Opportunity.

It was the night before Christmas. A special time of year where the sound of furiously closing cash registers, driven by the swirling vortex of rampant consumerism charging since November, begin to fall silent. Exhausted and abused retail workers retreat home to their families, emerging defeated from the bustle of glacial holiday traffic and screams of spoilt children country-wide. The vaguely religious, Hallmark holiday-driven credit card-dependant spending haze finally begins to settle, and families start to shuffle single file towards mandatory family time like time card punching office workers from the 1950s.

In many measurable metrics, you might even call it the most excruciating time of year.

As all ages are forced to look up from the mindless drone-like smartphone swiping we’re all guilty of, it’s time to take stock and appreciate the yearly captive family outing for what it truly is, as the Boxing Day special emails flood your inbox. $50 here, $100 there; the true financial damage of pre-Christmas retail margins begin to wash over you like tomorrow’s hangover, as you selfishly assess the bargains you intend to claw eyes out to get at.

Then, from the ashes of burning family feuds, gifted disappointments, and single-use garbage we wrap it all in before throwing it out of sight, and therefore out of mind; a true victor emerges.

In the new year a fat, hungover you binges into a spring clean – scooping up the shit to hit the charity bin. Volunteers sift through mounds of fidget spinners, iPod docks, and digital picture frames, eventually finding the nuggets of gold. Your most unwanted’s have found a new home, ready to arbitrarily price and put out on the shelf for the less fortunate to scoop up. And you’ve done your good deed.

But in the shadows of your deed lay a beast of burden.

The idea of a treasure hunt has captivated humans since the dawn of time; the illusive unknown bounty buried in a mysterious location where untold riches surely await those who find it. Opportunity shops are surely the lazy modern day interpretation of Blackbeard’s treasure.

Amidst a generation that can’t even look up long enough to cross a road full of multi-tonne moving objects, driven by others similarly distracted, op shops became a bargain bastion – previously foolishly derided as something used exclusively by those dirty folk that were less well off.

Soon, treasure and bargains were being noticed and enjoyed by people of all ages and incomes, as the rampant consumerism driving the whole shebang pushed on, further intensified in the new-found world of eBay and Amazon. Suddenly all your junk had a new home, and what existed before was suddenly cool again.

Records; film cameras; old Nintendo games; all equally cool as heck. But the beast lay in the shadows… waiting, and soon, the opportunists became an opportunity.

The shops became sentient, and the pricing guns roared into life.

Scratched Prince record? $50. Mouldy Kodak camera? $100! The machine took no prisoners. The volunteers on the frontline became driven by an overwhelming feeling they couldn’t shake, backed by the information gold mine that is eBay’s historical “sold for” function.

Almost overnight, everything was worth what eBay said, even if it really wasn’t. Blackbeard’s treasure is plundered, by op shops taking advantage of the opportunity they once provided to only the most clever and informed treasure hunters. Now they drive absurd margins well higher than the ones that once carried me through the relative poverty of university.

That’s right, I too once profited from the machine – but those days are gone. And now as I sift through a shelf of excruciatingly overpriced records, furiously shaking my head, and fondly remembering what once was, I realise something – I am to blame for the reality I find myself in.

As you sift through your garbage in a hungover haze this new year, just throw it out, because that’s 21st century selfishness we can all truly believe in.

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