Selling Thrift: Work Practices in an American Thrift Store


  • Frederik Larsen



Thrift, in its simplest definition, is the practice of using resources in a considered way. The concept has long been employed as a moral trope to condemn or promote a variety of human practices. In the literature, thrift is addressed as it is played out in consumption in and around the household as a way of preserving and saving resources. Thrift stores form part of a thrift economy and, as the receiver of divested objects from the household and a site for thrifty consumption practices, they present aspects of thrift in a variety of ways. In this article, I look at thrift as it relates to work and organizational practices in an American thrift store. Although often linked to work ethics, thrift has mainly been proposed as a moral concept guiding individual and not organizational practices. In order to explore the value of thrift in the thrift store, I present parts of my ethnographic research on second-hand markets. Examining work practices as “thrifty” shows how economic prudence is paired with material frugality and community concern. This, I argue, has significant effect on the flow of consumer goods, as resources flow through the thrift store and appear to be spent, not saved.

Author Biography

Frederik Larsen

is the co-founder of the consultancy In futurum advising companies and organizations on sustainability and social justice. He holds a PhD in organizational anthropology from the Copenhagen Business School with a doctoral dissertation on second-hand valuation practices from 2015. He completed his Post Doc at the Design School Kolding in 2018 and has published industry reports and book chapters on sustainability, business practices and design, and an article in Business History on the workings of a thrift store.

Frederik Larsen can be reached at:


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Research Articles