“Buy green. Shop here.”
This was the message on a sign out in front of a thrift store we passed in Seattle. I marveled at the truth of this simple message and at how unimaginable the concept of buying used stuff is to so many. I have always been fond of thrift stores. During my college days in Chicago I was famous for my shopping prowess at the Amvets thrift store a few blocks from campus. I was the girl who could regularly find amazing high-end stuff for $1.25 and I married someone also known for his thrift store skills. In fact Doug just accomplished the all-time thrift store coup at his favorite Union Gospel Mission thrift shop in Portland (Hugo Boss Black Label cashmere/wool sport-coat with four figure price tag in pocket–he wins). I guess we really are made for each other!
All that to say, it is no stretch for us to buy used clothes, and we are comfortable with our home of second-hand furniture. And my 1890 wedding ring is more beautiful than any ring I have ever seen (today is the six year anniversary of the day Doug proposed to me with that ring among the snowy peaks of Hurricane Ridge)! But I am quite aware of how very few things people are willing to buy used. And let’s be honest: in the midst of the retail nirvana that is the Christmas season, the prospect of shopping for not new stuff seems just slightly off. During college, I got away with giving Amvets finds as gifts, but now would rarely consider giving someone secondhand stuff.
I am afraid that there are just too many places where we no longer question the necessity of having “the new”. And in the midst of so much discarded stuff (I think of how many times the Salvation army truck has visited my home this past year alone), a great deal of which is in perfectly good condition, it is strange how unwilling we are, for the most part, to buy what has been bought before. We are so attached to whatever it is that packaging and plastic wrap and store hangers provide.
The Bible has much to say about our relationship with material goods and the comfort, security, and status we extract from them. What would it look like for a community of faith to really challenge this mentality among its members? In the history of my own church, it used to be that for any purchase over $50, an individual would have to bring that decision to one or two other members of the community for corporate discernment. At some point the amount shifted to $75, and now people choose when and how to involve others in the community in the life of their finances. Certainly that early practice deeply impacted how people spent their money, and I imagine would go far in reorienting attitudes that demand always buying new.
Underwear and socks aside (even I have my limits), it would be fascinating for a community to embrace the decision to only buy secondhand for a year. There is too little that we do corporately when it comes to creatively re-imagining our finances, and this one simple step could go far in helping to circumcise hearts taken captive by retail.
Without even touching the environmental and justice issues related to how our things are manufactured and what our patterns of consumption do to our planet, and simply considering the battle most of us wage daily against our love for stuff, I think that sign could also have read: “Be Christian. Shop here.”