It’s a question I hadn’t really pondered until it was mentioned in a Facebook discussion last week. Should only people struggling with making end’s meet shop at thrift stores? I immediately felt a little ill because in the last year I’ve started shopping for clothes and books at our local thrift store. Is this wrong for me to do?
I was going to my 2nd hand store days after reading this question and decided to walk in eyes wide open. I went solo, without kids, and once I could sit in the children’s book isle and pile up a stack of books I remembered why I’m so comfortable and why it feels good for me to shop this way. I like the fact when I look through the books I hear whisperings of where they’ve once lived. I remember when I went to look for Christmas books, I found a post-it note in the front of a book, hand-written from grandparents about why they thought the child would enjoy the book. It made me feel special that I was seeing the note and it reminded me that even these books had a story. They had already lived in multiple houses, been read to numerous children, they no longer smelled of fresh ink (which my sensitive nose appreciates), and I don’t have to worry about breaking the book in. I am recycling, I say in my head and feel proud. I am taking something and making the decision to not purchase it new, rather to find it, contribute to a non-profit that helps other people, then when my children are finished we will donate it back to the store. A very good cycle of use I would say!
When it comes to the books, I would say I’m pleased to also see dollar savings. Because I’m donating these books back to the store after they’ve been well loved, it’s nice to pay $1, rather than the high cost of brand new books. But I would argue that point about purchasing clothes 2nd hand. I think you could probably find clothes for the same price that are brand new if you watch for deals at Walmart or other brand name shops. But when it comes to clothes, I’m not there shopping for deals. I simply LOVE used clothing. I believe that new clothing can be toxic. Here are several reasons why:
~ plastic decals, appliques, and embellishments are everywhere on clothing. What do I mean? Check out your child’s t-shirt & PJ drawer and look at the front…you will find a graphic or character there. When I talk about making better choices with clothing and buying 100% cotton clothing over polyester, it’s crazy that the clothing is marked 100% cotton when there’s a huge plastic decal attached to the front of a t-shirt or PJ set. That is not 100% cotton and that decal will be subjected to high heat in the dryer, wash and is breaking down. In really cheap clothing, they are using clothing embellishments made from PVC that contain phthalates and off-gas. When you purchase clothing 2nd hand, these types of decals have been washed multiple times and there is less leaching of materials.
~ the toxic nature of producing cotton has been well documented. This is why organic clothing, especially for babies has been so popular over the last few years. Organic options are readily available for babies and toddlers but difficult and expensive to source after these ages. I like to think that when clothing is washed over and over the pesticides are eliminated from clothing which is awesome when purchasing 2nd hand!
~ clothing that fits! And won’t shrink! I have really bad luck with pants and my 9 year old son. He’s on the above average size and we try on clothes at the store and everything fits him perfectly, after it’s washed they are instantly too small in the waist and leg for him. This has happened to me with every single pair of paints I’ve bought him in the last year. On my last shopping trip I got smart and visited the boy’s jeans section at the thrift store. I paid $5.99 for a pair of broken in jeans that will last him a long time. They fit awesome because they aren’t stiff and awkward, but the best part is I don’t have to worry about shrinkage!
~ if you are on a constant journey to only purchase locally manufactured clothing, it will be a difficult and expensive journey. I try really hard to source everything I can locally, especially for myself, but this is hard with 4 kids and a husband. I don’t shop at big box stores, especially Walmart and others where their business and purchasing methods are questionable…but by shopping at a Thrift store, I can say by recycling clothing, this is more earth friendly in my mind than even shopping locally because I’m not investing in anything ‘new’. Only new to us. And I’m lucky that I have 4 children that see clothing for what it is. Clothing. There is not talk of brand labels yet which is a blessing, although I know even popular brands exist in thrift stores, you just need to invest the time to look.
~ in an article I wrote years ago, I featured a store determined to change clothing with using sustainable ink. I learned from this article how toxic ink can be and urge you to read the Little Inkers story. Whenever I can, I love to support screen printers that create prints with earth friendlier dye solutions that are free from phthalates and PVC. These designs on the clothing are also so much more original and safe! I also feel when purchasing clothes 2nd hand that many of the toxins in these dyes have been washed out, which reduces exposure. I know the focus is 2nd hand, but I love giving examples of stores doing things right so I want to introduce you to Wren Willow. This clothing store is dedicated to using environmentally friendly water based inks and no harsh chemicals AND the store owner sketches the design that is later screen printed onto the clothes ~ Wren Willow is a magical place to purchase special clothes. These clothes look different, tell a great story, and what a better alternative to big box clothing? I’d much rather my girls wear this big strawberry than Dora any day!
So back to my visit to the thrift store, and by the time I finished sorting through the pile of books and feeling very comfortable and happy with my decisions to shop thrift, I decided that I’ll continue on the path of being proud of myself for shopping 2nd hand. It is a very earth friendly option with consumerism and when I purchase things for myself and children, I don’t feel the consumer guilt that normally follows shopping at a traditional store. I am recycling. I am reusing. And with spending over $4.99 on each piece I purchased (pair of jeans, 2 dresses for my twins) I realized it’s also not just about saving money. I see new clothes being blown-out on sales all the time for $5. It shows me the markups in these stores is beyond ridiculous and the price tag doesn’t dictate if a shopping trip was successful, it’s the feeling that comes with bringing something new into my home. And if the item has previously been worn, washed, and then donated, it makes me feel proud to have found it.
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