Thrift stores are inherently odd places.

You are, for all intents and purposes, rummaging through a stranger’s things. They are items that have been discarded for one reason or another; because they no longer fit or have gone out of style, or the original owner tired of them, or sadly because of death or some other tragedy. You don’t know why that particular item is there and you don’t know who used it or wore it before you.

I have a shirt on right now that I bought at a thrift store this weekend. It’s quite comfortable, but I have no idea who wore it before I did. It’s quite possible I’m wearing the shirt of a serial killer, but it’s also just as possible that I’m wearing the shirt of an accountant, or the shirt of a schoolteacher, or even the shirt of Batman.

Okay, it's probably not Batman's shirt. A girl can dream, can't she?

My point is, you don’t think about who ate off those dishes or who sat in that chair or wore those shoes before you bought them. You just check things over to make sure it’s in good condition, take it home, and start using it. Maybe you freshen it up with some new paint, a little Febreeze, and I hope a good cleaning, but you don’t think about who had it before you.

Let’s take, for example, a couch.

Couches are pretty common in thrift stores; it’s easier to donate a couch (or any large piece of furniture) than it is to take one to the dump, and they can vary in age and condition. There’s a nice one over there, not too ugly and within your budget.

This one.   You are very broke.

You get this hypothetical couch home and spritz it a few times, maybe run the vacuum over it, and put it where the old couch (which you donate to the thrift store) used to be. Put some throw pillows on it, drape a blanket over the back, really girl it up.

Now take a good look at your new hypothetical couch. Chances are  someone has thrown up on it. Could have been a person, a pet, or a baby, but you can almost guarantee that something distasteful has happened on that hypothetical couch. Chances are equally good that someone has bled on it;  from a nosebleed, or a paper cut, or a vicious cheese-grater murder.

We've all thought about it.

And that’s not the worse that could have happened; I will not go into specifics, but sitting isn’t the only thing you can do on a hypothetical couch. There is a very good statistical likelihood that some form of bodily fluid has touched that upholstery at some time in its past. You just have no way of knowing.

The same goes for clothes.

I bought this shirt and the one I wore yesterday from the same thrift store at the same time. They are roughly the same size and condition, so it is possible that the same person donated both but it’s not very likely. I don’t know who these people were, if they are alive or dead, what their personal grooming habits were. There’s no way I could, and yet I have pressed to my skin something that spent at least some portion of time pressed against their skin.

It’s a strange sort of secondhand intimacy – I would never walk up to a complete stranger and press my bare skin against them, not without massive amounts of mood-altering substances.

But I have no problem wearing a stranger’s discarded clothing.

I'm part hobo on my mother's side.

I’m not suggesting that people should only buy brand new things and set fire to all their used belongings, that would be incredibly wasteful.

Nor do I suggest you go shopping with a C.S.I. style light to find all traces of the former owners.

That would be ridiculous.

We don’t think about these things because it would drive us crazy.

Well, crazier.

Knowing the intimate history of everything you own would be a monumental task, one your brain just couldn’t handle. So it shunts that information aside as being unimportant. You’re worried about being ambushed by rad-roaches or headcrabs, not who wore your shirt before you. There might be a passing thought about the comfort of your ass as you sit on the hypothetical couch, but that’s about it. Unless you enjoy one of several mental disorders that force you to obsess about such things, you could literally care less.

Screw the bodily fluids, I gotta save Princess Peach!

I suspect it’s something intrinsic to human nature, “This object is mine now, it has no history because I did not own it then.” Humanity as a whole can be a fairly self-centered bastard at times.

It’s one of our most dubious charms.

Rivaled only by our obsession with deep-frying all matter of crap.

Advertisements