Linda Hutchison of Vancouver revels in the annual ritual of decorating for the holidays. She avoids some of the commercialism of the season by purchasing her decorations at second-hand stores that help give back to the community.
"It goes to a very good cause, and it keeps things out of the landfill," Hutchison said.
Second-hand store shopping isn't just for those who can't afford to buy new items for their holiday celebrations or are regular penny-pinchers; the activity's unseen benefits reverberate with the spirit of the holiday season, such as helping others and being kind to the environment.
There's no doubt that shopping second hand can save money on holiday decorations. For example, an artificial tree can cost about $200 new; an intact artificial tree with all its parts is $50 or less at Value Village, said Steve Calderon, manager at the Value Village on Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard.
A bonus is that nonprofit second-hand stores, such as the Goodwill, the Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society's Discovery Shop, use much of their revenue to help those in need, from training unskilled workers to picking up the bill of cancer patients who can't afford to pay for medical treatment. Value Village is a for-profit operation but pays the Arc of Southwest Washington for collecting donations that are later used as merchandise. The money the Arc earns for that service benefits its clients with developmental disabilities.
At the Goodwill, about 90 cents of every dollar in sales revenue go toward local job service programs for people with barriers to employment.
The Discovery Shop in Vancouver's Uptown Village is operated solely by volunteers. Its only overhead is rent for its space on Main Street, and the rest of the proceeds go toward a variety of programs for cancer patients and survivors. That includes a scholarship program for cancer survivors, payment for treatment, beauty workshops for women with cancer and other offerings.
Shopping for "new-to-you" is greener than shopping for just manufactured items. Reuse decreases demand for more production of items, which may ultimately end up in landfills, shopper Hutchison noted.
To top it off, second-hand shopping offers the excitement of searching for hidden treasure. It may take some combing of the merchandise, but second-hand shops promise an encounter with some kind of amusing novelty. Let's say, a lime green reindeer.
That hard-to-miss reindeer will play a role in the Columbia Presbyterian Church of Vancouver's Christmas skit, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," said Linda Mohn of Vancouver. Mohn and friend, Eloise Zummo, found Rudolph during a recent visit to the Goodwill store on Northeast Fourth Plain.
"You never know what you're going to find," Zummo said.
When and where to shop
Most donations of holiday items happen after the holidays. Second-hand stores typically stow away the items until the next year rolls around. Stores such as Goodwill and Value Village put out their Christmas and Hanukkah items after Halloween. The Discovery Shop on Main Street in downtown Vancouver waits until post Thanksgiving to unveil its Christmas delights.
"We get together and have a pricing party," said Arlene Bond, a Discovery Shop volunteer.
The Discovery Shop receives donations from individuals, as well as companies, such as Craft Warehouse.
"(Craft Warehouse) gives us staff that doesn't sell by the end of the holiday season," said Jennifer Green, chairwoman of the Discovery Shop's sorting department.
During the holidays, the holiday decor and ugly Christmas sweaters are among the most popular merchandise, second-hand store employees said. The Goodwill alone distributes 1.7 million pounds of holiday decor in 15 counties around Portland, including 167,000 pounds just in Clark County, said Dale Emanuel, public relations manager at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette. That's about 33,400 pounds of holiday items in each store in Clark County, Emanuel said.
"That's a lot of Christmas," she quipped.
Everything that isn't sold is recycled, she said.
How to shop
Decorating with second-hand items takes some creativity and visualization. Unlike department stores, items aren't coordinated for the buyer. It's a process of mixing and matching.
Sara Rogers, a production lead at the Vancouver Goodwill on Northeast Fourth Plain, said most shoppers have a vision for what they want to do before they visit the store.
Hutchison, who recently visited the store to buy decorations for the lobby of the Hertz Rent-a-Car at Portland International Airport, where she works, said she was going for a natural theme. She found a wreath of branches with sparkling dew for $3.99. On a previous visit, she found ceramic houses for $7.99. She said the house would sell for more than $50 at a department store.
"What I do is look at everything the (second-hand store) has to offer and then, I start to visualize it together," Hutchison said.