A Sustainable Twist on Your Traditional Gift Exchange

By Amanda Kuhnert

COVER Home Repair recently opened Cover to COVER, a stand-alone bookstore. The store is volunteer-driven and all proceeds from the store support their home repair operations across the Upper Valley. Photo by Jen Roby.

My brother still wears the vintage Woolrich buffalo-check shirt that I gave him for Christmas 10 years ago. I bought it for $5 at a thrift store in northern Vermont.

In 2009, the year after the recession hit, our family decided to host a repurposed-and-recycled gift exchange. This was, by far, my favorite holiday-shopping experience. Not only did it lighten the financial load, but the hunt for “the perfect” secondhand gift sparked our imaginations and put one-of-a-kind items under the tree.

I often think of that red plaid shirt and the stories it could tell. I’d love to know when it was made and whose closet it hung in before becoming part of my brother’s wardrobe. The shirt still looks as good as new, but it could be over a century old. After all, the buffalo-check fabric is the very first product Woolrich produced in its Pennsylvania-based woolen mill beginning in 1850.

I have warm memories of that recycled Christmas: the fun of turning what would have otherwise been a stressful shopping experience into an exciting hunt for discarded treasures; the anticipation as each opened gift revealed another unique find; and the fact that I bought everyone in my extended family a special something, all for under $50.

Why shop second-hand this holiday season

It’s not too late to start a new holiday shopping tradition in your family. Buying pre-owned items is more sustainable for your wallet, environment, and home. Here’s why:

  • You’ll get more for your money. High-quality used products cost a lot less than cheaply-made new items. You can find beautiful, unique gifts that have already passed the test of time. Most older products, like my brother’s shirt, were made to last.
  • Buying (and donating) used products keeps perfectly good items out of landfills. Overall, the U.S. produces 268 million tons of trash annually. The average U.S. resident produces about 4.5 pounds per day, and most of it is comprised of recyclable items.
  • Your purchases benefit your community. Most secondhand stores are run by local charities, so you know your money is being put to good use right in your backyard.
  • You’ll bypass the unnecessary plastic packaging that’s overwhelming our landfills and littering our oceans.
  • Used products don’t generate pollution or require energy to create. Overproduction of consumer goods is a drain on natural resources, and the excess waste threatens our environment, health, and safety.
  • Tired of all the holiday advertising? Buying secondhand is a simple way to avoid mass-produced products and push back on advertisers and corporations telling you what makes a great gift.

Secondhand gift ideas

If you’re not accustomed to secondhand shopping, you might be surprised at what you’ll find. Keep these holiday gift ideas in mind when you visit your local consignment or thrift store:

  • Apparel. I’ve found beautiful handmade scarves, hats, and sweaters, as well as designer jeans, jackets, and belts at the most unassuming, hole-in-the-wall thrift stores.
  • Purses and bags. You’ll be amazed at how many accessories people buy and never use.
  • Handmade mugs, vases, tea pots, and other pieces of pottery. These are my favorite items in the secondhand treasure hunt.
  • Books. Instead of splurging on one new book, you can spring for an entire collection at a used book store.
  • Jewelry. You’ll find a wide selection of bracelets, rings, necklaces, and earrings. The trick will be walking out with just one!
  • Artwork. Buying and framing a piece of artwork might break your holiday budget, but you can find secondhand framed paintings and photographs at affordable prices.
  • Toys. We can’t hold on to our kids’ toys forever. That’s why, at thrift stores, you can find classic toys like Thomas the Train engines, Legos, and Tinker Toys — for a fraction of the cost of buying new.

Buying secondhand saves money, benefits the environment and local charities, and puts unique, well-made products back to use. Plus, you’ll have a lot more fun perusing your local thrift stores than fighting the crowds at the mall — or shopping alone in your living room. I promise.

There are several resale shops nearby: Encore Designer Consignment in Woodstock; Listen Thrift Stores; the COVER Store and Revolution in White River Junction. And there’s an ongoing sale of used books to benefit the Norman Williams Library, displayed just inside the front door.

Happy shopping!


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