I fancy myself a socially conscious citizen of the world. I don’t take a straw at restaurants, I recycle and compost, and I avoid overly packaged food and bottled water. Most of my clothes come from consignment or thrift stores – a fact I am very proud of.

Truth is, I love thrifting. It hits all of my pleasure centers. I see people from all kinds of cultures and walks of life at my thrift stores, and I believe I am helping those less fortunate.

The Thrill

I love the thrill of the hunt and feel super clever (dare I say “smug”?) when I find incredible deals on high quality items, some with the tags still on. Yes, it takes effort, but we all know how intermittent reinforcement is the strongest kind.

It’s probably how some people feel about gambling. You know you are not going to find a great piece every time, but when you do, you get a big dopamine hit.

It also feels like a way of beating the system and finding a work-around to throw-away fashion and consumerism which is the source of a lot of our planet’s problems. It’s a win-win; I love the hunt, and it feels good to contribute.

My Sister Recyclers

Professionally, I’ve sought out Podcast guests who are passionate about addressing waste and excess. Pat Smith, a.k.a., “Action Nan,” is the grandmother I interviewed from Cornwall, England, who has devoted her life to cleaning up the plastic waste from her country’s beaches.

Jo Moseley, another British guest, traveled across the UK channel system on her paddleboard – picking up trash. I loved speaking with these women and hearing their passion and conviction. I feel a sisterhood with them and their noble causes.

Bad News

But I have come across some “inconvenient truths” that are challenging my belief that I am treading lightly on the earth. The initial blow was an article on Salon, entitled, “Humanity can’t recycle its way out of consumption problems.”

The article talked about our attitude in the US and how our consumption habits are choking our planet with trash. We want what we want. We feel unconsciously entitled to accumulate more stuff. Our planet is our trash can.

At this point, we’re really not prepared to significantly shift our habits, at least in our country, in order to make the necessary changes to decrease the steady flow of waste. Dunkin Donuts’ new campaign of decreasing one-time use plastic straws is charming, but nowhere near enough.

Would they be willing to give a significant discount if you brought your own cup? How much inconvenience are we up for? It’s hard to get really honest about this.

It Got Worse

As I pondered the information that my recycling wasn’t going to help the trash problem significantly, the news got even worse. Adam Minter’s new book, Secondhand, was a real blow to my identity as a thrifting champ.

Minter followed the lifespan of donations to the Goodwill all the way to the developing countries where much of the items were set on fire. That’s right. They burned the clothes sent over from our thrift stores. Turns out, nobody needs that many t-shirts.

I’m scheduled to interview Adam Minter, and I am honored that he has agreed to be on the Zestful Aging Podcast, but I’m a little fearful how I will feel after we speak. Because it’s becoming clearer to me that I’m a thrift store junky.

He Ruined It for Me

Minter’s exposé of the thrift industry is hard for me to ignore, although I wish I could. It’s tainted my view of myself as a do-gooder, and it’s mostly ruined one of my favorite hobbies.

No longer can I work my way through the aisles of the Salvation Army with gleeful anticipation, searching for that Eileen Fisher top made from organic materials at a mere fraction of the retail price. I can’t unknow what I now know.

Apparently, the best kind of shopping is no shopping at all. As I’ve been pondering this new reality, I’ve started exploring what thrifting does for me. I certainly don’t need more clothes. Ironically, I have “hangers” on my list of things to buy next time I’m out shopping.

Tough Questions for Myself

How would my life be different if thrifting wasn’t a recreational activity? What would I do instead? This leads to questions like: What do I value? How do I want to spend my time? What emptiness am I trying to fill? What am I distracting myself from?

These are not easy questions to answer, but I’m inviting you to think about them with me.

I’m inviting you to join me in a no-buying challenge. I’m starting small – a week of not buying extras. That includes random things like dog toys, hair ties, candles, or any other extraneous goodies.

Some people have done this for a year. I’m not ready for that yet, but if you are, that’s great. Let me know in the comments below how it’s going. I’d love to hear about it.

How often do you find yourself shopping for things you don’t need? What do you do with them? Is thrifting a hobby? If you do follow the no- buying challenge, please share the results with our community.

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