Saturday, March 23, 2019

Buying Second-Hand - Thrift Stores are not Petri-Dishes

I clicked on a headline today.  The article was in response to the current decluttering craze prompted by Netflix's new series starring the lovely Marie Kondo (no, in fact, I have not watched it).  The author suggested that, while downsizing our clutter is a very good idea, getting rid of books is probably a very bad idea.  It was a good article, and I agreed with all of it. 

Books are just something very different, and to be quite honest, as the author pointed out, books often don't "spark joy", because sometimes they challenge our assumptions and our beliefs, and those are both very good things, but confronting those long-held and often deeply entrenched ideas is not comfortable or joyful.  Sometimes it forces us to be incredibly uncomfortable, but we NEED to keep reading, especially when it's not happy, because we need to be educated and thoughtful.  A good home library will bring joy in the joy of learning and growing and in the act of reading, but there are hundreds of books on my shelves that did not bring me joy in the story, or in the ending of the story, and those are exactly the books that I intend to keep.

At the end of that article, there were links to a bunch of other articles - several having to do with things NOT to buy at Thrift Stores.  Those two things are related - the decluttering craze and thrift store buying - because Marie Kondo's advice has resulted in a deluge of decluttering and donating.  Thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations - thankful for all of the support, but also a little inundated by stuff. 

Out of curiosity, I clicked on a couple of the articles focused on "Things Not to Buy at Thrift Stores", and what I found was a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering.

I mean, the folks who wrote those articles are so worried about germs that they seem like they might have trouble grasping door knobs or using public bathrooms.

For instance, one article recommended not buying any wooden dishes, like cutting boards, but the reasons they gave were wrong.  The author said that those cutting boards could be harboring all sorts of germs.  I mean, yes, this might be somewhat true, but not, really, for wood.  In the case of a cutting board, it would only be true if there were deep gouges in the board, but, as mentioned in this article, what researchers found was that on wooden cutting boards, the "bacteria sunk into the grooves and died."  Wood is naturally anti-bacterial - unlike plastic, which the article did not caution against purchasing. 

Here's the thing about wooden cutting boards, though.  A good, quality wooden cutting board is really expensive.  If one finds a really good one at a thrift store for a couple of dollars, but it has a few deep knife grooves, that wooden cutting board could be refurbished with a little sand paper.   Get rid of the deep groove, and the danger of pathogenic bacteria disappears.  A maple cutting board can cost as much as $160 new.  If I find one at Goodwill for $5, it's coming home with me.  Just sayin'.

A common recommendation is to avoid purchasing shoes second-hand.  While I agree with not buying used shoes, it's not for the reasons they gave.  In fact, the most common reason they gave for *not* purchasing the items on their list had to do with pathogens, but the fact is that germs exist in the world, and most of those items aren't nearly as dirty as the authors seem to imply.  There seemed to be a little too much squeamishness and germophobia happening in the authors' recommendations.

So, about the shoes.  People bowl as a past-time, and they don't think twice about renting shoes.  Back in my day, rollerskating was a favorite activity, and most people rented their skates.  I can think of a few other sports where the footwear is rented, and not once have those folks doing the renting worried about contracting something from the rentals.  To me, it's the same principle.  Folks who are worried about getting a foot fungus from used shoes should probably not go bowling or skiing either.

That said, I do not purchase shoes second hand, but not because they might have germs.  I don't purchase second hand shoes, because shoes will take on a wear pattern of the person who wore them. That is, if that person walked on the side of his/her foot, the sole of the shoe will be worn on that side.  Wearing those shoes could result in musculo-skeletal or joint issues.  The caveat to that is, if one finds a really good, high quality pair of shoes, like Birkenstocks, purchasing them should be a no brainer, because those shoes can be resoled and refurbished for a fraction of the price of a new pair, AND they will last for years.  Resoling Birkenstocks will correct any gait-related wear patterns. 

There are reasons not to buy second-hand shoes.  Worrying about germs is not the top one. 

One of the other not to buy items on the list was hats.  There are probably a lot of reasons not to purchase a hat at the Thrift Store.  If one is worried about the hat containing head lice, as the article suggests, then one should never purchase a hat in any store ... ever.  The fact is that any store where hats are sold and people can try on those hats prior to purchase - whether they are thrift stores or the local department store - can carry the risk of lice.  The lesson here is not to purchase hats, not *not* to purchase used hats.

Another recommendation was not to purchase kitchen knives, and again, their reasoning was completely unsound.  The author's rationale for not purchasing a used knife was that the knife blade might be dull, which is dangerous.  Um ... okay.  Because, you know, knives can't be sharpened and stuff.  A high quality, full-tang butcher knife can cost upward of $100.  If I find a good knife at the Thrift Store, I would purchase it - without hesitation - and then, I will bring it to the local knife-sharpening shop.  In the end, I'm supporting small, local businesses, keeping stuff out of landfills, AND saving money for myself.  Everyone wins.

There are two, basic reasons, we shop at Thrift Stores.  The first, as the name implies, is that we are being "thrifty."  That is, we are attempting to find and purchase items that we feel we need in our lives without having to pay a lot of money for them.  It's a completely valid reason to shop at Thrift Stores, and indeed, probably the reason that Thrift Stores exist in the first place. 

The second very sound reason is that, as a culture, we produce a lot of stuff.  That stuff has to be manufactured, which puts a burden on the earth's finite resources.  Additionally, as too often is the case, we purchase things without thinking about the end-life of that item.  Sometimes, a lot of times, we discover that we can no longer use that item, but that the item still has life.  Perhaps, we've lost weight and have a bunch of clothes that no longer fit, or we move to a smaller house and that lovely set of bone China is too big for our new cabinets. 

Whatever the reason,  being able to purchase items second-hand means that we're doing a lot more good than harm. 

There are some items available in Thrift Stores that should probably carry a buyer beware sign, but for the most part, items in Thrift Stores are as safe from germs as the items offered new.  At worst,  the items might need a little TLC, but for the most part, we can rest easy that we're not subjecting ourselves or our families to life-threatening pathogens when we purchase things from Thrift Stores instead of buying new.

1 comment:

  1. Thrift stores are the best, and I’m so glad to have found an unschooling mom who still blogs.