Of Manifesto Making and Secondhand Hunting


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The First Things First Manifesto by Ken Garland, published in 1964. Little but loud.

Recently the New York Times ran a story called “Making a List and Taking it to the Pawnshop” in which the authors, Andrew Martin and Stephanie Clifford, point out the public’s increased willingness to go holiday shopping at these oft-frowned upon establishments. The Times is just the latest news outlet to take note of this continually growing comfort with the idea of secondhand in whatever form it may take. Obviously the holidays have got gifts and giving on everyone’s mind and the poor economy has people being mindful of their budgets. And, of course, thinking secondhand presents the opportunity to find some truly unique items at far below “market” rate. But going secondhand shopping is about much more than just searching for deals, as I was recently reminded.

Our community manager, Jessica Blackman, is out on maternity leave so I’ve taken this opportunity to snoop through her bookshelf (sorry Jessica!). Nestled amongst “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing” and “The Elements of Style” I found “The Scavengers’ Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson.

scavengers manifesto

"The Scavengers' Manifesto"—not for the weak of heart.

Being a fan of manifestos of almost any sort I grabbed the book and dug in. As far as manifestos go, this one is as intense as any I’ve sunk my teeth into. It outnumbers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto by about 139 pages. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Regardless of my feelings about the book, it is nothing if not heavy duty.

But don’t let “The Scavenger’s Manifesto’s” heft and fire and brimstone scare you—it’s a decent read and lays out a more fully-formed philosophy of secondhand than the common misperception of it simply being cheap. In the fiery duo’s intro they set the tone for their tome and present us with some recent history that leads us up to the ground swell of interest in the secondhand we see brimming today:

“No long ago, just a few years ago, in our corporate consumer culture, the very idea of getting stuff by any means outside the standard retail channel at any speed but warp speed was anathema.

A sacrilege.

A sin.

Not long ago, all of American society pledged loyalty to new-and-improved products. Not-shopping was treason.

An abomination.

In that unquestioning, unevolved age, not so long ago, not-shopping—at least, not shopping new, full price—would have made friends and neighbors call you radical. Antiestablishment. Heck, un-American.

And/or those friends and neighbors would have assumed you were poor. They might have pitied you. She must be destitute. Why else wouldn’t she like the mall?

But times have changed. A confluence of factors—style, politics, technology, ecology, and the economy—have made more and more of us seek more and more alternate means of acquiring stuff. Modern-day scavengers are bold, committed, and resourceful. Goods and services now circle and recircle the world, connecting strangers, not a penny spent.

The more accepted scavenging becomes, the more of us there are.”

Now that’s manifesto material. Inspiring stuff to be sure. It got me thinking about all the manifestos that I hold dear to my heart—one of my all time favorites being the Fruit Bowl Manifesto penned by my former colleague and friend Karrie Jacobs for the inaugural issue of Dwell magazine.


Anything can inspire manifestos—even fruit bowls

Allow me to share just a bit:

“We think of ourselves as Modernists, but we are the nice Modernists. One of the things we like best about Modernism—the nice Modernism—is its flexibility. Rather than being an historical movement from the first half of the 20th century, left over and reheated, we think of Modernism as a frame of mind. To us the M word connotes an honesty and curiosity about methods and materials, a belief that mass production and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and a certain optimism not just about the future, but about the present.

Maybe that’s the most important thing.

We think that we live in fabulously interesting times. And that no fantasy we could create about how people could live, given unlimited funds and impeccable taste, is as interesting as how people really do live (within a budget and with the occasional aesthetic lapse).”

While dwarfed in length by both The Scavengers Manifesto and The Communist Manifesto, the Fruit bowl Manifesto still packs a powerful punch with its plea for a humanistic approach to what is often considered a cold, hard, purist design approach.

Taking the abbreviated manifesto approach to a new level, Platform 21 unleashed the Repair Manifesto on the world a few years ago. With the rallying cry of “Stop recycling, start repairing!” Platform 21 implored the world to “Repair—even in good times” and to remember, “Repairing is about independence.” In 11 simple steps, The Repair Manifesto sets the stage for a deeper consumer understanding of the products they live with on a daily basis. Why? Because the world is a more interesting place the more thoroughly engaged with it you are.

Repair Manifesto

"Stop Recycling, start repairing!"

Reading all of these made me realize that I prescribe to none wholeheartedly though each has prompted me to reexamine my life philosophy. Maybe the world is in need of a new manifesto—one that doesn’t necessarily disdain the traditional consumer marketplace but acknowledges the importance of the evolution that often comes with the new? Mix that with a renewed appreciation for the patina of the old and I think we’re on to something. Maybe the world needs a manifesto that argues for a true bridge between the old, the new, and the yet to come? I think the world is ready for a manifesto that sees the similarities between all things in the world rather than the differences. Maybe it’s time to really get writing. There’s no time like the new year for a new manifesto.




  • Hi Megan! I was actually really inspired by your post on Urban Casita (http://urbancasita.com/2010/11/16/the-gift-of-thrift-secondhand-holidays/) about buying second hand for the holidays. It really got me thinking so thank you!

  • Thanks for highlighting this book, Andrew.  I can relate to folks saying this in the past: “And/or those friends and neighbors would have assumed you were poor. They might have pitied you. She must be destitute. Why else wouldn’t she like the mall?”  My, how times have changed!

  • Ha! Thanks Brooke! I’m lucky to be here. Now, time to get back to writing my manifesto!

  • I LOVE THIS POST!!!!! It’s so what Krrb is all about and why we are soooooo lucky to have found Andrew and convinced him (thanks George) to come work with us. Here’s to Manifesto-ing it up in 2012!!