Thoughts on Thrift Stores

My mom is incredibly resourceful, and she fully utilized her skills when my brother and I were growing up: almost everything we had for food was homemade, clothing was mended rather than thrown out, and my mother did a lot of shopping at thrift shops and yard sales. My parents did not have extra money lying around to spend on designer clothing, new gadgets or appliances, or the fun lunch items that all the other kids had. When I got to a certain age this all embarrassed me to no end, as everyone my age equated coolness and popularity with how much money your parents made; by their standards, I was uncool and unpopular.

I remember I would go with my mom into the local “Sally Anne” thrift store in Haliburton where I’m from and try to hide my face from anyone else who might be shopping there (it is a small community), and scrounge through piles of clothing to find something that would make me look like I might fit in, dreaming of the days when I would be older and I could buy designer clothing and not have to worry about what people might think of me.

Thinking back on all this makes me laugh because I have turned out so much differently than my 12 year old self would have thought. What I didn’t understand then, and what a lot of people I know don’t understand as well is the incredible value that thrift stores have in a community, and how they are so much more than just a way to save money. Now I have adopted many of the lifestyle choices that my mother does, not so much out of necessity, but because I don’t ever want to conform to what is considered normal, and I don’t want to contribute to our consumerist society.

Thrift shops create an incredible balance in a world where we purchase and throw away things when they are useless because they are broken, or when they don’t interest us anymore. Thrift shops create a limbo-like state, where still-good items can go to get a second life, hopefully better used than they were before.

Some people shop at thrift stores because they can get designer clothing at its cheapest, some go there to get the most unique pieces that they would never be able to get anywhere else. There is so much more variety, in size and style, and you don’t have to only conform to what is currently in season, but can go with what was “in” a couple years ago if you really want!

What is often underestimated about thrift stores is the selection of home goods. The other day I was at the local thrift store funded by the Mennonite Cultural Committee and I got a sprout maker for $3. It was brand new, still had a little packet of seeds to start, but didn’t have all the packaging around it that I would have to throw out later. What a cool find! I had been thinking of getting one, but didn’t want to spend $20 on a brand new one.

Other great things to buy at thrift stores:

  • Gift bags/tissue paper
  • Binders/office supplies
  • Appliances/Electronics
  • Glass mason jars
  • Cutlery (loose, so you can pick out however many forks/spoons you want!)
  • Dishware/China
  • Furniture
  • Sports materials
  • Books
  • Records/tapes/cds/movies
  • Potted plants!
  • Wall art

 

Thrift stores contribute so much to the local economy by reducing the amount of stuff that goes to the landfill, it creates jobs, and it allows for people to have access to more things for less money. There are so many things that can be donated (to thrift stores and other places), like this list here of things you may not have considered:

  • Eye glasses (often thrift stores are paired up with different charities that will fix up items such as glasses to give to people who can’t afford new ones)
  • Wiring from electronics or Christmas lights that don’t work (the copper wire inside can be recycled)
  • Old laptops (hard drive will be wiped, computer fixed up and sold at a much lower price)
  • Old cellphones (same as above)
  • Bras (can be fixed up and given to women at shelters)
  • Old towels (these are great to donate to animal shelters for pet bedding or to dry them off after a bath)
  • Old sneakers (Nike takes all brands of old sneakers and recycles them into playground and athletic surfaces)
  • Gift cards for places you never shop at
  • Used/stained underwear and socks (some charities will recycle the fabric, or be able to use it as insulation!)

When in doubt, donate it! At the very least, they will recycle it responsibly for you.