The Ethics of Thrift Store Picking
The Ethicist, a series published by the New York Times and written by Chuck Klosterman, recently discussed a question about the ethics of bargain hunting. Someone wrote in:
"I make a good salary and can afford to shop and buy new clothes at a regular retail store, but I enjoy shopping at a particular thrift store where I find great bargains. I sometimes buy items that I don’t need. My question concerns my enjoyment versus the needs of others who are less fortunate (and are now deprived of the opportunity to buy items that they probably need more than I do). Am I guilty of fulfilling a shadow pleasure at the expense of those in need?"
The response was that if a business exists to aid the underprivileged, it is wrong for you to shop there if you can afford to shop elsewhere. "...like showing up at a soup kitchen..." was a phrase used. However, it is mentioned that many thrift stores exist not only to sell items to the impoverished, but to sell items to anybody as a means to raise money for other charitable work.
I think this is spot on. I've gotten to know the employees and even directors of several charitable thrift stores in my years of picking, and they all tell me they are happy to have all types of customers. In fact, many of these stores are dependent upon large sales numbers to complete there charitable mission; Be it job training, humanitarian aid, or funding an operation completely unrelated to poverty. As long as you are willing to pay what they are asking, it's all good. And if someone desperately needs inexpensive clothing or home furnishings, most large cities have organizations that can provide these things at no cost to the recipient.
I understand that these businesses aren't there for me to make a profit. I often still conceal the fact that I am purchasing things to be resold. If I am 100% guilt free about my picking from thrift stores, why would I not be completely open about it? Perhaps I am slightly conflicted. Certainly I am afraid of being ejected from the store (as many conspicuous scanners are these days). I also make it my priority to be respectful and courteous to all employees and volunteers where I'm shopping.
Sure, I'll haggle, but I will never use intimidation tactics to get a better deal. It is much, much better in the long run to be considered a valued and even 'preferred' customer. That great deal you may get from aggressive haggling now will likely cost you a lot of discounts in the future.
Fortunately, I have developed a technique to resolve any ethical conflicts that my picking my cause. I resolve to keep things balanced with the stores I pick from. It's simple. My solution is to donate back to the stores.
I rarely take a trip to the Goodwill on a picking mission without bringing a few boxes of goods to drop off. It has even become a regular occurrence to return home with much less than I started out with. I have found local non-profits that deal with books, clothing, housewares, toys, and even building materials.
Besides making me feel good about myself, regularly clearing out all the excess possessions is a bit of a necessity for a borderline hoarder like me.
This past winter I even took things a step further and volunteered at a local non-profit second hand store. I spent the day cleaning and organizing the housewares section of the store... and it was a blast.
So remember, many of the thrift stores that we rely on for our Part Time Picking business rely on us and our donations to keep their business going. So donate that big pile of stuff that you will likely never get around to reselling anyways.