Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian


<s in my favorite thrift store right before I left for college, and while I normally love shopping, I could only convince myself to buy one thing. I was staring at the clothing I had just tried on, piled high on the bench in the dressing room, and I couldn’t help feeling disgusted with myself. I felt even more disgusted when I went to the checkout counter to buy a shirt that I really didn’t need. Walking home, I kept on thinking about the pile of clothing I had tried on, debating whether buying used clothing justified my love of shopping. Whether buying clothing that had already entered the market system made my contribution to said system somehow less wasteful. I believe if we as individuals don’t figure out to what extent we wish to be part of the market, we will continue to see piles of clothing as progress.

I spent this summer in rural Burma, and I keep on thinking about Indaw Village, and how my host sisters easily got by with a few shirts and lungis (which are similar to skirts). I know that where they live, the market is not a large influence, but it is still a presence. They watched Korean soap operas with the 3 hours of electricity they produced through car batteries and solar panels, and wore modern cotton t-shirts. However, these goods were seen as conveniences, not as necessities. These goods weren’t piled high on a disheveled shelf in some large, nondescript department store. These goods weren’t thrown away due to being deemed “out of style.” The idea of a thrift store in Indaw wouldn’t make sense; when people buy something, they keep it until it is unusable. Unlike in America, where not buying anything new for a year is considered newsworthy, the people of Indaw don’t get applauded.

Instead, they are deemed in need of our help. They are considered poor and backwards. They may not be rich in the Western sense, but I would argue that they are rich in happiness. Sure, it is universal that everyone likes stuff, but I was surprised how stuff wasn’t seen in the individual sense, but rather in the communal sense. During my last night there, I was covered with bracelets and necklaces and hair clips, and most of all, smiling faces. All of those bracelets and necklaces and hair clips would have meant nothing without their smiling faces. Those smiles told me that they were giving me community, a good that cannot be created.

I know that I am part of “the system.” I know that my values are influenced based on where I was born. I also know that by expanding my world, I will become more informed on how I wish to exist in this world. I’m not an extremist; I know that in order for my world to continue I must be a part of it. I must buy the goods it produces.

But I don’t want my world to just continue; I want it to evolve. By evolving I don’t mean not buying anything, I just mean being aware of what we need and then what we buy. This article isn’t meant to be a guilt trip; I don’t want anyone to feel guilty while they are shopping. However, if we are to fight waste and make sure there is enough to go around, we need to stop living in a world of piles.

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