5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

bedroom-bed
The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path
The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

desk
The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

table-treading-my-own-path
Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

sofa
Random chair collection and the nest of tables.
old-sofa
Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below!

36 Responses to 5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

  1. I have just started furnishing a ‘recycled home’ in Italy. I did buy a new Bed/Mattress but I also bought a settee I plan to reupholster and 2 bedside tables I will repaint, and an old chest for firewood and a second seat. In between buying these I had not yet consciously given up on plastic and other things so bought 2 light fittings, my neighbour saw me and offered me a beautiful art nouveau light shade she had found at the rubbish bins!! Thankfulkly I hadn’t confirmed other lightfittings and on my next trip I bought 3 more lights from a secondhand store. I love restoring furniture so I’m looking forward to my DIY projects.

  2. Favourite second hand purchsse: my Breville smart kettle RRP $179, $40 on gumtree, works perfect and heats water to 80° saving energy and not burning my tongue. Worst experience: travelling over an hour, then waiting over an hour while someone promised they were on the way, giving up without my gumtree item.

  3. Worst experience buying new: “Innergreen”. After extensive searches for eco cushion inserts, I special ordered corn filled inserts with cotton cover which were supposed to be delivered in a reusable cotton bag. I got a big pile of plastic. Inserts from plastic waterbottles (microplastic) with poly cover wrapped in plastic packaging. Eeeeeek. Yuck! Nothing ‘green’ about that. I am still fighting the fight to try and return what I received and receive what I ordered or even just get a refund and go somewhere else. Worst business and ‘customer service’ ever. Absolutely shocking. Second hand people are so much better.

    • That sounds like my worst nightmare Mel! It always surprises me when I buy something new (which is very rare these days) that although the product is “eco friendly” the packaging is not at all! I remember when I purchased my husband’s stainless steel lunchbox back in 2012, that it came in a plastic bag. And I ordered some fairtrade organic clothing last year that was wrapped in plastic. I forget that it’s so commonplace!

      I hope that you get your refund sorted and your replacement (if you still trust the company enough to send the right thing). Good luck with it Mel x

      • Thanks. Yah, instead of my 100% eco product and packaging I got 100% plastic product and packaging, and lots of nightmares. Fingers crossed it gets sorted out. Normally if I have to order something to be shipped, I ask (before making the purchase) if they can ship with no plastic packaging and I offer to pay extra if there is a difference in shipping costs. It has worked well for smaller retailers and Etsy purchases.

  4. We recently purchased a second hand caravan. Everything in it came from our house. Essentially we were able to fit out a small house with the excess that we already owned. The tables, linen, cups, plates games, towels, chopping boards etc. We purchased a second hand toaster and BBQ. Due to time restraints we did buy a couple of new camp chairs. They were a real sludge, but doubled as a Christmas gift to each other .

    • That’s awesome Louise! And good to see games are in there too ;) Sometimes time does mean buying new – that’s been the reason for some of our other new purchases. If second-hand don’t come around often, it can be tiring to wait for the right thing.

      When are you off on your first adventure in the caravan?!

  5. I’ve benefited from living close to family, so a lot of my furniture is hand me down. My favourite is probably our coffee table, which my grandfather made. It’s topped with tiles from a long ago bathroom renovation well before I was born.

    Most of the rest of our furniture was picked up as hard rubbish. Hold out for your perfect table! We procrastinated too because we had precise requirements and our old table worked well enough. Our perfect table was left behind by the old tenants of his new office so we got it free!

    I think the only new furniture we own are wedding gifts. Our bedside tables are a beautiful Australian timber and made in Melbourne, gifted by my parents.

    • That relies on your family also having the same taste as you Rachel! ;) My husband’s family live close by, but we do not have the same taste at all! No-one’s making furniture here ;)

      We’re a bit similar about having precise requirements – although they keep changing! We might get a table made out of reclaimed timber. My husband is keen on that. I wonder if that counts as second-hand… I guess it depends where the wood came from!

      • I think reclaimed timber counts as second hand too :) I take your point on style but for me it comes down to what you accept. I’ve only said yes to stuff that would be useful, and then swapped out later if we came across something else that was more fitting later on. So time in the game helps as well!

  6. My reason for buying second hand/vintage/antique (back when I could afford it) is that the furniture was well made and built to last. I believe in choosing well and buying something only once. Our dining table (late Victorian) and chairs (turn of the 20th century) have been with me since the 1980’s and will see out at least another century of daily use.

    There are two exceptions. I bought my bed new but of very solid wood in 1984, and the lounge suite not much later and expect that neither will need replacing in my lifetime.

    The verge has also provided some much loved pieces, the most recent being a two seater black leather couch for my son and his partner. They had brought in a wooden bench (circa 1985) from the garden to use in the study. Not so comfy for relaxing. The couch was in great condition but covered in dirt. Three buckets of soapy water and half a tub of beeswax polish later it looked like new. Why do people spend a fortune then discard beautiful things with so much life left in them?

    • I love your view Lesley! The idea of having to go out and buy new furniture every couple of years makes me shudder. Whether it’s because the old stuff is broken, tired or out of fashion, the thought of having to spend time and energy and money buying stuff seems like a waste on all counts. So I’m with you – choose well and buy it once. I realise that doesn’t always happen, but it’s something to aspire to!

      I saw an amazing vintage chair on the last verge collection on the wrong side of Canning Highway. I vowed if it was still there on return, I would pick it up, but it was gone. At least it won’t be going to landfill. Interestingly our neighbours also picked up an amazing vintage chair on the Canning Highway too (they swear it wasn’t the same one and was a different part of Canning Highway) and have had it reupholstered – it is beautiful. It was handmade. Would be worth hundreds. I don’t understand verge collections either.

  7. I love to shop second hand! My mom always took me as a child and the love has stuck. The only new piece of furniture we own is a crib(to nervous to buy that second hand) and a dinning table but it was built by a local crafts man. I do love decorating so my house isn’t really minimalist but I love to see people’s reaction when I tell them my trendy house is all thrifted or hand me down furniture and decorations. I am very fortunate that the second hand shopping here is exceptionally good. I’ve really no excuse to shop anywhere else.

    • That is an awesome habit to be taught Victoria! My mum never bought anything second-hand, although they live in the country and I don’t think the options were (are?) great. She does buy clothes second-hand on eBay now, although she still likes the shops.

      I did persuade my parents to buy a second-hand piece of furniture once, also on eBay. They wanted this cupboard and it was really expensive, I think it was over £2000 new so they were resigned not to get it. (It was particular dimensions for a strange space.) I looked on eBay and found one second-hand. It was still a few hundred, plus delivery, but so much cheaper. They bought it and have been super happy with it. So I guess I taught them the love of second hand. Maybe love is an exaggeration though – it is more of a tolerance/mild acceptance! ;)

      That’s so cool re your house Victoria. I hope you’re able to show others the potential and maybe inspire them to choose second-hand first!

  8. We have the same table! Unfortunately we did buy it new, but chose it because it was budget friendly and solid pine, not laminate or veneer like a lot of IKEA furniture is. Our bed, mattress, coffee table, couches and fridge are secondhand although our fridge is from the 40’s or 50’s so I imagine it is horrendously energy inefficient. Our couches were donated by my parents and were second hand to them and bought when I was a child so are probably 20 years old. The fabric supports are all stretched making them very sunken and uncomfortable now (only started doing that with more regular use in the last 2 years) and they are vinyl so I’m not sure if they are able to be restored/ reupholstered. We are keeping them for now, but any tips?

    • That’s funny Sarah! It is great that it is actual wood, like you say, not much Ikea furniture is. Woah, your fridge is from the 40s/50s?! On one hand that’s awesome use of resources! I love that it still works! You could borrow an energy monitor to find out how much it uses. It would be really interesting to find out (although I realise you may not want to know).

      I don’t know a lot about reupholstering but it might be worth asking. Especially if they are quite old, generally older stuff was made to last. You might be able to get someone round to quote, or take a picture and take to an upholstery place. If there’s a solid frame you could do something with it!

      • That’s a good idea. I was going to buy an energy meter, but- plastic bubble packs! I’ll see if I can borrow one. Things were certainly made to last back then! I believe companies often intentially limit the lifespan of products to sell more. We looked up the model number stamped on the inside and the Electrolux website says it was manufactured in 1945, but the repair man said it wasn’t possibly older than 50’s. I will look into restoring the couches too. Merry Christmas.

  9. My favourite second hand item is a solid jarrah cupboard I scored from a bank that was “updating”. It is a classic 60’s style and has been used as a toy cupboard and now for all our cycling accessories. We keep our bikes in the hall with the cupboard and it just looks like a great piece of furniture.
    Another good find just recently, is a hand grinder from Sweden found in an antique shop in Albany for $12. We went there for a mini break but since I’ve been reading this blog we just HAD to check out the op shops! Funnily enough we had a blast, and this comes from a person who doesn’t shop. We didn’t purchase much, just what has been on the list for ages. It is so rewarding finding something like a hand grinder instead of just putting up with a new electric one. And what have I been using said grinder for you ask? Grinding up pits from stone fruit and olives so that they compost quicker in the composter!

    • I love this Susan! I really like jarrah. I bet that bank updated to MDF and laminate! Their loss ;)

      The grinder sounds cool. We don’t go to op shops much, they are too much of a drive-to “destination” and the few on the streets that we can walk to just sell clothes (mostly fast fashion that won’t last more than a couple of washes). Yes, I can relate to the grinding. I am forever picking out avocado stones from the compost!

  10. I didn’t realize that before reading your article, but actually all our furniture is either second-hand or built in jarrah by my husband (with some new and some second-hand pieces of wood). It wasn’t a target in itself, it just happens that we both love antiques and vintage items, so they are all bought off Gumtree. The only objects that are new are gifts for our wedding and which are mainly all for cooking: cutlery, plates, bakeware and some appliances. I like to cook and bake, and like you said, it is hard here to find good quality items in the op shops, especially kitchen things (apart from glass jars to fill with bulk items, of course!). But then, I always try to buy a good quality brand with a minimum of plastic components or no plastic at all, hoping it will last my lifetime! We did buy a few cooking things off Gumtree as well.

    Our worst second-hand purchase experience was a Miele washing machine paid AUD 350, supposed to live 50 years, and which lasted 3 washes only before dying! After that, we decided that there are certain things that are worth purchasing new!

    • Isn’t it a nice thing to realise, Isabelle?! If it’s being sold second-hand and it isn’t on-trend (as in, still in the shops), I think that’s a good sign it’s built to last.

      There’s a lot of glass and often Pyrex in the charity shops :) But we don’t need more. Metal bakeware is something I still buy new. Everything else I’m happy with second-hand. Oh, I did buy a new Global knife as I love them and they are hard to find second hand.

      That’s rubbish re the washing machine. I’m assuming it was quite old as they are very expensive new. I wonder if the seller had an idea it was breaking, or if it was just bad luck? After our bad experience with a second hand washing machine, I’m happy that we bought this one new. I wouldn’t rule out second-hand, but I’d be a lot more careful next time!

  11. I have bought most of my current furniture new but I have to say I’m very happy with the ones that are second hand items. I have bougth my bed, ceiling light and an office chair used and those have all been as good as new plus I like the look of them. Besides those I also have a coffee table and kitchen ladder that used to belong to my grandmother.

    Pretty much all of the other furniture we have at the moment is new, but I have tried to buy the kind that lasts: like a little better quality sofa and the kitchen table and chairs are all wood and so sturdy that they should last for ever. In addition my desk, file cabinet, tv-stand, drawer and showcase are all Lundia Classic which is a wooden shelves system that’s known to last from father to son and can be changed easily to different needs. They are easy to both assembly and dismantle if you are moving or your storage needs change. For example the 50 cm wide and 200 cm high file cabinet I have could be turned in to 100 cm wide by just changing the shelves with wider ones (from my 100 cm wide / 140 cm high showcase for example). Parts can be bought separately and you can find used parts in second-hand shops quite often. The style is also so basic that it will probably never be really trending but never totally out of style either. This sounds almost like an ad (although I don’t think they sell these in Australia :D ) but those were the actual reasons why I ended up with it when I first bought the desk after a long struggle to find one I would like. One of the main problems was that there really weren’t many (hardly any) solid wooden ones to choose from and I had decided that it had to be wood so that possible little dents wouldn’t be so disturbing.

    One thing is also that all of the old furniture I have given up, I have either sold or given to someone. So, as far as I know, they haven’t ended up to the landfill before their lifespan has truly come to the end. Nowadays especially the second hand pages / groups in Facebook are working really well here in Finland. There really doesn’t seem to be a piece of household junk someone isn’t willing to buy or at least to come and pick up for free. No matter if its still working or broken. And the things advertised on Facebook are changing owners unbelievably quickly – even the weirdest ones!

    • Thanks for your comment Eija, and no, you don’t sound (much) like an advert! ;) I think the most important thing for me is that I’ve thought about the purchases I’ve made. Sounds like you feel similar about it! Buying well-made, new items that are designed to last is better than buying cheap stuff second-hand that doesn’t last and ends up being irrepairable and ending up in landfill. Lots of people move interstate or overseas so there is often a genuine reason for the sale, rather than it just being less trendy than the latest thing. We’ve been lucky that everything we wanted has been available second-hand.

      I agree with you – swap groups and barter groups are all exploding on Facebook now. Hopefully it means less stuff going to landfill :)

  12. I would love to buy more second hand but 3 of our four kids have life threatening asthma which goes hand in hand with dust and mould allergies. We have bought a couple of things second hand in the past and have had to find them new homes – including the one which we were given which had a mild cigarettey smell which is a no go with asthmatics. Still, we do buy some things second hand.

    • Cat, that must be a challenge for you! Clearly, medical emergencies come before worrying about packaging and second-hand and the like. I assume things like wood are fine, but it is fabrics that are an issue? Hope it doesn’t cause you too much of a headache. Have a great new year :)

  13. At least 90% of the furniture in our home is second hand. We do have a new coffee table, which was made locally (20 minutes away from where we live!) from reclaimed wood. But that was something we saved up for.

    Second hand furniture is so much more affordable, and I think has a lot more character than the stuff you get at the big box furniture stores. Our dining table, chairs, sofa, rocking chairs, dressers are all second hand. :)

    • Sounds perfect, Elizabeth! We are thinking about getting a dining table made from reclaimed wood so that it is the size we want and fits our space properly. Like you, we like character and we want something that will last. For now we are happy to use what we have. And if the right second-hand piece comes along while we wait…perfect!

  14. I buy as much second hand as possible including clothes, books etc. Alot of my kitchen crockery was second hand (all white so it all matches) and some gifted to us. One of my passions is growing succulents and I buy cute weird containers and vases from my local op shop to plant them in, then I sell them for some extra cash. All our furniture was either gifted to us as second hand or we purchased second hand. The only new purchase is my long hall table from IKEA (I work in their Australian contact centre) so got a good discount but it’s solid wood and I love it.

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