The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

When people think of the zero waste lifestyle, they tend to think of mason jars, bulk stores and unpackaged goods. Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Many people draw the conclusion then, that without access to a bulk store, they can’t live a zero waste lifestyle.

The truth is, the zero waste lifestyle is about much more than bulk stores and mason jars.

Groceries aren’t the only thing we buy. Furniture, toys, electronics, clothes, books, decor, equipment, household items: “stuff”, in other words.

At some stage in our lives we buy these things. With all of these things, we have a choice. We can choose to buy new, or buy second-hand.

Not everybody has access to bulk stores. But everybody has access to second-hand goods.

Choosing second-hand not only uses less resources, it’s unpackaged and it helps keep existing items in use and out of landfill.

The zero waste lifestyle is very much the second-hand lifestyle.

With the internet, access to second-hand items has become a whole lot easier. Yet some people still find the online world of buying and selling a little bewildering.

I’ve talked about how to sell items online in my eGuide Hoarder Minimalist, but I didn’t talk about buying. (It is a book about decluttering after all!) To live a zero waste lifestyle, buying second-hand is just as important as finding new homes for items we no longer require.

Whilst my husband and I don’t buy absolutely everything second-hand (hello, brand new underwear), all of the furniture in our home is second-hand. There is plenty of second-hand furniture out there to choose from.

We’ve bought almost all of our second-hand furniture using Gumtree Australia. We also use the platform to sell things that we no longer require. Recently Gumtree got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in collaborating. For me, the real questions are: do I believe wholeheartedly in what they do? And do I think writing about Gumtree is of real benefit to you, my readers?

The answer to both is yes.

Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling online. It’s simple to use and free to buy and to sell: there are no hidden charges or fees. (There are some fees for premium features, but I have never used these.) It connects those with stuff they don’t need with those who want it. So yes, I want to encourage people to use it.

If I can convince more people to start buying second-hand, and sell (or gift) unwanted items rather than landfilling them, that’s wins all round.

If you’re new to the world of online buying and selling, this guide is for you.

How to Buy and Sell Online with Gumtree

Gumtree is an online listings/classifieds platform allowing users to buy and sell items online. It focuses on local trade, meaning most people will go directly to the seller’s home or workplace to buy the item.

The local approach means no shipping costs, lower carbon footprints and zero packaging. People buy and sell from other people within their local community. You get to inspect items before you actually buy them – so no receiving items that aren’t quite how they looked in the picture. No worrying about returns, either.

Using Gumtree: The Basics

To buy or sell you need to register, but the information you need to provide is basic. A name, email address, phone number and location (which can be a suburb). There’s no requirement to provide credit card or banking details.

You don’t need to be registered just to browse.

How to Search Effectively

People who list items on Gumtree want them sold – the sooner the better. I always search by “most recent items” and work backwards. Good value items and bargains rarely hang around!

I prefer well-made, quality items to the cheapest option, but searching by price is possible too. Importantly, it’s possible to search by suburb, local council area, urban area and state.

The categories are quite simplistic. If there’s a dedicated category for what I’m looking for, then I might search by category, but I tend to use the search bar. The search bar is also useful for searching by brand.

Using different search terms for the same thing will give different results. Searching by abbreviation as well as the full name of an item will give more results.

We bought this kitchen island second-hand a few months ago from Gumtree, and added these stools more recently. If you’re after something specific, find out if there’s a style or brand name to search for (these stools are Tolix stools). Not everyone will know the brand or model name, so use different descriptive titles too if you can’t find what you want (“bar stools” and “barstools” give different results, for example).

How To Create a Good Ad

Many people start out selling on Gumtree before they buy. It’s a good way to test the waters and find out how it works. Once you realise that other Gumtree users are friendly people wanting the stuff that you have, it’s easier to embrace the idea of buying.

When creating a listing, the first thing to do is choose a category. The categories are fairly simplistic and quite limited. I use “Home & Garden” the most, and then the appropriate subcategory. Avoid “Miscellaneous Goods” or “other” if you can – they are too vague.

Next you’ll be asked for the type of ad: free or paid. I’ve always used free ads. Paid ads have additional features, but I don’t find them necessary.

Free ads allow you to add 10 pictures. Use as many of them as you can! Don’t just take one out-of-focus picture. Take the front, the back, the sides, a close-up, and any nicks or damage.

When choosing a price, put what you think is fair. You can always edit it later. If you’re not interested in negotiating, write in the ad description “price is non-negotiable.”

When choosing a title, use all those characters! Put in all the words that relate to the item. It’s not meant to read well, it’s meant to attract buyers. For example, “sofa chair lounge armchair seating” will match far more search requests than “comfy chair”.

Also, think about typos. There are almost as many “draws” listed as there are “drawers”! Mention colour, material, and a brand or model name if there is one.

Be as descriptive and honest as you can. If the colour differs in real life to the photos, say so. If there’s damage, however minor, mention it. People would rather know the condition before they arrive at your place.

If it’s a current model, consider providing the link to the store for browsers to compare. Give dimensions; state where and how it was used. If you smoke or have pets, say so.

Finally, add your details. There’s no need to write your exact address, but give buyers an idea of your location. We put our road, but omit the street number on the listing. Whilst you need to give your phone number and email, if you prefer contact via a particular method, write it in the ad description.

How to Communicate:

Gumtree allows users to communicate directly with other users, by mobile phone or email. When contacting someone, be as specific as possible. As a buyer, add in when you’re free to drop by. As a seller, if someone asks “is this still available?”, don’t just respond “yes”. Ask when they want to come and look, let them know when you’ll be home, give a contact number or even the address.

Make it easy for people.

(Also, use your actual name. It’s much more personable.)

If you think something is a bargain, agree to collect as soon as possible.

We needed a bedside table and lamp for our spare room. I’d like a wooden stand, but nothing was available, and we thought this would be a good stop-gap. The great thing about second-hand items is that if you change your mind, you can often sell them on again at the price you paid.

Price (and How to Negotiate)

Ultimately people will pay what they think something is worth, so overpriced items won’t sell. If the price is keen, the item will be gone in less than a week (and sometimes in a matter of hours).

Sellers: if you want something sold quickly, advertise at a low price. If you want more money, be prepared to hold out for longer. Remember – just because you paid a certain amount for something, that doesn’t mean it was worth the price.

Personally, I think it is bad manners to arrive at someone’s house and then start negotiating price. My policy is, if buyers try to negotiate at my house, the answer will be no. I’m always completely honest and overly descriptive in my listings, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive. They can buy at the agreed price, or leave empty-handed.

Don’t feel pressured to accept less than you want. If they decide not to take them item, someone else will.

Sometimes people arrive with no change. I point them to the nearest ATM/petrol station. If that isn’t practical for you, ensure you have change on you. Some people genuinely forget; others are hoping you’ll round down.

Buyers: don’t feel obliged to negotiate. If you’re happy to pay the price advertised, then pay it. If you try to negotiate a keenly priced item when you’re happy to pay the full price, you’ll likely end up outbid by someone else and losing the item.

There’s no harm in asking if the seller is flexible on price before agreeing to buy. They’ll let you know if they are open to offers or not.

A good indicator if someone will be willing to negotiate is how long it’s been listed. If the listing has been active for 3 hours, chances are a lot more slim than if it’s been listed for a month.

If you arrive to buy and are not comfortable, the item isn’t as described, or you change your mind about the item, don’t feel like you have to go through with the deal. Apologise, say it is different to what you thought, and walk away.

Timing

In my experience, the weekend is when most things are bought and sold. If you list items on a Saturday morning you will have the most chance of success. If you’re looking for bargains, Saturday morning means the least chance of success as everybody else is online too.

Safety and Security

This is a personal consideration. I’ve been using Gumtree for many years without any issues. I’ve sold items late at night, early in the morning and during the day. I’ve had buyers prefer to do the transaction on the doorstep. Others come in (sometimes that is practical and necessary).

I’ve bought items where the seller has handed me the item on the doorstep. I’ve been invited in to collect the item. I even met one seller in a car park!

If you won’t feel comfortable with someone collecting items late at night, put preferred hours on your listing. If you’d rather not go alone to someone’s house, ask a friend to come along. If it’s possible, consider asking the buyer to collect from your place of work.

Other Practical Suggestions

If you’re buying anything big, heavy or bulky, ask if there’s easy access to the front door, if there are any stairs and if there will be anyone to help you move the item. Ask if they have a trolley, and find out the actual dimensions before you get there!

Similarly, if you’re selling, let potential buyers know what they’ll need to bring.

Don’t be scared to ask questions. Ask for more photos, model numbers, measurements, a condition report, where the item was purchased. Better to find out before than make a wasted trip.

If an item is electrical, ask to plug it in. If it’s furniture, sit on it. If it’s already been neatly packed for you, don’t feel bad about asking it to be unpacked so you can look at it properly.

We bought this bed because it was exactly the same as our existing bed (but in white), so we knew exactly what it would be like. (The old bed, also bought on Gumtree, is now in the spare room.) I told the seller I was interested but needed to arrange a trailer. He was moving overseas and had hired a ute, and offered to drop it round to ours for no extra charge! It meant he got to keep it until the day he wanted to move, and we got a hassle-free delivery!

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby

People get rid of stuff for lots of reasons: marriage, divorce, moving home, moving country, children, pets or simply because they redecorate. There’s plenty of good quality, well made stuff out there in the second-hand market. Some of it isn’t even very old.

This lamp was only a few months old, and cost a fraction of the price it would have cost new. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean bedraggled.

For quality items, search for reputable brands. You can take it to the next level and go to the actual shop, write down what you like and then find it all on Gumtree. (I have a friend who did exactly this, and furnished her home at a fraction of what it would have cost new, with everything second-hand.) This works better with chains rather than boutique stores.

If you haven’t embraced second-hand furniture shopping, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try. Compared to most furniture shops, you don’t make a choice and wait 8 weeks for delivery. You get to use things right away.

Once you start finding great, useful items that you need at a fraction of the price you’d have paid to buy new (and without all that packaging) it’s very hard to go back.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Gumtree to buy or sell furniture or other items? How have your experiences been? What has been your best find – and what was your worst? If you haven’t shopped online for second-hand, is there anything that you’re worried about or that’s holding you back? Any other questions? Anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below!

This post was a collaboration with Gumtree Australia.

28 Responses to The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

  1. I got a bargain wooden bed frame for under $50.00 from a couple moving overseas. The only draw back was it wasn’t dismantled, luckily had the drill on hand !

    • That’s awesome Cam! When people are moving interstate or overseas there are some real bargains to be had. The guy we bought the white bed from was moving to Queensland and he dropped off both the bed and the mattress for no extra charge. Which was awesome, as hiring a trailer and borrowing a car to tow it and all that extra effort would have been a hassle (and an extra cost). It never hurts to ask! When people are moving they want stuff gone!

  2. Love Gumtree for Home and Garden. Favourites: teak bench + cushions in excellent condition $50, my Breville kettle with variable temp settings $40, glass pendant light currently sold retail for $275 and I paid $30, and an extensive collection of flawless ceramic plant pots. I also have a lot of success selling homewares. Unfortunately, I completely fail to sell clothing (as new condition) that I never wear. Any tips?

    • So many great finds Mel! Personally I’ve found eBay much better for clothing – probably because it’s a small enough item to post, and you can open it up to national and international buyers. When I lived in the UK I sold a lot of my clothing to people in Eastern Europe. (Not going to work for a teak bench!) And as always, description description description. Taking photos of the label, measuring dimensions, quoting the brand and model number if you can find it (usually google will help with this) and lots of good images. A stock photo can be useful. I always wonder at people who sell clothing as “never worn” yet post a photo of themselves wearing it in the listing!

      • Thanks! I have issues w ebay and mailing stuff around, but will try some of the other great tips. (Anything w tags went to Vinnies ages ago.)

  3. “Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby”

    This might be my favorite point: when some people hear “second-hand” they picture rickety old garbage, but there’s plenty of high-quality, good-looking secondhand stuff out there. No one who walked into my home could guess which things we bought new, which we bought secondhand, and which we dragged home from the side of the road.

    Finding beautiful things second-hand makes me feel like a genius.

    This was a really thorough, practical post. Thank you, Lindsay!

    • It is an important one Rebekah! I don’t particularly have a sense of style or care if stuff matches or not, but I do care about quality. (Because who wants to be replacing broken, worn out things in a matter of months?) But people who do care about these things have created some beautiful homes with second-hand items. And yes, even side-of-the-road finds can be good condition!

      Glad you found it useful!

  4. your guide is to the point, totally agree with all of this. I buy more than I sell second hand, and for me too, almost all my furniture is second hand. But this is a good reminder to go and post the sandals, cat house and upcycled lamp I wanted to sell. thank you!

  5. I have a STRONG love of lamps, and a Gumtree browsing habit paid off – I have one of those ‘large lumps of stone’ with the arcing brushed metal arm. Both the ex AND the current flatmate don’t like it (light’s too harsh), but I just don’t care boys. Esp flatmate – the bulb blew, you could have proactively got a dimmer one! I like the lines and the strong light is great for reading or sewing.

    Otherwise, I have got a second bed frame to hack a bed head/ledge; I have bought second hand: solid wood side/coffee table; Ikea TV console… what else? I really do prefer second hand, but some new IKEA has also been bought – sigh!

    • Gumtree definitely has some treasures Sarah! Personally, I can’t bear Ikea – not the actual shop, nor the way they contributed hugely to the ‘fast fashion furniture’ concept, where whole pieces of furniture are ditched after a season because the fashion has changed. Furniture shouldn’t be throwaway! But I digress…! ;)

      One thing I would say, for every Ikea thing you want to buy, I guarantee someone is selling on on Gumtree. Our island bench is a Ikea model and at least one a week pop up, but they are quite highly sought after and don’t hang around. They also have a black model and for a while only people with black ones were selling. Then we lost a couple because my husband tried to negotiate the price, and I went to one lady’s house and it was in shocking condition. She’d taken the photo of the bench outside, so I’d asked if it was stored outside and she said no. Then I got there, and it was outside under a tarp, and when she pulled the tarp off it had a hole and the whole bench was soaking, and all the paint was flaking off the legs. It’s actually the only time I’ve ever gone somewhere and left empty-handed. But in a week another came up and we nabbed it!

      So if you do see something you like in Ikea, you can always check Gumtree first ;)

      • OH! I have a ton of ‘second hand’ ikea – the kitchen table and the TV table, and previously two chairs (since taken by a friend) and one of the bed frames… So little is ‘NEW’ ikea – mainly linens… rugs… stuff like that

  6. This is definitely an area I still need A LOT of improvement… I have nothing against buying second hand, but I find it so much more time consuming! I guess I haven’t found second hand shops I like yet.. I know I’m difficult, but I’ve always hated shopping (even for clothes), so I go and buy something only when I really need it (which I guess it’s not a bad thing). However, that means that I want to find the one thing I need in the shape/form/quality I want exactly when I need it… from my experience buying second hand instead demands much more patience, and a lot of browsing before you can find that one treasure you were looking for…
    For instance, we are currently (very slowly) renovating our house and it’s finally time to replace the old and ugly passed-down furniture that was given to us when we moved to NZ seven years ago (don’t worry, we won’t bin anything, everything will be sold or given to an opshop). I’m in NZ and I have been looking for months now on TradeMe (the NZ version of Gumtree or eBay) and on FreeCycle for the furniture and other accessories we need, but I haven’t found anything I like yet! everything looks so old and crappy! I wish I could find something as cool as your kitchen bench or bed, but maybe there are not enough people in NZ to find that kind of quality in second hand items? For now I keep browsing but I’m already sick of it… I know I’ll probably give up and end up buying most of it new… :(

    • Do you have consignment stores in your area? These usually have higher-end secondhand furniture (or clothes or baby gear are the three most common types) and while it’s usually more expensive than the free websites, it is secondhand and cheaper than new. The styles also tend to be more contemporary, a lot of the websites can contain the older outdated items.

    • I hate browsing too Guilia! That’s why Gumtree suits me – I don’t want to drive to every op-shop in the state that carries furniture on the off-chance I find something I like! The bed is a model from Freedom – do you have that in New Zealand? And the bench is an Ikea model. If you can find a store or stores that you like, you can start searching for second-hand items just from that store. That’s what I do. I find browsing generic terms like “sofa” brings up heaps of rubbish, and I don’t want to trawl through it. So I will search by shop, and see what’s available.

      Another thing I didn’t mention is with Gumtree (so might work with other platforms) you can see the other things a seller is offering. So if you think they have good taste based on one thing you see, it can be worth checking what else they have!

  7. Those are some great tips to think about. I’m going to be moving out of my house into a much smaller place soon (due to a divorce) and because we’re splitting the furniture there will be some gaps that I’ll have to be able to have functional spaces in a new place. I’m hoping I can maybe start to go the second hand route for some of the gaps I will have.

    • Hi Lauren! Good luck with the move. Moving is a good opportunity to really figure out what you need, so remember you don’t have to rush out and buy things (even second-hand) things to replace what you had. You might find that you don’t need as much as you thought!

  8. I wanted a new leather couch but I also wanted to go on the inside passage to Alaska. So instead of spending $5000 on a leather lounge I found a well loved one on gumtree for $300 and got my trip away too. The leather lounge is 3 years old now and hasn’t aged a bit. It even withstood my grandsons experimental biro artwork and I didn’t throw a fit as I might have if it had been bought instead of a great holiday. More relaxed living all round
    Cheers
    Jane

  9. Selling your unwanted stuff isn’t the only answer; give it to family, friends, neighbours, or a worthy local charity. I’ve found the smaller charities are more appreciative of donations, while the larger ones won’t take anything they don’t think they can sell (so much for helping those in need).
    Since we moved to regional SA, we’ve given and received unwanted items to and from our neighbours, as well as giving other stuff to the local charity shop that is run by different local groups each month.
    Reduce, re-use, re-purpose.

    • Hi Darren, oh you are right, it is not at all! But if I’d made this blog post any longer it would have been a novel! Plus I wanted to explain how it worked for anyone who hasn’t tried before, or has concerns. I intend to write another post about free groups and giving stuff away. That would be another entire post in itself! That said, Gumtree is great for giving stuff away, and we have given things away often using it.

  10. I LOVE secondhand things. About 90% of what we own is secondhand and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been using the groups on FB to buy and sell stuff but for some reason, I’ve rarely looked on Gumtree and never bought or sold anything on it. Because of this extremely informative post, that’s now changed. I currently have things listed and I’ve found some things to buy (that we actually need) at a very reasonable price. Thanks so, so much once again for sharing your experience and knowledge with us Lindsay.

    • That’s great, Peta! I love how the internet is actually enabling us to re-connect to our community and choose local again, using the internet. Of course, having real second-hand stores is awesome, but I like that there is now both options, and both work for different things. I’m glad you’ve been able to use it successfully! :)

  11. Interesting you find it rude if people want to negotiate in person. I’m the opposite – I think its fine as long as they have not negotiated beforehand. eg I would never buy a car from someone on gumtree by offering before viewing and would expect to negotiate with them in person after a detailed viewing. For items that the condition is clearly visible from the photos its fine though personally I find a lot of people don’t take good photos and disclose all issues (eg fridge missing a shelf, scratch on one leg of table etc). In these instances I think its appropriate to negotiate after inspection. My policy is if they negotiate prior to viewing they can’t negotiate anymore, though if they don’t that’s fine.

    • Hi Matt! To be specific, it is when people say they definitely want something, and then rock up and ask for a discount when I know that they are willing to pay full price. When people say “yes I definitely want it” for example! And yes, I’m not talking cars, or anything where you’d need to see it before buying. I have no problems if people say they’re not sure, or they’d like to see first. I always take all the photos I can including close-ups of everything – and if they spotted something not as described, then of course I would be happy to. I tend to price things keenly to go, so often I have multiple offers, so I find it frustrating when people turn up and then offer less, when I know other people are keen. I always turn them down, and you know what? They’ve always ended up paying the price I asked.

      In short, don’t tell me you love it and that is what you’ve been wanting for ages – and then get there and try to knock $5 off! I’m remarkably stubborn! ;)

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