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 here with permission.

What to buy secondhand and what to buy new
Buying antique, vintage, or secondhand items is a great way to stay green while shopping.