Guide to non-traditional gifts: Buy pre-loved clothing, tools, home goods

These items are less expensive or sometimes even free, but that doesn’t make them any less special. A variety of online groups make it easy to buy pre-loved.

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Alex Truelove
Director, Zero Waste Campaign

Author: Alex Truelove

Director, Zero Waste Campaign

(215) 630-7250

Started on staff: 2017
B.M., University of Michigan; M.M., McGill University; M.S., University of Michigan

Alex directs U.S. PIRG’s campaign to transform the way we produce and consume “stuff” in our country. He is working to pass zero-waste policies that will improve public health, protect the environment, and cut down on the amount of trash we throw out every day, including a campaign to ban polystyrene cups and containers in states across the country.

Gifting pre-loved items is a wonderful way to show how much you love the recipient and the earth. These items -- everything from clothing to home goods or tools -- are less expensive or sometimes even free, but that doesn’t make them any less special. 

A variety of online groups such as Buy Nothing or Freecycle make it easy for you to get items for free from your neighbors who no longer need them. These groups are gaining popularity, with Freecycle giving away more than 24,000 items each day across more than 100 countries. 

If you have some money to spend, you can  find local, low-cost, pre-owned items in plenty of places -- local Nextdoor sites, Facebook groups and the Facebook marketplace feature, yard sales, thrift stores, even on the sidewalk. With all of the stuff people want to get rid of, there’s no need to buy something new! Here are our best recommendations on where to find top-notch pre-loved Christmas presents for your loved ones without breaking the bank.

Clothing is one of the most requested items during the holiday season, but 85% of textiles thrown away in the United States are dumped into landfills or burned -- including, believe it or not, unused textiles and unsold clothes. With an enormous amount of clothing already in existence, this year, give your family and friends the gift of a pre-loved clothing item! A variety of online websites and local thrift stores sell everything from jewelry and new clothing to home goods. Check out our favorites below:

Thredup: Thredup offers affordable contemporary clothing and accessories, including new-with-tags items as well as pre-worn items, in a wide range of popular styles. 

Poshmark: Poshmark is a community of sellers, where you can browse individual shops, yet still bundle items to obtain discounts and bargain with sellers for the best price. You can also sell clothing you no longer need or barter your items for others’.

The Real Real: The Real Real is a luxury consignment website, perfect for scoring vintage jewelry and discounted designer goods at a better price. While it’s the most expensive option of this list, it offers high-end items which will last a lifetime, allowing you to buy less. They also offer a $25 site credit for creating an account.

Online shopping allows you to search for a specific item, but costs are often higher than shopping locally, and supply-chain delays might impact shipping times. Going to your local thrift store is the best and easiest option for scoring low-cost items while supporting good causes. Each area is different, so be sure to search online for stores near you, but the following retailers have stores across the country.

Goodwill: Goodwill offers low-cost items while also providing job training programs, employment placement and other community-based programs. It sells donated clothing and household items, meaning whatever you buy goes toward supporting these programs! The link above takes you to the store locator to find the closest shop to you.

The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army offers similar community services as Goodwill, identifying local community needs and offering programs and services to benefit the area. It offers similar low-cost clothing and home goods, with special discounts based on the day of the week. 

Some of the best thrift stores are local, single-location stores owned by someone in your community. This Insider article lists the best thrift store in every state. Share the holiday spirit by supporting your locally owned businesses while keeping clothing out of landfills.

You can find great deals on used hand tools. Check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and local garage sales, and if possible ask to test any tool on-site, especially if it contains moving parts or motors. Knowing which brands boast the best warranties can also help narrow down the search.

Kitchen items -- and not just your grandma’s antique china set -- can last multiple lifetimes. Old cast iron pans, given new life, will surely accompany cockroaches beyond the next apocalypse. Outside of nonstick cookware and wooden spoons, you can find kitchen staples including bowls, pots, pans, graters, zesters, peelers, etc., in new to refurbishable condition online, in antique shops or at estate sales. You might even find an older food processor or mixer with a hand-built motor.

Need a gift for kids (or young-at-heart adults)? Used bicycles and skateboards provide a carbon-free form of transportation, and often better quality options than brand new department store/toy store options made from the cheapest parts possible. Consider what kind of riding your giftees might enjoy. Will they carry stuff? Will they be riding or skating up and down hills? Local bike shops not only often sell used bikes and skateboards, but they can help you find the right style, identify the correct size and provide any necessary accessories or repair services.

Have an aspiring athlete in your family? Sporting goods for kids are expensive and your little ones keep growing out of what you buy, making second-hand purchases an amazing option. This is a great item to look for on Buy Nothing groups or Facebook Marketplace, but many stores sell second-hand sporting goods. Play it Again is an online and bricks-and-mortar retailer that lets you buy and sell used sports equipment. Be sure to search online for other local stores as well.

Lastly, if you’ve been gifted with a green thumb, giving plant cuttings to your family, friends and neighbors will provide them with a bona fide mood-lifter that will remind them of you for the life of the plant. To harvest a plant cutting, check out this step-by-step tutorial.

With Juliana Clejan, Zero Waste Campaign Associate

Return to Buy Less, Give More main page for other gift ideas
Alex Truelove
Director, Zero Waste Campaign

Author: Alex Truelove

Director, Zero Waste Campaign

(215) 630-7250

Started on staff: 2017
B.M., University of Michigan; M.M., McGill University; M.S., University of Michigan

Alex directs U.S. PIRG’s campaign to transform the way we produce and consume “stuff” in our country. He is working to pass zero-waste policies that will improve public health, protect the environment, and cut down on the amount of trash we throw out every day, including a campaign to ban polystyrene cups and containers in states across the country.