a book about scavenging

Some time ago, I checked out a new book from the library entitled The Scavengers’ Manifesto. (It was written by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson and published in 2009 by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin in New York.) I’m looking over my notes and I thought I’d share.

The authors write, “To us, scavenging means any way in which goods can be acquired for less than full price. This could mean thrift shops. Flea markets. Metal detecting. Freecycling. Coupon clipping. Plain old sales. . . . And all remove us from that soulless, processed, debt-provoking standard retail cycle” (p. 6). The book provides a all-encompassing list of ways to obtain without paying full price, categorized by “identities” (p. 153). In the interest of widening our thoughts in this area, I will copy here the notes I took:

Retail Scavengers: yard saler, flea marketer, estate-sale devotee, thrift shopper, bargain hunter, discount outlet shopper, coupon clipper;

Urban Scavengers: dumpster diver, free-box forager, finder, urban gleaner, library lizard, aftermather [picks up after parties];

Social Scavengers: freecycler, clothing swapper, free-sample forager, no-cost gardener, freegan [vegan who scavenges];

Specialty Scavengers: metal detector, beachcomber, treasure hunter, prospector, professional or amateur archaeologist, rural gleaner, found-object artist.

Could you add one of these “identities” to your current scavenging identity? I know I have had to remind myself to make use of the library instead of buying new books on Amazon.com! Unfortunately, our county library has just ended its interlibrary loan program and its collection is limited. Last night, however, we greatly enjoyed the beautifully filmed “Winged Migration” DVD that I found at our library! (Note: This movie opens with a written statement about evolution: “For eighty million years, birds have ruled the skies, seas, and earth.” How silly! God made the birds–and what a wonderful testimony of His creativity they are! And, man, not birds, was given dominion over creation by God. The rest of the film is set to lovely music and short, factual subtitles.)

There are several categories of scavenging that I would be interested in. They include clothing swaps, no-cost gardening, freecycling, found-object art–and who wouldn’t want to go beachcombing??? I have signed up for Freecycle in my area but I don’t log on very often. I haven’t been to yard sales for a long time because I just don’t have need for many material things right now. (However, I took Mom and Little Daughter recently when I saw two signs out on the highway near our turn-off and I knew that these were genuine sales not the semi-permanent ones that have cropped up around here. Mom got a great, sturdy, wooden chair for $3 and I got an antique coat tree for $4. We also picked up a few small items for the kitchen.)

One thing that made me think was what the authors pointed out about “brand loyalty.” They stated that bargain hunters “ridicule brand loyalty ” and “refuse to pay full price because they believe that doing so is stupid” (p. 161). Bargain hunters save by buying store brands, generic, and/or economy sizes, and by comparison shopping, sending in rebates, using coupons, and finding sales. Hey, I have to admit that I usually just pick what I want without even comparing or looking for a sale. Here is an area that I could improve in greatly. And brand loyalty? I’m amazed to admit that, in some areas, I really do fall into this habit. True, some brands have proven track records of quality–and I do believe in getting quality things because they save in the long run. (I believe in quality shoes, for example, because I don’t like to shop for them and I will actually wear the same pair for about three appropriate seasons.) Still, I don’t want to be “stupid” for blindly being brand-loyal.

Which leads me right into the characteristics of scavengers. My notes from the book: Scavenging requires sacrifice of instant gratification, hard work, courage, flexibility, tolerance, planning ahead, vigilance, humility; scavenging sharpens creativity and curiosity; scavenging includes the elements of surprise and suspense; and scavenging clarifies the difference between needs and wants. Scavenging is quite opposite to our cultural practice of consumerism, with its “want : get” mode and its “false individualism.” These characteristics of a good scavenger make me think of ways I could improve. Do I have a list of what my family members need right now? For example, I need some new pairs of jeans. I went so far as to try on a few pairs at a thrift shop but I didn’t find a pair that fit me. This has got to be one of the most difficult challenges for me! I wear jeans everyday and I am down to two pairs, both of which are ratty. Avoidance has been my practice, thus far, but I’ve got to face the hard work very soon. Anyway, if I started with a list of our needs, I could know what to be vigilant about looking for in sales. The authors write that, “over time, waiting, watching, improvising, and preferring to defer affect our personalities; we become patient, curious, spontaneous, courageous, flexible, resourceful, optimistic, self-reliant, practical, and easily amused” (p. 11). Wow! All that character development while saving money, too! Seriously, though, I could use a bit more patience and practicality. I see that scavenging can exercise my improvising and resourcefulness “muscles,” which is really just giving me more opportunity to practice being creative, which I love.

antique coat tree from yard sale

There is an environmental and philosophical element to scavenging. The authors were honest, as I see it, in stating that “Productive capitalism has been proven over the centuries to create the largest amount of wealth for the greatest number of people” (p. 85-6). They point out that capitalism’s “no longer hidden flaw is that it tended to damage the environment in the process.” Scavenging, therefore, keeps things out of the wasteyards and is even an improvement over recycling which only recovers some raw materials. The authors boldly write, “Scavengers hate waste. Of course, we depend on the constant presence of a certain quantity of waste. Discards are our supplies. If all consumers stopped discarding stuff, what could we scavenge? The more waste, the more for us. Okay. So, in a certain sense, we also love waste, since we benefit from it” (p. 12). The ironies are not lost on these authors!

So, how far should we go with our praise of scavenging? For the authors, scavenging has become a sort of religion. They see it as a mystical process in which the “Universe” supplies them their needs. I don’t agree. But what I do know is that God is my Provider. If I look to Him to meet my needs, while I look to meet the needs of those around me, I have this assurance from the apostle Paul: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). I must remember that God allows times of “getting along with humble means” as well as times of “living in prosperity,” as He allowed the apostle Paul to experience in his life (see Philippians 4:12). These authors went so far as to believe that they “were meant” to keep a painting and display it in their home just because they had discovered it along a sidewalk where someone was throwing it out–and they did not even like the painting! This practice is quite the opposite of what William Morris advocated with his famous quotation: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” (1834-1986). We aren’t called to keep everything we find! God gave us minds that can reason. Surely, God is not calling us to become junk collectors or pack rats or hoarders.

What I would especially like to take away from this book and apply to my life is the encouragement to delay gratification by taking the time to wait until a bargain is found, whenever possible, and to look for what I need in alternative places. I’d like to become willing to put the work into this that it requires. As the authors point out, the process requires vigilance–so the waiting is not a passive time; it is a time of active searching and watching. As for me, I will also want to be praying for God’s leading and help.

Has my review of The Scavengers’ Manifesto inspired you to try out any new scavenging “identities”?

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