Blogging from A to Z Theme: Bringing Me Joy
As we know, there’s something about newness that adds value to a product like nothing else. A newly purchased car, for example, drops in value by a couple of thousand dollars the minute you leave the car lot. Even before it has left the lot, it starts dropping in value if it has sat there unsold for more than three months. I once bought a Toyota Camry that had been leased for two years for nearly five thousand dollars less than it would have cost me new, and it was still under warranty! That trusty car kept going for ten more years of heavy use and required very little maintenance. But in an economy where price is equated with value, if something is going cheap there must be something wrong with it.
There is a special stigma about buying and wearing cheap second-hand clothing, even if it is of excellent quality and has hardly been worn. Perhaps it has a whiff of charity about it, as if wearing used clothing suggests that one is the abject recipient of some wealthy person’s discards and hand-me-downs. I can’t quite identify my feelings when, as a ten year-old girl, I saw another girl wearing the outgrown dress, one of my favorites, that my mother had given away. In a society where most people cannot afford to buy new, storebought clothes, then wearing used clothes signifies that one is poor; and, in a consumer capitalist society, at any rate, there is something shameful about that. If one has money, one is supposed to buy new things continually and discard the old, even if there is still plenty of life left in them.
However, in societies glutted with “stuff” and a world of spiraling waste and dwindling resources, people have begun to value re-used things, and even to reject consumerism. In this environment, used clothing stores—called thrift stores in the United States and Canada, charity shops in Britain, and op shops (apparently) in Australia and New Zealand—are flourishing. People frequent these shops for a variety of reasons: to save money, of course, to hunt for a bargain, to benefit a charity, to step outside of the culture of wastefulness, and to pass on their unneeded stuff to someone who could make better use of it. I love thrift-store shopping with a passion rivalling my love of second-hand bookstores (and surpassing it when the thrift store carries books as well).
My favorite hometown thrift store is the Hospice Shop of the Fisher Home, my home away from home, you find me there so often. I don’t even have to buy anything; it’s fun dropping in when I’m out on errands, just to see if I can spot a “find.” It’s small and well-organized enough for me to be able to duck in, to have a scout round, and be back out in 5-10 minutes. It’s kept impeccably by a dedicated group of volunteers, with the stock in excellent condition, spotlessly clean, organized by category and size, rotated frequently, and replaced completely from season to season, and even a design consultant setting up a special theme—music, for example, or gardening, or back-to-school gear—every few weeks.
And the finds! I have found Indian dupattas, fine china, a hand-tailored silk suit that fits as if it had been made for me, and a full set of professional-quality drawing supplies—for mere pennies. I have found delightful gifts that have saved me from my most-dreaded activity, Christmas shopping (and when all else fails, a gift certificate to the Hospice Shop gives terrific value). But most of all, I have found clothes: clothes for me and my whole family, clothes for everyday wear and clothes for work; nearly-new designer clothing and shoes that draw admiring comments from colleagues. Which of course, I immediately undermine by telling them that I picked it up at my favorite thrift store and then disclosing the price tag. I never know when to keep my mouth shut and simply bask in the praise. A visit to family in England is never complete until I have trawled the high street for charity shops, dragging my long-suffering cousin Sue with me and asking for her seal of approval before I clinch a deal. And, back in the U.S.A., whenever I happen to drive through a small New England town in the middle of nowhere, it’s always a thrill to check out the local thrift store and hope to find the occasional hidden treasure.
I’m cheap, and not ashamed to say so: thrift stores make me happy.
(Though I must admit that they don’t solve the problem of “stuff.”)