• Second Hand Retail Therapy

    by Gabriel Cross

    This past weekend Courtney and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary. We decided, instead of gifts, to indulge ourselves to the highest possible degree at the local thrift stores. We did so not because we are broke (although we are not exactly sizing up multi-million dollar yachts and coastal states with no sales tax yet), but rather because buying things second hand is the best way to buy things, and not just because you get more things per dollar.

    Being good, law abiding citizens, we self medicate with that wonderful drug sometimes called ‘retail therapy’ just like all our fellow Americans. But because we are trying to be environmentally conscious, and we have seen “The Story of Stuff ” (which you should too, if you haven’t seen it watch it right now before you finish reading this, it’s free online), we want to buy as much stuff as we can while minimizing the energy, waste and pollution that results from buying lots of stuff. While most solutions for buying low impact stuff involves really expensive techniques for making new stuff, one low budget solution is to buy stuff that simply is not new.

    If you have a choice between new and used, and you go for used, you are actively reducing demand for new stuff, which means (added up across many individuals and over time, of course) less raw materials used, less fuel burnt, less water turned into toxic sludge, and less waste.

    You may think, especially if you do not frequent thrift stores, that shopping would not be the same without getting a bunch of new stuff, but new stuff is not the best thing about shopping. Consider: how often do you enjoy the item you purchased at home as much as you enjoyed picking it out? Since 99% of new stuff is no longer in use just 6 months after it is purchased, I am guessing the answer is somewhere around 1 percent of the time. It isn’t the stuff that you like, it’s buying it.

    We are a nation of consumers, and we love to shop. Men just as much as women: many men may hate shopping for clothes, but ask the average dude about his ideal BBQ, and you will discover that he loves buying certain things just as much as the average female. This is due, at least in part, to the feeling of control that being a consumer provides. When you walk

    into a store, there are people being paid to serve you, answer your questions, get another one from the back, and tell you ‘that looks great on you.’ They are doing so because they want your money, but that’s okay, its understood, you have chosen to shop there.

    You can get crapped on all day at work, get no respect from you family and friends (not describing my own life here, everyone calm down) but when you are ready to pull out the check book, everyone treats you like a king (or queen). Pretty much all those positive emotional experiences are just as good at second hand stores. The amenities may not be quite so classy, the staff not quite so motivated, but you are still in control of your money and how you spend it. Also, just as ‘new stuff’ stores range from Sears to Saks, so second hand ranges from Goodwill to Crossroads. So whatever your needs, retail therapy is available second hand.

    When my wife and I want anything, even if we can afford it new, we always look for it used first, and that is just one more method of experiencing that control. We do it because it is our darn money and we will it spend how we darn well see fit. And I would encourage you to consider doing the same, though of course, I would never dream of telling you to.

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