The Thrift-Consumer Debate Revisited

Bloom County is one of my favourite comic strips

Bloom County is one of my favourite comic strips

A friend recently challenged me again on the whole thrift/consumer debate: does thrift shopping simply encourage consumerism?

It’s an interesting conversation. The argument is that since you’re paying peanuts for an item, you buy it even if you’re never going to actually use it. Or you buy more than you really need because you can. These arguments can be made for more than simply thrift shops – shopping at dollar stores or discount stores like Walmart, for example, could lead to over-consuming too.

consumerism is killling us all

I do not disagree with this. I’ve been guilty more than once of making unnecessary purchases simply because it was “too good a deal to pass up”. The truth is that if we are truly concerned about over-consumption (and we should be) then we should limit all of our shopping, whether it’s cheap or not.

Still, at the end of the day, you sometimes have to buy stuff. Your clothes wear out. You break things or lose things that you simply need. So my feeling is, that if I have to purchase something, I should purchase it from a place that is doing good in the world. Most thrift shops support charities that help people in need either locally in your community (like the Salvation Army, for example) or in places of need around the world (like Mennonite Central Committee.)

Sunset on Willow View Farms in Abbotsford - photo by Kelsey Siemens (farmer's daughter)

Sunset on Willow View Farms in Abbotsford – photo by Kelsey Siemens (farmer’s daughter)

This same principle guides me as I choose to shop Fair Trade or to support local artisans and small businesses in my neighbourhood. It is why I buy my apples, berries, squash, potatoes, cider and juice at Willow View Farms – a small scale farm here in Abbotsford.

doi channg coffeeIt’s why I eat chickens raised locally under humane conditions. It’s why we drink Doi Chang Coffee from Thailand – which is not just Fair Trade coffee but 50% grower-owned.

mt-lehmen-wine-32-fraser-valley-fraser-valley-fraser-valleyIt’s why I choose to buy gifts from Ten Thousand Villages or local crafters, drink merlot from Mt. Lehman Winery and craft beer from one of the dozens of local breweries (that seem to be breeding like rabbits.)

A purist might challenge me on my “need” to drink coffee, wine or beer, to eat meat or to purchase material gifts at all. It’s true, I don’t “need” to consume any of those things but I do so because I like them and so when I make the choice to consume, I try to do so by supporting charities and businesses that are local and/or are doing good in the world.

Where do you come out on the debate?

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3 Responses to The Thrift-Consumer Debate Revisited

  1. Sonja says:

    I miss traveling with only a backpack on my back because those were really all the material things that I needed to live on a day-to-day basis. It felt like freedom to be honest. It’s way too easy to get caught up in what we think we need and what we actually need.

    • yes, i have thought about this often of late. we spent 6 weeks in Scotland and each had one suitcase. it’s all we really needed. more and more i’m thinking i need less and less. even thinking about downsizing at some point is daunting given the stuff i already have. hmmm, if i retire in 15 years, say, and we downsize around then, i should maybe start divesting myself of stuff starting now – it might take that long!!

  2. Hmm… Perhaps it’s about distinguishing between needs and wants…

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