Second hand Joy

One of the top 20 joyous moments of my life was hearing Thrift Shop by Macklemore on the radio for the first time. I could hardly believe that someone was rapping about thrift stores, about the lie of materialism and celebrating its rejection. And it was oh-so-catchy!  

“They be like “Oh that Gucci, that’s hella tight!”
I’m like “Yo, that’s fifty dollars for a t-shirt!”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant b*!ch sh*t
I call that getting-swindled-and-pimped sh*t
I call that getting tricked by a business”

We have gotten tricked by business. Not only by the idea that a t-shirt made by Gucci or a purse by Coach is any better or more valuable by any other t-shirt or purse, but also by the idea that our possessions speak to our value as a person.

I have always been a bit of a rebel without a cause. I very purposely never crushed on the popular guys in high school (they had enough attention as it was). I purposely never wanted or valued popularity. From what I could see, the popular kids were all envious and jealous of each other, and just as neurotic and self-conscious as the rest of us. Why agonize over joining their ranks? I had a LOT of fun with my little band of weirdo friends, doing as we pleased. I remember having moments of self-consciousness, wondering if I should try to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch, worrying that most of my clothes came from Kohl’s. But even then, I saw through the thin veneer of selling popularity (and self-worth) by way of name brand clothing.

As I got older and more aware of the global impact of being an American, I learned about where most of our clothes came from and who was making them. It was very difficult to find a clothing store that didn’t get in trouble at some point for using sweat shop labor. So many big name clothing manufacturers had shipped their factories overseas, avoiding our American laws on child labor, paid leave, and general decency like 8 hr work days and safe working conditions in buildings that were built to code. I found it so challenging, in fact, to find a single store who didn’t use brands of clothing made via sweatshops, that the only way I could feel comfortably ethical buying clothes was to get them second hand. Sometime around 2015 or so, I vowed to only buy clothes without benefiting companies who had taken advantage of cheap labor and mistreated their employees, and to do so meant I only bought used clothes. At least then, even if the clothes were still made in a sweatshop, I was not profiting the company who made them. (I’m also quite frugal, and paying $3 for a perfectly good shirt felt way better than spending $15+ for the same shirt)

[In that time, I did discover that H&M made a commitment to ensuring all of their factories paid a living wage within a certain number of years (a time frame, I believe, that has happened by now). So I will shop there, knowing they are paying their clothing manufacturers a livable wage. I also will buy “new” at stores like TJ Maxx or Ross, since those clothes come from other manufacturers and I’m not profiting the people who originally had them made.]

I just saw today that Jane Fonda (love her!) committed to never buying a new piece of clothing for the rest of her life. She was inspired by Greta Thunberg and her ideas of consumerism (how cool is that, by the way, for an 81 y/o to let herself by inspired to change her life by a 16 y/o). Ethical manufacturing aside, there are environmental reasons to stop supporting the clothing industry.

The second part of the lie of materialism, even bigger than the lie that one brand of clothing (purse, shoe, watch etc) is really worth more than another because of its name recognition, is the idea that our material possessions give us value or worth.

Part of the American dream seems to have gotten defined by materialism, by “keeping up with the Jones’s.” Success = nice car, big house, nice clothes, fancy STUFF.

I reject that. I firmly reject the idea that a big, fancy house will make me a better person. I reject that owning a lot of name brand purses will make me cool. How about being cool because I am brave and bold enough to live out my individuality, doing whatever makes me happy and brings me joy? How about being cool by trying new things and ideas and activities and not caring what anyone thinks about it? How about measuring success by the amount of late nights up with friends, the volume of deep belly laughs, the number of hugs and kisses given by my children, the number of risks taken and adventures experienced?

Lastly, I find the whole deal to smack so strongly of first world Americanism, and being even remotely globally aware would make one question the amount of stuff we all tend to accumulate in our homes. I’ve traveled the world a bit, and seen families living in dirt floor huts in Fiji and Belize, hanging their few clothes from the rudimentary rafters, keeping their few “kitchen” supplies stacked by the fire, leaving their one pair of shoes by the door. Aside from perhaps lacking in basic education and health care, these people were by and large happy. Having more possessions does not make a person happier or more content – you can see that in one episode of Hoarders. Materialism is a misguided attempt to fill a need that things were never meant to fill – namely our value and worth as human beings. Or even our vanity, our boredom, our desire for influence.

Let’s adopt some of Macklemore’s swagger about rocking some used clothes, and stop looking to our stuff to define us. Life is about so much more than can be bought in a store: ie, relationships, adventures, discovery and love. Let’s go have some fun in our second-hand threads and leave consumerism in the past.

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