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.