Sustainability: Back-To-School Secondhand Shopping & More

While we mostly write about our garden adventures and our love for plants and trees here at Dancing Treetops, there is a lot more to sustainability than growing green things. Secondhand shopping is one way that we all can help the environment by becoming more eco-conscious consumers.

As a family of seven on a teacher's budget, shopping at secondhand stores such as thrift stores, consignment and pawn stores is both great for our budget and for our carbon footprint.

Now that back-to-school shopping is upon us, no matter how uncertain the upcoming school year seems, it is so easy to be caught up in the spending frenzy. We are not immune to the wants of teenagers, and since our teens and tween attend schools together with kids from well-off families there is a desire to own certain brand names just like in most other households.

Still, it is possible to raise your kids, and re-train your teens, to think of thrift store and consignment shopping as cool. One way to do so is to give your kids a reasonable spending budget, and then let them explore how they can stretch that money.

When we first moved to North East Florida, we came from a poor, urban school district down south where uniforms were mandatory. Here there are no uniforms, and many of the kids wear expensive name brands. When we made the decision to move here, we also began shopping for the next school year, and we were able to get a lot of the name brand clothes through online consignment stores, as our thrift stores in South Florida had few of the surfer brands that we knew would be worn by our children's peers up here.
thrift store

Our favorite Online Consignment Stores:
Thredup (Get $10 to shop for at ThredUp here)
SWAP (Get 40% off st SWAP here)
Schoola (Get $10 to shop for at Schoola)

Since moving here we now take advantage of the closet purge in the well-off families, and our kids have learned just how far money can be spread, if you shop secondhand. One of the biggest money savers here is buying used shoes, which was impossible down south, since most shoes in the thrift stores were very worn or extremely expensive. Here in our beautiful beach town, which is such a contradiction of wealth and poverty, we have found that many people get rid of their shoes, when they are in mint condition. Our sons wear all the fancy name brands, but we do not pay any more than 2 - $12 for a pair of shoes. The same goes for men's shirts, teen clothing, kids clothes and even baby clothes, everything is between $0.50 and $4.

Yesterday, I swung by one of our favorite thrift stores on the island (where the rich people live), and I came across a 10 for $10 adult clothing sale. I bought 10 pieces of clothing including an Abercrombie t shirt, an American Eagle knit sweater and several nice polos for our teen boys - it was the perfect addition for their back-to-school wardrobe. Even our preppy son can appreciate a thrift store sale, when I bring home his favorite brands.

We go through our daughter's and our youngest son's clothes every change of season, but for the big boys we go through their clothes once a year over summer break, and we have perfected a system that works for us.

A bag of hand-me-downs ready to be passed on to a friend's daughter.

Our Clothing System:
1) Whatever clothes can be passed down to a younger sibling is passed on
2) Anything not needed is being donated to friends, thrift stores or sold to consignment
3) Stained or ripped t shirts will be turned into simple cleaning cloths
4) Stained or ripped clothes will be cleared off buttons (to be saved for repairs), and the rest goes in a pile that we bring to H&M for coupons, so that they can recycle the materials.

Our Secondhand Shopping Tips:
  • Look for discount days
  • Bring a list - I have a list on my phone with any item we need in the household, and I make a point of always looking for these items until I find them.
  • Set a budget - its so easy to overspend, even at the thrift store.
  • Look for brands that can be consigned
  • Only buy clothing in the best condition
  • Grab it! See something you like, grab it, before someone else does. It is much easier to put it back if you change your mind than it is to wait for someone else to do so.
  • Before you head to the register, find a place with good lighting and check for stains, missing buttons, working zippers etc.
  • Before you head to the register go through each item in your cart and make sure that you have a good use for it
  • Keep a note in your purse or on your phone with updated sizes and measurements for everyone in the family.
  • Bring a measurement tape (One of my teens is hard to shop for sizewize as he is in between men's and teen sizes, so one way I check the clothes is by measuring the arm length). 
  • For younger kids have a list with the shoes they have, so that you can buy several sizes ahead.
  • Buy out of season. The best deals on winter boots and jackets can be found in the summer, swim suits in the winter etc.
  • Shop when no one else does. We start back-to-school shopping in April, we buy costumes after Halloween etc, when there are sales. 
  • Buy ahead. Keep a box (or more for each child) and buy when you see something that does not quite fit yet.
  • Have patience! You might not find what you're looking for the first time you look, but if you look often enough, you might just find it at a great price.
  • If you don't have any good thrift store shops around, look for online consignment or check out your local Craigslist for big bundles of clothing at affordable prices.
  • Stay safe! You can shop with a mask, keep a social distance and bring hand sanitizer. 
  • Shop early! Be the first one there, before everyone else gets up and to the store.
For our daughter we have mastered the science of shopping ahead. Quite often we find pretty dresses, shoes, jackets and more in sizes bigger than what she wears. We buy it for a dollar or two, wash it and pack it away. In her closet she has a box for each size, and every season we pull out a box to go through. It turns out that we rarely have to buy anything to supplement, and she loves shopping at home. Our daughter is now seven years old, and we actually have a word document where we keep track of the clothing she has in each size, so that we never buy too much. This document, which is updated on our phone, came about, when she was just a tiny baby, because we were able to get a lot of free clothes for her through some online consignment promotions (See the consignment section above). She is the best-dressed girl on the block, but we rarely spend more than $2 on a piece of clothing or pair of shoes for her. When she is done wearing something it is either passed on to a friend of ours, donated or it is sold at the consignment store.

If you need storage, we have found that these fabric under-bed storage bags works excellent to store away clothes. They are extremely durable, and each has a small clear pocket for a label. We especially appreciate the flexibility of the oxford fabric material, which means that they can easily be stored away under beds etc.

Our oxford fabric storage bags

As a family of seven on a teacher's budget, we have perfected shopping at thrift stores and consignment stores, and not only do we save green in our wallets we also save a lot of resources from being used to produce new. Buying used is a great way to save earth's resources and prevent things from going to the landfill all at the same time.

Do you have any second-hand shopping tips?

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