Minimalism and sustainability have emerged as dominant styles and priorities among young people. Such a cultural shift has catalyzed a change in perception around the buying and selling of used goods.
Although it has become trendy to shop at thrift stores, doing so takes resources away from those who require second-hand shopping to get by. Therefore, access to thrift store shopping should be restricted to a certain lower income level.
From brick-and-mortar stores to websites, consumers now have more opportunities to avoid buying their goods firsthand—an often expensive and wasteful experience. Thrift stores and charity shops for instance, have the laudable goal of offering a broadly accessible retail experience.
Increasingly, however, customers seeking secondhand goods apparently do so not because of a financial imperative but—largely—for the aesthetic value of “vintage” goods.
As it seemingly only gains momentum, thrift shops’ popularity raises the question of whether people with the means to shop elsewhere have a moral obligation to avoid resources they don’t necessarily need.
Of course, this question hardly applies to for-profit consignment shops which have the primary objective of making money, rather than serving a community in some broader sense. At such retailers, businesspeople surely offer low-priced alternatives to other stores, but still with fundamentally financial motivations.
This question emerges, therefore, in the context of non-profit establishments like Goodwill and Salvation Army. The mission statements of these organizations prioritize retail targeted toward a low-income demographic.
In this context, shopping at charity-based stores without a need compares to eating at a soup kitchen if you have the resources to buy food elsewhere. This argument relies critically on the notion of intent; when most people donate clothing to stores such as Goodwill or Salvation Army, they do so with the goal of helping someone less fortunate. From that perspective, a person with greater means might seem like a resource hoarder for shopping at these stores.
On the other hand, there are several benefits to the expansion of secondhand store shopper demographics. As thrift shopping grows in popularity, the general public destigmatizes used goods.
Perhaps the most convincing argument against restricting access to thrift stores lies in wanting to prevent the formation of a blatantly stratified society. Characterizing certain stores as strictly for the poor lends itself to the creation of an underclass, wherein the victims of cyclical poverty find themselves permanently on the bottom of society.
Within this context, shopping at thrift stores regardless of income carries the positive impact of undermining secondhand consumerism.
With regard to the environment, thrift shopping allows folks from all economic backgrounds to live more sustainably in a consumerist society. By buying used clothes, for instance, shoppers avoid waste and keep from piling up discarded goods in landfills.
Given both arguments, some shoppers might still feel that going to Goodwill or Salvation Army when they could just as easily afford Target or Walmart prevents others—specifically those with fewer resources—from accessing those goods at all by limiting the supply. Such consumers might look to other sustainable, budget-friendly ways of “shopping,” like having clothing swaps with friends.
To reconcile these sides, consumers might benefit from researching where they shop before putting their money behind an organization. Additionally, conscious shoppers might tap into other resources — such as sharing among friends — before hitting the stores. While the values of secondhand shopping become increasingly evident, such alternatives as sharing offer equally viable options for folks concerned with saving money and furthering sustainability.