The last time that I was at the thrift store, I saw people from all walks of life. There were mothers with small children, husbands sitting in the for-sale couches while their wives shopped, and teens running through the aisles looking for the best over-sized sweaters. There were conversations starting with, “do you think this will work?” and “OMG how cute is this!” over by the fitting rooms. Some people were looking for work attire, others for day-to-day clothing. Everyone had a reason for being at the thrift store that day, but they all had different levels of privilege.
Everyone gets into thrifting for their own personal reason. For me, it was to save money, and then eventually that turned into trying to save clothing from the landfill. But others might be thrifting because it is their only choice. When you step through the thrift shop doors to see what you can find, you’re not alone — you’re bringing your privilege with you.
Privilege by definition is a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. If you thrift to find cute clothing, to save a few bucks, or basically any other reason beside you absolutely have to, you are bringing privilege with you. It’s important that we keep this in mind when running through the aisles looking for new clothing or poking a little fun at outdated items that you might find on the shelves.
Of course, thrifting is for everyone. That’s what makes it so much fun! Anyone can walk in, save some clothing from the landfill, and find some seriously great deals. It’s just important that you realize that not everyone in the thrift shop with you is there for the same reason and be mindful of everyone’s reason as your filling up your cart.
Thankfully, there are three super simple ways to leave your privilege at the thrift shop door. Of course, not everyone’s privilege will be the same. It’s more of a spectrum than a do-I-or-don’t-I answer and will fluctuate throughout your life. But these three ways will help you use the privilege that you have to everyone’s advantage.
1. Remember that you don’t have to buy everything that you like.
Just because you see a bunch of items that you like doesn’t mean that you have to buy it. It’s as simple as that. If you’re shopping with privilege, you’ll likely be able to fill up a cart and buy a handful of items that you find. That doesn’t mean that you need those items in your life though.
The best way to combat this privilege is to think hard about why you want to bring an item home with you. Will it make your life better? Do you have a place for it? Will it get a good amount of use? Or will it be better off with someone else? Asking yourself these questions will help you decide if buying the item is meant to be or if it’s not the right match.
2. Be mindful of other shoppers.
By all means, get excited when you’re at the thrift store. Skip down all the aisles and get excited to be there. Just remember that there are other people shopping who might not be as excited as you. We are all on different paths to the thrift store. Some people are there because they can’t afford anything else. Others are there to resell or find a great hidden gem.
3. Bring a bag of donations when you go to the thrift shop.
Some people use the thrift shop as a place to dump their unwanted items. But if you’re really looking to drop the privilege, you’ll bring something with you when you come to shop more than just once or twice a year. And if you really want to make a difference, you’ll bring some items that people actually want. Not just your out-of-date sweaters or t-shirts that you’ve already worn to death.
I heard the motto, “give what you can, take what you need” earlier this year, and it really resonated with me. It’s not about the charity aspect. It’s about keeping the thrift cycle alive and not just taking from it. Especially, if you don’t necessarily need those items.
The thrift shop is a place to experiment with style and find incredible deals. Most importantly, it’s a place to have fun while doing it. The truth it that almost everyone is shopping with privilege. When we can drop it at the door, be mindful of why we’re there, and take only the items that we truly need, the thrift shop experiences is more enjoyable for everyone involved.