Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thrifting and Compulsive Acquisition

A blog that I read regularly - Ivy Nest - gave a link to this article on craft consumerism on Friday night.

It fitted in nicely with some musings I have had recently on my own op-shopping experience, aka thrifting.  Actually, as a side note, when did it get a name change?  In Australia it was called op-shopping in my youth - which is actually, at 27, not in that distant a past. Perhaps it is further evidence of globalisation.  

Thrifting seems to have undergone a major facelift in recent years.  I don't know if it is the power of the internet which makes it appear very popular or if, in the face of the financial crises, it has actually grown in popularity.  One thing is clear, though, shopping for goods secondhand is very 'now'.

Ok, so this is actually one of my more useful finds, some small modern cloth nappies - we own a one-size-fits-all model and they don't actually fit a small baby.
But, I wonder if this nascent trend is very meaningful.  Surely when criticism is leveled at people for shopping as recreation it is just as valid if they shop for new goods or old.  To me, it seems that the issue at stake is the motivation behind the shopping - the need to compulsively acquire. After all, a secondhand piece of tat is still tat if you don't actually need it or really want it - it is just a more affordable piece of tat than something bought new; and its 'consumption' (good economist word there) has theoretically less of an environmental impact.  

There are certain blogs out there where people show and tell each week of their op-shop or yard sale finds.  Fine, this is a fun thing to do and certainly provides encouragement that the elusive item you are after can be found if you have sufficient persistence and luck.  However, I grow uneasy when I see the same person week after week posts their finds which seem - at least on the surface of it - to be purchases for the sake of it.  I mean, I like quirky retro kitchenware as much as the next person, but how many coffee cups and plates can one household reasonably use?

Honestly, haven't I actually heard of a library?
In recent weeks, I have found a compulsion on my own behalf to frequent op-shops in our area.  After some luck finding some lovely clothes for Ginger and a pyrex storage bowl, I felt like I was on a roll.  Rather than just popping into an op shop for a poke after completing other jobs in town, Ginger and I took a couple of mornings op-shopping.  We fitted as many in as I could before Ginger had a meltdown and we had to go home.  And, I bought items that were not in the greatest condition and were certainly not needed.  In fact, one pyrex bowl ended up in the bin upon my return home because it had a crack in it I hadn't seen at the shop.

Now, please don't think I am in anyway casting aspersions on people who op-shop regularly - the nature of the beast means you do have to visit frequently if you are going to find goods you need.  But rather, my own uneasiness comes from the fact that we don't actually need anything at the moment - well, a new coffee plunger would be useful to DH after the last one was Gingered - and these excursions were about the experience and, for me, the siren call of the 'what if'. 

I think I knew deep down that op-shopping was becoming a less healthy practice for me when I began to stress about the number of children's books we I had acquired recently, and had a re-read of my blog and realised that just about every second post was about something I had found op-shopping.  But, it was not until we were discussing budgets and DH made the point that all my 'little' op-shop spends - $3 here, $5 there actually added to something quite substantial, that it really hit home. 

DH and I have come to the conclusion that I need a little op-shopping budget.  After all, I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt and we have acquired some useful and beautiful possessions this way.  But, I am going to keep a list of items I am on the look out for.  For instance, at the moment that would be  - a coffee plunger, a table lamp, wicker baskets, the Brambley Hedge "Spring" book, pyrex food storage containers, and glass storage jars.  Anything else, I seriously need to weigh up the need versus want angle; and perhaps throw in a bit of William Morris -"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful".

P.S.:  I hope I haven't offended anyone in this post.  It really isn't meant to, it is just where my thoughts are at at the moment and it is about my own journey with simplified and grateful living.


  1. Thank you for a great post! I have had very similar thoughts lately. I seem to have kicked the "new" shopping habit, but what about the op shopping experience? I think I need to set myself a few rules. As you said, I think it is still a form of consumerism, just a lesser evil of the two.

  2. This is a great post - well written and exactly on target. I have the same head-scratching moments with some of the thrift-oriented blogs out there. Exactly how many pieces of old embroidery/rusted signs/pottery jugs can one household use? We keep a similar running list of the things we actually need. It helps us avoid impulse buys we'll regret money, and save money for the used items we actually need (usually furniture).

  3. I read that link on Ivy Nest as well and it gave me some serious reason to pause and ponder about my selling of crafts and craft purchases.

    You have now brought into focus the op-shopping aspect. I know I have had many wants vs. needs moments at the shop. It is such a tricky thing to get away from after being raised in a consumer culture for Tania I have "kicked the new shopping habit," but the second-hand is much harder to resist....

    Still, I am forever weeding my house for things to go to the second hand shop....perhaps I should more carefully evaluate my mind when I am considering bringing home something from the same place.

    Also, in an uncanny coincidence I just read the quote you close with in a book called In Celebration of Simplicity by Pen Wilcock and it really struck me. THAT is what I want. Only the useful or beautiful, nothing in between (but it is great when it is BOTH!) I read it over three or four times in the book. And then an hour later I stumbled upon it here....I think this must be a sign.

  4. So very very true! I have recently tried to 'curb' my op-shopping. I have bought so much fabric that I didn't actually want, I ended up taking back where it came from. I am a hoarder and in a small house it doesn't go down too well! x

  5. This is my first visit here and I like your writing style. I think it is a good idea to have an op shopping budget as it is easy to pick up items because they might be a bargain. It is also difficult at times to find those things we really your coffee plunger! Can I keep an eye out for you?

  6. Another thought I had on the matter (as I am still pondering it now!):
    By shopping second-hand I seem to rationalize it as "good" consumerism since everything is used already, nothing new made. It is like recycling! However, is it possible there are first-hand (i.e. New) shoppers that rationalize buying something new because they know they can give the old to a thrift shop? I know my mother buys new things (like a toaster) because she knew she could give me her old one even though my toaster, though old and ugly, worked just fine.) Without a constant cycle of New consumption I imagine the Old "relics" that I love to purchase wouldn't show up as often at the shop. Hmmmmmm.....

    Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

  7. I completely agree with you! I grew up in a family where we went garage saling every weekend - and always found great deals on stuff that filled up the garage until you could barely walk through it, much less find anything you needed. I still garage and thrift store shop, but on a budget and buy only things that we will use!

  8. I didn't start seeing the word "thrifting" or "thrifted" until recently and so far that has been only on blogs. Growing up in the U.S. I heard "second-hand" or buying it "used." I am 41.

    Going along with what BLD is saying, I think one of the reasons buying second hand is so popular now is that consumerism is even more prevalent than it used to be. I remember browsing second hand stores 15 or 20 years ago and not being able to find a anything that would fit me (maybey I didn't do it often enough?). Recently I was able to find two pairs of pants that fit great. I am always amazed that I can find such great clothes for my family at the local Good Will. I think you can find a lot more used, more readily than you used to be able to and as BLD points out that may not necessarily be for the best reasons.

    Yes you really do have to watch it don't you? It is easy to overspend because there is so much good stuff that is for the most part so cheap.
    I like your idea of keeping a running list. I'll have to give it a try.