We have entered the season of Lent, a time when, traditionally, we give things up for a season. As I pondered doing without, I had an unusual thought: does thrift shopping actually encourage consumerism? Consumerism could be defined as “too much of a good thing”: if some is good, more must be better, right? That’s certainly how I feel about ice cream.
In her book, Living More with Less, Doris Jantzen Longacre challenges the very notion of thrift shopping. To organize a thrift shop or buy there is blessed, but to live so that you have little to donate is an equally high calling. (Living More with Less, 30th Anniversary edition Doris Jantzen Longacre, edited by Valerie Weaver Zercher, Herald Press,2010 pg. 156) Longacre’s book calls us to much more than mere frugality, it calls us to live in a way that does no harm to others or to the earth. One would think that shopping thrift does exactly that – and it does – but try to imagine what the world would look like if we all consumed less in the first place, if we didn’t think of our goods as so easily disposed of, easily replaced.
I often joke that if I were a zillionaire, I would be like Imelda Marcos and own 50,000 pairs of shoes. I love shoes and while I don’t own 50,000 I do own a lot. Do I really need 3 pairs of dress boots? And rubber boots (but they’re pink plaid!) and winter boots? Do I need 4 pairs of black shoes? Even if I bought them all at a thrift shop? No, I don’t need them, but I want them. Is there anything wrong with that?
I can justify any thrift shop purchase by telling myself that it’s better to buy something used because it keeps it out of a landfill, because it saves me money, because my purchase supports a charity and therefore I am helping someone in need. And while all of those things are true, Longacre would say that if I don’t truly need an item, I shouldn’t buy it at all.
Well, before you panic, I’m not giving up thrifting – or ice cream – just yet. There are too many genuinely good things about thrift shopping for me to give it up so easily. I’m actually giving up driving to work one day a week, repenting of my dependence on oil, using those 40 minutes as I walk to work to listen to God and pray for peace. And perhaps I’ll spend some of that time also thinking about how my actions as a consumer – even a thrift consumer – impacts my world.
What do you think? Can thrift shopping encourage consumerism?