I became the manager of a church-affiliated thrift shop two months ago. I thought I knew what the challenges would be. I thought I had a grip on the industry. But I’ve learned a lot: about consumerism, about prejudice, about deeply held, deeply misinformed ideas about poverty and giving. For the sake of clarity (I tend to ramble without a clearly defined topic), I’ve grouped what I’ve learned into three categories:
Lesson 1: People buy too much stuff.
One full day was spent sorting through Girls’ clothing size 7/8 that had been donated by a single family. When we receive toys, we typically receive them three garbage bags at a time. I walked up to the front door this morning to discover 8 full bags of junk and an old TV scattered around the porch (please note that we only accept donations during open hours and we don’t accept TVs; thanks, buddy). I ask “WHY?” so many times a day, it’s practically a mantra. What the heck are we doing?
Lesson 2: Donating eases consumer guilt to our detriment.
Though thrift shops are a great resource and a great means of raising funds for charity, they’ve also become a justification for over-consumption. Judging by the types of things we get in on a regular basis, it’s clear that people give things to us so that they don’t have to feel bad about throwing them away. But, really, what are we going to do with jeans with a hand sized hole in the crotch? We’re forced to throw it away since you weren’t willing to.
Lesson 3: People massively undervalue the lives of people less fortunate than them.
This is the saddest part of my job. At least once a week, someone says something terrible about poor or homeless people. One week, someone was angry that I gave one of our “nice shirts” to a woman using a voucher to get clothes for her son. Today a woman exclaimed, “Homeless people don’t care if their clothes look bad!” Maybe this is lost on a lot of people, but it’s our responsibility to acknowledge the innate dignity of everyone. Part of that is giving to others as we would have them give to us.
It pains me to think that we would save the best for ourselves and let the “poor people” have our discards. It bothers me that our thrift shop structure nearly requires us to send the crappy clothing overseas because we hate the thought of throwing it away.
This must stop. It all has to stop: the buying, the discarding of things and people.
Charity shops are wonderful. They’re a happy place where goods can be re-used and re-loved. But they simply can’t solve issues of character. It’s up to us to buy less and care more. It’s up to us to carefully consider the repercussions of our actions as consumers and, more importantly, as people.
P.S. The post, Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor, inspired me to write this post. Give it a read!