What Kind of Junk Did You Purge During the Pandemic?

Americans reportedly got rid of a lot of crap in pursuit of a new post-pandemic identity.

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What Kind of Junk Did You Purge During the Pandemic?
Photo:Matt York (AP)

When the pandemic hit, I adopted a no-online-shopping policy, as many others did in those early months. This made for a remarkably stable self: Nothing came in, and nothing went out. As the seasons changed, I unearthed the same warm-weather clothes I’d worn the spring and summer before.

But once I eased off my self-enforced restrictions, I went big. When my roommate moved out, I used it as an opportunity to get rid of three huge garbage bags of clothes I hadn’t worn in years, no longer hesitating over the possibility that one day I might want to wear it. Whatever sentimental attachment I had to a top I’d bought at Buffalo Exchange in 2015 evaporated.

I’m not alone in this (nor did I particularly think I was). As we emerged from the pandemic, a great purge took place, according to the New York Times. People got rid of loads of junk, overburdening donation centers like Goodwill and services like 1-800-Got-Junk. And it wasn’t just clothes that people abandoned; often it was items they’d once treasured, which had taken on a different aura after more than a year of quarantine.

“If they can’t show off their possessions, do those possessions have any other value than to be shown off?” Andrew R. Jones, a professor of sociology at California State University, Fresno, told the Times. “The pandemic may represent an opportunity for some people to reinvent themselves—to form a new identity.”

As my fellow Jezebel blogger Megan Reynolds and I messaged one day at work about why I felt compelled to set a match to my closet—again, despite the fact that I’d already gotten rid of my most undesirable articles of clothing—it occurred to me that, like most everyone else, I was in search of a new post-pandemic self. I had begun to consider that I could someone who wears more color; I weighed the merits of a puffy-sleeved blouse; I spent cumulative hours deciding on which new sandals to buy before eventually purchasing the exact same pair I already owned, which had been destroyed over time by the New York City streets.

The impulse for self-reinvention is a human one, but it doesn’t come without its costs. It may feel virtuous to donate piles of clothes to your local Goodwill, and then replace them with items from Depop or TheRealReal, rather than Zara or H&M. But as Hazel Cills reminded in her April piece on so-called thrift store gentrification: “Buying secondhand clothes is still buying more clothes, and donating old clothes and then replacing them with new ones reinforces modern ideas about clothing’s obsolescence, which is exactly what the fashion industry wants.”

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