A Year of UnNew Month Six: Confessions of a shopaholic
Shopping Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash
I have a confession to make. No, I haven’t broken any of the “rules” for my year of UnNew—which is to say I haven’t bought anything new in the last six months (save my husband’s crash pad and also, I should add here, some new socks for him)—but, I’ve noticed something in the last two months: I’ve still been buying a lot of stuff. All of the stuff has been second-hand, but nonetheless, it’s stuff. Clothes, household items, outdoor gear, you name it. These are things that I don’t really need, but that I want. The internet has continued to provide me opportunities for online shopping and I’ve been gobbling them up.
Everywhere from Instagram and Facebook, to marketplaces like Geartrade, Poshmark, and Thred-Up; to direct brand websites are selling secondhand goods. It’s actually insanely and incredibly easy to find something that I want in secondhand form. I bought new-to-me summer clothes on Poshmark by searching brand names and sometimes the names of specific articles of clothing. I bought new-to-me jewelry on Instagram, where “thrift accounts” have been booming: people are going to thrift stores around the country, then creating Instagram accounts to resell everything from thrifted clothes to household wares to jewelry (some favorites: @zesty.thrift.co, @oaxaquenita.thrifts, @amelia_athome, @vintagebutterfly.thrift). Resale sites like Geartrade remain a treasure trove of outdoor products (I now ask myself: Did I really need that hoodie?) and just like The North Face’s Renewed site, where refurbished and returned products are resold, more mainstream companies have begun doing the same. Take Levi’s Secondhand store (tagline: “Already broken-in and made better by time”), Lacusa’s “Replay Market,” and Tradlands’s “Worn Well Exchange” for example. Secondhand is catching on!
This is great news, all things considered. I love how easy it is to buy quality secondhand goods these days, and how diverse the secondhand field and its sourcing is becoming. With so many options out there, I feel like I can keep my wardrobe trendy and my house refreshed. What I’m worried about is this abundance of options masking some of the larger issues my Year of UnNew was hoping to tackle: consumptive behavior and the addictive qualities of instant gratification.
In short, this is a confession of a shopaholic. I know I’m not alone out there. We often shop and purchase things to make ourselves feel good. We reward ourselves. We celebrate. We make a tough day feel better with the swipe of a credit card, or a new workout tank, or a cool new record for the living room. Shopping is and has been a form of self care. But, why is that? And, should it be?
I’m not saying shopping is inherently bad. It’s invigorating and exciting to introduce “new” things into your life; creativity is often sparked by the unknown, the new, the things that change in our lives. No one wants to live a stagnant life where you wear the same clothes everyday, eat the same foods, and never change your home decor. But, can we be intentional about where and when and how we introduce new things? Can I understand the impulse to buy new-to-me things? Can I check the gratification that comes with acquisition?
At its root, my Year of UnNew is a quest to better understand my place in capitalism: the go, go, go creation and consumption of objects—and by extension, the go, go, go consumption of the limited resources we have here on planet Earth. Buying nothing new was meant to see if I could avoid and therefore challenge the constant creation of newness (remember, the manufacturing of new objects adds up to one of human’s largest environmental impacts). But as I took this challenge on, what has become clear is how the secondhand industry can address the material and physical aspect of newness, but not the psychological component. I still feel a desire for things that are new-to-me—it’s a drive to acquire and consume, even when unnecessary.
I suppose what I’m circling around is a piece of sage advice I’ve actually heard time and time again: You can change your circumstances—you can put up new rail guards around your life—you can eliminate what no longer serves you—you can follow schedules and diets and rules—but at the end of the day, the profound changes we seek occur inside ourselves. Such external elements (rules, locations, atmospheres, schedules, eliminations) help us create environments in which we can have the space or courage or time to change, but the change itself still must happen inside. So, next month, I’ll be diving inward. Onwards!
To read more about my Year of UnNew, see the May, April, March, February and January installments.
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.