The truth is, I'm just a secondhand sort of girl. I like my objects to carry an air of mystery, to enter my life with a little life of their own. In my eyes, well-made clothing is straight-up art. A chip on a vintage dish is testament to good living! And like the finest of wines, craftsman-made furniture will only develop character and complexity as it ages. Quality items always wear their maturity well.

But I also see the other side. My husband is a bit of a "chaser" — he loves minimalism, hyper-modern design, and he's always after the latest technology. And I certainly understand the appeal of hunting the cutting edge!

When it comes to furnishing a frugal, eco-friendly home, success means knowing when to choose new versus used. So whether you're a squirrel like me — saving up and savoring — or a raccoon like my husband — always after the shiniest toy — it's prudent to take things case by case. Some things should always be purchased new. Conversely, sometimes buying secondhand just makes good practical sense. Here's how it breaks down:

Go ahead and hit the thrift:

  • Cups, saucers, and other dishes in glass or ceramic (avoid plastic).
  • Pots, pans, and bakeware in stainless steel or glass/Pyrex.
  • Flatware, utensils, or serving spoons made from any metal (avoid plastic or wood).
  • Wooden furniture — from desks to dressers to dinner tables, wood is easy to clean and ages beautifully.
  • Media like books, CDs, DVDs and video games.
  • Non-electric tools.
  • Garden supplies, healthy potted plants and flower pots.
  • Large appliances like washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.
Better be safe, better buy new:
  • Cast iron cookware (who knows what it's been seasoned with?).
  • Cribs (with all the recalls and all the accidents, it's just not worth the risks).
  • Car seats and other safety gear such as helmets (these are made to withstand a single incident, and without a complete history, you can't be guaranteed that they'll do their job).
  • Dirt (don't buy dirty dirt — you don't know what kind of contaminants are present).
That gray area:
  • Mattresses — Mites, bed bugs, mold, and other nasties, are a very real concern.
  • Blankets and other bedding — Again, if you're in a bedbug red zone, skip it. Otherwise it's fine, but do wash the ever loving criminey out of it, please.
  • Electronics, including power tools, DVD players, vacuum cleaners, etc — Purchase these only if you can score a super deal, because there's a good chance they won't last long.
With these simple tips in mind, you shouldn't have any problems outfitting a groovy, green and gorgeous abode. Happy decorating!

Sayward Rebhal originally wrote this story for It is republished with permission here.