How to Thrift Sustainably

Secondhand shopping is something I will always advocate for when trying to break shopaholic and fast fashion habits. In most cases, thrifting is an economical and ecologically-friendly alternative to traditional shopping because you can find gently-used clothes and other items for far less than retail price. However, thrift shopping has to be done just right to maximize its positive impact.

Aspects of Sustainable Thrifting

Thrifting's value does not start and end at your own wallet and closet. Take the following elements into account when you go secondhand shopping to maximize the potential to do good for your community and the planet.

Social Sustainability

It's important to remember that at the heart of charity-driven thrift stores is the goal to keep everyday items affordable for low-income community members. When individuals with higher incomes over-shop at thrift stores with the intent of flipping items or just overfilling their own closets, thrift stores lose that inventory which could have better served those in need. The cost of flipped items puts them out of reach of someone who could only afford it at the thrift shop price.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your thrift shopping accessible to everyone in your community:

  • DON'T shop just to flip items for a higher price
  • DO donate to the thrift store's charity to support job training and other uplifting programs
  • DO donate any items back that you don't use or wear within a reasonable period of time
  • DO donate a little more back to the store than you purchase there

Ecological Sustainability

Fast fashion is an ecological disaster. Cheap, mass-produced clothes are often made of poor-quality synthetic fabrics, and are produced by slave labor or low-wage labor. Fast fashion is produced rapidly with the intent of turning consumers into shopaholics addicted to following the latest trends so that the fashion company can benefit. Inventory that is not sold fast enough ends up getting dumped as garbage. Shopping secondhand instead of going for fast fashion keeps wearable items out of the landfill for longer, lowers demand for new items, and helps consumers find longer-lasting apparel and other items.

Keep your thrift shopping eco-friendly by keeping these tips in mind:

  • DO shop only for what you need (I like to make a list of specifics)
  • DON'T throw away your thrift finds if you end up not liking them - donate them back or recycle them properly
  • DO learn basic sewing skills so you can prolong the life of your garments
  • DON'T get caught up in by-the-bag or by-the-pound sales if it means you'll take more than you need

Economical Sustainability

One of the biggest allures to thrifting is the low prices of everything. Many secondhand charity shops will have like-items sold at a single price, some for as low as 25 cents. Because of the low prices, it can be tempting, and far too easy, to go overboard on shopping. Buying too much at once can be ecologically and socially damaging, not to mention financially damaging because you can still spend more than you set out to in the first place. 

I'd like to echo the two DO's of the ecological sustainability section above, and also add these tips for making your thrifting economically sustainable:

  • DO buy what you need or want secondhand if it saves money over buying new
  • DO set and stick to a budget for secondhand price vs. retail price
    (As an example, a retail store in my area will charge $50 for a new garment, but the secondhand store charges $6, a mere 12% of retail price. If I were dead-set on buying a new garment, I would budget $50, but if I knew I wanted to buy secondhand instead, I would just budget for that $6 cost.)
  • DO thoroughly check everything you want to buy to make sure it's in good shape so you won't have to buy multiples or resort to buying new right away


As someone who did not always have much money, I learned early on in my adulthood that thrift shopping could benefit me greatly versus retail shopping. As I have gotten older and become more of a minimalist and conscious budgeter, I have learned to appreciate secondhand shopping even more for its benefits to the rest of my community and the planet. Unfortunately there are individuals out in the world who exploit the inexpensive wonders of secondhand shops, but, my dear readers, you can avoid becoming that kind of person by following my sustainability tips above. Thanks for reading, and I wish you luck on your sustainable shopping journeys!