The Best - And Worst - Household Items to Buy Secondhand

March 29, 2023 5 min read

secondhand home items - what to buy, what to avoid

One of the best ways to be frugal is exploring secondhand options before buying anything brand-new. Opting for used or "pre-loved" items isn't just cost-saving, it's environment-friendly, too! However, not everything should be bought pre-used. Nobody should ever end up with someone else's used toiletries and dingy pillows!

Next time you're at a thrift store, yard sale, or flea market, think carefully about the current quality and sanitary condition of any piece you're eyeing. Let's take a look at what home decor items can be a score when bought second-hand, and which ones to steer clear of.


Best Home Decor Items to Buy Used

1. Lamps and lighting

decorative lamps - spherical chandeliers - colorful lights

From table lamps, lampshades, and sconces, to floor lamps, pendant lights, and chandeliers, you'll find that older lighting fixtures have so much character to them. Some of these items only become more valuable the older they get. The best part? You can score antique and vintage lamps at many flea markets!

Remember two important tips when thrifting lamps. First, check if the vintage item is coated in toxic lead paint (which was popular in the US until the '70s). You can buy inexpensive lead swabs from hardware stores to test for lead content. And if the object tests positive, we found this helpful guide on how to refinish items that have lead paint on them.

Second, have the light tested right at the store to see if it works. If you can, bring your own bulb. Don't forget to also check the safety of the wiring!


2. Glassware and tableware

bless the food before us - flower wall art - elegant dinnerware

No matter the age of dinnerware, you can likely find good use for it. Common dishes and cups can be used for, well, dining purposes. But look out for fine glassware or designer ceramics that may very well have a value of hundreds of dollars! There are plenty of vintage plates, glasses, bowls, and utensils out there in the thrifting market, waiting for you to stumble upon them. Note, though, that older dinnerware may contain lead, so always remember to check!

Wall art pictured above: "Food, Family, Love" Watercolor Premium Canvas


3. Books

old books - vintage - 1st edition

Ah, the look and smell of old books! On top of their literary value, old editions look so romantic when displayed on shelves. True-blue readers also find a special pleasure in reading a pre-owned book, discovering old scribbles on the pages or dog-ears on notable passages. These are a glimpse to the possible life of the previous owner, and a secret communication passed down through the book's history.


4. Vases, figurines, porcelain, and ceramics

personalized family name wall art with year - indoor plant - wooden lamp - small roman bust

Nothing compares to vintage decor, especially handcrafted pieces. If you're looking for a lovely table-topper or mantel decoration, swing by the flea market and browse porcelain figurines, ceramic sculptures, or collectible china. You may not necessarily hunt for fine art pieces, but hey, finding one is always a possibility! And even if you end up buying something mass-produced, it can still look gorgeous on your tablescape.

Wall art pictured above: Personalized "Family Name" Color Choice Premium Canvas


5. Wooden furniture

wooden furniture - cowboy center piece - horses - simple lamps - papa rustic wall art - the man the myth the legend

There's a constant buy-and-sell market for secondhand wood furniture, from everyday items like tables, chairs, dressers, and cabinets, to rare craftsman pieces like armoires and bureaus. You might even find these being resold on Facebook Marketplace by folks in your area.

If you've spotted one online, make sure to examine the piece in person before committing to purchase. In particular, check the furniture for potential toxins such as mold and lead.

Wall art pictured above: "Papa - The Man, Myth, Legend" Premium Rustic Canvas


6. Containers and organizers

basket organizers - white fireplace - custom mantle piece art with names - love

Secondhand shopping isn't just about vintage or antique valuables. Lots of pre-owned things are fairly new, and you buy them not for their collectible value but for their practical use. Household containers are an example. Be it a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers, a trio of airtight jars, or a set of woven baskets, secondhand organizers are easy to find and relatively low-risk to buy.

Wall art pictured above: Personalized "Love" Names On Heart Premium Canvas


7. Holiday decor

colorful Christmas tree ornaments

Why pay brand-new prices for ornaments you'll only use once a year? Seasonal items like Christmas tree baubles, July 4th garlands, and Thanksgiving table decor are just as festive even when bought used. With all the expenses you'll be incurring during these holidays, it's nice to be able to save some money on non-essentials.

Bonus tip: You can get secondhand birthday decorations, too! Browse your local Facebook Marketplace or "buy nothing" groups for used streamers, buntings, party arches, and even photobooth backdrops.


Worst Household Items to Buy Used

1. Cushions, pillows, and mattresses

old sofa cushions

Anything cushiony can be a hotbed for creatures you definitely don't want in your home: mites, bedbugs, mold, and more. Plus, used pillows and mattresses have absorbed someone else's sweat and other bodily fluids, which means these items are likely rife with microbes -- and potentially parasites -- from the previous user. We shudder just thinking about it!


2. Pet supplies

cute dog - doggy bed - pet wall art - you can't buy love

Veterinarians say that solid pet products -- like food bowls and dog crates -- are generally safe to buy used, as long as you clean them thoroughly. What you'll want to avoid are secondhand porous items such as pet pillows, cat trees, and pet clothes. Not only will these have the smell of the previous fur-baby, they can also carry fleas, ticks, and viruses. Keep Bella away!

Wall art pictured above: "You Can't Buy Love But You Can Rescue It" Canvas For Dog Owners


3. Vintage toys and toy chests

toys - toy chest - bedtime - kid in pajamas

Vintage dolls and action figures may look nostalgic, but parents must err on the side of safety and avoid these. Many old kiddie products are coated with compounds such as lead, bromine, and cadmium, all of which can be toxic even to adults. There's also a long list of toys that have been recalled throughout the decades for their unsafe product defects such as choking hazards.

Unfortunately, even those beautiful vintage toy trunks and wooden chests can be dangerous for your little ones, too. There are documented cases of children getting fatally trapped inside those trunks due to the lock mechanism automatically latching on the outside. These horrible incidents prompted a product recall, but some older trunks with similar locks are still available at thrift stores today.


4. Unmaintained air-conditioners

barbershop sign - aircon vent - outdoors

Though some people manage to find used ACs without issues, many others have experienced health problems due to poorly maintained or seldom-cleaned cooling units. These appliances deal with moisture, and if not cleaned regularly, they could become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and other microbes.

Scientists have linked unsanitary ACs to what they call the "sick building syndrome." This refers to people getting ill with asthma, allergies, headaches, and fatigue in indoor spaces with contaminated air. So if you're looking to get a secondhand air-conditioner, it's worth it to be extra-cautious. You can never be too safe for your health and your family's.


We hope this quick guide helps you thrift-shop the smart way! Tell us: do you have a cherished hand-me-down item at home? Or maybe you've had a terrible experience with a secondhand buy? Share with us in the comments!

If you liked the wall decor featured here, there's more to love at We have customizable wall art, pillows, and gift items that are highly rated by shoppers like you. All brand-new and safe, of course. Browse now!



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