• Carolyn Anderson Shepherd

My second hand year - part 2

If you'd like to read part 1 you can find it here https://www.venusinstars.co.uk/post/my-second-hand-year-settle-down-with-a-cuppa where I talk about why I decided to do a second hand year and about how it went shopping for clothes all year as a small fat plus size person in rural Scotland.


I embarked on this journey as a way to be more sustainable by shopping second hand for items I needed rather than creating and perpetuating demand for new items. This can be a simple technique to reduce your own footprint on the planet but brings up other issues too, that I would recommend reading the first part to hear about.


So I had initially decided to try and buy only second hand clothes for a year, however that quickly spiraled into only buying second hand everything! Here's the things I bought and how it went...



Furniture

First things first, is anyone with me that Ikea is the dullest place on earth? I just don't get the appeal! I've tried, but nope. I just find it completely uninspiring.

I am a long time second hand furniture user. In my adult life I've never had a home without at least some second hand items in it. I used to manage a shop that sold antique and handmade furniture, and my dad built various items of furniture when I was growing up, so I know what quality looks like. And that's not to say I'm a snob, I'm definitely not (my bed is currently broken and being held up by a Shaun the Sheep novelty foot stool from the 90s!), but when I'm furniture shopping I'm either getting something to fulfill an urgent need like a chair for imminent guests or I want a permanent piece of furniture that I intend to keep forever.



In my 2nd hand year I only bought 1 item of furniture which was, by luck, the perfect sofa! I had been looking for a brown leather sofa for years. I have 3 dogs, all of which sit on the sofa because why wouldn't I want to cuddle them, and when we had a fabric sofa it just did not work. A leather sofa can be wiped clean and the husky hairs dust off it rather than ingraining themselves as if they were woven in the original cloth. I had this image of the sofa I wanted but I was very swithery about buying it new, not just because of how bad for the planet the leather sofa industry is, but also the price! Our previous leather sofa had lasted us 10 years, compared to the 4 year fabric one, and a new leather one would be around £1200 making it £120 a year which doesn't seem particularly good value. I also considered fake leather sofas but they're made from petrochemicals so if we're thinking about 'planetary cost' leather and fake leather are 6 and half a dozen.


I had looked online at auction sites and local selling groups and a main problem for me was everything needed to be collected and finding a reliable person who could do that seemed like a big hurdle and a lot of faffing around which stresses me out. I know people who live in cities who use men with ven a lot but for me living where I do it wasn't an easy option. I've since discovered that Gumtree now has a delivery quote service for items bought through them which, if it works as I haven't tried it, is a great idea.


There are a couple of second hand, as opposed to antique, shops in my general area, and I'm aware of more if I go south into Angus. Aberdeen has 2 or 3 who deliver the 30 miles out, and Montrose has the New 2 U Warehouse and the famous Steptoe's Yard which is the Marmite of second hand shopping. (Every single review, whether 5 or 1 star I agree with!)


If you haven't visited Steptoe's, I do encourage you to make the trip for the experience! I've never actually found anything to buy there but it is definitely an experience worthy of a viral Tiktok!


I don't generally go and browse, but I think my house would be nicer if I did! I think New 2 U may be a mix of consignment items and items they've bought, and everything is cash only, but I've bought several things there and on one special day I found my perfect brown leather sofa! It's even a sofa bed, which is super handy. It was £240 including delivery and was, as far as I could tell, like new.

When it comes to furniture I do like to see it and feel it. It might look good in a photo but is shoogly af in person and I don't want to go to someone's house to look at something and decide if I want it, or take something I don't want because I feel obliged. £240, even though that was around a £1000 saving on new, is still a chunk of money to spend if you don't know if it's going to be comfy, smells weird, have a scratch or stain etc. You are absolutely in your rights to not take something if you see it and it's not what you thought, but you do have the inconvenience and stress of turning it down too.

Kitchen, linens and décor



One of the Dolmio dinner plates

My husband does all the dishes in this house...and he also breaks all the dishes in this house! I honestly don't know how he does it. Because our plates are only ever temporary, I've long been a charity shop fan for dishes. Up until covid hit we had a lovely wee local charity shop in the nearest village that had a 2p box full of odd crockery, cups etc, and it has spoilt me for buying plates!

Charity shops are my go to for anything likes plates, cups, cutlery etc because they always have so much, however these days much of the items that would've gone in the 2p box I fear they just dispose of preferring to sell more expensive complete sets or something with a brand name. And I understand that because they want to maximise their takings, but at the same time someone fishing 2 plates out of the 2p box isn't going to buy the £10 Denby set.


Some of you will know I'm a jeweller, and as such I notice details and textures other people don't and this means I'm really not a fan of cheap supermarket crockery. Don't get me wrong, if you hand me a cup of tea I don't give a damn about the cup, but I have a hard time parting with money for something that I don't like. I've found that what I get in charity shops is much better quality, even in the 2p box, than most in the supermarket at any price point.


I do accept that I am an extreme example when it comes to crockery though and there are lots of good quality affordable items you can pick up in charity shops for much less than they would be new. Some of my best buys this year were -


  • A set of 4 white Dolmio dinner plates (above)! They must've been a freebie or something but they are great quality and look super fancy until you turn them over and see the Dolmio logo! They were £2.50 for the 4 and will last a long time. It took me 4 shops to find something that didn't have a 1990s print on it because I just canna. I CANNA!

  • A lime green 1L Bodum cafetiere. I paid £4.50 for this in a charity shop and my husband has used it every day and it's still as good as new.

  • 4 coloured glass tumblers – 2 purple and 2 teal. I think they were £1 for the 4? Maybe £1.50, from the same charity shop as the Bodum (can anyone else not see the word Bodum without saying “plunchaaa foh yo Bohhhhdumm”?)

We do have the privilege with crockery that there are only 3 people ever eating in our house at most. 99% of the time there's only 2 of us so it's much easier for me to get matching items if I want to. If I wanted to get 6 the same that wouldn't be something you could usually get second hand in an emergency however always remember it's totally fine to ask charity shop staff if they've got any of what you're looking for through the back as generally they're dying to get rid of it!

We just all have to accept that if there's a comfortable surface in this house there'll be a dog on it

One thing I'd never bought second hand before this challenge was bedding, however that changed when I found a beautiful vintage jacquard double duvet cover in a charity shop in Orkney. I would've bought new in packaging bedding if I found it but not true second hand as it gave me the slight ick, but this particular duvet cover was just my perfect bed set and looked in really good condition and I reminded myself I don't feel weird staying in hotels! I eat up that nice hotel linen life! So I bought it for £2.50 and honestly it's the nicest bedding we own, it feels proper grown up and I grumble about putting the cheap duvet sets on the bed. It didn't come with pillow cases so I bought 2 new (cheap, I regret it) pillow cases in a matching colour but I will forever be on the lookout for a matching pair.

I didn't need curtains, however I do want to give them an honourable mention as they're something that's always a great second hand buy. Generally they've been hardly used and you can get much better quality items for your money. They're also a source of a huge amount of fabric for very little money and are really easy to alter or make cushion covers out of. I've bought curtains numerous times at charity shops for sewing projects or scrap fabric.

The final kitchen item we bought was a rice cooker. My husband bought it second hand on eBay and he LOVES it. There's definitely a reason folk in countries that eat a lot of rice tell you to get these! It's easy to use to get great results and it uses less electricity than boiling rice on the stove.

Yum Asia Kumo rice cooker


Before buying he read reviews of which one to get then looked for a second hand one and placed bids. It came through the post in its original box but you could tell it had been used once or twice, which it said on the listing. It's been used at least weekly since we got it, and it's not tricky to clean either. Definitely a win and I'd be really curious about getting an Instant Pot and/or an air fryer for the same electricity saving reasons.


I am very aware that some people might be saying but “you don't know what the previous owner did with it!” about all these items, and to a degree I can understand that however it reminds me of a story someone told me about how her friend in the 1970s worked in a condom factory and used to think it was funny to make tiny holes in random condoms. My point being, you don't know what the folks in the restaurants or hotels or factories are doing with your items either but you have to have some degree of trust to get through life, and I feel the same about second hand. You have to trust that the majority of people are going through their lives just the same way you are and even if they were doing something bizarre and disgusting with things they're putting to charity shops, you know you've cleaned the item really well because YOU cleaned it before use (unless you're me, then your husband did it.)

Electronics

The only electronics I needed to buy was a printer. Now for most folks reading this a printer isn't a huge part of their life however for me it's a necessary and important business tool. It needs to be reliable, ink efficient, and produce excellent prints. An artist I trust had recommended one and that was the one I wanted to get.

Canon Pixma TS6251

This is a good quality but not super high budget Canon Pixma printer. Because I wanted a specific item I knew I wouldn't be able to get one in a local selling group, so I took to eBay to see if I could find a reconditioned one. Ebay lets you filter so you're only seeing reconditioned items, and luckily enough I found one. I was nervous about this because it's an important piece of kit and I didn't really want to rebuy it, but I thought well I'm still protected under distance selling regulations and at worst it's just going to be a crappy printer that I replace.


I have to say it's one of my favourite buys of the year. I will definitely always be shopping for reconditioned first in future. New these printers are around £200 (even second hand!) and I paid £75 and it came complete with inks which have lasted easily 3 times longer than inks in my previous Epson, so even better that it saves cartridges. The styling on the printer looks a little old, but it works as if it were new, and I also know if it breaks down that I can contact the place that I bought it from to see if they can fix it before getting a new one as they were the folks who reconditioned it in the first place.

Gifts, Books and Christmas


Now even though I am fine with second hand items, I know not everyone is and I would never buy a second hand gift for someone who wouldn't appreciate it. It would be far more meaningful to me that someone saw something they thought I'd like in an unusual place than they just went to Amazon and spent the requisite £15. Also giving newly bought gifts (between adults) when you don't want to is not ideal for the planet either so maybe just get a gift card if you really have to get them something low effort or ask if they mind just not doing gifts any more.


I say this about gifts, acknowledging that I don't have 30 kids birthday parties to contend with a year. That's a whole other kettle of fish and obligations!

I did gift some second hand items namely a pair of brand new with tag slippers from Vinted, a cardigan (also Vinted) and some really nice glassware. I didn't buy second hand books as gifts this year, however I have pretty much every other year for the past 10!

Books can be my weakness when it comes to second hand shopping because they're often just pennies. Depending on which charity shop you go to, you can even find free children's books if they've got a glut. I also buy a lot of my books second hand or as publishers seconds from eBay, and my eBay basket is pretty much just a reading list! Did you know as well that your library likely has an e-reading service? I use my local library e-reader and it's made me read far more than I would've otherwise. You just need to join your library and they'll let you know how to use the service.


While libraries and e-readers are great, I do prefer hard copy reference or factual books so I can tab pages or make notes. I also love how charity shops can have weird things you'd never have considered reading such as a book I got for free at a shop recently that's about financial corruption!


My fav vintage kitsch dove decorations

Once I'd got through the year and got to Christmas it felt a bit weird. I'm not someone who buys a whole lot of 'Christmas' things each year, but I do like to pick up an ornament each year and there's always something that needs replacing. In previous years I'd got almost everything from the local charity shop however they closed in 2020, never to repoen again (and I miss them so much) and the other charity shops I checked out didn't have anything inspiring. I didn't really NEED anything for Christmas except a tree. And oh did a tree give me stress!

There are arguments on both sides as to which is more sustainable, a plastic tree that you can use over and over or a real tree that comes from sustainably managed forests. And that's a lot of info, and a lot of nuance and 'ifs'. I really love having a real tree but these things put me off -


  • It comes in a plastic net every year. So even if the tree can be disposed of 'well' there's still the net.

  • I wasn't sure that the trees I have access to are coming from sustainably managed forests. And even if that part of their business is ticking the right boxes, would I be ok with the rest of it?

  • They'd gone up in price by about a third from the previous year and spending £40ish on something knowing I'm going to throw it away felt really wasteful.

But I still really like a real tree.


In the end I decided to get a second hand good quality fake tree. There were several fake trees being given away in my local Facebook group, but all before I had decided what I was doing. I checked the local charity shops and there was nothing, so I went to eBay again and got a nice tree with delivery – as with furniture, delivery was an issue – for around 25% of retail price. It was being disposed of due to scratches on the stand. I can use it forever, however should I wish to buy a real tree another year I can and nothing lost, which in all honesty I can see myself doing some years because I really love them a lot.


In some areas there are now rent a tree services and I LOVE this! You can rent a real living tree for the season then it gets returned to be cared for for another year. We've tried to keep a rooted tree alive ourselves and never managed to get them through the summer, so if they're doing this right (and not just actually binning the trees each year) it would be great.

Even in reading this back I have a lot of reflections on the things I learned in my second hand year. Reading both these blogs I didn't buy much at all really which is at least partly a result of it being harder to do so, but also because I was thinking about each item when I bought it and if I really needed it, or if I had something at home that I could use that would still make me as happy. Seeing pretty jars in Home Bargains (they have Nicky loo roll in paper packaging, absolutely recommend, great product) I'd have to go ok I want a jar I'll see if I can get some in the charity shop, and then realising that the pickles in Lidl and Polish sections in shops come in some very nice, decent sized jars that also come with free pickles! It forced a shift in mindset that would've been more difficult without it, because what's one 99p jar after all? And it's not about denying myself things but rather if I want those things, can I get them in a more planet friendly way.

I faced certain hurdles that would've been less if I lived in a city or had access to a van or large car, or a different body, but I also have the privilege of having time to search and being able to wait for things, and have money put away so I can just get something when I see it.

It's definitely changed how I shop permanently. I find almost all shops very bland in their choices and quality for the price terrible compared to what you can get second hand. I always check if I can get something second hand or reconditioned with new being a last resort or emergency/low energy buy. I do have to add to that though there is nothing on Amazon that I haven't managed to find on eBay either new, second hand, reconditioned or seconds so you do have options other than supporting their terrible practices when you need an easy and convenient buy.

I would encourage you to give it a try. Maybe not a year, and maybe not everything, but pick one thing and see if you can do it second hand only for a while. Both your pocket and the earth will thank you.






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