I was practically raised in a shopping mall, but I’ve come to find that spending time in a retail store really drains me. Between fluorescent lights, crowds, and too many choices, it’s one of the easiest ways for me to lose energy.
Interestingly, I find time in a thrift store doesn’t have the same effect. Typically, I’m going in with no objective in mind; I allow myself to meander and really take in what I find.
In a thrift store, you get what you see. There aren’t rows and rows of the same item, so you don’t find yourself deciding over this size, that color, which fit looks best. Everything is what it is. It keeps things simple.
Beyond that, is has its practical aspect as well. It’s an especially good way to find gently used kid’s clothes, toys, and baby items.
Taking It Out of the Mall and Into the Neighborhood
My kiddo and I did a bit of impromptu garage-sailing this weekend when there just so happened to be three en route to the farmer’s market. I couldn’t resist!
It’s a good thing, too, because we found several items that have been on my list for awhile, including a 100 piece set of cookie cutters for $1, an ice cream maker for $5, and an oil warmer for self massage for $1. The little guy found himself a die cast car for 50 cents. Can’t beat those prices!
Besides keeping it simple and saving a buck, there are a few more reasons I like skipping the mall and heading for a local shop or friendly neighborhood garage sale.
We’ve all heard the expression that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. More than that, reusing what another person is ready to trash is a great way to keep usable items out of landfills. For those that aren’t usable, there are often ways they can be repurposed into something new, whether for utility or art.
I used the opportunity to explain to my kiddo that it takes a lot of resources to create the
products we see on store shelves, and that resource use is hard on the earth. I also explained that when we buy things without packaging, we are preventing a lot of plastic, cardboard, and paper from ending up in landfills.
According to the EPA
, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2013. About 55% of that trash gets buried in landfills, which tend to act as mummifiers–preserving rather than decomposing
what’s inside. I’ll try to avoid giving an ecology lesson, suffice it to say there is lots of chemical leakage that happens from electronics and batteries, and it isn’t a very pretty picture for soil and water health.
Another common trope these days is that we vote with our dollars, and I stand by this idea when I’m making a purchase. It’s good to know that your money is going directly to a family or shop owner when you buy something, and in the case of thrift shops, that money often goes to charities as well.
In our town, several thrift shops are set up to support the local hospices, and I always feel good knowing that my dollar is going to help comfort someone who is soon to leave this world.
Manufactured goods are also produced by people, and not always in the most favorable conditions. Cheap labor often comes at a very high price
, including environments that degrade workers’ health and require them to live far away from family.
In the more immediate, garage sales are a great way to meet the neighbors. I’ve had the opportunity to shake hands and get to know several people whom I likely wouldn’t have met had I not stopped by their sale.
Obviously, buying used items is a much cheaper way to shop. Another way repurposing the old is easy on the wallet is that old stuff is more durable.
Gone are the days when products were designed to outlive their owners and be passed down through the generations. More and more, especially in the rapidly evolving world of tech, things are not built to last. In some cases, companies design their products specifically so consumers will have to purchase new ones within 1 to 5 years.
This is called “planned obsolescence”
. It’s good for the bottom line, but that’s about it. Not only does it require that consumers spend their money at a faster rate; it utilizes more and more resources to keep up with demand. Logic dictates that when demand surpasses supply, we’ll run out of the materials we need to keep the manufacturing process going. Of course, this is a contentious point and I suppose only time will tell whether I’m accurate or not.
Another thing to consider is that the price of the item we’re being sold is often inflated far beyond the cost of production. For instance, a t-shirt made in Malaysia costs 10 cents to make. When we buy it for $30, that’s a 300 x inflation. That makes a great profit margin, but it also makes me feel a bit like a sucker. When I can get 5 shirts for the price of one, why wouldn’t I do that? Plus, when you consider the wages of the worker who made the shirt, it throws more nuance on the issue.
Taking a Break from the Mass Produced
My final reason for loving a good hunt through a thrift store is the story. I don’t even have to buy anything, I just enjoy perusing the aisles and wondering about the unique origins of what I find. Each item has a bit of history, a bit of humanity, and can be repurposed in a thousand different ways that may differ from the original use. That’s just not something you get from rows of identical packaged goods and the latest branded toys.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t sworn off retail shopping altogether. I love a good sale, and I still buy new stuff pretty often. And yes, my kid watches Disney movies. I just try to be mindful about what I get from where, and think about whether there might be alternatives that are more beneficial.
And I absolutely, totally splurge sometimes. I think treating yourself to something nice and new once in awhile can be an act of self care. For me, it’s also an antidote to perfectionism and the guilt I sometimes feel about being a consumer.
It’s all about balance and finding what’s right for you. Happy sailing!