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Commentary

Breaking out of a consumer mindset that demands we constantly buy new things

Experienced Goods in Brattleboro, Vermont, is one of the thrift stores Annaliese Griffin frequents to purchase gifts for friends and family.
Annaliese Griffin
/
Courtesy of the author
Experienced Goods in Brattleboro, Vermont, is one of the thrift stores Annaliese Griffin frequents to purchase gifts for friends and family.

One of the best presents I’ve ever given my husband is an original poster from “2001: A Space Odyssey” which I found at our favorite thrift store.

It’s not just cool; it’s also a movie we saw together in ultra-large format at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A sticker on the back says it came from a shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California.

He once lived in the Bay Area. We met in New York, and now we live in Vermont, where the poster ended up, too. It feels like part of our story.

Treasures like this are all around us — in thrift stores, yard sales, vintage boutiques, online resale sites and Buy Nothing groups. If you’re getting a gift from me this year, it’s probably going to be secondhand.

This is not about being a grinch, canceling Christmas, or trying to pass a minimalist purity test. It’s about breaking out of a consumer mindset that demands we constantly buy new things.

It’s also a lot more fun than shopping from a list. Finding ways to replace new with used feels more like a treasure hunt than a task.

Brattleboro, where I live, has an exceptionally good secondhand infrastructure. There are two resale shops that specialize in children’s clothes and toys; a community closet filled with free clothing and baby gear; three Buy Nothing groups; two used-books stores; and vintage, antique, and consignment stores galore.

This culture of reuse never really went out of style here in New England, and it seems to have only grown in recent years. Asking around or looking for something used before buying new is increasingly the norm.

Seeking out and sharing things reminds me that I live in a place of abundance.

Last year, a local mom set up a stocking-stuffer exchange on her front porch and invited other parents to drop off small toys, books, hats, mittens. I came with a bag full of toy cars, plastic animals and board books and left with items that, frankly, weren’t that different, but were new to us.

I saved a few dollars, sure, but more importantly, the swap was also a reminder that my stuff isn’t my identity. The plastic snakes and wooden blocks under the couch don’t have to be mine to deal with forever.

I have a community to share them with, one that I’m incredibly grateful to be part of.

And this year? I offered to set up the swap table myself.

In addition to retrieving dusty LEGO bricks and a rotating cast of plastic animals from under her couch, Annaliese Griffin writes, edits and reports from Brattleboro, Vermont.

A version of this commentary first appeared in The New York Times.

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