It Came from the Garbage- Thoughts on my Quiet Refusal.

A picture from the day that Kelly, Kayla, and I went to all 6 area Savers for their 50% off day. This photo was taken at number 6. It took 9 hours and Kayla fell asleep in the car despite Kelly's all-Justin-Bieber playlist. Hey, it's a living.

I had planned to spend Friday night watching burned DVDs of shipwreck documentaries (long story) but right now I’m kind of hepped up on reading blog posts about conscious fashion and thrifting-as-refusal. In addition to this, I’m in the faded glow of last night’s presentation/conversation by zinester and cool dude Al Burian. It’s really put some fire in the bell of my brain… or whatever. You know what I mean.

I’m going to dump the links to what I’ve been reading at the end of this but, generally, I like to start my internet rabbit-holing by checking out à l’allure garçonnière, a blog that further convinces me that all folks from Montreal are awesome, amazing, and would make for great friends on the lonely plane of real reality.

So, the idea of thrifting-as-refusal came up and I couldn’t help but wonder how this topic plays out in my life. I’m not the most vocal of thrift advocates. God knows that retro/vintage/antique cool is the new, ah…. whatever was a cool buzzword/descriptor 10 years ago- so I feel that saying, “Hey guys! Thrift stores!” is just kind of like yelling into a crowded room in vain. But regardless of how I am fronting, you might notice that on the few outfit pictures that I have posted, many of my articles have had former lives. I’m not one who strives for this but, at a certain point in my life, it just became “what it is”. Everything I have once belonged to someone else. I’ve never concealed this fact. I’ve gone so far as to tastelessly joke about it (“Obviously if I wanted a child I would adopt one. I mean, everything else I own is second hand.” “Even my dog came from the trash!”) and, if you ask, I’ll gladly take you on a tour of the house and point out just how many of my domestic items have come from the proverbial/literal curb (almost the entire house.) The other night, while talking about my indecisive feelings towards graduate programs, my friend quipped that she wished someone would give me a grant so that I could open up my own storefront that sold “stuff you made and stuff you just pulled from the garbage.”

It’s a lifestyle, y’all.

So, yes. I’ve cultivated a decent sense of cultivation over the years. (Double use of “cultivation” highly intentional.) But why? And where from? Is it because I wasn’t really raised around new things. Not in the stuffy, old-money-white-person way nor in the dirt-poor-white-person way but I guess more in the prudent and frugal way. Why buy new clothes when I’ll just grow out of them by summer? Why throw away old clothes when the kid down the block will fit into them next summer? Granted, in a way, this drove me crazy. After a certain age, the pressure to keep up with the other shitty kids in your class becomes strong and even the promise that a childhood spent joining your grandmother at the Second Time Around Charity Shop will 100% guarantee that you will be the coolest kid in your state’s liberal arts college, well, that will not be enough to abate the sting of being insufficient in the eyes of your awful, terrible peers. In another way, it made me so guarded from the way of the world, I had no idea how normal people consumed until I was in high school. I still remember sitting in the living room of a high school boyfriend’s mother’s new condo. I asked something about the furniture to the effect of, “Oh. Did this come from members of your family?*” He looked at me like I was cracked and answered, “No. She went out and bought it to put in this room.” AND MY MIND WAS FOREVER BLOWN.

*because our family passes around a good deal of furniture… sometimes from as far as one coast to the other. Incestual furniture swapping= my baseline normal.

So I’m a garbage picker raised in some sort of torturous squalor (again, “and whatever”). And my life is a series of firm yet quiet “No”s.

No, I will not get married. No, I will not raise a family. No, I will not drive a car. No, I will not move to a suburb. No, I will not own a tv that is hooked up to a cable box (this one actually seems to bother people the most). No, I will not dress my age. No, I will not work a job I dislike because it pays me more money. No, I will not buy new clothes or useless things. No, when my iPod breaks, I don’t really want a new one. (I also refuse the ideas of the electronic reading device (soulless), deodorant from a plastic container (wasteful), chemical house cleaners (gross), the pervasiveness of technology thanks to the iPhone, et al (rude). and morality of fertility treatments (selfish). But these are fairly minor.)

I can’t act as if these feelings are borne from pure altruism. I’m not trying to better the world at large. I’m certainly not trying to stick it to “The Man”. But I am trying to exercise what control I can over my own world. I can only marginally control if my politicians view me as a person deserving of rights. I cannot control if other people see me as human on a day-to-day basis. But I can control the direct sphere around me. I can actively create the world where I want to dwell.  And I can use my money to partially control a larger sphere around that. So, when I go to Saver’s and buy some black Gloria Vanderbilt medium rise mom jeans, I’m refusing the narrow field of options that garment manufacturers are currently laying out as abject fact. Instead, I am culling from the (mistakes of the) past. The past loosened from its context is a valuable resource. A resource that pays some of my bills. This is what we have to dig from: all of history. And to contextualize the past and its souvenirs? This is as close as we can come to time travel. I pick and chose, with great intention (although, nobody is perfect. Myself first and foremost depending on how I feel that day), what goes into my life, who goes into my life, and how I will navigate the endless variety of paths before me. It is fulfilling. Far more fulfilling than spending money. Far more fulfilling than fitting in.

In conclusion:

it’s so slight, it’s so imperceptible, but it’s this teeny tiney gesture of dissent and i employ it often and with fervor.

We live in a stupid world where we have very little control or say in what happens or how things get done or made. It’s frustrating. Refusal is one way to grip a tiny thread of control. Find more ways to hack life and maybe you can weave a blanket to hide under.


6 thoughts on “It Came from the Garbage- Thoughts on my Quiet Refusal.

  1. jorjiapeach says:

    you may or may not be my new hero.

  2. Melissa Joy says:

    Good Read.

    Ok,Let’s see what I remember writing before it got lost in cyberspace.

    I suppose I live a life of “no”s–No, didn’t get a desk job, No, I didn’t marry or have kids. No, I don’t dress like you. No, I’m a bit mistrustful of technology, even though I have a smart phone (but I swear it’s because of work–I was quite happy with a low tech phone and if I ever do retire, will ditch it) No, I don’t watch tv, except on netflix or dvds. I don’t have the time to invest in programs while they happen. This doesn’t make me better, it’s just makes me different.

    But, I prefer to live by the “yeses”: Yes, I took the risk and am quite happy with my career. Yes, I have love in my life. Yes, I prefer my vintage dresses and my clothing that I or friends have made. I know my shape is a bit of a throwback. Yes, my hair is a bit unnatural looking, I prefer it that way.

    Yes, I know that I am extremely lucky.

  3. jesse.anne.o says:

    I’ve had ALG’s post starred in my reader since it popped up so I could read the links and then did the same to yours when I saw it come up. Now I’ve read all the links available and I was glad to read your words on this topic.

    I’ve noticed that happening more and more in my life. I don’t shop socially, I sort of let what I find at resale or thrift places fall into my life as they will. When I think I need something in particular, it remains a struggle and once in a while I will buy something sweatshop – but the contrast is that while I will do that sparingly now (and be pissed off about it), these were stores I shopped in on the regular years ago.

    I think I do buy less now. Or I’m more studied about what I buy. A number of times I’ve seen something I wanted and had to think back to either something similar I own…or something I own that I like…to remove that “want” from my head. The “wants” will always be there in different iterations, I think. The “got” is what changes, I guess.

    I know the worry in “sustainable fashion” circles is that second-hand doesn’t solve the sourcing and supply/demand problems – how things are manufactured and the level of entitlement we feel as shoppers. But even if we stopped shopping today, I don’t know when second-hand would be rendered a non-option any longer. It’d be years. And it’s still not a totally socially accepted thing.

    • With Care says:

      Wow, yeah, “social shopping”. I remember this. Like, I remember my mom looking at me and saying, “Let’s go to the mall and go shopping” as, like, a thing to do when on vacation from school. I’m not sure when that stopped. I guess it was a slow transition out of it. I mean, I still go shopping and shopping is a large part of what I do with my mother when I’m back in the nest of the Jersey Shore, but it’s almost only thrift or antique these days. And most of the day is made up of looking at things and admiring things and talking about them with less of a focus on acquiring.

      That’s a thing that bothers me- the need to acquire over the need to internalize. I mean, I understand where it comes from but I often wonder why it is pretty easy for me to go into a store and leave, empty-handed-yet-fulfilled while for other folks, it’s an impossible concept. Has my practicality reached new and more pathological heights?!!?!!?

      And yes, I steered clear of the idea of “bleeding the beast” because I’m torn as to the “deep” morality of the second hand clothes junket… but that is usually more of a quality issue. (I try not to buy used anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying new… cause shit ain’t difficult enough as it is!) I doubt you will agree with me on this, but I do see the issue as being similar to the idea of “second hand fur is still bad” because it condones the creation of first hand fur. Like, it’s cool to buy too many shitty, cheap clothes because you can just throw them to the plebes.

      So many issues! I’m glad we can talk about ’em!

  4. […] so much for the encouraging reaction to my last substantive post. Sometimes, I feel really weird disclosing my opinions on things in such a public forum. Other […]

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