Far too long ago I wrote a post promising to update you on how the year of nothing new changed my relationship with people. This is hard to write, and I am probably going to phrase things in the wrong manner. And if I cause offense, please forgive me. This has been a while in the thinking, and can be a bit of a minefield.
Shopping second hand was a lot of fun most of the time, and even more so now that I know I can go to the shops and buy whatever we don’t find second hand. For us, it was a challenge based on ethical considerations. We felt pretty proud of our selves, about our ‘year of nothing new’ helping to save the world one pair of shoes at a time… hey, we even wrote a blog about it….
This pride ran alongside the intellectual knowledge that we are financially stable – we both have well paid, permanent jobs, with incredible benefits. We have a house, fully furnished, and after all our bills are paid we have money for fun and investment. Why am I telling you this?
Because I had no idea. I had no idea how many people in our community lived and how poor many people were. I mean, I knew the numbers, but not the reality and I probably still don’t.
I remember the moment it really struck home. We were at a charity shop, and the woman in front of us in the line paid with a voucher. I went to ask the cashier “You can buy gift vouchers? Awesome, presents solved!” But I paused as it occurred to me, that voucher wasn’t a gift, it was a weekday, Thursday, and welfare distributed vouchers on Thursday.
This wasn’t a treat for this woman and her family; this was their clothes for a summer break;
- swimmers? check,
- towels? check,
- boardies? check,
- thongs? check.
The chef responded before I did, going back to hang back up a suit. The jacket had fit perfectly, but the slacks hadn’t. It was a filler piece for him, but he realized that for someone in need it could be perfect.
After we left the store we pondered it for a little while, and both acknowledged we hadn’t really considered that our fun adventure was in fact how a lot of people lived.
We went home and re-evaluated our wardrobes and as mentioned earlier in this post we began to remove clothes from our wardrobe that we no longer used. The Chef removed about four suits, and when offered suits from a family member declined them, but offered to take them to a good community center*. The reality was we were hoarding clothes when people in our community couldn’t afford to buy clothes.
We donated a lump sum to a community center’s annual appeal – because at that time, we could afford to do so, and others couldn’t afford to eat. (At the time it was a simple equation for us – but it’s not always, so only donate your time, money or stuff as you can afford to and want to.)
We also stopped being quite so chuffed with ourselves for buying second hand as … well, it was a bit of a dick move. For many people, it’s not a choice.
Then Christmas came around, as Christmas is wont to do. And we unexpectedly had Christmas out in the Chef’s home town…. without a lot of lead time we had to find affordable, fun Christmas presents for 10 children between 3 and 15 (ok teenager). So we bought some new stuff and some old stuff.
A couple of second have guitars were found, but we had to buy new music books and tuners; new toys for the toddlers (but of course, recycled, made of renewable resources, or a gift that the money went to an agency like the WWF, ‘cause that’s how we roll) and my inspired idea, a triple set of suitcases filled with costumes, masks and craft activities for one family of three girls.
The suitcases were found second hand, and the fillers were sourced mostly second hand with a visit to the dollar shop for some more craft stuff. To fill the costume boxes meant a mad day running all over town to every second hand shop to find children’s costumes, we ended up with a dinosaur, a spider man, a pirate, an native American, some princess crowns, fun hats and glasses, and some faux fur jackets. A pretty good haul and – a success as a Christmas present.
We’d spent just under $300 and had gotten all the kids a fun gift that (hopefully) they’ll actually use. And it was fun, thinking outside the box for presents… which is what it was for us.
For many people we saw at the second hand shops, those shops were the only way they could afford presents for their children for Christmas. I’m not saying that Christmas is about the presents, it’s not, but it was eye-opener to see a five year old understand that mum couldn’t afford that $2 second hand my little pony. Or how distressed a parent would become when they realized they’d bought too much up and couldn’t afford it all. Or, seeing older people, immaculately groomed, collecting groceries from the community center and walk alone back to the bus stop with their bags. Or a refugee asking a neighbor if they had any spare clothes to send back to Africa, because their family there was in more need (A group of us did a clothes swap and what wasn’t re homed went to said refugee).
This isn’t distant or removed; these are our neighbors, our colleagues, our classmates. It really bought home to us was how lucky we are – to have the jobs, the education, the family and the opportunities to be as financial stable as we are. It doesn’t mean we’ll give it all away, but it does mean we value the right things more; the time to spend with people, good food with friends, a heater that works every time we need it, or being able to afford the doctor’s when I need to, and buy the medications I need. It means we are more conscious of giving back to the community, whether money (like the aid appeal for Vanuatu after the cyclone), collecting and donating youth novels to a youth refuge, campaigning to set up donated libraries on campus (fun books, none of your text book nonsense), or just running our neighbors bin up for them.
It means we endeavor to make educated decisions about our purchases. Where is it from? Who benefits? Is it ethical? Is it renewable? Can we buy something for a little more or slightly different that gives back to the community?
So yes, I still buy frivolous shoes, but we try to balance that consumerism these days with thoughtful consideration and giving back to our community, locally, nationally and globally.
*Seriously, if you want to donate something really useful, donate good men’s shoes to someone like Communities at Work (https://commsatwork.org/ ) – why? Because they don’t receive many in good repair and good shoes for men make a real difference, at formals, job interviews, or weddings.