Sometimes, Buying Used is a Pain in the Ass

by Katy on October 9, 2011 · 35 comments

Today, I awoke to this statement from my younger son:

“Mom, I think a cat peed on that chair.”

Which of course, was an upholstered chair. Specifically, a wonderfully comfortable vintage chair that I picked up at Goodwill for $15. It made sense, as my son had fallen asleep in the spare bedroom last night, and one of our cats likes to snooze underneath the bed in that room. And of course, I shut the door to that room without making sure it was cat-free.

Luckily, I always keep a bottle of enzymatic cleaner on hand. But this incident is pushing me over the edge of feeling the need to use a rug shampooer. Unfortunately, I don’t actually own a rug shampooer, which puts me in a position either renting or buying one. (Although my first choice is borrow one, none of my friends seem to actually own said rug shampooer.)

So I researched my options:

  • Buying a new rug shampooer costs $199.
  • Renting a rug shampooer (with upholstery attachments) costs $28.
  • Buying a “used once” rug shampooer through Craigslist costs $75+.

Obviously, buying a new shampooer is out of the question. And although renting a shampooer would be my cheapest out-of-pocket option, it would only meet my needs for today. My number one choice is to buy a used shampooer, as I would only have to use it three times to make it pay for itself. Plus, my neighbors, friends and family would then be able to borrow it from me, so it would benefit more than one household.

However, I sent an e-mail to a seller and called her number, but it turns out she’s out of town right now and won’t be back until tomorrow. So I sent another e-mail to another seller, and am currently sitting here twiddling my thumbs and awaiting a reply.

It would be sooo easy to just drive the couple of blocks to the grocery store and be done with it. And it would certainly be easy to shell out the big bucks and just buy a brand new shampooer. But I am at a point where I would like to own a shampooer, and I certainly do not relish having to sell a kidney to make this happen.

Buying used can be a real pain in the ass. 

However, putting in the extra work of buying used will save me $125, plus it will directly result in one less shampooer being manufactured, shipped, and packaged. So yeah, it’s worth it.

Do you put in the extra work to find used products, are are you in the “this too much trouble” camp? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

For me, it really depends on what what savings will be. Often, when you factor in the time you spend trying to find the item, get in contact with sellers/buyers, and the cost of gas & time to buy/sell the item, the savings dwindles tremendously. I created a rule for selling that if I can’t sell it for $15 or more on CL, I just donate it. As for buying, I try to scope out bigger things on CL or through friends or Goodwill, but for smaller I will sometimes buy new, like the hand crank can opener we just purchased for $5. It would’ve cost more in gas and time to keep looking around for one.


Katy October 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

I don’t consider e-mailing back and forth to be much time from my day. I think I’ve found one to buy, we’re just going back and forth on the price a bit.



Sarah October 9, 2011 at 10:28 am

I think buying used is wonderful…when you have the time! That is the caveat, I think, that sometimes buying used just takes a lot longer than buying new. That said, I think what you’re doing is definitely better than buying new, and then you’ll have one to share with your neighbors! And I think worst-case scenario, if you rented on for today for your urgent need, you could still buy the used one from CL and still save money, plus not be buying a new item, right?


lindsey October 9, 2011 at 10:30 am

This isn’t strictly on topic, but here goes: sometimes I get tired of recycling, reusing and buying used. The other day I was rinsing out a tuna can and taking off the bottom (as well as the top, per our recycling requirements) and I just felt like throwing it away instead of putting it in recycling. And I want to buy my own brand new chipper/shredder, instead of going to the trouble of finding a used one and making sure it is in good condition when I don’t really know what to look for to be sure it is going to be dependable. I am not sure how to get over what my husband calls “being green fatigue.” Any tips?


Stephanie October 9, 2011 at 11:58 am

I’m with you, Lindsey. I’m all for doing what I can, but as a nursing student I honestly don’t always have the time to even sit down and sort through the endless circulars that come through the mail to determine what can/cannot be recycled. (They’re strict here.) So yes, I do just toss them in the garbage on occasion. If I leave it until I have time to do it properly, it probably won’t get done. I’d rather throw it away and have peace of mind looking around and seeing *fewer* piles of stuff that need to be done than stress over when I’m going to get to it. Don’t worry – just do what you can, when you can.


Jinger October 10, 2011 at 4:21 am

I think we need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect when it comes to being eco conscious. Sometimes, life gets in the way and we need to take the most efficient way of handling things.

Please don’t beat yourself up, Lindsey. As my 22 year old says, ” Sometimes, it’s OK to just throw things away.” And as for buying new or used. I agree about not being sure of the condition of a used item. I usually opt for new, on sale, for a large electrical item.


Jenny October 10, 2011 at 8:16 am

Try for the 80/20 rule. 80 % of the time recycle, buy used, share stuff, etc. But cut yourself some slack for the rest. If everyone did this we’d be way ahead on saving resources (and money!). And appreciate yourself for doing the right thing most of the time.


Elaine October 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Hi, Lindsey. I know what you mean about “being green fatigue”. Occasionally I toss something out that I know should be recycled. I think everyone does this once in a while.

This goes back a ways – on Bob Newhart’s third show, in one episode, he emptied a jar of something and was going to throw the jar away. His wife stopped him and told him to soak the jar, peel the label off and put it in the paper recycling, rinse the lid and put in the metal recycling, and put the jar in the glass recycling. He sighed and said, “I miss garbage”.

I think of this when I feel too lazy to dispose of things correctly.


Kat October 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

Katy – I used to love finding bargains at yard sales (kids toys & clothes) & buying furniture from CL, but lately I’m *terrified* of bringing home bed bugs, even in hard furniture like dressers. Is this a concern for you? I feel like I’m totally over-reacting to the merest possibility….


Katy October 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

The only upholstered piece I’ve brought into the home in the last year is an ottoman. And truth be told, it didn’t even occur to me. I guess for hard furniture, you could inspect it carefully, but this really not my area of expertise. Sorry.



Megg October 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I know bed bugs and things like that are a problem, but I don’t think it’s an issue with hard things. You can always clean them off with hot water and soap.
I’ve brought home 2 couches and 2 chairs from Craigslist/Freecycle and never had a problem.


Laura October 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

If you had a large car/minivan that you could park in the sun and leave used items in it for a hot stretch, using a thermometer to ensure it gets to 140 degrees for a while, you could have a great deal of confidence. This really only works in some climates in the summer, but it is a good method to have in your back pocket.


Katy October 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm

A “non-tip” for Oregonians. 😉



Tracy October 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm

And Seattlites!


Mrs. Sarah Nelson October 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm


I live in a city (Chicago) that is a bed bug “hot spot”. The bed bug issue is just another small thing to keep in mind when sourcing stuff, but don’t let it hold you back from buying used! I live in a four unit building and all four families are avid “buy it used” types. We have never had a pest infestation – not because every item was pest free (one neighbors craigslist X box went right to the trash as it had HUGE roaches crawling out of it in her car before she even got it home) but because we take precautions to not bring in pests.

Unlike roaches (a bigger “buying used” concern for me) hidden in items, bed bugs are really easy to kill before you bring your “new” item into the house. Bed bugs can only live in a “normal” range of temperatures so really hot environments or freezing kill them.

When you find a great item, bag it up in a heavy duty contractors bag before you put it in your car. The bags are sold in huge sizes, are very thick plastic, and are so sturdy they can be used over and over. All I had to do was ask and our handyman left me a few unused bags! Also the landlord would really be unhappy with a pest control bill should we get the critters so small preventative things like this are encouraged.

After you bag your item, leave it in the summer sun for 14 days. That kills the bugs and any eggs. In the winter time, we bag stuff and leave it in the unheated garage to freeze them. Our garage is not attached to our home so maybe leave items in the yard if your garage is attached – just in case a critter gets out of the bag where you knot it at the top.

We do the same thing for clothes purchased at thrift stores, we bag ’em up and let bake/freeze for a few weeks.

The bagging and leaving the bag outside your house also gives you time to discover if there are other pests present BEFORE you infest your home.

Happy hunting for fabulous used stuff!


Megg October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I don’t mind emailing back and forth with people, especially since I can get email on my phone. I also don’t mind driving, though I do limit where I will pick something up and try to do it in my own city or where I work.
For me the annoying thing is waiting for that item. I waited months before I found a palm sander which was annoying, but I didn’t need it immediately. I recently needed a coat, however, and I couldn’t find one that fit me at Goodwill, or one that I liked, so I ended up buying one from Target (I did use babysitting money!) So if it’s not vital I don’t mind waiting, but if I really need it I’m less likely to wait around until I find that item.


Erin October 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I would rent. But that’s just me, and I don’t have any pets (just kids). 🙂


Lisa Under the Redwoods October 10, 2011 at 4:55 am

I’m with Erin. But my issue is I wouldn’t want to store it. We have an, old small house with only two closets and no garage. We do have a studio, but I am tired of it being the dumping ground for everything we don’t have a place for.


Adventures in Thrift Land October 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

You could call the people who have the steamers on Craigslist and see if they will rent it to you for $10, if it’s something you don’t want to store or you don’t use often. Perhaps not a great option if they live far away, but if it’s close and they’re amenable, you leave a deposit (the price of the steamer, perhaps), use it, return it, and they give you all but $10 of your money back.

Or, have your teenager buy the steamer, make flyers to distribute to people in the neighborhood saying you have a steamer to rent, and they have a business. But they might want to charge mom to use the steamer….


Linda H. October 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I split the cost of purchasing a carpet shampooer with two other family members a few years ago and it was a great investment. We got the Hoover Steam vac for about $130. Split three ways this wasn’t too steep of an investment. We just pass it around as needed. I found that it was worth the cost over time. And, I highly recommend the Hoover Steam Vac. It works great and comes with attachments.


Katy October 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I bought a Bissell Proheat 2x.

So far, I’m really happy with it.



Practical Parsimony October 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I would go for option #4–reupholster the chair, taking off and replacing batting, foam or whatever and replacing it with new. Ewww. This is one of many reasons I do not have animals in the house.

Haven’t you said you have no carpet in your house? Whether it is carpet or other furniture or a friend or family members belongings that need cleaning, can you use this for more than one object while you have it? With careful planning and exquisite use of time, several people could use this after you rent it and then split the cost. I don’t think I would sink $175 into an item so I could have it to lend. If four people could use this in the time allotted before it must be returned, you could each pay only $7.


Katy October 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm

$75, not $175. 🙂



Adventures in Thrift Land October 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm

As for bedbugs, they say you can put stuff in a black plastic bag in the sun in the summer and it will get hot enough to kill them. Granted, it might not work for a dresser, but it works for soft goods. It’s a good thing to do when you get home from a trip where you stayed in a hotel.

I don’t think there’s a need to be paranoid, but you might want to study up on the signs of bedbugs before making a used purchase. And if someone has put a whole bedroom-full of furniture on the curb, along with all the bedding, that might be a bad sign.


Kat October 10, 2011 at 5:40 am

Heh, recently failed at researching used options; I was looking for a present for my SO (bike rack for the car) and went ahead and bought a new one first. Before realizing that I could have sent an inquiry out to a cycling group via email or that one of my closest friends had one he didn’t need anymore sitting in his garage. When the box arrived at his place (to hide it) he said he’d just give me his.
I consider paying for shipping the new one both ways and for the restocking fee a stupidity tax.


Kay October 10, 2011 at 5:59 am

Have you ever used nature’s miracle-odor and stain remover? Best stuff ever if you own animals. My cat once peed on my car’s cloth seats and the smell was so overpowering (as you might imagine) and I actually was in tears over this….anyway a bottle at less than $10 did the trick and no I did not need the whole thing. Just a thought, you may need more than that here but..


Katy October 10, 2011 at 6:50 am

I did actually use “Nature’s Miracle.” But I wanted to really give the chair a deep clean, as the peed was in a difficult to read crevice.



Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire October 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I had a very sick cat who peed on stuff all the time. I used to use Nature’s Miracle, but after a while, I couldn’t stand the smell. I switched to Arm & Hammer’s Pet Stain and Odor Remover. Smells way better and works just as well. I’m now using it on my baby’s stains. Hope that doesn’t make me a bad mother to use pet stain stuff on my child’s clothing. 😉

I have a steamer (bought new) because between my cats and my husband, the carpet gets icky. (The cats vomit, and my husband has a nasty habit of doing messy projects in the middle of the living room.) I’d hoped for my sister’s steamer when she had to get rid of it because they moved to England; however, she gave it to a friend. Bummer. So I waited for a good sale and bought new. I haven’t regretted it.


Carolee October 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I had a stroller given to me for free. It was faded, stained, ripped, etc, but worked AMAZING! When the wheels blew out, I knew that I wanted the same one. Brand new was $500. Used was $150 – $250 or more. Repair was possible, but involved a minimum wait time of at least a week (probably 2 – 4 weeks though). So I needed to buy.

Actually making contact with a seller was next to impossible. After two days of emailing sellers, I was ready to go over to the store and buy new. I would email the seller and offer to buy, their full asking price, to please call or email me, and I always emailed my phone number to them. The seller would respond only half the time, and usually their responnse was just “Are you still interested?”, and they would give no other way to contact them. I ended up buying from the first person who provided their phone number, because then I was able to call and make arrangements to meet.


Elaine October 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I bought the fancy-schmancy Bissell machine that you can only get online, and I’m glad I did! I wanted the warranty! I have carpeting all over the place, and 2 big dogs. They don’t have accidents all that often, but my machine gets a good work out. I would do my carpets twice a year anyway, just to keep them fresher.
Really good and frugal hint (that I got from Kristen, I think) – you can use the steamer with just water and no cleaner. I can tell you that there’s enough residual cleaner in my carpets that the plain steam pulls that out, plus loads of dirt. I just did my sister’s apartment carpets and the water was filthly (sorry, Sis).


Nina Nelson October 10, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Ok, it’s too bad we live 2 hours away from each other, because I would definitely loan you mine for an extended period. Since we use Bac-Out (and we use it often, thank you potty-training children), I don’t have to shampoo the carpet very much. And so the carpet cleaner sits in our closet, waiting for someone to take it out; bugging me in the process because it’s just sitting in the closet, taking up space. Sigh.


Sandy March 19, 2015 at 9:54 am

When it comes to buying used, we are very careful what we bring into our home. My husband is extremely allergic to pet dander and cigarette smoke, so that rules out most upholstered pieces, or non-washable items. I did succumb to 2 mid century wood chairs with the original vinyl. I scrubbed them down really well before bringing them into the house.
On really big items, yard equipment, etc., We figure ‘cost per use’ vs housing the item for it’s life span. For instance, we recently found a wood shredder at a really good price, used it in our yard and saved quite a bit of money. We have moved the shredder, where we will use it on the property we have where we’ll build a home. I foresee using that shredder every fall and spring for many years to come. Making room for it will be worthwhile for us.
Even with my husband’s skills with mechanical things, he will search for the best price on new if it’s something we expect to have for a very long time. We’ve has the luxury of room to keep said items.
And, we tend to keep things for a long time. After all, we’ve been married for 38 years!


AnnDenee March 19, 2015 at 10:19 am

As we’re preparing to move from our cottage up to the big house, I am on the hunt for a queen size mattress (preferably new although I’ve bought beds at auctions before) and a frame (preferably used) and a sleeper/sofa (preferably used).

The daily walk through craigslist only takes a couple minutes, but there must be 20 fb buy/swap/sell sites for this area and that’s killing me. I’ll pick up a paper on Sunday to browse the auction ads.

Time and patience….


Betty Winslow March 19, 2015 at 11:53 am

My most frustrating thing to look for? Clothes! I am a largish woman with a large bust and it’s hard enough to find well-fitting clothes I like without trying to buy them used. If I find a garage sale with clothes that are right or something at GW, I’m more than willing to buy them, but I just don’t that often. Right now I need a couple of tunics and a pair of dress pants for work, and GW just isn’t cutting it. 🙁


JP March 19, 2015 at 4:26 pm

My situation was even more discouraging. I live in a rural area that does not have Craigslist, and also doesn’t have an abundance of good used items. So I bought a carpet cleaner for my self. $269 for the type I wanted with a lift off piece so I could do stairs and furniture too. It worked twice. Because I didn’t need it often, by the time I wanted to use it again, it was off warranty and Bissell won’t fix it. So I’m back to square one and reluctant to try buying again. I’m single and last time I rented a machine it was so heavy, I had to get a neighbor’s help to get it into the house and it was for floors only so I still didn’t get stairs or furniture done. So discouraging. And therefore: beware Bissell Lift-Off.


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