Over the holiday season, I needed some fabric to make some Christmas crafts with my children. Rather than drive all the way to the fabric store, I decided to visit the local thrift shop. I scored some great deals on fabric and also left with a Christmas sweater that I would later tear up to use for the crafts as well. After our family craft time was over, we marveled at the beautiful things we were able to make with the thrift store fabric. However, a short while later, I started feeling guilty about my purchase.
I frequently drop off outgrown clothes, toys, bikes and even furniture to the local thrift stores in my area. I always leave feeling a little bit better because I am hopeful that these things will go to children or families in need. However, I now realize that this may not be the case at all. These items may be going to people who make a decent living and just want a bargain. And that makes me a little sad.
Thanks to Macklemore, thrift store shopping has become quite trendy. Recently, there was even an article in our local paper touting a thrift shop’s “high-quality merchandise at low prices”. I have always been one to think that thrift stores were created, not for finding bargains, but for people who don’t have the means to shop anywhere else. The more I thought about this, the more terrible I felt about tearing up that Christmas sweater so that my family could make ornaments out of it.
I started thinking about all of the people who have the means to go elsewhere, but who frequent the thrift shops to find deals. I realize that thrift shops are businesses, and the owners probably don’t care one way or another who does the purchasing of the items in their stores. But the items for sale in thrift shops are usually one of a kind. It’s not like going to Walmart and having twelve bikes to choose from that all cost fifty dollars. A thrift shop may only have one bike for fifteen dollars. And in my mind, I would feel awful buying that fifteen dollar bike when there might be a kid out there who can’t afford the Walmart special and was saving his money for the thrift shop bargain bike. Along the same lines, I wonder if someone had their eye on the Christmas sweater that I took home for three dollars and tore apart. Is there some sort of moral code when shopping in thrift stores? Are people who need to shop at thrift stores offended by the bargain hunters? Do they care one way or the other?
In today’s struggling economy, I completely understand the need for a good deal for everyone, regardless of your financial status. However, if you can afford to go elsewhere, is that the better moral choice? Or is a bargain a bargain, regardless of the type of store? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but personally, I now know how I feel about bargain hunting. Going forward, I will make the longer car trip to the fabric store. I will find my “bargains” at Walmart or on Ebay. I will leave the joy of finding a great deal at the thrift shop for those who could really use a spring in their step.