Get back-to-school ready with these sustainable shopping tips

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Eliana Marcu/Senior Staff

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As many of us move back to Berkeley or move here for the very first time, a large priority is settling into our new homes for the year. The list of furniture, household goods and clothes to purchase may seem overwhelming for your budget if you’re purchasing from your nearby retailer. Additionally, it can seem wasteful to buy items that may only be used for just one year. That doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re looking for furniture or clothing for the new school year, here are some sustainable and budget-friendly alternatives to meet your shopping needs. 

Thrift stores

Thrift stores are no doubt the first thing that come to mind when thinking about secondhand items. Most thrift stores sell a range of household goods and clothing, and provide great inspiration for filling up your new space with a variety of styles. Find some hidden gems donated by the Bay Area community at Out of the Closet on University Avenue and at local Goodwills in surrounding cities. Many operate like retail stores and are perfect if you want to go in person to measure items and check the condition of furniture — especially if you’re trying to fit them in a small apartment or dorm. Lightly used and older clothes and furniture are usually overlooked. Throw a neutral-colored cloth on top of a scratched wooden table to hide its signs of use while creating a more modern vintage look to it. Just remember to buy only what you need for other people to also have an opportunity to shop.

Consignment stores

Unlike thrift stores, consignment stores typically sell secondhand items with a certain theme or style. Most stores in Berkeley sell clothing, popular vintage pieces and accessories. Telegraph Avenue staples such as Mars Mercantile and Indigo Vintage Cooperative are great places to look for those items. However, other stores have opted for more modern styles. 2nd Street, which recently opened on Telegraph Avenue, offers a hip streetwear selection, and the online store TheRealReal sells secondhand luxury brands. Online shops have become increasingly popular in recent years — ThredUP is a solid option to find good deals and a wide array of famous retail brands. It’s almost like shopping at a mall, except it’s online and you’re shopping solely for secondhand items. If you’re looking for a more specific type of fashion, consignment stores are your way to go. 

Online marketplaces

Thanks to the ease of connecting through social media, online marketplaces are probably the best way to find affordable household supplies and furniture without having to hop around multiple places. Scroll through hundreds of posts of individuals looking to give their goods a second life and find what you need in a matter of minutes. Find both luxury and ready-to-wear fashion from someone’s collection through app websites such as Depop, Poshmark and Mercari. Additionally, this is the easiest way to furnish your new place while also being sustainable. Try Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or eBay, where people in your local vicinity are looking to quickly offload their excess household items at low prices. Choose the item you want to purchase, message the seller and arrange a time to pick it up. Make sure you check each item’s condition and plan how to pick it up. Bringing a Camry to pick up a three-seater sofa may not work out.

Retailer warehouses

Buying warehouse items from retailers is also a great way to find discounted items in near mint condition. Retailers often have products with minimal damage or simply just broken exterior packaging that can’t be sold at full retail price. It’s similar to buying refurbished appliances or devices, but most of the items have never actually been used. Retailers usually end up throwing them into the landfill, but sometimes these items are sent to their retail warehouses. If you’re planning to buy from a specific retailer, check if they have this warehouse practice and you may just find perfectly new items with great discounts. While we know Amazon as the mega-retailer, they also have an online warehouse stocked with just as many “quality pre-owned, used, and open box products.” I was skeptical at first, but aside from a ripped box and minimal signs of imperfection, I received a new office desk at more than 20% off its retail price.

Not only are these options friendly on the wallet, but they are also sustainable. Visit some of these stores to give items that might have just been thrown out a second life. Happy hunting! 

Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].