Two months before I came to the U.S., I decided to put my apartment on rental and move to a temporary residence, which was too small for all of my belongings. Through the years I had accumulated numerous amounts of stuff: brand new children’s toys, cooking books, hardly read handicraft books, knitting tools, new kitchen wares, bed sheets, rugs, patchwork cloths and colorful threads, like new wool sweaters and pants of various lengths, a trench coat, gloves, dozens of new journals, you name it. Even for a regular online seller and shopper like me, selling them online was too demanding given my tight moving schedule and wasn’t worth the small fraction of money I would have received. So I told all of my friends and people I knew that I would be having a yard sale that weekend and that they could come pick up anything they wanted at no cost. Pretty generous, right? That’s what I thought, but nobody showed up at my door that weekend even though some people did ask me to hold a certain item for them. So the unwanted stuff which could be put to better use ended up in two huge trashcans downstairs. You might wondering, “Why didn’t you just donate them to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army?” Well, we don’t have those two organizations in China.
When two of my housemates offered to take me to the Goodwill in Walla Walla one Saturday, I accepted gladly. The moment I walked in, I was pretty much impressed by how neat it was. The two spacious rooms were painted white and had both huge front windows and good lighting. The people working there were dressed in blue uniforms and greeted me right when I walked in. The whole store looked like a mini flea market, only without the yelling vendors and unpleasant smells. Instead the shoppers were quiet and the music was light.
The racks of clothes were arranged both by color and size. Hoodies, sweaters, coats, blazers, dresses, pants, even pajamas could be found here. Seriously? Pajamas? Not many Chinese would buy second-hand clothes, as far as I know, let alone pajamas. As I picked up items randomly, I was surprised to find them in pretty good condition with no holes, missing buttons, or broken zippers. Some of them were even new with the original price tags to prove it.
I strolled from the racks of clothes to book section and then on to the home section. There I found blankets, bedding, lamps of different designs, wooden desks, golf tools, education tools, home decorations, blenders, hair dryers and other home appliances. On one shelf there were sets of beautiful china plates and cups. Polished and shiny they seemed to smile at me, saying: “Hey, even though I’m from a thrift store, I’m as sassy as those from Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Take me home; I want to sit in a garden beside the country road.”
Even having heard and read a lot about the Goodwill, I was not quite sure about buying anything there at first; thirty minutes later I had tried on several jeans in the fitting rooms with another sweater hanging on the wall. At last I walked out of there with a pair of jeans, a cute blue cross-body bag, and a story book in Chinese for the house.
On our way back home , I was happy to be one of the rare Chinese people who would buy second-hand clothes, but on the other hand I felt a little bit sad for having had to dump my stuff instead of donating it.
We have an anti-second-hand culture in China. Buying used stuff is considered losing face (diulian) for Chinese, which is a huge event. We try to define a person by the stuff he owns and uses, so if possible almost everyone wants to get something new, not something preowned. By having the newest stuff, we think we can gain the respect of others and maintain face (mianzi ). Clothes make the man, but a man should not only be defined by what he wears.
In certain areas in my hometown, lots of people need shoes and clothes to keep them warm during the harsh winter, and numerous children need journals to write homework in, pens to draw with, and books to read. For those who want to donate here in the U.S., it’s not so hard to find those in need.