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.