Barter Bay · Buying · sustainable living

15 Second-hand Items That Make Great Gifts

15-second-hand-items-that-make-great-giftsWould you buy someone a second hand gift?

Would you be pleased to receive one?

Second hand gifts are a contentious issue. Many of us feel that only new items carry the weight of a generous spirit. Second-hand can come across as stingy if it’s not done right.

Personally, I think buying second hand is not only a great way to save money, but a way to cut down on all the stuff we buy that just ends up as clutter.

When my mother was young, just before Christmas her doll would take a trip to the doll hospital. And then for Christmas, she would be gifted the same doll, all fixed and dolled up.

When I think of all the toys my kids have that never get played with, and the statistic that the average kid owns 238 toys but only plays with 12 daily, doing up a favourite dolly makes so much sense.

It sounds nice in theory, and maybe second-hand gifts would be fine for the immediate family, but what about extended family and friends? What about that fussy relative with the high gift expectations?

There’s a trick to pulling off second-hand gift giving: like any gift giving, you have to match the item to the recipient. You can’t just give any gift, it should be something your recipient will love, be it brand new or pre-loved.

And you need to start planning early to give yourself time to source that perfect item.

The shops start early. By September, all the decorations are out and the trees are trimmed.

They want you to start thinking about Christmas early so that you spendmore money. But you want to start thinking about Christmas now so that you can save money.

To start planning now for second-hand gifts, write a list of all the people you need to give a gift to. Then write down some gift ideas that you think that person would like.

Now prowl. Second-hand stores, Gumtree, Facebook Buy and Sell pages, garage sales, classifieds. It won’t be long until you find the perfect item. And thanks to technology, this doesn’t mean weekends spent in op-shops (although that’s always a fun way to pass the time), it can mean browsing Gumtree on your phone, on the couch, in the ad breaks.

Last year, Australians spent $45 billion dollars in the period leading up to Christmas. That’s an average of $2,500 per person over the age of 14.

Do those stats blow your mind, because my mind is still reeling? How much of that is debt? While it’s great to be generous towards others, digging yourself into debt to do so is crazy.

If you cast your mind back to last Christmas, how much of what you and your family received ended up as clutter? Even if we all just bought one second-hand gift, that would be millions less ‘stuff’ produced and kept out of landfill.


1. Pre-loved games: Whether it’s a game for the Xbox, a game of scrabble in good nick, or a jigsaw puzzle, a good way to save on games is to buy them second-hand. A lot of Xbox/ PlayStation games are only ever played once. When the player has reached the end, the novelty of the game is over – their boredom is your gain.

Things to look out for: make sure the game doesn’t need a code or key to unlock. PC games are more likely to be locked to one user only (what a waste!). Some PlayStation and Xbox games have extras that can only be unlocked with a password.

Before buying, check the disc for scratches.

If you’re buying pre-loved board games, check that all the pieces are in the box. You may need to download instructions for play.

While it may not be possible to check that all puzzle pieces are in the box, especially for big puzzles, go home and do the puzzle to make sure there’s no pieces missing. There’s nothing more frustrating than a large puzzle with a piece missing! I’ve had great success buying kid’s puzzles second hand. They are some of the most loved puzzles we own.

2. Classic Books: We have a lovely 1970s edition of the Complete Winnie-the-Pooh that we purchased for the kids second-hand and that I wouldn’t hesitate to gift to someone else. When book stores are full of Disney franchise merchandise, it’s hard to find really nice books anymore, unless you get them second-hand.

But you don’t need to stick to classic books or first-edition books to gift second-hand books. Imagine giving (or receiving) a whole series instead of just the first in the series and buying it for the cost of a single book!

3. Vintage accessories: Not used darling, vintage! What girl doesn’t like a little vintage bling? It’s amazing what you find in pawn and second-hand shops. Stunning jewellery for a fraction of what you pay for it brand new.

Don’t just think jewellery though. Handbags, vintage suitcases, hair accessories, fountain pens, stationery or desk sets, jewellery boxes, perfume bottles, silk scarves can all make great gifts for the right person.

4. Antiques: Finding genuine antiques at frugal prices requires a bit of ingenuity and scouting, which is why it’s a good idea to keep gifts in mind when you’re op-shopping. But bargains are there for the savvy buyer. The key is to look for quality at your price point.  And of course, match the gift to the tastes of the recipient.

Garage sales can be the best place to pick up cheap antiques, because sellers don’t always know what gems they have on hand. But you have to get in early and beat the trade buyers who know what they are looking for and can sniff out a bargain at 50 paces.

5. Collectibles: Know a collector? I know a person who collects plates (the ones you hang on your wall) and always welcomes more plates to her collection. Sure, you can pick up a plate in one of those little kitsch shops, but a vintage plate, particularly a limited edition one, would be all the more welcome.

6. Fabric Remnants: If you’re a sewer, fabric remnants can be turned into gifts! Quilts, placemats, cushion covers, children’s clothes, dolls clothes, table cloths, napkins…The fabric remnant bin at our local Salvation Army store is the first place I head when bargain hunting!

7. DVDs: If you look for DVDs in good nick, then you won’t even be able to tell they are second-hand. Like games, DVDs are often only watched once, sometimes not even that, if the DVD in question was a poorly chosen gift.

Before buying a second hand DVD, always open the case and check the disc for scratches or damage, especially if it’s a kid’s DVD!

8. Hamper items: Personalised hampers can make a lovely gift, and you can pick up some great hamper items second-hand. A tea hamper could include a vintage cup and saucer. A wine hamper could include wine glasses. You could use some of the ideas below to couple second-hand, up-cycled tableware and linen with homemade preserves and baking.

At the very least, an op-shop is the best place to look for hamper baskets, but I like to think outside the basket, and pack hampers on serving platters or even in bags that can be used again.

9. Linen and Tableware: Why pay full price for a serving platter, salad servers, cake sporks, tea pots, wine glasses, table cloths or other tableware you can probably pick lovely ones up second-hand.

A nice tea set for the right person, for example, will always be appreciated, whether brand new or second-hand (and you probably won’t be able to tell it’s second-hand).

Think about ways you can take second-hand items to the next level by adding your own crafty touch. This video tutorial on how to add beads to serving spoons and other flatware is a lovely example of how you can improve on and personalise the second-hand items that you buy.

You could embroider a tablecloth or stencil placemats, paint a vase or decorate a serving platter.

10. Autographed items. There are some things you often can’t buy brand new. A special addition or autographed item can be a very welcome present for the right person. But you have to keep your eyes peeled for these rare finds. Garage sales are a great place to find under-priced autographed items.

11. Classic or quality toys: If you look in the toy section of a second-hand store, it’s often filled with ratty, broken, plastic Fisher Price toys. These are not the type of toy that makes good gifts. Instead, classic or quality toys like wooden toys in good conditions, Barbies in good condition (here’s how you can restore a Barbie doll; you can also make it an awesome gift with a whole bunch of homemade clothes and accessories to go with the doll), Lego (here’s how to clean Lego), Melissa and Doug*, Plan Toys*, HABA* (these are some of the quality toys we have loved – keep an eye out on Gumtree for them!).

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for second-hand clothes and accessories that would make great dress-up sets, maybe with a little up-cycling!

12. ’New’ Second-hand items: Here we come to the re-gifted item. The unwanted present from last year that hasn’t even been opened. You could really say these items are not even second-hand at all.

Look on gumtree and Facebook groups straight after Christmas for a whole host of re-gifted items. Just be sure not to make the same mistake – buy something your recipient will like so your gift doesn’t get re-gifted!

13. Bikes: ALL our bikes, when I was a kid, were second-hand. My grandfather built them from bits and pieces and when he died, my father built them. A bit of tender loving care and a new coat of paint and bikes can look and ride as good as new.

14. Sports equipment: ‘For Sale: Kayak. Used once. Perfect Condition. $50.’  Second-hand sports equipment can be a great way for a loved one to get into that sport or hobby they’ve always wanted. Encourage them by getting them the equipment they need at a fraction of the cost of brand new. And if you sparks a passion, they can always upgrade their equipment as they progress.

(Warning: Do not buy your wife an exercise bike. Just don’t.)

15. Art: Art can be a difficult gift to give unless you know the tastes of the person you’re buying for. Second-hand stores, garage sales and eBay are great places to pick up old artworks. And who knows, you may be lucky to pick up a genuine collectable stashed at the back of someone’s garage.

At worst, you can pick up some good frames to up-cycle. Framed scrapbooking paper, wallpaper or fabric can make lovely art, especially when you group more than one frame together. Or you could up-cycle the frame into something else, like this serving tray from a picture frame.

Gifting second-hand items doesn’t have to be tacky. The key is to always, always match the gift to the recipient (this holds true for brand new gifts too). If it’s still in good shape and it’s something your recipient loves, then it won’t matter how many people have pre-loved it.

What are your thoughts and tips on buying second-hand gifts?

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