Used Is the New New

A photo essay celebrating readers' second-hand treasures.
This post is 5 in the series: My Year of Nothing New
Piper's awesome accordion.

Piper's awesome accordion.

One of the best things about my experiment to buy no new stuff this year is hearing from people who’ve been living this way for a long time, cutting their carbon footprints, saving money, weathering the recession, and rejiggering their priorities to favor family, friends, and financial sanity over credit card debt and mindless materialism.

These “no-new” veterans will proudly tell you that new stuff, with all its high-priced packaging, shipping, off-gassing, and carbon-intensive manufacturing, is way overrated. But that doesn’t mean they hate stuff—or even shopping! Au contraire. There are plenty of connoisseurs, even collectors, in our no-new ranks. One reader characterizes herself as an Elite Thrifter. I love that!

And because they hunted and foraged for these treasures, pawing through lots of other discards to find them, they often cherish them even more than items purchased new. Indeed, most thrifters I know relish a chance to recount their acquisition stories and show off their big thrift “scores.” (Alternatively, some don’t want to let the cat out of the bag about the good deals to be found at thrift shops! Competition is already stiff enough as is.)

So, it’s time to share some of our readers’ second-hand finds. The photos you see here are just to whet your appetite; there’s more on our Pinterest board.

Piper’s awesome thrift shop accordion kicks us off (above). It’s a thing of beauty, indeed! And by all accounts, she skipped all the way home from Goodwill after finding it there.

And how about this frilly vintage dress, modeled by Sightline friend Amanda Mathson? Gorgeous! (The dress was found at a thrift shop by the expert thrifters and high fashion recyclers at Lodekka in Portland. Amanda is photographed by Michael Travers Lee of Focus97.)

Michael T Lee, Focus97.

Here’s a detail.

Amanda Mathson, photographed by Michael Travers Lee.

And here’s Portland designer, photographer, and friend to Sightline, Patrick Barber’s detail of a vintage men’s shirt he got at a thrift shop.

Patrick Barber.

Sightline’s Eric Hess got these cool bar stools second-hand.

Brooke has a good eye for thrifting and photography. She writes about her fabulous finds, along with tips about mending used items to give them new life, lessons learned about the Art of Thrifting (not to be missed!), and other insights about simple and good living on her blog, Secondhand Goods. Check out these red boots!

Brooke, Secondhand Goods.

Jordan sent us this note with the photo below. What luck to have a magical alley!

The framed poster of Tivoli is from Value Village, the organ from our “magical” alley (we live between two high-turnover apartment buildings), the chair was my grandparents’, and the rainstick and stool from a yard sale.

Jordan West Monez

Kurt Guenther—also a good friend to Sightline—made an outdoor art installation from second-hand stuff. He writes:

For three years, I collected used glass plates, vases, broken bits and marbles and added them to the phone pole in front of our house. It became a sort of tree in bloom by the time we moved at the end of last year. The new owners are keeping it and the utility company has let it be.

Dearborn and Ballard Goodwill stores supplied most of the glass with additional finds at the ReStore and yard sales. The lights are from Goodwill’s Christmas in July. It’s about 15′ tall.

Kurt Guenther,

Here are some kitchen essentials that Joan found at yard sales.

Joan M.

Melanie wrote: “This brunch set for $25 made my day!”

Melanie Coerver

Clark, a friend from Tri-cities, wrote: “ANNA, THE CHAIR, DESK AND EVERYTHING ON IT—AND ON THE WINDOW LEDGE—ARE FROM CRAIG’S LIST OR GARAGE SALES.” (Don’t worry, he always uses all-caps, I don’t think he’s “yelling.”)

Clark D.

And here’s my aunt’s collection of thrift store candlesticks, purchased one by one over the years. When they’re all blazing at her dining room table, the effect is dazzling–and very chic! (Thanks, Janet!)


Janet M.

Maren’s friends Anne and Doug found this darling tea set for her 2 year-old at Goodwill (toddler hand pictured for scale).

Maren M.

Scott Lindberg, a guy I connected with on Flickr, is a self-described “thrift shop archaeologist.” He also jokes about “thrift karma,” a concept I’ve come to understand myself over the years. But he seems to have a serious amount of karma—along with unflagging patience, endurance, and a keen eye for designer pieces that the rest of us would invariably overlook. He writes about his second-hand finds at Ars Longa. Here are two pieces that he’s particularly fond of, both “unearthed” at thrift shops.

Russel Wright sherry pitcher, a thrift-store find by Scott Lindberg.

You know that feeling when you happen on to something really special? Here’s how Scott described the moment he found the piece below by Corita Kent (a.k.a. Sister Corita):

…the blood drained from my face I found myself aghast, wondering if I really could be standing in front of a Sister Corita serigraph in a thrift shop? Was I daydreaming again? Fortunately my dream had come to reality. And now for five dollars, I am the owner of an original signed piece of art by Sister Corita.

Corita Kent, signed serigraph, thrifted by Scott Lindberg.

Seattleite Leslie writes: “Wow, do I have some great photos for you! (I’m almost reluctant to share them because I don’t want anyone else to know that thrift stores are treasure troves.) I’m just attaching one picture of baby shoes. They’re a Goodwill find; I think they were $2.99.”

Leslie S.

Nobody likes spending a fortune on over-sized, plastic baby gear—even if it’s stuff that really helps maintain new parents’ sanity. Kristen got all these useful baby items second-hand—and mostly free!

What’s your thrift store or garage sale prize?

Please keep the photos coming! I’m working on a used toy edition. Second-hand fashion edition. Musical instrument edition. Home decor…Tools…Kitchens…Anyone?

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  1. Carol_S says:

    Those truly are some fabulous things. I absolutely LOVE this, as I have been on the used treasures bandwagon for years now and it is astounding the beautiful, impeccable items that can be had for a song.

  2. Emily says:

    One of my big projects this year was to re-decorate my living room. I was in terrible need of furniture that wasn’t falling apart and I wanted to use the opportunity to re-design the whole room. But I also vowed not to buy anything new. I refinished the tables myself, bought a couch and vintage chair from a consignment shop, and purchased ink wells and a bowl to accent the room with a bit of blue. (The ink wells I use as vases for tiny flowers.) I’m really pleased with the results thus far. Still on the look out at thrift stores for a blue lamp, but it’s looking good so far!

    (Oh, and the furniture I replaced? They found a good home thanks to Craigslist.)

  3. Anna Fahey says:

    Thanks, Carol and Emily. Send photos! We’ll put them in our next album.

  4. Brooke says:

    Thanks so much, Anna. I’m looking forward to reading how your year-of-no-new plays out. I’m also anticipating trawling more garage/yard sales this year. For an introvert like myself, perusing people’s things when they’re standing right in front of me always feels a bit daunting, but often the best deals can be had at private sales. Another benefit of yard-sale season is just being outside in the treasured northwest summer sun—can’t wait!

  5. David Anderson says:

    While I appreciate that buying used is better for the environment than everyone buying new, we should remember that someone had to buy that used stuff new at one time. Many of those folks get rid of stuff after a season or two to acquire new stuff. Also remember that if a thrift store cannot sell an item in about 4-6 weeks it will get rid of it. Fortunatly, some clothing will end being recycled as industrial rags, and I am sure other items get recycled, so all in not lost). Buying used does not fully get at the problem. We are still acquiring too much stuff.

  6. Georgie Bright Kunkel says:

    This is right down my alley. I brag about not ever buying retail–well, except for bathing suits which I prefer to get now.

    Some of my most beautiful clothes I have purchased at thrift shops or yard sales and especially hats which I adore.

    I have some things that I have preserved from my own past–an old Underwood typewriter from the early 1900s which I used to type my high school themes on and a Victrola which needs a new spring and which I am trying to decide if over $200 is worth the investment to make it whole again.

    Viva la vintage, right?

    Cheers, Georgie

  7. Anna Fahey says:

    Thanks, Georgie. I always love hearing from you. I bet you have some marvelous hats! Hang on to that Underwood and the Victrola!

    David, you make a really good point. We buy too much stuff. We are too connected to stuff–for our status, identity, sense of community, “therapy.” Thrifting isn’t the silver bullet. It’s actually a symptom, as you point out, of the “disposable,” stuff-obsessed culture we’re in. Thrift stores exist because we are constantly throwing away perfectly good stuff to make room for all the new stuff we are buying. My idea here is to show that you don’t have to live without to reduce. You can recycle stuff instead of buying new. You can stop–even just for a moment or a year–adding to the glut. There’s still lots of waste, but buying used can be essential for the family budget, it can create local jobs, it can fund job training and other community benefits, and it can be fun. Thanks for chiming in.


  8. Joan Mazza says:

    Thanks for posting this photo. Terrific article. I love the hunt of going to yard sales on Saturday mornings.

  9. Cave Johnson says:

    Wow, lots of nice stuff. I wonder how this all relates to the original principle of simplicity. None of this stuff, beautiful as it is, really represents a need. In the end, its still more life-freight. Cheaper, yes. More environmentally friendly, yes. I would also beware of the trap of buying more stuff you don’t need because its cheaper. In the end, you still have to start with a more clear definition of want vs need. I am the foremost among sinners here, so don’t take this as shaming you for hypocracy. The point is, though, you still have to start with knowing a need from a want, even if you get the stuff used.

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