I always fancied myself pretty clever for my observations about books in thrift stores. I used to buy books from thrift stores by the armful, because they were so cheap and I felt smart having so many books. In short time, I noticed I could always count on seeing certain books at secondhand stores. Mary Higgins Clark. Dan Brown. Danielle Steele. The Twilight series.
Some I had already read and enjoyed, but I realized it wasn’t really a good sign to see several copies of the same book donated on the shelves over and over. This indicated to me that it wasn’t worth holding on to for repeat reading, lending to friends, or referencing later. It was the opposite of a book recommendation and I envisioned myself donating it back in a year or so.
The first time I went to Savers in St. Louis, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the store and the lengthy racks of clothes and goods. Abundance of that scale, especially when you’re thrifting to find specific items, delights your inner scavenger and consumer.
This time while visiting the store meandering through aisles labeled, “Figurines”, playing on the junk furniture, and mindlessly peeking at a sweater here and there among the thousand-sweater rack, it finally clicked.
I already felt like an arse being there shopping at all. I had just spent the past two weeks moving all my stuff from one house to another, purging several items, and getting rid of tacky junk in the living room basement, literally to make an open and creative space for myself. And here I was, examining the exact same junk I had just worked so hard to free myself from. I hadn’t donated to this store, it wasn’t actually my items, now stamped with a $2.99 sticker. But it was the same items. It was a collective recommendation of what not to buy.
Every shelf and rack was stock-full because at some point, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people decided this item was not bringing value to their life. Or simply that it was too much clutter. Either way, it made me want to escape this cycle of buy cheap, donate, buy cheap, donate.
I’m in no way writing off secondhand stores. My first job was at a Goodwill and I’ve had some of my best “finds” at thrift stores or in other forms of scavenging. I am all for scavenging. I’ve clothed myself for a reasonable cost many times. However, I’ve also made “Twilight-esque” purchases too many times, simply because it was cheap and available. Scanning the store, I could only imagine these items as the collective labor of others searching for space, relaxation, and meaning in their life. I could not stand the thought of leaving with a single item in hand, so I didn’t.