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How Cleaning Out Closets Checked My Class Privilege

October 3, 2016 Sonja Ardoin, Ph.D. Appalachian State University

The other day I cleaned out my closet, as I do before every new school year begins.  I utilize a hanger system that allows me to know what I wore during the last academic year and what I avoided wearing (yes, it’s Type A behavior).  If I avoided it for a year, for whatever reason, that means I do not need it and it needs to be put to better use.

Let me take a moment to recognize that the fact that I even own enough clothes to be picky about what I wear is a sign of the class privilege in my life now.

After completing the clean out process, I decided to see if some of the consignment/second-hand shops in the area would be interested in purchasing my items.  Otherwise, they were going to the local nonprofit where I typically bring all my gently used items.

Too add a bit of context, I myself wear second-hand clothes (and shoes actually).  I always have.  I remember being a kid and getting so excited when big black trash bags full of clothes would be brought home by my mom.  She would get donations from extended family and friends who had daughters slightly older than me and knew we needed some assistance.  For most of my childhood, my wardrobe consisted of about 85% hand-me-downs.  Now, I readily accept offers from friends giving away items and check out consignment/second-hand shops.

So I did some “research” online and found a resale shop a few miles from me.  I folded all my items, put them in a bag and drove over.  The store employee welcomed me and informed me that it would take about 20 minutes to assess my clothing to determine if they wanted to purchase it or not.  I browsed the store while she assessed.

After about 15 minutes she called me back up to the counter.  She told me that they would only take a few of my items because they others were not current styles or did not suit their clientele.  She explained that for my 5 items, they would pay me $14.  I told her that was fine and we made the exchange before she handed me back the rest of my items that had not sold.

I made my way to the car thinking, “wow, that was a waste of time. An hour total trip to sell 5 items for $14.  Totally not worth it.  I’ll just donate all the items next time.” 

Then it hit me.  Most people do not make $14/hour.  My own parents did not make $14/hour.  In fact, the minimum wage is barely above $7, which means that it takes many people almost two hours to earn $14, some for very hard labor.  And here I am complaining that I had to drive 8 miles and browse a store to obtain a very easy $14/hour for clothes I do not even wear.  Others sell items to make monthly ends meet.  CLASS PRIVILEGE.  SHIT.

It amazes me sometimes how I grew up poor and working class (and everything that comes with that) and still connect with many aspects of that identity, yet I now find myself in situations where my middle-class privilege goes unrecognized at first then subsequently slaps me in the face.  How can I, being someone who grew up in a household were $14 really mattered, dismiss the impact that $14 can have?  It is class privilege folks.

I share this story to bring awareness to the class privileges that I, and many others in higher education, have and to help myself, and hopefully others, own that class privilege while at the same time honoring and living out my poor and working class identity too. 

So I challenge myself and anyone else reading this to notice the class privileges that arise on a day-to-day basis … starting (potentially) with your closet.