Rummage sale shopping: An ethical choice?

Imagine this: you are out on a leisurely drive on a weekend morning. You see cars converging around one yard, one garage, one set of tables piled miles high with baby clothes. What do you do? Do you peel over toward the curb so that you can park and peruse? Do you cuss under your breath about how goofy traffic is today? I am not ashamed to say that I fall firmly into the peel-toward- the-curb category. Okay-okay, if you know me, you know that I barely drive, but in my mind, I imagine coming to a screeching halt next to that brown Barcalounger begging to be covered by my cat’s hair.

During high school, I worked at an awesome pizza place with my mom. On Saturday mornings before work, we would often stop at yard sales. Those trips kept me clothed throughout school, and I still use many of those items today.

My love for yard sales never died.

Last weekend, I learned that my love for bargains has not diminished. A pair of Justin boots for $1? I’ll take them. I found the perfect military homecoming dress for $2. I found leggings for yoga teacher training for $1 each! I filled grocery bags with clothing for less than half the original retail on those boots. The boots were just for fun, but I was going to have to get those other items anyway. This was a successful shopping trip.

I always feel a little better when I buy clothing second hand. I know that some will say that with sales in retail chains and big-box stores, there is no need to go the second-hand route. Unfortunately, there are ethical concerns with buying brand new items at such low prices. Some items are priced to move because of seasonality, minor imperfections, or new inventory. In other cases, the discount means that the laborers that made the clothing took on the cost in the form of lower wages or poor working conditions. This documentary does a great job of explaining what I mean.

There are ethical concerns behind almost everything that we consume. It is so frustrating to know that by making a choice to buy something, we can unwittingly endorse the poor treatment of others. On the other hand, since we know we're voting with our wallets, we have an opportunity to lessen the negative impact that our choices have. By choosing to buy second hand, I am not funneling more money into a system that treats its workers unfairly. The cash is going to a local family, not to a chain retailer that is more concerned with its bottom line than the cost to textile workers. I don’t care if I am wearing something from last season or even five seasons ago. I do care about how I look, but I have never gone into debt to perpetuate the myth that I need to look like I rolled out of a catalog every day.

Laugh if you want, but going to yard sales, thrift shopping, and enjoying hand-me-downs are small acts of rebellion. Not only can you save a little money on the things that you need or enjoy, but you can do so without reinforcing the textile industry's compulsion to crank out scads of cheaply made landfill fodder. If you can't buy locally made products from small businesses due to financial or geographical concerns, buying second-hand is a great option. While summer isn't officially underway, yard sale season is in full swing. Happy hunting!