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How I embraced Sweden’s second-hand culture (and why you should, too)

"My children need the newest and best of everything," said someone who was not me.

How I embraced Sweden's second-hand culture (and why you should, too)

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

Don't get me wrong, my children are my precious angels whose needs I put before my own on a regular basis. They are also precious angels whose exuberant love of life means that almost nothing passes out of their possession in “gently used” condition. Which is why I have happily embraced Sweden's vibrant second-hand and upcycling market.

Somewhere out there, people have children who seem to virtually float on air when they wear their winter gear, just to give a seasonal example. So, when that winter gear makes its way into a second-hand store or group at a fraction of the cost of new, I am more than happy to give these items their second – and probably final – life.

The dents and dings that sometimes come with these items are usually either purely cosmetic or easily fixed. And, guess what? My children either don't notice or don't care that they aren't new. Likewise, even though I always manage to find good quality items that keep them warm, dry, suitably adorable, etc, their concept of having “the best” of anything is almost solely centered on aesthetics like their preferred colours.


Almost nothing passes out of my children's possession in “gently used” condition. Photo: Private

I can honestly say that I don't know how I would have managed our first winter in Sweden at full retail prices. As I wrote in my very first column for The Local, coming from the milder winter conditions of Spain, the sheer volume of winter gear necessary for our new life – especially for the children, who needed two sets of all outerwear, one for preschool and another for home – momentarily took my breath away.

After an expensive international move and all the financial implications that went along with it, I was daunted by the prospect of spending a small fortune to get my children properly equipped for Swedish weather. Like most parents, I would have gladly spent whatever was necessary, but I'm not ashamed to say it was a tremendous relief when a new friend introduced me to the beautiful Swedish word for second hand: loppis. The result was that we all spent the long Swedish winter very well-equipped and out of penury.

Even with the greater financial balance that has come with our second year in Sweden, I enthusiastically bought nearly every item of autumn and winter outerwear for the children through second-hand sources. It's also been a boundless source for other needs and wants of the entire family. Browsing the ubiquitous second hand, antique, and upcycling stores, I have made great discoveries, including some of the art, furniture, and décor that have made our house a unique and special home.

In addition to being properly dressed for all the whims of Swedish weather, the children also have a growing library of Swedish books and an abundance of toys. For Christmas, they received a combination of new and used items, including some items we personally upcycled. For our daughter, what was once a worn-out dollhouse is now a completely customized dreamhouse for some very lucky dolls.


My daughter's upcycled dollhouse. Photo: Private

My experiences have made me realize what a thriving industry second hand is here in Sweden. Many know that Stockholm is filled with great antique and vintage shops, but the choices here in southern Sweden are pretty remarkable, too. The official guide to the second-hand market in Skåne, Halland and Småland is a comprehensive but by no means exhaustive look at the many options. And, as much as we are looking forward to visiting the upcycling mecca of Sweden, ReTuna in Eskilstuna, we are quite content with the one we have here in Småland, American Gypsy in Svenljunga.

Judging by the “competition” I have in purchasing second-hand items from the online groups I frequent and at barnloppis sales events, it's not hard to see that many others feel as I do. There's little if any sense that buying second hand is in any way depriving anyone, especially children, of the best or newest of anything, or that doing so is detrimental to social respectability. Rather, it creates a cycle beyond materialism that, I believe, brings out the best in people.


Does recycling bring out the best in people? Photo: Private

I can't count the number of times I have been given second-hand clothes for my children, which I've accepted gratefully, used thoroughly, and – provided they were still in wearable condition – I have then passed on to someone else. Also, because I so often benefit from both this generosity and second-hand sales, I am more inclined to give away or donate those items later, rather than sell them. I have yet to meet a person who declined a needed item for free, even if it is slightly more than “gently used”.

Most importantly for me, embracing Sweden's second-hand culture helps to shift the value from the items themselves to the principle of recycling, repurposing and sharing that will hopefully serve my children far better in life than believing they need the newest and best of everything.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

Read more from her family column on The Local here.

For members

HOUSING

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in

Whether you're moving to Sweden’s second biggest city for the first time or are looking for another neighbourhood, The Local talks you through some of your best options.

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in
Which neighbourhood of Sweden's second city is right for you? Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

First of all: where to look? The city of Gothenburg suggests on its website that sublets, houses and townhouses to rent all across West Sweden can be found on Blocket, a popular digital marketplace (in Swedish).

Other alternatives for rentals include the sites Bostaddirekt, Residensportalen and Findroommate, as well as Swedish websites like Hyresbostad and Andrahand. Note that some of the housing sites charge a subscription or membership fee. There are also Facebook groups where accommodation is advertised. An example in English is Find accommodation in Goteborg!.

If you’re buying, most apartments and houses for sale in Gothenburg and West Sweden can be seen on the websites Hemnet and Booli. Local newspapers often have property listings. Real estate agents (mäklare) can also help you find a place.

Majorna on a hot summer’s day. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Majorna

Majorna is a residential area in Gothenburg that has transformed from being a classic working-class district to becoming a hip and restaurant-dense cultural hub in Gothenburg. The buildings typical for Majorna are three storey buildings with the first storey built in stone and the topmost two built with wood — the houses traditionally called Landshövdingehus. This neighbourhood just west of the city center, beautifully positioned between the river Göta älv and the park Slottsskogen, is hugely popular with young families.

Majorna was traditionally populated with industrial workers and dockers. The area is still supposed to have a strong working-class identity, with many people living in Majorna seeing themselves as radical, politically aware, and having an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

This doesn’t mean, however, that one can live in Majorna on a shoestring. The average price per square meter here is approximately 55,000 kronor as of May 2021, according to Hemnet.

Eriksberg on Hisingen. Photo: Erik Abel/TT

Hisingen

From the centre of Gothenburg it’s only a short bus or tram ride across the river to Hisingen. It’s Sweden’s fifth largest island – after Gotland, Öland, Södertörn and Orust – and the second most populous. Hisingen is surrounded by the Göta älv river in the south and east, the Nordra älv in the north and the Kattegat in the west.

The first city carrying the name Gothenburg was founded on Hisingen in 1603. The town here, however, was burned down by the Danes in 1611 during the so-called Kalmar War and the only remnant is the foundation of the church that stood in the city centre.

Hisingen housed some of the world’s largest shipyards until the shipyard crisis of the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the northern bank of the Göta älv has undergone major expansion. Residential areas, university buildings and several industries (including Volvo) have largely replaced the former shipyards.

Hisingen comprises many different neighbourhoods — Kvillebäcken, Backa and Biskopsgården are only some examples. At Jubileumsparken in Frihamnen, an area bordering the Göta älv, there is a public open-air pool and a spectacular sauna. Further inland you’ll find the beautiful Hisingsparken, the largest park in Gothenburg.

Apartment prices are still relatively low in certain parts of Hisingen, while the housing market in other neighbourhoods is booming. The average metre-squared price on Hisingen lies around 41,000 kronor.

Gamlestaden

Gamlestaden or the Old Town was founded as early as 1473, 200 years before Gothenburg’s current city centre was built. You can take a seven-minute tram ride towards the northeast to this upcoming district (popularly known as ‘Gamlestan’) which, like Majorna, is characterised by the original Landshövdingehus in combination with an international atmosphere.

What was once an industrial centre, mostly the factory of bearing manufacturer SKF, is now rapidly turning into something new, as restaurants and vintage shops move into the old red-brick factory buildings.

The multicultural neighbourhood is also close to the famous Kviberg’s marknad (market) and Bellevue marknad, where you can buy everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to second-hand clothes, electronics and curiosa.

The Gamlestaden district is developing and should become a densely populated and attractive district with new housing, city shopping and services. In the future, twice as many inhabitants will live here compared to today, according to Stadsutveckling Göteborg (City development Gothenburg). Around 3,000 new apartments should be built here in the coming years. The current price per metre squared in Gamlestaden is 46,000 kronor.

Södra Skärgården. Photo: Roger Lundsten/TT

Skärgården

It might not be the most practical, but it probably will be the most idyllic place you’ll ever live in: Gothenburg’s northern or southern archipelago (skärgården). With a public bus or tram you can get from the city centre to the sea and from there, you hop on a ferry taking you to one of many picturesque islands just off the coast of Gothenburg.

There are car ferries from Hisingen to the northern archipelago. Some of the islands here are also connected by bridges. The southern archipelago can be reached by ferries leaving from the harbour of Saltholmen.

Gothenburg’s southern archipelago has around 5,000 permanent and another 6,000 summer residents. The archipelago is completely car free and transportation is carried out mostly by means of cycles, delivery mopeds and electrical golf carts.

Most residences here are outstanding — wooden houses and cottages, big gardens — and always close to both nature and sea. Finding somewhere to live, however, is not necessarily easy. Some people rent out their summer houses during the other three seasons. When buying a house here (the average price being 5.5 million kronor) you have to be aware that living in a wooden house on an exposed island often comes with a lot of renovating and painting.

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