catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 17 :: 2005.09.23 — 2005.10.06


On thrift stores and things

I love thrift stores. There's nothing quite like the feeling of
netting a good bargain—a wool coat for $1.00, or a pair of jeans for
$2.50. The bulk of our family's clothing comes from a Goodwill store a
few blocks from our house. Our budget of late is so tight that it
doesn't even have room for the category of clothing; so being able to
find quality clothes for just a few dollars is truly a Godsend. That is
especially true for me, since in the past five years my size has
changed radically several times with pregnancy and the births of our
two children. In addition to maternity clothing during the last stages
of the pregnancies, different sizes were needed during the awkward
in-between stages, when maternity clothes were still too big (before
the birth) and my regular clothes too small (after the birth).

I also appreciate buying used clothing for reasons that have nothing
to do with finances. Environmentally, purchasing used clothing fits
into the second category of the "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" mantra, delaying
the landfill for many still-useable items. Besides, thrift store
shopping seems to remove me a degree from unfair and exploitative
manufacturing practices such as sweat shops. Though I think wearing
clothing manufactured under sweatshop conditions still makes me guilty
by association, I feel good knowing that my money has not gone directly
to those who run exploitative clothing factories. In fact, when spent
in thrift stores, my money typically goes to help people who are
looking for jobs or are otherwise in need of help.

Practically speaking, I usually assume that items found in a thrift
store have at some point been washed. That means it's easier to pick
out items that wash well (something that can be more difficult when
buying new clothing), and that the risk of "new" items bleeding color
in the laundry is lessened. I have also bought clothing labeled "dry
clean only" and washed it anyway. I wouldn' dare do that with a new
item of clothing, but for something that was acquired cheaply, I am
willing to give it a try. At this stage in my life, I have neither the
time nor the money to fuss with dry cleaning—but I still like tailored
styles sometimes.

Thrift store shopping can be challenging in that you don't usually
find items of the same style and color in many different sizes, but
that makes the victory of a good find even better. I find that color is
the first thing that draws my eye, especially the color blue. Certain
other colors call just as loudly for me to avoid them! I avoid
skin-tight clothing or clothing that reveals lots of belly skin,
because I don't want to look sexually provocative. However, I do like
to wear clothes that flatter and that fit properly. With some styles,
even though in my size, I really don't like the way they look on me (no
frills and ruffles for me, please!). In junior high, I remember a stage
when I dressed as though the bigger my clothes, the better—anything to
hide emerging curves that made me feel so embarrassed! Now I feel
comfortable in this strong, healthy body that God has blessed me with,
and I like to wear clothes that reflect my appreciation.

Despite (or because of?) my attraction to them, thrift stores have
their danger for me. I have to fight a tendency to buy items simply
because they are such a bargain. In the past few years I have worked
hard to get rid of unnecessary clothing and other household "stuff".
This is not easy for someone with packrat tendencies. I know how much
better I feel when my closet is not cluttered with way more clothes
than I can wear. So I have wondered why getting rid of stuff is so
difficult. I used to have storage containers holding clothes that I
never wore but that had memories associated with them (would I give the
memories away if the clothes went too?); clothes people gave me or made
for me, but that no longer fit (would those people be offended if I
gave them away?); clothes that I bought at some point, but that in the
end I never really enjoyed wearing (would I "get my money's worth" by
holding on to them?).

Despite the difficult time that I have deciding which clothes to get
rid of, I love the way my closets and drawers look once it's done. My
clothes all fit me, and they fit in the closet better. I have less
laundry to take care of. When it comes to my sons' clothes, the task of
weeding through clothing is more difficult but even more satisfying. We
are often given bags of used baby- and preschool-sized clothes to look
through. If I don't do a good job of being very selective, most of it
stays in the closet and never gets worn.

It seems crazy to me, but sometimes I still fight the temptation to
bring home a bargain even when I really have no need or use for it. I
try to ask myself, "If I had the money to buy it new, would I still
consider purchasing this item?" Many times in the past, I brought home
a bargain that sat around until I gave it away a few months later to
another thrift store. I guess it's a bit like knowing what belongs in a
healthy diet, but still sabotaging it by eating junk food just because
it tastes good. Thankfully I know that in both cases, appetites (for
"stuff" and for food) can be trained by forming new habits. Eventually
clutter and junk food don't even seem appealing anymore.

In Matthew 6, in his famous "Do not worry" passage, Jesus states,

Do not worry—about your body, what you will wear…And why do you
worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not
labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his
splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the
grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the
fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith…But
seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will
be given to you as well.

For my husband and I, seeking first God's kingdom
includes many things. It has meant pursuing college and postgraduate
education, which has left us with student loans to pay. It includes my
husband?s job at a Christian liberal arts university, teaching students
what it means to be earthkeepers in a world that is in ecological
trouble. It means raising two little boys to be children of the King,
active in His kingdom. Each of these things brings financial
challenges. Yet, largely because of thrift stores, we are able to be
decently and comfortably clothed, and to support some worthy groups at
the same time.


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