Monday, December 26, 2016

Donating used items helps low-income families. So why are so many low-income folks against it?

From Vox: "A lot of the advice I hear about what to give, and what not to give, is well-intentioned, but it's rarely informed by the experience of the people who actually rely on thrift stores to keep their closets stocked and their budgets balanced."

As someone else who does a lot of shopping at thrift stores and on eBay, I will say that this is largely on point. Yes, people like me will buy things that you think should be thrown out rather than donated. I have no superstitions about using something that may have touched who knows what; we wash everything. And stuff that's got some slight wear? It's going to get that way anyway the first time it's used.

The one thing I think this article does get wrong though is the suggestion that it's mainly wealthy people who think no one wants something slightly worn. As a long-time resident of a mixed-income, racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood, I actually notice that my friends who tend to be the most meticulous about things needing to be new and flawless are people who have grown up in intergenerational poverty.

I get why this happens. I've written before about how my family, despite being poor, has enough educational and other privilege that people think "resourceful" and "hippie" when they learn that we eat a lot of rice and beans and most of our belongings are from thrift stores, rather than thinking "can't afford hats and gloves for their kids" or "better call child protective services." A lot of families don't have these same protections as we do. I absolutely get why people without a lot of privilege feel the need to clothe their children in new and spotless garments and to go into debt to have brand-new matching furniture sets in every room. Many people, unfortunately, need to live in such a way that no one can question that they can provide for their families properly. My poorer friends who do shop at thrift stores, barter, hand items down among their families, and so forth tend to be people who have more protection against potential bias, generally through things like education, housing stability, and participation in community organizations.

What I don't really get is people's tendency to shun being a part of people reusing items even on the giving end. I frequently observe friends of mine living in poverty stating that they absolutely won't donate used items to charity, typically because, "that's nasty." Stacks of brand-name, barely used clothing and shoes go into the trash. Even some of my friends' teens, who love to make money selling electronics and similar things locally or online, want no part in the reuse of clothing or household items. Now that know firsthand that people will buy absolutely anything on eBay, I wonder if I would get anywhere letting them know they can make money with the clothing they would ordinarily throw away.

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