I guess because I grew up in a family of eight, I never developed a taste for the best of clothes or the best of foods. We lived just fine with hand-me-down clothes. And we ate Spam on a semi-regular basis during hard times!
In the old days I couldn’t tell the difference between a name brand item or a cheap knock-off. But nowadays, name brands are emblazoned across shirts and written on the pockets of pants. This puts a bit more pressure on young people, who want to fit in by looking as “cool” as their peers.
My daughter was 9 when she came home from school comparing her clothes to those of a friend. Brigit’s classmate had bragged, “This blouse cost $50 because it’s the best and it comes from the coolest store. And these are designer jeans, too.” Brigit felt discouraged. There were no flashy labels on her clothes. No big, name-brand advertising to say, “See how I spend money.” She was beginning to get the message that money was to be used to show off.
But we simply don’t have that kind of money at our house. In fact, many of Brigit’s favorite clothes come from the thrift store or yard sales. And those are the kind of places some children are taught to snub their noses at.
So it seemed like a good time for a lesson in priorities, money and consumerism. We visited the thrift store that day. As often happens, when I say a prayer before I go to this particular secondhand store, God blesses the trip! As we entered the store, which is very clean and well organized, a nearly new, name-brand shirt, in exactly my daughter’s size, practically jumped off the shelf into her arms. The price tag was $1.
We talked about what it meant:
Would you rather spend $50 so you could say you got that shirt at a fancy store, or spend $1 here and save $49 for more necessary items such as food?
And this shirt was practically new. Someone who spent a lot of money to buy it originally, hardly wore it at all. It was money spent for something that looked good, but was unnecessary. Isn’t that wasteful? Should we buy something just because others will think it’s “cool,” even if we don’t need it?
Our world puts on display hundreds, maybe thousands, of flashy new products every day from electronic gadgets to sparkling clothes. But we are finding good and useful things at the thrift store. Do we really want to spend hours fantasizing about things we don’t need and being tempted to spend money we don’t have for such things?
There are those who glorify recycling for a greener planet, but wouldn’t be caught dead in a place that recycles clothing and household items. Besides the contradiction in this, hand-me-downs as secondhand items make perfect sense for fast-growing children.
What is really “cool” and makes a person truly stand out, is to be a trend setter. I’d like to see a trend in neat and modest clothing, a trend that can resist every new electronic fad.
There are many lessons to be learned from a secondhand store or a yard sale. It gives us the opportunity to look at our priorities. A lot of wasteful spending happens in our world that distracts us from what is really important.
The catechism says, “Grace is God’s life in us that makes us holy and pleasing to Him.” “Grace” is not a name brand. But maybe it should be! As we prepare for the Lenten season, evaluating our quest for grace is something to consider. Is it a priority?
I began to take Brigit with me to the secondhand store on a more regular basis. One day we ran into her friend with the flashy clothes. She was there at the thrift shop. The girls looked at each other in embarrassment. But in a few minutes they were running around the store trading ideas about what they needed for school — without regard for whether they found a name brand!