Previously, we have briefly touched on the topic of thrift shopping while talking about the secondhand culture in Sweden. Yes, Sweden has a strong culture of using secondhand items, and thrift shops play a huge part on that. You can find thrift shops scattered throughout the city- and do not imagine dirty shelves of unsorted clothes in Pasar Senen or overpriced Instagram thrift shop! In Sweden, thrift shops are as clean and organised as any common store; more often than not, you will have a good time browsing through your next preloved stuff.
There are infinite reasons to start thrifting! Okay, that was an exaggeration- but really, there are many, many upsides to thrifting. I’ve listed some of them below:
First, it saves money, obviously. And for an international student studying in one of the most expensive countries in Europe, some extra savings won’t hurt!
Second, it is healthier for the environment. Thrifting helps to reduce textile waste, keeps the oceans free from non-degradable fabric, and stops excessive pollution from manufacturing. If you are not familiar with the environmental issues around fashion, here is some fun trivia:
Source: World Resources Institute, 2019
Horrible, no? To add to that, discarded clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics (i.e acrylic, polyester spandex) can sit in landfills for up to 200 years. If we add to that the waste from discarded furniture that ends up in landfills or incinerated, imagine how much CO2 emissions you have prevented by buying secondhand. Fun fact: 90% of the EU furniture waste ends up in landfill or incinerated.
Third, it promotes a circular economy. The annual value of clothing discarded prematurely is estimated to be more than $400 billion (BCG, 2018). Using secondhand products helps prolong the life cycle of a product, which is far more energy and resource efficient than making new products. Here are some more interesting facts:
Source: Levi Strauss & Co., 2015
What can I find in thrift stores?
…well, almost. But really, you will be able to find most of the things you need in Swedish thrift stores, from clothes and accessories, furniture, bedsheets, kitchenware, glassware, wall decors, and books, to skiing and surfing equipment in the sports & hobbies section. If you came to Sweden with your kids, you can also find babies’ or kids’ clothing and toys in some stores. Most secondhand stores sell bikes, but they are often more expensive than the ones you find in Facebook marketplace.
Who knew I would find a batik vest in a Swedish thrift store?
Great! But where can I find these stores?
I live in Lund, so I will give some recommendations around Lund. However, I think it’s pretty easy to find thrift stores in any city, and finding the best ones in yours is only one google click away!
Björkåfrihet Malmo (source: author’s documentation, 2022)
Now, on to the tips…
Lose the agenda, but make a budget
Before you go, it’s best to set a maximum budget. There are plenty of interesting and unexpected things you can find at these stores, so setting a boundary is important to keep your wallet from crying the next day.
You might also want to list down what you need- but my advice is to keep it loose. You never know what you will find at thrift stores, so having a loose idea of what you’re looking for (i.e “formal wear”, or “wall poster”) will keep the shopping experience fun yet organised.
Source: Close the Loop, n.d.
Sometimes you will find knitwear that doesn’t have labels, usually because they are homemade- I usually avoid buying these. One little trick you could do is to ask your Scandinavian friend to come with you because they are more familiar with these types of clothing than we do and will be able to make a hunch!
Use your three senses
Products with good quality are usually a tad bit more expensive. For instance, polyester is cheaper than silk, and plywood is cheaper than oaks. Hence it is important to make sure that if you were to buy a product, it has to be in pristine condition. Use your three senses for this!
- Sight – When you find something you like, check for obvious signs of wear and tear, holes, stains, or loose hems/screws.
- Smell – Yes, there is no way second-hand products smell as good as department stores- but if you find some overly smelly products, put them back on the shelves! Weird smells can easily permeate the rest of your wardrobe (or your room) and are not worth the trouble.
- Touch – Feel the product to identify thin spots or low-quality materials (or scratchiness). With clothing or accessories, don’t forget to try them on! Never buy a secondhand product before trying it on.
Be a regular- go often!
If you went to a thrift store aiming to buy something but cannot find it, don’t fret! Just come back in a few weeks. Most thrift stores in Sweden circulate their products every 2 or 3 weeks.
Some extra tips would be to visit a few places around you before buying- some stores have more things in one category than the other.
Thrifting for clothes is fun but it’s easy to get carried away. My strategy to avoid impulsive spending is to apply a 5-minute rule.
If I find something I like (and it fits), I ask myself a few questions: Do I need this? Will I make good use of it? Did I already own something similar?
If the answer leans more towards yes, I will keep that thing in my arm for at least 5 minutes while strolling around the store. This gives me time to soak it in my mind and actually think it over. Then I ask the same three questions again.
If the answer is the same, then I’ll bring it to the cashier.
Thrifting is cheaper than buying new products, but it is not necessarily cheap- it’s Sweden after all! So, you might want to look for charity-based secondhand shops. These shops usually distribute their income to charity actions, and they are affiliated with a local foundation or NGO. Because they are non-profit, their products are usually cheaper.
Some charity shops I found are Erikshjälpen, Björkåfrihet, Myrorna, Stadsmissionen, Emmaus, or Röda Korset (Red Cross). These shops have branches in multiple cities in Sweden, especially student cities like Lund, Malmö, Göteborg, Umeå, and Stockholm.
Thrifting is sustainable and cheap, and Sweden makes it a fun experience. However, we should not see this as an opportunity to overconsume. Most thrift stores have a designated bin/rack for you to put things you no longer use, so they can either sell them or donate them. And in the end, no purchase is always cheaper than cheap purchases- enough is enough.
Live, laugh, lagom!
//Patricia Romasi Pasaribu – Author
// Angel & Agis – Editor