We’ve all heard the song. Macklemore made second-hand shopping hip and managed to brand brandlessness. But I’ve always liked thrift shops. I like the eclectic frugality that they offer. In fact, for five years I worked at a nonprofit thrift store called Samaritan Shop, which donates its profits to feed the homeless and hungry across Northwest Arkansas. Of the multiple jobs I have held, my work at the Samaritan Shop was always one of the most enjoyable and the most rewarding.
But I would say the same about shopping at thrift stores: Thrift shopping is more enjoyable and spiritually rewarding than shopping at big-box stores and superstores. There are a multiple reasons why I believe this, but for this post I will isolate three reasons why not to shop at megastores (negative reasons) and four reasons why to shop at thrift stores (positive reasons).
Three Negative Reasons
So, why shouldn’t we do all of our shopping at big-box stores and supercenters? There are at least three reasons:
1. Avoiding Modern Slavery.
Most of the time, we don’t know where our stuff comes from, who made it, or what conditions it was made under. However, as Christians, we have an ethical and spiritual mandate not to participate in the oppression of the victimized, and many of the big-box stores and mega-corporations participate in slavery, human trafficking, and creating terrible working conditions. As Fight Slavery Now aptly says,
In bygone years these questions could be easily answered. Produce likely came from a nearby farm, and crafts from a regional maker. Buyers may have been frugal, but durability and craftsmanship were valued. Though sad to be divorced from this quaint intimacy, we would not turn back the clock if we could. Today’s population couldn’t be sustained without many of the advances of the modern age. But that cannot excuse our being party to the extreme abuse suffered daily, by so many.
Whether it’s Nike’s use of slave cotton or Apple’s refusal to provide safe working environments in their offshore facilities, there always seems to be another scandal. Of course, it’s impossible to know the true extent of the oppression of every brand in every store, so why not be safe and cut back on all brand spending? Then, even if you wear expensive brands, at least you can know for sure that the money isn’t supporting any kind of global corruption.
If you want to learn more about ethical shopping, check out this article I wrote called What Would Jesus Buy.
2. Refraining from Being a Stumbling Block.
As God’s people, we don’t just have the responsibility to abstain from sin, but to refrain from being a stumbling block for others. While striving for holiness, we are not to contribute to the temptation, no matter how large the stumbling block already is. Of course, in the case of supercenter C.E.O.s and such, a few people refraining won’t reduce the sizable temptation of greed, but it has little to do with efficiency and more to do with integrity. Can we, in good conscience, fill the pockets of greed and excess?
3. Saving Your Money
Let’s face it, shopping is expensive. Shopping is 100% more expensive that not shopping. Still, we’ve got to do it, right? We can’t all make our own clothes like Shane Claiborne (although maybe that’s not the worst idea).
This is less of a typically “spiritual” thing and more of a practical thing. If you’ve got to spend money, spend less. I think we can all get on board with that one.
For example, since I discovered thrift shopping, I haven’t spent more than $5 on a pair of shoes or $4 on a shirt in six years. The money I save can be spent on not having debt and going on adventures.
Four Positive Reasons
It isn’t just that we shouldn’t shop at the megastores all the time. There’s also great benefit to shopping at second-hand shops. Here’s four reasons why we should spend more money at thrift stores.
1. Promoting Locality and Community
Most thrift shops are locally ran and locally sourced. By shopping in second-hand shops, you contribute directly to the local economy and can rest well knowing that your money stayed in your community. To learn more about the benefits of locality, I highly suggest reading Wendell Berry’s books, especially Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, and one great way to do that is by stimulating the local economy that supports our neighbors.
2. Stewarding Money Well
I’m a big fan of this one. We live in a world where greed and excess reigns and our lives are governed by the ethic of “more.” As Christians, we should offer a better ethic to the world. We should learn to be content and satisfied. It the words of Shane Claiborne, we should live simply so that others can simply live.
Scripture exhorts us to steward our resources well and to use our money wisely to generously invest in the lives of others. We can’t do that if all our paycheck is lost after a trip to the mall. For more resources on how to be good stewards, check out this article I wrote called Four Starter Books on Christian Stewardship.
3. Bearing the Image of Our Creative God
We were made in the Image of God, and God is creative. When we shop at thrift stores, it forces us to get creative and come up with fun, DIY solutions to things. It also just inspires us to create and be unique. This may seem like a stretch, but the Bible attests to the fact that God delights in creativity. He created the entire world with such variety and beauty and diversity that it is impossible to call Him boring.
When God commissioned the Tabernacle with the alter and the incense and all the decorative stuff, He called craftsmen and creative types to contribute to the place of worship. Exodus 31:2-5 says, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.”
Making artistic designs is a sign of the Spirit, and as such helps us to bear the Image of our Creative God. So, if you must shop, get your creative juices flowing at a thrift shop.
4. Obeying the Creation Mandate
We were created with the mandate to serve and protect the earth (Genesis 2:15). By shopping at thrift shops, we ensure that less stuff ends up in landfills. This one is simple. When we buy something new, we add to the mess that we are making. When we buy something used, we are reducing our waste by reusing what someone has already decided that they do not need anymore.
For more information on the creation mandate, check out this article I wrote called Environmentalism: The Original Call to Serve and Protect.
So, in conclusion, do less of your shopping at the big-box stores. Those corporations have enough money. Shop ethically and have fun by contributing to the local economy at getting creative!