How to Buy and Sell Secondhand During COVID-19

From online marketplaces to no-contact yard sales, these tips and tricks will keep bargain hunters safe this summer—and help them save money.

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Buy, sell and donate during the pandemic

If there’s anything that will inspire a person to clean the excess junk out of their home, it’s being trapped inside it for months on end. The question is what to do with it all.

Donating your used clothing, books, and kitchenware to a thrift store or charity is a good idea—in theory. It can help people in need save money, it’s good for the planet to reuse, and thrifting can be an exciting and affordable way to score some true gems. (This writer recently found a pair of vintage Dior sunglasses for $3.49 at Value Village.)

It can be tempting to drive straight to a big box donation centre and get rid of all your clutter at once. But it isn’t always the most environmentally friendly option. Donation centres receive a high volume of stuff that can’t be resold, and much of it ends up in the landfill—or worse, it’s shipped overseas and ends up in another country’s landfill. Also, many places still aren’t accepting donations, and a traditional garage sale can feel risky right now (though it can be done safely—more on that below).

Luckily, there are still easy and safe ways to both rid yourself of unwanted things and find new treasures. Here are some common sense tips for the bargain hunters among us.

How to safely sell and donate

Sell or donate online: Giving or selling items directly to people who want and need them is the best way to go. Check out the local chapter of your favourite online marketplace, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Kijiji, and have a look at the free section. People post items they’re giving away for free, and also request free items they’re in need of. Often people will request items—such as furniture and housewares—when they’re in a life transition stage and can’t afford whole new setups. Local organizations supporting refugees are often looking for household items and furniture, too.

Why lug your old microwave to a store when you could give directly to a person in need? If you don’t see people looking, create your own ad. Include the condition of the item, its location, dimensions, and any other relevant specs. Whenever I post items for free, people usually come within a day to take them off my hands. Recently, I made a post for a free shelf and someone arrived an hour later to pick it up. Organize contactless porch or trunk trades to ensure safety. You leave the item out for someone to grab, and they send you money by e-transfer or leave cash.

Kijiji and Facebook recommend avoiding meeting in person, if possible. If you do need to meet to make the sale, such online marketplaces recommend physical distancing of six feet, like everywhere else these days. And, it’s always good etiquette to clean an item before a sale or donation with disinfectant.

Donate to organizations in need: Another solid bet is to check with local organizations who support people in need. Toronto alone has many organizations seeking donations, including Kapit-Bisig Laban, a mutual aid group for Filipinos affected by COVID-19, the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre and New Circles, which caters to women and girls. Check with shelters and other organizations in your area to see what they’re accepting. Also, see what mutual aid groups in your area have cropped up to support people facing losses during COVID-19.

Hold a contact-free yard sale: Another option is a contactless yard sale. Whether or not you go this route will largely depend on rules for your area and the number of active COVID-19 cases. Some jurisdictions have only recently lifted bans on yard sales; others haven’t at all. Check with your municipality to determine what’s recommended locally. Once you’re in the clear to go ahead—and you feel comfortable doing so—hold your sale outdoors, and make it contact free.

If you or your potential browsers don’t want to exchange cash, set up a sign with your email so people can e-transfer you. Otherwise, have a bucket where people can drop their change and cash. Provide sanitizer and ask that people wear masks—you may even want to consider providing some at the entry to the sale, if you can. And, of course, clean items before setting them out for sale.

How to safely bargain hunt

Buy from online marketplaces: COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, and it’s unlikely you’ll get the virus from a contaminated package or item. This summer, buying directly from another person is a safer bet than navigating a crowded or poorly ventilated thrift store—and even with yard sales, you can’t guarantee everyone will follow safety precautions.

Before going to check out an item you’d like to buy from an online seller, make sure it’s something you really want. Ask the right questions, like the item’s condition and size. Before you make up your mind, don’t be afraid to ask for more photos or even video instead of viewing the item in person. On that note, as satisfying as bargain-hunting may be, you may also consider whether you really need to upgrade your tchotchkes or vintage denim collection right now.

Go to a contact-free sale: If you’re set on the yard-sale experience, have a look on your local classified pages and see what you can find. You’ll want to stick to outdoor yard and church sales, where ventilation is good and the risk of transmission is lower. Pack your sani and mask, keep your distance, and go at it—but don’t touch anything unless you’re sure you want to buy it.

Once your treasure is safely at home, clean it immediately with disinfectant, and avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. If you’re extra worried, you could even “quarantine” the item in your trunk or a bag for at least 48 hours.

Brave a second-hand shop: If you can’t find what you need online and need to head to a second-hand shop, the same safety rules apply as anywhere else. Just remember some businesses don’t have strong protections in place against COVID-19. While masks are suggested, they’re not required in all jurisdictions. Thrifting also requires touching lots of items as you sift through and assess them.

And while thrifting may often feel like a competitive sport, try to be a team player during the pandemic. Follow government directives from the chief public health officer and wear a mask if you can to protect others from any germs you may unwittingly be carrying. Use the provided sanitizer and gloves if available, and try to avoid touching things. Good luck, and may you find that holy grail bargain item you’ve been searching for!

Next, find out what to cut out of your budget during the pandemic.