I don’t shop thrift stores because I’m cheap or broke.
And I don’t acquire stuff (and gift it) through Craigslist or the Buy Nothing Network because I can’t afford it elsewhere.
Second Hand Fits Better
Buying second hand is ethically right to me because that way I’m “consuming” as few new manufactured goods as possible. I’m not paying a large manufacturer to pay a child pennies, nor am I contributing to the creation of endless manufacturing and consumption waste.
As an extra added bonus, thrift store textiles (and Buy Nothing Hand-me-downs, and gifts of clothes from family and friends) are almost always:
- already washed, so no formaldehyde and no bleeding dyes
- already pre-shrunk, so if they fit, they fit
- is one less sweatshop piece, lowering demand for sweatshop pieces
- saves one more piece of clothing from ending up in a landfill
Obviously there are some clothes I don’t buy used: underwear, socks, swimwear. But jeans, sweaters, skirts… all fair game. 🙂
(PS Buying sweaters is one of my favorite things to do if I can take them apart and end up with beautiful expensive yarn for $6. The process of deconstruction is super juicy.)
The Foreign Economy of Gifting
And while buying second hand is good, what’s even better is not buying at all. It’s a beautiful thing when you can rely on the gift economy where you give what you don’t need or want, and receive what you do need and want…
That gift economy is largely found within the Buy Nothing Network or even something as obscure as the Burning Man community. (The former seems to have fewer hits of acid and more toddler clothes, but who’s counting.)
For many that concept will sound exotic, and there was a time where I didn’t quite get it, too. I mean why wouldn’t I accept money for my “gifts”? Capitalism is a beautiful thing and it make the world spin. Yet the gift economy sounds completely opposite of that. Don’t worry, though, I’m not being incongruent, I promise.
Relationships are the currency in a gift economy. Relationships without expectation. As part of a community, you form a reputation and you begin to seek out ways to make others smile. It’s like Christmas every day. You just have a different currency (joy, kindness, graciousness), and I’m not saying that the whole world should turn this way – only that if you can supplement your consumption with a gift economy, you’ll likely have more dollars to vote with in your capitalist economy.
Though things are a bit different when it comes to Craigslist. Craigslist isn’t so much about reputation – it’s about patience. The crowd is different. And perhaps a bit more in need.
What doesn’t get picked up by the Buy Nothing Network goes onto Craigslist – for free. Those who are without are often much more grateful for something free on Craigslist than the thrift store is… so if you can offer it up that way, that’s another great option for helping others + skipping the landfill.
Craigslist folks seem to be less concerned about holes or stains, and more willing to take what much of the rest of the world would thumb their noses at. I don’t need to know the back story, and to be honest I don’t really even want to meet them to chat. (Though I’ve made some lifelong friendships of free alpaca shit, so I don’t entirely discount the people you might meet!) Yet, sometimes I’ve peeked out the window at a person picking up the stuff and have seen that look on their faces: “JACKPOT!” and that makes it a helluva lot easier to swallow than throwing the stuff in the garbage. (I still will throw away trashed stuff. People don’t need trashed stuff… the point is that it’s still usable.)
Textiles (clothing, fabric, yarns) are reusable for far longer than most people keep them. And buying (and receiving) them used is both easier on the planet and often has its own benefits and conveniences, like pre-washing, wearability, and working out all the pesky shit you get when you buy something new. Plus it’s a more sustainable model for eliminating some trash and manufacturing excess.
Be the change, people. Be the change. Gifting what you won’t use, and receiving what you will is a way of life that feels like a “hell yeah” to me. I hope you consider it for yourself… just leave all the sweaters for me.
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PS here’s a recent article I read that spurred the topic of this post.