Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Harbingers of Decline

I’ve spent months touting the treasures and cultural gems uncovered at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. I will remain an advocate of the reuse and repurpose market. But today I walked away from the thrift store sad and shaking my head in shame.

The other, esteemed Ms Golightly, Holly, called them the Mean Reds and I have a bad case of them. After an errand I stopped by the neighborhood thrift. With the exception of a few quality items priced beyond my $5 Flinch Point, I mostly found junk, piles of it. Thanks to those Mean Reds, I didn’t want to put on my Snake Eyes and seek thy fortune. I just wasn’t up for it.

It saddens me to see mounds of consumer waste. We’re talking trash. What would make a person buy a Chia Pet? Would you be happy to receive one? How about a Homer Simpson or Shrek Chia Head? Doh! Homer and Shrek are BALD! So why should they grow Chia hair?

Why would we produce and sell dolls that would scare the pants off Chucky? I’ve often thought of hosting a thrift store ugly doll contest. Granted there are lovely vintage dolls that journey the thrift circuit but most thrift dolls are cheap and ugly. I can’t imagine a little girl wanting to have a tea party with any of the dolls I saw today. Let alone cuddle up with one. They’re so tacky your fingers feel synthetic just after touching them! Blech!

This cultural refuse and the economy that created it deeply disturbs me and gives me the shivers. Several months ago I heard an economist comparing our economy to that of the Ottoman Empire right before collapse.

I am left to wonder if Big Mouth Billy Bass or Louie the Large Mouth Bass are indicators of a society in mass decline. I’m referring to the plastic fish ornaments mounted on a faux wood base that convulse and sing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” at a volume that would make a centenarian wince with the timbre of Grizzly claws on chalkboard. It’s not pleasant and any time someone activates one in the thrift store there is a common emotional surge felt among shoppers to grab the closest fondue pot and chase the offender out the store. But most thrift store shoppers are decent people so we suppress the urge to engage mob behavior.

Come to think of it, I think I saw a PBS Nova in which a Big Mouth Billy Bass was excavated in Rome and carbon dated a few years prior to the Empire’s fall. At this archeological dig pottery was found that appears to be Chia in origin. But, don’t worry America, be happy.


Teri said...

People have learned to shop to make themselves happy. So it doesn't matter what they buy, as long as they are buying something. I've seen the same behavior at Goodwill, people with carts full of what looks like junk to me.

Anonymous said...

Just so you have a data point, I've been trying in vain to find a chia pet for months! I think my four year old would love it -- he loves planting things and watching them grow and he also loves animals. If I could find an elephant chia pet I'd be ecstatic. Yeah, I know elephants don't have long fur, but they're also not 6 inches tall either. I'm OK with that.

Shopping Golightly said...

Chia elephants are sold online for $20 and this does not include shipping. I lease a community garden plot that is over 10’x10’ with a blackberry and raspberry patch for about two thirds of the cost of a Chia Pet and its shipping for six months of the year. We grow tomatoes, squash, eggplant, herbs, peppers, pumpkins, cutting flowers, cabbage, beans, etc. This year marks our 10th season participating in this community garden. I wholeheartedly support children learning and experiencing the wonders of plants but I believe all you need are seeds. How about alfalfa sprouts in a mason jar in the fridge? Alfalfa sprouts are delicious and can be repeated over and over. Beans sprouts? We keep pots of greens at and herbs at our home. In fact we had fresh mustard greens over our pasta tonight. The girls love this.

I can't help it. I truly believe all you need are seeds.

Alan said...

Chia pets, Elvis lamps and all that other stuff can make a great gag gift. I wouldn't think of reselling it though.

Saver Queen said...

This article was laugh-out-loud funny, because of your witty way of writing. But I also agree. I went garage sale-ing last weekend, and there was so much STUFF that people were trying to get rid off. Why do we accumulate so much junk?

One person was trying to sell a used couch for $600. I guess it was designer. They had photographs, rather than the actual couch sitting outside, including a close-up of a Danish tag. I guess the fact that it was made by some Danish designer meant that people should justify paying more for it. I wonder how much this couch cost in the first place, and why on earth someone would justify this expense. It was sad to see a lot of items that were probably over-priced and under-used.

Sara E said...

well, I went to my neighborhood Goodwill on Sunday for the first time in a while. Nothing jumped out at me at all anywhere - except for a couple boys shirts. I snagged an Old Navy polo style shirt that is a nice heavy weight for $1.99. It so didn't seem like an ON, it really seemed like it is much better quality. I also grabbed a fab Diesel boys shirt for only one buck. YAY!

and... with your luck, the next time you are in that store, you will find twice as much as usual

Jenny said...

What I see as a sad aspect of this is the difference in the numbers between the rate at which we need new things, and the rate at which they are being produced. Take any consumer item, such as a couch. Look at how many are being manufactured/imported each year versus how many are actually needed (to replace ones that are broken or to increase with our growing population/housing). There is a huge gap in this number, and this is creating a huge amount of waste. This reduces any motivation to repair a slightly damaged item or modify it. In many cases now it is cheaper to buy a brand new item than to get an old one repaired (toasters, TVs, cell phones, and that sort of thing)

mamas*little*treasures said...

Wise observations . . . as a child I thought that Goodwill was the best (and only!) place to shop. So that tradition has continued into my own family, and my daughters are delighted with a shopping spree at our local Salvation Army. But as the years have rolled on, I have also observed the wasteful, excessive spending and acquiring of so much "stuff." My mama used to say "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without." She grew up during the Great Depression. So I've always just tried to take really good care of what I DO have and refuse to believe that STUFF = Happiness. There was another ancient society in addition to the Ottomans, where in the decades before their fall, the people were clamoring for "bread and circuses." They expected the government to provide them with the "necessities" of food and entertainment. The acquisition of so much junk is just one way of entertaining ourselves instead of taking time to treasure and enjoy what we already have. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

earthmama said...

EXACTLY! Great commentary on this sad state of affairs. My father and many like him live by the old (new) adage:

'why pay more for one thing when you can get a whole bunch of stuff! AND who cares if it breaks...at least you had it!'

This is the sort of demographic that buys chia heads of balding cartoon characters. One last thing, my dad owns billy bass- has for years. Hideous. I can beat that! He also owns a singing turkey (hasn't worked since day 2) AND a singing/karaoke playing fake deer head.

good grief.

How much is too much?

In today's society where you can find 'your people', your community, to sanction EVERYTHING you do with a click of a button, what is the mechanism to slow this waste train? In our more primitive form we were so much more sophisticated. Shame worked beautifully to keep us all in check; a glance from an elder did wonders to curb our behaviors that hindered the greater community. The world is a whole lot more complicated.

Thank you for this wonderful post!


Frugal Babe said...

I too am sometimes saddened and amazed by what I see in stores - both thrift stores and "first hand" places. There's really not a lot of "stuff" that we actually need. My husband and I have been steadily simplifying our lives over the last few years, and find ourselves feeling happier as time goes on. But every once in a while we'll buy something just because... I recently got five hand made pottery wine goblets for $12 at my favorite thrift store. I've seen (and admired) similar goblets at craft fairs, selling for $15 EACH, or more. And I'm thrilled to have them. I think that shopping very infrequently makes it all the more thrilling when I find something great. I love the fashion show pics you did recently, by the way! Amazing finds =)

Anonymous said...

Your article has given me food for thought.

I went to Goodwill yesterday -- for the first time in a year.

Goodwill is spendy, compared to the little church thrifts I normally patronize. But I was in the area ...

As you said, most was a mountain of junk.


Goodwill said...

Hi Thrifty Chicks! The New York Times has a great article on fashion finds at Goodwill:


Anonymous said...

I just read something that, to me, is the epitome of waste:


I know that making memories is important, but, doesn't that seem wasteful?


Anonymous said...

I love thrift store shopping. This week I got a clothes drying rack at the Salvation Army for $1.79 and a decorative ceramic platter for $2.75. I had seen similar ones for $30.00 but could not justify the expense for decoration.

grunge-queen said...

I'm a thrift shop nut but can relate to feeling semi-appalled by some of the junk I see in such shops.

Have you checked out Thrift Shop Horrors? http://community.livejournal.com/thrifthorror

Pictures of truly horrifying, ugly, scary and otherwise insane thrift shops finds - but they make me laugh more than make me sad, they're just so off-the-wall crazy.

Anonymous said...

I emjoy thrift shopping because I love a bargain and I like the idea of reuse. But lately, I'm seeing the same thing you are - junk, and lots of it. If I walk into a thrift store and it smells, at all, I turn around and walk out. I'm very picky about clothes, favoring outerwear and jeans, and I'd never consider used shoes (ick). I do find useable housewares sometimes. Decided to get rid of the boxes of stuff on top of my kitchen cabinets and replace them with baskets. Saved a fortune buying "slightly used" and wasn't too worried about germs as long as they look clean (and I wipe down and spray with germ killer). And sometimes, luck shines and I'll find an article of clothing, my size, right style and color, that's obviously never been worn. Eureka!

Avrila said...

I have a Chia pet (currently in a box somewhere, because I've moved tooooo many times) that I put to good use. Think about it...it's designed to sprout seeds...so instead of ordering more Chia Seeds (whatever those are) I got some broccoli and radish seeds and nibbled the sprouts.