By ABBY BORA/ecoRI News contributor
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” This frequently repeated adage encourages eco-conscious living by minimizing the production of new materials and waste. Reduce how much you use, reuse what you do have, and recycle what you can’t keep.
Nevertheless, sometimes we can’t help it; we need a table for the dining room, or a blouse for a new job. In these cases, we can remain green, save money, and continue to reuse by turning to thrift stores.
The amount of textile waste produced by the United States annually, including clothing and bedding, has skyrocketed since the 1980s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2015, 10.5 million tons of textiles went to landfills, according to the federal agency, making up 7.6 percent of all waste sent to landfills that year.
T-shirts and pillowcases, however, aren’t the only items that end up buried in landfills. Books, furniture, tableware, and more wind up trashed.
Thrift stores have been frequented by folks who can’t afford to go elsewhere for decades, and until recently, shopping secondhand was largely frowned upon. But thrifting isn’t just a way to help the planet; for many, it’s a way to make ends meet. Regardless of what brings you to a secondhand store, here are some tips for maximizing your next thrift-store visit:
Reinvent old garments. Explore your creativity by rethinking clothing found at Savers, Goodwill, and other stores that sell donated goods. With some Pinterest inspiration, you can express your own unique sense of style by bleaching jeans, embroidering T-shirts, and patching up tattered jackets.
Browse the shelves at a used-book store. When looking for your next read, stop by a used book store such as Paper Nautilus Books in Providence, Twice Told Tales in Cranston, or Mary’s Paperbacks in Warwick.
“It’s economical for families to buy used, and it keeps used books out of the landfill and in the community,” said Tracy Doyle, the owner of Mary’s Paperbacks. “It’s good for the environment.”
Style your next look. Shops such as The Vault Collective in Providence offer a boutique experience, selling vintage, gently-used apparel. While the price is typically higher than at secondhand stores, you don’t need to scour the racks for a treasure. Every item at The Vault is hand-selected by one of its 10 member dealers to match a particular aesthetic or trend.
“We offer vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920s to 2000s,” Melissa Morales said.
Find a DIY project. In lieu of thrift stores, check virtual platforms such as Craigslist or LetGo to easily search for specific furniture items in your area. Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you can quickly customize many items to fit your needs. A nice sanding, fresh coat of paint or stain, and new knobs can do wonders for an old piece of furniture.
Decorate your home. If reconstructing scrappy furniture isn’t your thing, visit one of Rhode Island’s many antique and consignment shops. Stores such as Home Again Consignment in Warwick and Second Helpings in Bristol sell gently-used but high-quality furniture and home decor.
Throw a green party. The next time you hold your kid’s birthday party or host a holiday gathering, skip disposable plates and cups. If you don’t have enough table settings at home already, opt for thrift-store buys of glasses, silverware, and ceramics. When the party’s over, save them for the next time, or gift them to friends for when they host a party.
Spruce up picture frames. You want frames to highlight your beautiful artwork or photographs, not drag them down. New picture frames can get pricey. Unfortunately, preowned frames are usually donated to thrift stores once they’ve become scratched or outdated. But you can breathe new life into used picture frames with a quick coat of paint.
Repurpose old sheets. There’s rarely a need to buy new fabrics if you take the time to scour the sheet racks at thrift stores. In used sheets, you can find unique patterns and high-quality materials. Looking for materials for your next sewing project? How about using that old sheet to make some reusable napkins.
Shop for a gift. The next time you’re searching for a gift for that special someone, turn the search into a treasure hunt at a Rhode Island flea market. Flea markets can take place indoors or outdoors, and often feature a number of vendors selling discounted used items such as clothing, decor, trinkets, and books. A few to check out include the Plainfield Pike Flea Market in Johnston and The Providence Flea. Some flea markets have seasonal hours, so be sure to check prior to attending.
Start a garden. Exercise your green thumb by starting seeds in secondhand pots. Cups, bowls, baskets, and storage containers can also make adequate pots. Just make sure to make holes to give your plants drainage.
Abby Bora is a Providence-based writer. She previously served as the editor of Community Impact Newspaper Cedar Park-Leander in the Austin, Texas, area.