwill, Talize, etc. These places offer a wide variety of items donated by people who want to recycle their stuff instead of send them to a landfill, so there's usually a huge selection to choose from.
  • Local thrift stores in your area may sell a certain type of product, like clothes or furniture. 
  • Buy and sell platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, where you’ll find people in your community posting about items they want to get rid of.
  • Buy and sell platforms like Instagram and Etsy, where small businesses can set up shop to sell their products. They usually specialize in certain types of products, like clothing or home decor. 
  • Flea markets, where many different vendors gather to sell their products at discounted rates. Not all shops in flea markets sell used items, but they are likely to be discounted regardless. 
  • Pop-up shops in your community, like yard sales, garage sales and moving sales. These are usually up for a short period of time, like the weekend, and will be selling many things from a single household. You can find these types of sales just by walking around residential neighborhoods on a warm, sunny day, or by checking out local bulletin boards in your library, community center, grocery store, etc. 
  • Furniture stores and furniture banks that specifically sell used, sometimes refurbished furniture.

What are some thrifting tips?

The more you thrift, the better you’ll get at finding the best items and the best deals. To get started, here are some tips and tricks:

  1. Declutter first. Get rid of things you no longer need or use, and make a list of what you’re looking for. It’s easy to get carried away, especially when buying things at a discounted price. Start organized and stay organized! 
  2. Research sales and discounts. Yes, even thrift stores have sales! They may discount their products even further for certain groups of people, like students or seniors. Look online and try just window shopping at a few different places before you purchase anything.   
  3. Go thrifting when the price is right. Many retailers, including thrift stores, mark down prices after big holidays, like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Eid, Diwali, etc. 
  4. Shop online AND offline. Many people use different platforms to buy and sell their used items, and you can find local sellers to avoid shipping costs. On the other hand, thrift stores sell one-of-a-kind items that they don’t always list online like other retailers, so it’s best to check them out in-person.
  5. Don’t forget about shipping costs. The online sticker price can be misleading if you don’t factor in delivery. If you choose to buy online from a local seller, you may want to ask them to hold the item for pick-up, or meet the seller in person if possible. Make sure to take safety precautions if you do so!
  6. Search for brands you like and trust. Many companies make high quality products that may last for many years if they’re taken care of. Look for brands you know, or research the brand of the product you’re considering before making a purchase.
  7. Read labels. Many items you buy second-hand may pose safety concerns, especially if a child will be using it. Labels can let consumers know about the product and the risks involved so you make an informed decision on whether or not to buy. 
  8. Don’t be shy and ask questions. Ask how old the product is, how much use it had, whether it came from a smoking household, etc. A thrift store clerk may not know all the answers, but if you’re buying something off of Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji, the seller is more likely to have that information. Either way, try to investigate what you can. 
  9. Check to see if items are damaged or missing parts. Although thrift stores have their own process to assure quality, they may miss something, or you may want something in better condition. Look over the item to see if it’s damaged, and see if it’s something you can fix yourself, or turn it into a DIY project! You may be able to negotiate even more of a discount if you let the seller know the product is damaged before you buy. 

How do I thrift responsibly?

Getting great deals and reducing waste is exciting, but buying certain second-hand items can pose a safety risk. Whether used or not, certain products MUST meet safety standards as set by the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. 

Some items you should be careful about buying include: 

  • Car seats
  • Children’s jewelry and sleepwear 
  • Cosmetics 
  • Cribs, cradles, bassinets, playpens, safety gates, strollers
  • Toys 
  • Microwave ovens
  • Bunk beds 
  • High chairs
  • Drawstrings on children’s clothing that pose a choking hazard
  • Helmets

To learn how to take precautions when buying each of the items listed above and more, check out the Government of Canada’s suggestions for putting safety above savings when buying second-hand products.

You should also be aware of product recalls! Some manufacturers ask retailers to send back products they’re selling because they realize the product is faulty or unsafe. Unfortunately, many of these products are already in the hands of buyers, who may not know about the recall. Search the Government of Canada’s “recalls, advisories and safety alerts list” to see if a product you’re buying second-hand is being recalled. 

If you think a seller is not following regulations and selling potentially harmful items, report the incident to Health Canada.

Get creative, get thrifting and be safe!