Hi! How are you doing today? Great, I’m doing well, thank you for asking. Ok, so that will be $14.74. Would you like a bag?
For 5-40 hours each week of the last year (I’m publishing this on my one year anniversary at Value Village), these have been my lines. They probably sound like the standard till-talk of any retail job. They’re no doubt partly that, but they are also part of me.
I’ve lived the majority of my life with four siblings and a single mom. My family has had little money for all of my life, so Value Village, Goodwill, garage sales, and hand-me-downs put clothes on my back. I want to emphasize that: these were the reasons I wasn’t walking around naked. We could afford to buy new socks and undies, but for the most part, I grew up, walked, ate, slept, swam, played, and cried in clothes that I could never conceptualize as “made for me,” because they weren’t. They were just “for-me.” They were gifts that found their way to me. They were my skin, and that skin came from others. I grew into consciousness wearing a collection of other people. My idea of fashion came from thrift shops and so I never believed that status, power, and exclusivity came from what one wears. By spending so much time at secondhand stores, recycling clothes started to structure how I saw the concepts of Use, Purpose, Function, and Beauty. I learned that life isn’t simply create-and-destroy, grow-and-consume, use-and-waste. I realized that things were meant to be reused.
These ideas came back to me when I started thinking about working at VV. I got the job and a year later, I’ve walked through second hand goods for hundreds of hours. I’ve seen endless amounts of clothes, shoes, scarves, books, movies, toys, furniture; And I’ve seen people giving items we are told are “spent”, “dirty”, and “used-up”, another chance.
Let me be clear: buying second hand goods will not save the planet or supplant consumerism. Thrift stores rely on the production of new goods or else we’d run out of donated clothes. Thrift is a tool, like recycling, to combat but not solve issues we face with the environment. On average, a US citizen throws away close to 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles each year. Textiles account for about 5% of all landfill space, but thrift stores like Goodwill and VV keep hundreds of millions of pounds of used goods out of landfills each year. Thrift stores often power community non-profits with donation drives and partnerships. Thrifting is arguably the most local and sustainable form of commerce, but again, we must be honest: secondhand stores won’t save the world. What can we do? People say the future belongs to the children and here, I’m not so hostile to that idea.
So, how do we raise a generation that is skeptical of consumerism? One that doesn’t believe that elegance and beauty are dependent on new, branded products? A generation that is able to address the human cost of textile production and won’t stand for the ecological cost of mass producing superfluous goods? How can we re-conceptualize the idea of use and how it relates to production for our children? How can we foster the idea that to reuse something is not to eat others scraps but to resurrect that thing, to hit it with a bolt of lighting and to recreate it as yours? Maybe, I think, we can take a small step by taking our kids to a thrift store.The next time you walk through a good will, I hope you’ll try this: Imagine the people responsible for those items, the connections between those items, and the second lives they are waiting for. There are no graveyards, just corpse-refining plants, producing fresh earth for new life. In the same way, there are no “ used goods,” but little cryogenic chambers waiting for a certain future technology that looks a little bit like you.
Your receipts in the bag. Thank you for shopping, have a great day!