Antiques – the ultimate green products

antiques-27987401Buying antiques and pre-loved items from secondhand shops is good for the soul and for the environment – as the greenest products are the ones that are already made.

Your purchase avoids these discarded treasures being buried in a landfill, conserves a small piece of history, and reduces the amount of virgin materials, energy, water, chemicals and other inputs required to produce new goods.

Sure they may present dangers such as lead-based paints, termites and wood-boring insects. You may also need to deal with some ethical and legal issues, such as whether it is okay to buy old ivory or a cultural relic that should never have left its country of origin (and may even have been stolen).*

But assuming you pay a fair price and have checked their credentials, these items are likely to hold their value better than most new furniture and clothes that depreciate faster than a new car when you drive it out of the sales yard. You might even find a real bargain and make some money if/when you can bear to part with it.

On the other hand, you might be totally ripped off. Perhaps you will buy at the height of the market? For example, if you buy ‘trendy’ deco furniture just after a film like The Great Gatsby is released. Maybe this ‘too good to be true’ find is a ‘too good to be true fake’? Or the owner expected you to haggle and added some bargaining room – but you accepted the price straight away?

[Monty Python’s haggling scene in the Life of Brian springs to mind.]

You can reduce the risk of overpaying if you are willing to walk away or if you love the item so much that you will never want to sell it. You can also avoid potential disappointment by not buying secondhand clothes that are too small (that you will fit into when you lose some weight), resisting broken items (that won’t be too hard to fix), and walking straight past furniture that is too big for the space you have (but might fit if you move this and adjust that).

Unfortunately we have all been caught up in the thrill of the hunt and made decisions we regret. Those times when you dared not hesitate as the vendor couldn’t order another one in a different size anyway or replace the item if it was sold while you measured up the space or had a coffee to think about it. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and hope for the best.

We keep going because every so often we strike gold!

Searching through junk shops, garage sales and dark corners of antique stores is like being an explorer in Raiders of the Lost Ark or a knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail – but the chance of success is much better, you are less likely to encounter snake pits, deep ravines and killer rabbits, and no-one chases you with guns (unless you take something without paying for it).

*Check out Nancy L. Fischer’s post about the ethics of vintage – I had never heard of ‘rag graders’ before (people who sort the clothes we give away and decide the next phase of their life).

Photo credit: © Vwvwvwvwv |

[Ed. This post was inspired by the Canberra Antiques Centre motto ‘Recycling in style’. Happy 10th birthday!]

Categories: Sustainable procurement

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. “as the greenest products are the ones that are already made.” I am often reminding people of this when they start shopping for eco-friendly products. There’s a whole marketing campaign designed to tap into our environmental concerns, while convincing us to buy more. I think I’m going to really enjoy your reading your past and future posts – thanks!

    • So maybe the ‘Green’ in your blog name does not just refer to the wall paint colour? Cool!

      • We are constantly trying to shrink our footprint, which is sometimes a challenge in the suburbs, but any effort at all seems an improvement. I have a 9 year old self-declared vegetarian who, at this point, wants to be an ecologist. We garden, make our own household cleaning products and have lengthy conversations about conservation. So, yes, Green seems to be an ongoing theme!

  2. I love your writing Pip. It’s truly motivating me to get going on my blog again.

    Pip Marks wrote:

    > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ pipmarks posted: ” Buying antiques and pre-loved items from secondhand shops is good for the soul and for the environment – as the greenest products are the ones that are already made. Your purchase avoids these discarded treasures being buried in a landfill, conserv”

  3. Love this blog. It only dawned on me this year that second hand purchases can reduce my carbon footprint. I’m so shocked at all the brand new things I bought and only used once!! Consider attitude changed… Thanks

  4. As I say to my students sometimes… what do you own that you will mention in your will? What will you leave to somebody else? And all these well off students with laptops and iPhones, cars and expensive clothing (and debts…) are nonplussed. Nobody makes anything to last anymore. Maybe firearms(!)… but most things are ultimately disposable. If you want to leave anything behind, you’re almost entirely limited to art and antiques – as far as I can tell.

    I remember a guest speaker once who showed us a picture of a sculpture he had bought for his garden: said it had cost far more than a UK-Australia flight… and didn’t involve anything like the same carbon footprint.

    Are we sequestering money, now?

    • That’s a great question that we should all ask ourselves in this throw away society. Was the guest speaker suggesting we should stay at home and buy artworks instead of going on vacation (retail stay-cations)?


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