God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.
from A Common Prayer by Michael Leunig
I have always liked buying second hand - there is a little thrill of expectancy going into a junk shop or an op shop - you just never know what you might find. But while I enjoyed it, second hand shopping was just a hobby. I began trying to shop like this in earnest two years ago, when I started to feel too much disconnect between my values (a beautiful, clean planet for everyone, fair trade, equality) and the way that the stuff that I bought was produced. At first, I found the uncertainty of second hand shopping a little bit daunting. Then I started my year of Buying Nothing New which has turned into the-rest-of-my-life-of-mostly-buying-nothing-new. I still find the uncertainty of buying second hand daunting. Buying second hand involves not knowing when or where I will find what I want, it involves transactions with actual people. It means people give me stuff, which is wonderful, but I also find it hard to accept that, although I am getting better at the ebb and flow of the tide of 'things' coming in and out of my life. Sometimes I still do buy new things. Last year I bought a thermal cooker, a tea strainer, a spiraliser, several books, some plants, some fair trade organic underwear, some timber and a doormat. This year I will buy a solar hot water system, some PV panels and a rainwater tank. I already bought some paint last week as well, and school shoes and socks for my daughter. It takes a lot more angst these days to buy new things than it does to buy second hand. It seems abundantly clear that we treat the earth and each other so appallingly in order to get all this stuff, which turns out to be mostly inessential. If we do need to buy stuff, and sometimes we do, then let it be well-made enough to last a very long time, bought from someone local, and let's respect our stuff, which literally costs the earth.
This is a little collection of thoughts I have been working through on uncertainty, and the leap of faith that accompanies any venture into the unknown. Even the slight unknown of shopping outside the box:
There is a spiritual element to how we acquire the things that we need. If we go to a store to buy a particular widget, we generally come out of the store with that particular widget (and often a few extras as well..). There is very little unknown in this scenario. We are in control.
If we are buying second hand, or hunting for stuff that has been thrown away, or working out how we can make stuff ourselves, we are actually taking a little leap into the dark. There is an unknown space where we might land. To me this appears to require faith - in the universe, in the help of the community, in ourselves, that we can do this thing. Buying second hand might mean mooching around the tip shop trying out solutions for size in our heads. It might mean asking a friend for help in making something work. Collecting free stuff from freecyle or receiving it from friends or friends of friends means making social connections and all of this entails examining the way we view relationships and obligations and gifts.
We all live in a connected web of relationships, but when we buy stuff from stores, we have an illusion of independence and control. In reality, when we do that we are dependent on people far away who are giving up their dignity, health, and sometimes their lives to labour away in mines, out in the fields among pesticides, or underpaid on the factory floor in order that we can buy a cheap widget.
When we make awkward social contact with someone we may not know who is giving something away that they don't want and that we do want - well, it feels a little like we are dependent, but in truth, it is taking nothing from that other person, and we are receiving so little compared to the invisible transaction that happens when we buy stuff from the store. In fact, it can be a wonderful gift to another person for you to receive something freely given. When I was moving from a large to a small house, I was pathetically grateful to anyone who would come and take anything away from me so I didn't have to think about it any more! I heaved sighs of relief as furniture left the premises on its way to a good home.
Giving stuff a new lease of life, making new stuff from old stuff, accepting gifts from friends and strangers - all of this takes creativity and faith. It builds relationships. Buying widgets from the store builds walls between us and our neighbours, hurts people we don't know, and stifles our souls.
I am already a little way along the road of exploring the serendipity of acquiring things that I want and need without visiting the big box store. I want to make that more of a part of my life. Having said that, uncertainty is difficult! Control, even if it is an illusion, is hard to cede. Accepting and embracing the unexpected is a bit frightening. But also a bit magical.