Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thrift Shopping = Green Shopping

So, I went to the Sal Army in Lancaster, Ohio yesterday with my friend Julie. This store is well worth the visit. If I were you and I were anywhere in the vicinity, I would go out of my way to go to this particular store. (I don't understand the great differences in quality between different Sal Armies. They must have some sort of distribution system that accounts for the fact that some of the stores really suck,as does the one where I live in Utica, NY, and others are great. It is not that they depend on donations from the place where they are located. There is a more complex distribution system than that.) Anyway, spending a couple hours in this store was as close to a religious ecstatic experience as I am likely to have, although nothing compares to the Garage Sales held at the Sal Army in Cleveland. Back on point, (I can stick to a point, I swear), I spent $54 and change, and here is what I got: All together, my $54 got me: a large bag of candles, which one of these days I'm going to recycle into candle cup gifts; a vintage wool blanket, with someone's name tag on it (love that!); a nice old Boater's straw hat, in great condition that I'll put up on Ebay; 2 cool vintage dresses; a very nice antique ironstone serving bowl in great condition; a little old-fashioned nightgown; a pair of brand new tights (I do draw the line at used underwear); a very cute polka dot lightweight jacket by French Dressing; a very cute reversible wrap skirt WITH ITS TAGS STILL ON IT (I swear, buying clothes and giving them to Sal Army without ever having even bothered to take off the tags strikes me as very weird behavior - wouldn't it be simpler just to burn your money from the comfort of your home?); an oldish white cotton slip (no, slips aren't underwear); a nice queen bedskirt, which I very much need; 5 large men's cotton shirts, which I'll use for more of these; 2 old silk scarves; a Texas Ware sugar and creamer, also destined for Ebay; a little white tea cup, which I'm going to use for those candles gifts I mentioned above; a pair of socks (no, socks aren't underwear either); 2 stretchy tops; 2 sleeveless blouses; a basket ware cup; 2 long linen dresses that I'm going to turn into skirts; 2 long linen skirts that I'm going to shorten; a Flax linen shirt I bought just because I like the fabric; and a matching linen skirt and top set. Not bad for $54, huh? Here are some closeup pics:
I am, as you can probably tell, pretty pleased with this score. I spent as much as I could have easily spent on a single thing, and got over 30 things instead. And, given that a few of those things will end up on Ebay (the hat, the sugar & creamer), I may in fact break even or make a little money. But as pleased as I am for myself, I am also disturbed by how much we overproduce in this country. Most Sal Armies have to regularly take things off the racks in order to make room for the enormous quantities of stuff getting delivered daily to their stores. (All the shirts I bought yesterday were 3 for 99 cents, because they are desperate to get rid of inventory. So at the last minute I scooted over to the men's section and quickly picked up the 5 men's shirts I bought.) I'm not sure what happens to all that stuff, but at least some of it simply gets thrown out, or so I suspect. And, it isn't true, as some people assume, that the clothes in thrift stores are worn out, or cheap, or hopelessly stained, and so on. The wrap skirt I bought was brand new, and I saw lots of other things still bearing their original tags. I always carefully look over what I buy, and nothing I bought yesterday is obviously worn, or stained, or torn, etc. Why waste $54 on a single skirt, when you can spend the same amount and get this much instead? So, my suggestion to those of us who are concerned with such issues as sustainability and are distressed by the extent and ubiquity of waste in the world, I say "Thrift Shopping is Green Shopping!" We all have to consume, but we don't have to do it in the 'normal' wasteful ways.


lynneguist said...

On the question of where thrift store overstock goes, I can tell you what happens at the Oxfam shop I volunteer at.

Any clothes that are either not to our liking (we have a choosy shop!) or are in too poor a condition to sell or have been on the rack too long (we typically give them 3 weeks, unless we're hurting for stock) go into a 'Wastesaver' bag, and then get passed on to a sorting centre. Some things get redirected to other shops--e.g. old lady clothes to another shop closer to a retirement community. Some things may go to projects that re-make them into 'new designer clothes'. (TRAID is one of these, but not directly related to Oxfam, to my knowledge). And others go to a textile recycling plant.

Some things can't go in to the wastesaver bags: duvets, neckties (I don't know why), things that are too dirty or that are wet or stinky, and underwear. Please don't send your old underwear to charity shops! Use it as a duster or put it on your bonfire. We don't want to touch it! Also, don't leave stuff outside the collection bin or outside the door of the shop. That will be thrown away. People or animals will pee on it, it will get rained on, homeless people will sleep in it. We have to throw it away.

Clothes donated to Oxfam don't generally go to Oxfam projects around the world. After the Boxing Day tsunami, people were bringing boxes and bags of stuff to the shop, wanting it to go to Sri Lanka. I'd explain that it was not cost-effective to send their unwanted stuff to Sri Lanka--it was better to sell the stuff in the UK and make money for Oxfam to buy supplies locally in Asia (or in bulk from somewhere else). One man was so irate about that that he rescinded his donation. I couldn't believe it. Just because people have been through a tsunami doesn't mean that their country should become your dumping ground.

Another thing people often don't realise about charity shops is that we generally do not clean anything that comes into the shop. If it's given to us clean, we sell it. If it's too whiffy, we bin it. I have been around when colleagues have pulled blood or puke-covered clothes out of the bag. Ugh. We're volunteers, we don't deserve that!

Non-textile stuff that we can't sell gets thrown away, and costs the charity money. It was costing Oxfam enough money that it started a campaign to keep yucky stuff out of the shops. We're not going to put broken things on the shelf. We don't try to sell parts to an object we don't have the whole of. It goes in the dump and it costs the charity money.

Brahdelt said...

What a great finds you've got there! It reminds me to visit my local charity shops soon! ^^

Erin said...

Hello, here via a link from lynneguist at Separated by a Common Language. I've never blogged about shopping the thrift stores, but I just had to add a "yay" for the Salvation Army. I got a Jessica McClintock formal with the tags still on for ~$10 ten or eleven years ago. I've gotten several other non-new high-quality formals at thrift stores over the years, too. (I used to be a Job's Daughter, which entailed a lot of formal-wearing. Now I use them for Halloween costumes.)

Anonymous said...

About those "new" items with the tags on - People aren't necessarily throwing money away. I know of people who just send EVERYTHING to a charity/thrift shop when they lose a family member. So it may be tragedy, not stupidity.