Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thrifted Karma

I wholeheartedly believe in a Greater Power and have a pulsing respect for The Masters, the founders of our world’s religions. It’s just really hard to cram all my beliefs into one labeled pot. I think The Masters all taught the primary need for truth and an all-encompassing sense of love. Yeah, I think it that simple. The problem is that we – as a species - tend to distort and complicate. We can be very slow to come around and live in the spirit of truth and love. Ugh, that’s why The Masters came to us, right? We were in need of their messages and we still are.

But we're not here to talk religion. Just prefacing the following to let you know where I stand. Life is a journey seeking truth and love where balance is critical. My life is hardly a vision of balance. I’m trying though. Life is clumsy as am I. I’ve been racing back and forth to the opposite sides of that seesaw of life and keep forgetting to just stop and chill in the middle.

Despite that, I do have personal secret to share so please come close. Okay. I do believe I’ve found balance in one, tiny place. Shopping. Yup. Shopping, also known as foraging, getting the necessary items for my family to live. This balance has added great insight to my life. Now, you’re probably thinking, “How completely shallow and American of you to say that you feel closer to The Source when you shop.” It does sound entirely American and very shallow, but it's not.It’s not really the shopping that lends transcendence; it’s the place, the thrift store. Given the choice would Jesus shop Gucci or Salvation Army? Would Buddha run to Armani or Goodwill?If The Masters were alive today, I know they’d be thrift store junkies like me.

When I thrift, I’m part of a healthy, economic cycle of product take and donate where the profits go to repurpose severely damaged lives. This balance has me hooked on an unrelenting hunch. Are there thrifting spirits, angels, fairies? I can’t stop wondering because weird things keep happening.

Like fishing with my grandfather, thrifting has taught me patience. Thrift stores are not held accountable by corporations to have certain items on demand so they're not the best places to hit when in a pinch. One trick is to avoid pinches and be prepared. Pinches happen, and I’ve been in several where I blindly turned to the thrift store. Thrift stores have yet to let me down. It could be coincidence, or perfect timing. Or, it could be that I’m being rewarded for achieving balance in one small aspect of my life.

Last May, I held a large, semi-formal baby shower for a treasured friend. On the day of the shower, I discovered I’d forgotten or miscounted some items: salt and pepper shakers, silver-plate spoons, and two teacups. So, several hours before the shower, I turned to the neighborhood thrift store. Everything I needed was at the thrift store: six sets of small square salt and pepper shakers in a plastic bag, a set of six silver plate spoons and several generic white teacups with a gold rim that blended nicely in with my china. Not only did the spirits deliver the needs of the day, but also the birthday gift purchase I’d put on hold for my daughter’s friend the next day. That was a brand new, still-in-the-box Kit Cat Clock, a purr-fect gift for the super girl who rescues alley cats. I think the total purchase was under $10. The thrift store didn’t take advantage of my immediate needs and gouge me.

Last October, our dear friend Sam came to my youngest daughter’s schoolroom to tell Dia De Los Muertos stories. He visits the children on holidays and occasions and hooks them with his storytelling. The day before I was doing a routine thrifting sweep. As my eyes scanned the book titles in the stacks, I muttered how I wished I could find a thank you gift for Sam. (I’d just learned his family has high reverence for Southwestern customs.) At that very moment, something lifted my chin and high atop the shelf was an original folk art papier-mâché skeleton statuette for $2, a Dia De Los Muertos custom. Spooky.

I’d been very fortunate to receive an invitation to the celebration of 90 years of Goodwill in Denver, held at the Governor’s Mansion. Unfortunately, the invite came one day before the event. I didn’t have the apropos thrifted dress for this occasion and turned to my place of shopping salvation, the neighborhood thrift. In the car I found myself, praying, “Please, please send me a dress. Please!" Me praying? This is new. The third dress on the rack was mine for $8.99, a crocheted, long black dress with a black slip that fit Shopping Golightly perfectly in every way: size, style, price, and completely in line with the occasion.

Months back, I was joking with the other thrifty chicks that we needed a patron saint of thrift. Not long ago, Joan of ARC appeared on our list of blog Followers.

The weird things keep happening. I keep wondering.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Please Come Out of the Closet. Now!

It happened again. Only this time, I felt a bit testy about it.

About once every two weeks, someone will unexpectedly break my personal space to whisper in my ear, “I’m a closet thrifter.” Then they do something weird like wink at or nudge me, like we’re now blood kin in some secret society or coven. I’m polite. I nod and smile back. However, I really want to make a scene and yell, “Excuse me! But will you please scream that to the world? Let everyone know! Be damn proud of what you are!”

Okay closet thrifters, I know you’re sitting by the light of your monitor reading this while everyone else is asleep. It’s time to acquire a good load of Thrift Pride.

Let’s make this very plain. Ain’t no room for shame in the thrift store. Got it? Thrifting is a sign of wits and a broader sense of local and global understanding. The thrift store is a place of product and personal redemption. There are good, sweet vibes in those stores along with an eagerness of what awaits and a gratitude for what is found. And – get this – people are genuinely nice in thrift stores. They don’t look at you and chase you down for a commissioned sale.

Being a closet thrifter is like being the intellectually gifted child who dumbs down because being smart isn’t cool. Well, smart is cool, least it is in my worldview.

I had planned to post my holiday shopping statistics after the season. But for you closet thrifter, I offer a preview. Before Thanksgiving, I mailed out thirty holiday gifts to friends and family. I mailed early to send ground rate and book rate with on time delivery. ALL gifts were thrift and the average cost per gift was $4.50. Many were books, recent best sellers and beautiful vintage editions. I cannot reveal specifics because that will overtake surprise. But, one gift in particular is bound to bring a tear to a special person’s eye because it will reunite a book with an 84-year-old’s childhood. How many new retailers offer that kind of giving for under $3? These gifts were well thought out because I did my shopping through out the year. Retailers failed to corner me and make me feel desperate during the last month of the year.

Some people wrinkle their noses at the idea of used items. Isn’t everything is a bit used? I don’t see dressing room attendants spraying disinfectant on the tight fitting $375 dress a stranger tries on no matter how posh the dressing room. Come on ladies. We’ve all seen deodorant stains on dark shirts and dresses on the rack. We’re really chumped when the only one left in our size has another woman’s mark on it. Chances are we suck it up and buy the shirt full price. So why wince at items from a thrift store? We’re not talking about the threadbare clothes of the Dickens street urchins.

Friends, if you know a closet thrifter, help them. Coax them and guide them to Thrift Pride. Since when is out spending personal income, out of control credit card debt, and bankruptcy cool? What about buying items with enormous carbon footprints that get used once? Is that cool too?

I’d say, let’s print up a million t-shirts announcing Thrift Pride but that is counter to the point. So, instead of a t-shirt, verbalize your pride everyday.

Thrift Pride to the masses!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You're listening to Goodwill Radio....

I was on my way home from Pilates tonight, planning my first post on the blog, when I decided to stop at a Goodwill for inspiration. There are about five Goodwills within a few miles of my house; this one is the closest, on Broadway in NE Portland, in a former Barnes and Noble store. It's not the biggest, but I've had really good luck finding outdoor and athletic clothing -- lots of Lucy and Prana and Patagonia -- and the books section, while small, usually has a good selection of contemporary literary fiction. As I parked, I came up with the fifth item in my "Top Five Finds of 08" list, a cashmere cardigan I found last summer. More on that later.

I didn't expect to find anything spectacular -- that would be too much -- but while I was in there I was reminded of why I love this particular Goodwill so much. There's a young man who works there, maybe 25, who cultivates a sort of old-timey politeness with all the customers. "How are you tonight, young fellow?" he asked a young Hispanic kid. "Any travel plans for the holidays?" he asked a middle-aged woman. He often serves as in-house DJ for Goodwill Radio, in which role a few years ago he delivered one of the funniest lines I've ever heard: "That was Michael McDonald, the first bad boy of soft rock, singing 'You're All I Need to Get By.'" I don't know anything about this nerdy hipster with strangely awkward confidence, but I like the way his mind works.

As it turns out, I did score a pretty good find -- a steal, really: a Calphalon griddle, still in the box, for $9.99. The kind that covers two burners. Whoever gave it up never even took it out of the plastic. Of course I have to speculate that it's a leftover wedding gift from a marriage that didn't take. I'm pretty sure I registered for one, and pretty sure that since my ex-husband was the pancake maker I let him have ours when we split up. So maybe this is poetic justice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What’s the Bait and Where’s the Switch?

Sometimes things don’t happen like you’d think. Here’s a story.

This spring, I hosted a baby shower for my dear friend, Thriftfully Modern Mommie. I don’t usually aim for perfection. I believe perfection is beyond definition and best left for Mother Nature to manage. But I tried to catch its scent and hunt it down when planning this event. I wanted my friend to weep, to feel surrounded by the love of her girlfriends before her new baby arrived.

It was a backyard brunch serving about 18 guests. I laid out a formal spread with tended centerpieces that matched my friend’s earthy nature with moss and ferns. Oops! I forgot water goblets. Two days before the shower, I drove to a nationwide retailer and bought three boxes of Luminarc large goblets. They were neither fancy nor expensive, just utilitarian.

I washed all the china and polished the silver plate flatware. To my surprise two of the Luminarc boxes contained very dirty goblets. Someone bought these glasses, used them, didn’t wash them, and then returned them. I paid full price for used merchandise. Was there a point in driving all the way back to the store to exchange them? My time is worth more, so I washed them - annoyed.

Many stores accept returned merchandise and put it back on the shelf at full price. I’m sure each store has its own policy – but haven’t we all bought goods in a re-taped box (at full price) at some point in our shopping careers? As members of the public, we’re not always informed. At least I wasn’t.

I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve bought brand new, tag dangling merchandise at thrift stores. My new hand-made Black Dog Rise mukluks are in my slide show. I paid $10 and they retail $350 online, that’s less than 3% of the retail price! I shall be buried in them because my feet are so cold, I doubt death will make a difference. I think my father and I could probably be instruments of torture with our genetic predisposition for cold feet. My husband will testify.

Today, while on my regular thrifting routine, I found a brand new Banana Republic cotton jacket that fits my oldest daughter, and it will be a holiday gift. It is darling, somewhat vintage in style. The Banana Republic price tag read $99.99 contrasted directly against the Goodwill price of $4.99 (5% its retail price). Unlike my goblets, it was used zero times.

So, let me see if I have this right. I pay full price for used goods at a major retailer. I pay used-goods price for a brand new, unused item at a thrift store. Once again, sometimes things don’t happen like you’d think.

Maybe I should not have posted this and kept it secret. Yeah, never mind. Thrift stores are junky and only sell mustard-stained t-shirts. They smell like gym shorts too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gently Used's Top 5 Finds of '08

I've been scanning my home for the last few days, looking for my top five finds of 2008. Winners were judged for usefulness, value, and beauty. I deliberately ruled out books, because they are such a huge focus of my thrifting that I think I'll have to do another post devoted soley to my top five book finds of 2008.

So, without further delay, the winners, in no particular order, are:

1. An almost perfect green bowl. I have a collection of vases, bowls, and planters, green ones and white ones, that grew out of an art deco vase left to me by my grandmother (which is really neither green nor white, but a rather lovely shade of blue). The collection spiked in the months before my wedding, when I trolled EBay for additions to use for flowers. I rarely find nice ones at Goodwill (probably because vendors snap them up to resell on EBay)! But last week I made a quick stop at the Stephens Goodwill after dropping my car off at the shop and found this bowl: it has no filligree or decoration at all, just smooth green glaze. One tiny chip makes it less than perfect, but I love it. $4.99 -- more than I'd normally spend but it grabbed my heart.
2. The blue parka from LL Bean I found last summer has made its bones over the last two days as the temperature in Portland has dropped to a very uncharacteristically low level (thus displacing a mirror I had planned to include on my top 5). It's practically new, marred only by the Sharpied name "Alyssa Auresey" inside, and fits me like a glove. I need only two thin layers underneath to stay quite toasty in the 20 degree weather (I know that's nothing in Vermont or Colorado, but it's not supposed to get that cold in Portland!). It even has a hood, which really makes a difference. $12.99.
3. A soft white cashmere cardigan, Ralph Lauren, $7.99 at the Burnside Goodwill. I found this during a heat wave last August and knew I'd hit the jackpot, even if I wasn't keen to try it on at the time. I felt the adrenaline rush that comes when you know can't believe no one found it before you, desperately want it to fit and not be stained -- and, of course, to be under $10, which it was. It did have a few small holes; good thing I know how to darn. I wore it for the first time last weekend to many compliments.
4. A threadbare but funky rug from a neighbor's yard sale, $40. It has the most fabulous bit of bright pink thread in it. Perfect in my newly appointed guest/craft room.
5. Nylon pants from North Face. Also from Burnside Goodwill, ringing in at around $6.99. These win on pure points: they fit perfectly and I have worn them constantly since finding them last winter.
That's my top 5. Stay tuned for books.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Wise to Have on Hand

Goo Gone. This product removes gooey price stickers and packing tape residue. Thrift stores use lots of clear packing tape, miles of it, to keep items together.

Bar Keeper’s Friend. Found at most grocery stores, this non-abrasive cleans copper, silver plate and brass beautifully. Some gourmet kitchen stores sell it. So don’t pass up tarnished or dirty items. They come clean quickly.

Stock up on different sized boxes from office paper stores or save them from the mail. When a gift is bought, clean it up, box it, and write the name on the box. Keep an organized spot for all these items to pull out when needed. Many people squirrel items all over the home and soon forget they even have them. This often results in few explicative once items are unearthed from the abyss. Don't be ashamed of buying new boxes if you must, for these will be nice, generic boxes that are re-used. Try and reuse a Barbie box.

Black, gold or ivory spray paint converts ugly picture frames into something tasteful. Plus, buying spray paint means you might get carded. We all enjoy that from time to time. Spray paint is also great to cover wooden flatware boxes or small side tables or stools. A bit of sandpaper can be useful to roughen up items before painting

A pair of staple removers. Many thrift stires staple price tags on clothes or directly to the item. Best to remove those staples with care.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thrift Store Conventions: Blue Jeans

When we think of jeans, a few well-known major retailers quickly come to mind. So off we go to fumble through their precisely folded stacks in little cubicles all the while feeling guilty for messing up their obsessive display.

Though they may carry a variety of sizes in waist and length, they really don’t have a selection of more than 10 or so styles. Like swim suits, one might need to try on 20 styles of jeans before they find the right fit. So, it’s off to another store. Lather, rinse and repeat until it’s nearly the end of the day and a pair that fits is found for $75.00 or more. Some jeans sell for hundreds if not thousands. Some people will pay the ridiculous prices because they are so tired and need to end this madness. This is crazy.

Go to the thrift store and find the blue jean racks. Then find your size. Voila! Chances are there will be about 40 or more jeans, in different styles, in your size waiting on the rack at the thrift store. All these different styles in one store, not five! And, the prices usually ranging from $4.99 to $7.99.

And, some of the jeans at thrift stores are distressed, but fortunately for the thrift consumer the prices are not.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shopping Golightly is also Shopping Go Green

Most people think thrifting is merely a way for the poor to afford clothes or a short-term solution of tightening our budgets to get through hard times. Among many other good things, thrifting is a way to reduce our personal carbon footprint.

When we think of carbon footprints, energy usage comes to mind. We think of renewable options like wind, solar, natural gas. While we certainly need to exercise these (and other) options, we need look towards a sustainable economy that produces low carbon products. So then, we think cars. Plug-in hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell, natural gas, and now – even compressed air.

But to really take hold, we must go beyond the power plants and transportation systems of our world. Finally, issues like food security are being addressed in the media. This is good (ever think of how much fossil fuel it takes to bring a 2 calorie grape to the US from Chile?). But, how do we start addressing everyday items? I’m not talking about recycling newspapers or bringing a bag to the grocery store; I’m talking about the clothes, dishes, and furniture we buy or maintain.

Call it re-purposing or re-use, but buying products in thrift stores is one way I know for certain consumers can shop green with confidence. Products from thrift stores:

  1. Have already made their manufacturing stamp. No additional energy is required to make this product. Done! Fin!
  2. Have already burned the fuel of transport in the bellies of jets, ships and trucks, often from the other side of our planet. The only fuel attached to item is the car ride over, which more likely than not (in an urban or suburban environment) is probably less than five miles.
  3. Do not carry the weight of excessive packaging of new products. Ever liberated Barbie from that plastic and cardboard hell? Ever thought about the energy that packaging took to make and then assemble, and the associated material and human footprint? Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to my mind when given that box to open. People in a factory halfway across the globe put every appendage in place with a twisty-tie! They sew the hair in place to a piece of plastic so it fans out! (I do not buy Barbies. But my daughters have received them. Don’t buy my daughters Barbies - they really do not have a long interest life.)
  4. Divert reusable items from landfills.
  5. Support charities, many of which directly turn around and support our communities.

I believe people want to do right by our planet. But, psychologically, we often equate this “doing the right thing” with an extra cost we, personally, cannot afford. Here is the irony; a dining room set or carpet bought at the thrift store is a gift to the pocket book and puts more carbon credits in the world bank. So we need not equate our participation in a green economy on the same level as those who have the means to buy a Prius.

Being green is not something left to power companies or those who can afford a next generation car, being green is available to the masses in ways we have yet to truly grab hold. Saving energy is not solely in the domain of the entities that produce it. And saving energy goes beyond turning off the lights or switching out bulbs. This is an energy savings that can be achieved in our shopping habits. This savings has yet to come to the forefront of our national discussion. It is a part of our personal training program we need to make routine for that steep climb that President Elect Obama spoke of. See the November 6th post on The Thrifty Chicks.

During the peak of the American shopping season, spend your energy wisely! Become an official first generation Eco-thrifter and make reducing your carbon foot print a part of your shopping agenda.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

There and Back Again

My oldest daughter wanted a friend to sleepover this Friday with a night trip to the thrift store. Apparently, word is out at school and thrifting is hot. My girls wish to continue to charge the lead.

A few unexpected things happened during this adventure. In their foraging they learned more than how to save money, reuse, and support charity; they learned a little history.

They found an old perambulator. It captivated them. It captivated me. To think this vintage pram could still run smoothly through a park and sway a little one into a deep slumber. How I’d love to nap in that! Let’s contrast that gorgeous pram to the plastic nightmares of today. What happens to them when the child out grows them? Hopefully they are handed down, but eventually break. Do people solder plastic in their workshops at home? Probably not, it probably releases some kind of toxin and besides plastics require molds. Off to the landfill!

This reminds me of my pursuit of a high chair over a decade ago, I wanted a simple wooden one and searched the town up and down and finally found one at an unfinished furniture store. One of our contributors, Thriftfully Modern Mommy, wanted the same and found a darling high chair for under $10 at the thrift store. If you’re not a parent, you’re not aware of the plastic constructs people sit their little ones in for dinner. They are so huge and complex, I imagine them turning into one those robot transformers and crashing through the front window as a car, with baby inside. This is no insult to those who have one. The mass market doesn’t offer a choice. In the end, it’s the landfill for those plastic high chairs. Me? I have stored away my wooden one and it waits for grandchildren.

On Friday night’s adventure, we found a beautiful hot chocolate service set in the glass cabinet. I don’t think it was on par with Limoge, but it was pretty. The girls were enamored and daydreaming; I know they were thinking that someone like Anastasia had sipped cocoa from it. Where is our ceremony these days? Our hot chocolate is mostly steamed up in a paper cup a la corrugated cup holder. A plastic lid even smashes the cloud-like whip cream and covers the inviting color of the cocoa. It’s like we’re hiding this childhood delight.

"By relaxing our culture with
plastic strollers and paper cups,
have we relaxed our imagination?"

By relaxing our culture with plastic strollers and paper cups, have we relaxed our imagination? How does one make up a fanciful story about a princess sipping cocoa from a plastic cup with an ad on the front?

The girls came home with wonderful finds but they also came home with a sense of the way things used to be, a time when we placed more value into everyday items and everyday ceremony.

Take children to the thrift store and see what items they find that encourages their imagination or makes them ask about items from the past like my silver plate sugar scuttle with scoop.

We also touched on color theory and learning to assemble clothes that match your personal color print. But that is a story for Thriftfully Modern Mommy to tell as a graduate of Savannah College of Art.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They’d Rather be Thrifting

My children were on holiday yesterday in observance of Veteran's Day. It was cold and cloudy and my home was full of four girls with a bad case of cabin fever. This seemed like a good day for a lesson in thrifting figuring that soldiers can be some of the thriftiest people. I am a mother. Is it not my duty to teach my daughters and their friends to shop wisely?

once thought my close friend was innately savvy until she told me her grandfather’s lesson: “Money is a game. It comes in and it’s up to you to decide how much goes out and how much you keep. Along the way, people will tempt you and you must decide to whether to buy into their temptation or hold on to your money.” Oh! Had I known that in my 20’s! I’d have been to Europe four times by now in lieu of long, blurred nights club hopping in Chicago. Those cover charges are brutal on the pocket book and the nights, torture on the body.

Each girl was given $10 and cut loose at the neighborhood thrift store. Our next stop was a closeby, a major discount retailer so the girls could spend the remainder of their funds. Yes, they still had money to spend after the first store.

To hammer in that final golden pin of learning the value in thrifting, we visited that discount retailer where two of the girls had $10 gift cards. While at the discount store I listened to the girls compare prices. They were shocked by the difference.

At the end of our day the girls came home and proudly modeled their finds. I think they have a special bond with their scores because these items are one of a kind. Who cares if they’re reused? Isn’t that good for the environment? And, these were smart buys that are building smart shoppers. Two girls bought sweaters and purses. One bought a dress, blouse, medallion belt and purse! Another bought a specialized hair dryer under half the retail cost. Our girl on the left was so proud of her purchases, she brought them to show and tell today. Note the look of pride in her smile. The girl above wore her dress today to school and plans to wear her new blouse tomorrow. The other brought her new purse to school and plans to wear her new green sweater (at top) as soon as her mother washes it. (Uh, that's me.)

What did they buy at the discount retailer? One bought a seven-pack of Lip Smackers and the other a sleeping mask (made across the world) and lip gloss.

We honored Veteran’s Day today and called my grandfather who fought in Europe and my father in Vietnam to honor their service and told them of yesterday’s adventure, which made for proud grandparents.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Start a New Personal Training Program Now, It’s Time To Get Serious

We have high expectations of our president-elect. Rightfully, he has high expectations of us. Barack Obama will not tell us to, “Sit back while I take care of business.”

On election night, he told us, “Our climb will be steep.”

Now is the time to take personal responsibility and design a cross-training program for that steep climb. What will we do in our everyday lives to train for that Kilimanjaro of change?

"...please start by taking my alias, Shopping Golightly,
to heart during this upcoming season."

Why the Mt. Kilimanjaro metaphor? It is no ordinary mountain and no ordinary challenge. It is a long journey through six distinct ecosystems while tackling over 19,000 feet of gain. The climber must consistently acclimate through constantly changing terrain. We must be malleable and prepared to make smart and sensible judgments to reach our summit. We must check in with our team to ensure they are up to task. Troubles frequently escalate when a climbing team breaks up.

Personal change must happen in many venues now. But, with the holidays on our heels and our pocketbooks low, please start by taking my alias, Shopping Golightly, to heart during this upcoming season. The thrift store is one of the best places to do just that!

"...most Americans cannot distinguish the difference
between necessity and luxury."

I fear most Americans cannot distinguish the difference between necessity and luxury. Somehow the meanings have been mixed and we are lost.

Who defines our personal necessities? Is it us? Or is it the ads piped through the television? We cannot continue to aspire for more and more possessions. That time has past. We must be sensible and thrifty in defining our necessities and translate that new definition through our shopping habits. This will fatten piggy banks across the country. What will you do with your newfound savings? A college education? A family home?

We must redefine luxury. No longer can it be equated with frivolous, expensive possessions, acquired to impress or fill an internal emptiness. Let’s put luxury on our own terms and make it match our values. Make it personal and meaningful, like time spent reading to our children; the cost of a book or a trip to the library and one of the most valuable things we have, time.

"...put luxury on our own terms
and make it match our values."

We have much to do and a have a long journey ahead. What is going to help us summit that peak? Leather seat warmers or a college education? Let’s just hope we get there before those majestic glaciers melt away. Barak Obama believes in us. Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Kindness Like No Other

Thrift shopping is like doing a crossword puzzle. It engages the mind. During yesterday evening’s sweep at one of my favorite stores, I spied a pair of Javanese Shinta puppets in the glass cabinet. The diversity of items in a thrift store presents so many questions and like our ancient ancestors, we become inquisitive foragers. Though I’ve never seen a performance, I immediately knew the origins of those beautiful hand-carved wooden puppets with long graceful arms. I also knew they would fascinate my youngest daughter as a holiday present. I’ve already thrifted a clarinet for her to play with, why not Shinta puppets?

While waiting for the cashier to unlock the cabinet, a woman waiting at counter struck up a conversation. She is a grandmother and we talk about dramatic and imaginative play. I use my standard line that imaginative play is not something bought in the aisles of a chain toy store. She chuckles and tells me about the dress up trunk she built up over the span of two generations for her daughters and granddaughters. It’s full of bridal veils and old prom dresses and her children love to put on plays with these props. As a mother, I have a deep respect for her ingenuity in such a commercial-driven world. Two of her granddaughters are coming for the holidays and upon announcing felt a need to make certain the dress up trunk was still available.

I tell her about the Shinta puppets and hope they are in my price range. They’re brand new with tags. (Not everything in the thrift store is used.) The cashier unlocks the cabinet and we dig in. The dolls are too pricey for me and I sigh ready to move on. My new friend pulls me aside to whisper, “I know they are expensive but I have a senior discount if that would help.” Touched, I say no, but thank her. Would this have happened in any other store where people are elbowing the other to get to items first, that Bargain Rage I referred to in the October 27th posting?

This is an empathy I’ve only found in only thrift stores. Once in the check out line I complimented the woman before me on her score of a huge bag of paper umbrellas for under two bucks. She turned, “Do you need these?” I mentioned my friend and I are hosting an Asian themed birthday party for our daughters. Without hesitation, she held out the bag, “You take them. You need them.” At first I felt horrible, “No. No. I was only complimenting your find.” She replies, “I do a lot of crafts and thought I might someday have use for them but you need them now. So take them.”

Me? Yes, I’ve forgone items to others. One was a pair of shoes for my older daughter. She can be fickle on what I buy for her and the woman in front of me loved the shoes so I knew they would be worn. I also gave a copy of David Sedaris' new release to a woman who's friend's birthday was the next day.

So what did I score last night? A coffee machine. Why? We needed it - ours died two days ago. For under $8, I bought a Braun 12-cup programmable coffee maker with all kinds of bells most never bother to use. It will likely last as long as our previous one, at one-sixth the price. As I sit here with my cup of joe, I give this simple, daily item a double thumbs up. And, I like my coffee a lot. Oh, if anyone is in need of a 12 cup coffee carafe, well it's probably on a shelf at a certain store waiting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Secondhand Clothes used as a “Poor Me” in a campaign for US Congress! Get out of town!

One of the Thrifty Chicks tenets is to put an end to this silly, spoiled, wasteful notion that if it’s not NEW it’s EWW! I have to wonder if we are the only country in this world to have such a spoiled, wasteful idea of what is acceptable to wear.

I live in Colorado. During this 2008 election, Colorado US Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave ran a TV commercial portraying her life’s obstacles. One obstacle was “secondhand clothes.” I’m not kidding! This raised my hackles!

My husband, the youngest of five boys wore them. Even as an only child, I wore them when given. My youngest daughter happily accepts them from her older sister. She loves them because she loves her sister and wants to be like her. I've given baby clothes to my friends and delight seeing these tender dresses resurrected on the sweet little bodies of my friends children.

This is the exact kind of simple-minded thinking we must change. We can no longer aspire to be so wasteful and ungrateful. Even though I am not in her district, I would not cast a pity vote for Congresswoman Musgrave because she wore second hand clothes as a child. In many ways, I had a very similar childhood to hers, and I don’t think that makes me qualified to be a US Congresswoman. I find her commercial to be an insult of monumental proportion.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thrifting, the New Black that keeps you in the black, and a little more Green.

  1. Thrifting is Green, the fine art of reuse, recycle, and re-style. Americans need to shed silly, spoiled, wasteful notions that if it’s not NEW it’s EWW! America’s waste stream is massive and we’re not talking potty.
  2. Thrifting supports charity. Don’t have the funds to make direct donations to worthy causes? Your shopping habits can.
  3. Thrifting is economical and can knock thousands of dollars off an annual budget without knocking the quality of many products.
  4. Thrifting diverts mass market spending into a market of one-of-a-kinds and originals. This dares shoppers to learn more about their own preferences and sense of style. Why allow anyone else that opportunity?
  5. The thrift store just may be the only store in this country without pushy sales people with fakey smiles acting like they really care about the shopping experience. The floor staff at a thrift store has but one purpose: stock items.
  6. Thrifting is a lesson in the treasures our culture tosses and the crap people keep. Looked in your own closet lately?
  7. Once immersed in thrifting couture, shout a big, “Say what?” to department store prices, and run from a commissioned floor staff!

Just mustard-stained t-shirts? Au contraire!

Newsflash! Thrift store inventory is so more than mustard-stained t-shirts & clothes that either smell like gym shorts or mothballs. It’s a smorgasbord of treats, treasures & must have’s.

The following items can be found on demand in good quality at most thrift stores between the $1 - $10 range. Warning: reading this list will evoke woeful buyer’s remorse. Sorry. But, education is the path to enlightenment.

On the table top: serving bowls & platters; glass pedestals with domes; punch bowl sets; soup tureens; teapots; pitchers; glasses; stemware; plates; bowls; platters; candle sticks (in glass, brass, pewter, wooden); candles; vases; & table linens.

In the kitchen: muffin tins; baking sheets; bundt pans; roasting pans; colanders; any type of mixing bowl; at least one nice non-stick pot; mason jars; glass bottles/spice jars; canisters; coffee makers; toasters; crock pots, & cool kitchen gadgets you can’t live without once you discover. You'll soon discover vintage items are best because they are haunted cookware.

In the home: any kind of basket imaginable; picture frames & stands; photo albums; mirrors; lampshades & lamps; all types of hangers; pots for plants; mirror; electronics (find an outlet in the store to test them); curtains; tables & chairs of all varieties; ironing boards & bookshelves.

Media: books, old magazines, CD's, DVD's, and just about as much vinyl one finds at a used record shop.

Clothes: jeans, dresses, childrens clothes, even men's suits.

Pets: bird cages; bird feeders; aquariums; cages for guinea pigs or hamsters; pet transports; kennels; pet pillows; and cat scratching posts.

Sportswear: Bicycles, golf clubs, and exercise equipment like stationary bikes.

Crafts: yarn; knitting & crochet needles; embroidery loops; new & vintage fabric; vintage buttons; vintage clothing patterns; ribbon; silk flowers; & beads (buy necklaces and cut them up).

Things that make you go Hmm (also known as bric-a-brac): fondue pots (lots & lots of fondue pots); copper Jell-O molds; at least four copies of The Bridges of Madison County; at least two copies of The DaVinci Code; any Danielle Steele book; every kind of salt & pepper shaker imaginable; at least one coconut carved monkey; Hummel knock offs; vintage commercial items (i.e. Kebbler elf mugs, Land-O-Lakes trays, Avon perfume bottles), and statuettes du jour.

Now, don’t think of all the money you could have saved. It would be a toss up between which tanked more: your 401(k) or your Visa bill from the past year.