A trip to the Thrift store reminds Matt Roper of how little we all need to live but how much we all acquire and desire; a paradox that makes him want to weep
Last week I was booked to play a tiny town in Pennsylvania and in order to kill a bit of time before the show, me and my cohorts had a bite to eat before hitting up the local Salvation Army store. Nothing like an old secondhand shop in a brand new town.
We’d call such a place a charity shop back home, but in America it’s a thrift store – charity being synonymous with dirty old socialism, whilst thrift is a virtue of the soul of every self-respecting capitalist.
One person’s junk is another person’s treasure, or so goes the cliché, and while I watched the masses of Pennsylvania empty the aisles of the Salvation Army store of vile ornaments, used sweatpants and stained old copies of Neil Diamond records, I reached the conclusion that people will literally buy anything that they can get their hands on.
Some time ago back in England, I drove with a friend to offload an obscene amount of stuff at a car boot sale. She reasoned that she needed to de-clutter her flat. She got rid of everything she’d brought with her, but went home with a car full of stuff bought from other sellers. I was fascinated.
Shopping at car boot sales, of course, is exactly like shopping at the Salvation Army store but there’s somebody forcing you to get up at 5am and wander about in the freezing cold to do it; desperate for a cup of tea and dying for a wee. But it’s true that you can find the odd treasure there – once you’ve fought your way past old toasters, tea cozies, sticky old calculators, board games with half the pieces missing and boxes of James Last records to do so.
But why do people do it? Because people love to find bargains. Some people even live and breathe for a bargain. They’ll buy any old shit as long as they think they’re getting a bargain.
I’ve done it myself, then tried to seek redemption.
In open testament to the Gods that I should not - and would not - be owned by my belongings, I once scaled down all my stuff to a few banana boxes full of books, a couple of paintings, a few bags of clothes and an old typewriter. I packed it all away into a storage unit, then went off on tour for months on end. When I returned home, I opened up the unit again and realised just how little I needed most of that stuff to begin with. So I just sort of stood there, staring into the storage unit, thinking myself slightly mad.
Old platitudes die hard. Work, consume, die. That’s the way we are and how we are conditioned to become. Then, bang – before you know it, your life is over and some poor bastard has to sort it all out after your lifeless body has been lowered into the ground. Then all your tat is thrown into strictly labelled skips: mixed fabrics, glass, metals, and bulky or rigid plastics. I could weep.
We are trapped on an eternal hamster wheel. A fruitless lap of desire, procurement and perpetual disappointment.
But will we go on consuming? You know damn we will. We are all of us beyond help.
Matt Roper is a British comedian based in New York City. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he performed for the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings – a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination.
Follow Matt on social media @MrMattRoper