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URC Library Research Award Winner: Hanna Vos

Published Wednesday, December 09, 2020
Librarian Pam Gladis, left, and Hanna Vos
Librarian Pam Gladis, left, and Hanna Vos

Ever wonder why people like shopping at thrift stores? So did SMSU junior Hanna Vos.

Vos is a Kingsley, Iowa, native and this year’s Undergraduate Research Conference Library Research Award winner. She earned a $250 award for her research project entitled “The Sociology of the Secondhand Shopper.”

She is majoring in both Professional Writing and Communication, and Sociology.

“I have been interested in secondhand shopping for a while but in sociology you seek to step beyond yourself, and understand why someone may choose something secondhand, or a used item, when a first-hand item is available at so many different price points,” she said.

During her research, she noticed four overarching themes. They included:

  • Self-expression motivations. “Shopping is considered by secondhand shoppers to be more of an individual choice. You are selecting and purchasing items that can’t necessarily be found anywhere else,” she said. “You purchase unique items, expressing yourself as an individual and not following the pressures of society associated with conventional, cookie-cutter stores.”
  • Ethical motivations. “It comes down to a lot of people feeling that some items that end up in landfills still have life left in them, they are still usable. By shopping secondhand they see themselves helping to eliminate some of the waste. The decreased marketing of the stores, too, makes secondhand shoppers feel less pressure to buy perhaps more than they need — to shop only for what they need.”
  • Hedonic motivations. “Basically, the pursuit of enjoyment. At secondhand stores you look at many unusual things — there’s a variety of things for the eyes, it’s an enhanced pleasure situation, versus, say, all the green shirts being next to each other in a box store. There’s a bit more interaction, too, between shoppers, and shoppers and employees than at a conventional store, where people stick to themselves.”
  • Economic motivations. “It’s the most common understanding of why someone would shop secondhand,” she said. “Buying used clothing, you get more clothing for the dollar. It’s something people who are experiencing financial hardship may seek out to alleviate some financial stress, but it is enjoyed by people of all financial and socio-economic levels. Bargain hunting is a big draw.”

Vos said she learned a lot doing her research, and realizes that secondhand shopping is becoming increasingly popular. “It was looked down upon a couple of decades ago — shopping in an unclean store, or there were undesirable items. Recently though it’s a lot more popular. You can find many videos about it.”

She also learned of an emerging feeling among aficionados that secondhand shoppers should increasingly know the unwritten rules. “Some take issue with those that could afford more that are shopping at secondhand stores,” she explained. “People buying more than they  need, or buying and eliminating an opportunity for someone who needs it more. How to thrift shop in a way that doesn’t hurt their fellow thrift shoppers. People can donate their own items to thrift stores so there’s more items available. Also, avoid buying essential items necessary to those that need shelter — coats and shoes needed for warmth, for instance. Also, shop in moderation.”

Vos earned a lot of PSEO credits in high school and entered SMSU as a sophomore. She selected SMSU after attending a career fair in South Sioux City, Neb. “I was there with my mom and talked to an SMSDU representative. She asked if any school had stood out and I told her SMSU, because they seemed welcoming and wanted to get to know me as a person.”

She had not heard of Professional Writing and Communication major until that career fair. “I was thinking English education, then maybe creative writing or English literature. I knew I had an aptitude for writing and the English language but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it until I talked with my professors (Dr. Teresa Henning, Dr. Amanda Bemer) and heard more about the major and how it sets you up for so many opportunities. The writing leans to more of the scientific side of the brain rather than the creative writing side,” said Vos.

She has enjoyed sociology since taking it as a PSEO course from Western Iowa Technical and Community College. “It was my first college course and the only college class I ever got a B in. It was challenging in a way I had not experienced before.”

She describes sociology as “’something you can take into any career. I want to go into higher ed administration and understanding the college student as a diverse person and all the things they are experiencing is a huge bonus to appreciate the differences everyone experiences. Sociology is a good way to try and understand humanity, and it’s interesting to me.”

She credits Sociology Professor Dr. Cindy Aamlid for helping her identify her research topic and Librarian Pam Gladis for her research guidance. She said SMSU professors have been most helpful during her time at SMSU. “I haven’t had a single professor not willing to go out of their way to help me be successful, and I can attest that it’s due to small class sizes. I feel I take away so much more when I get this almost individualized attention and assistance in taking things beyond the surface level to understand a subject on a deeper level.”