Sunday, March 29, 2009

Keep & Sweep

Many questions come my way. One keeps popping up, “What should I buy at thrift stores and what should I leave?” Here’s a quick list of Golightly’s top ten keeps and sweeps from your shopping cart at the thrift store. Other thrifters, please chime and comment.

Keep Holiday & Birthday Gifts: Purchase gifts in advance to avoid that nasty gift pinch where we end up spending more than intended out of panic to deliver on time. Box and store gifts in one place so they so don’t get lost in the household mix. Shopping ahead provides time for a meaningful thought to be attached to the gift. It is my belief that, “It’s the thought that counts” has been replaced with “It’s the amount of money spent,” as described in “Wow! This is so you! What’s Happened to the Art of Giving?” Americans are letting retailers do the thinking when it comes to gift purchases. Let’s take back that choice since we know personally know the gift recipient and retail marketers do not.

Keep Other Gifts: Be gracious. For a hostess, teacher or an unexpected event, purchase items in advance and have them on hold. For example, whenever I find “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I snag it. That’s a great book for girlfriends in all kinds of situations. I feel that classics are better served up either vintage or in anniversary editions. Having these gifts al a thrift saves money and when thoughtful, express gratitude, something we probably do not do enough of these days. If not a gift, a hand written note can deliver the same intent – prefabricated cards don’t make much of a difference in my world. Stationary can also easily found at thrift stores for that meaningful and personal note. Even better, hand make cards using thifted paper.

Keep Cookware & Bakeware:
Make certain it’s quality. Copper should be heavy and have secure brass handles. Never mind if it’s horribly tarnished. Barkeeper’s Friend and a lot of elbow grease will fix that. Vintage enamelware is wonderful and one of my favorite finds. But Calaphon and Kitchen Aide and other modern products are in supply. There is always a huge assortment of bakeware. I feel the best cookware is vintage cookware because it’s haunted.

Keep Rare Finds: Like my husband’s Givenchy tux, he may not wear it often but he has one and is ready to go. Besides this might open up opportunities to use it. For $8.99 in its in beautiful, perfect-fitting condition, it’s worth it. Or my piece of America, my suede covered “Song of Hiawatha” that I imagine some pioneer keeping it close to read and read again while exploring the new west.

Keep Picture Frames: There is always a great selection of picture frames in both size and style and they can be painted in any color. Just remove what’s already in the frame and replace it. However, there are times when we just might buy the frame for what’s in it.

Keep Items For The Classroom:
With chronic budget cuts, teachers are always in need of supplies. Ask teachers for lists. Items could be staplers, three-ring hole punchers, scales, books or craft supplies like yarn, ribbon, crayons – all available at thrift stores.

Keep Jewelry:
Look in the glass cases by the cash registers there is always a mix of new items, vintage items and artisan items.

Keep Books: New release, old and rare are readily available at thrift stores often in the $2 range. For more information see the post On Books. Children's books are usually sold for a lower price - another item that classrooms need and teachers appreciate.

Keep Tabletop For Parties & Events: Punch bowls (buy two, one for spiked and one for tame), pedestals, vases, candlestick holders, pitchers, plate stands are available at thrift stores. This is the place to shop for dinner parties. And baskets, there are baskets a plenty at thrift stores. There's a funny story about my preparations for a semi-formal baby shower and acquiring such items in the post "Where's the bait & what's the switch?"

Keep Items Easily Lost: We often lose mittens, gloves, hats, scarves and sunglasses. It doesn’t hurt so much when our children lose a pair of mittens that cost a dollar instead of ten. For example I bought six pairs of new Dana Buchman sunglasses for $12. I saved hundreds. Some sunglasses store did an inventory dump at a thrift store and I was happy to be there.

Sweep Things We Already Have: If we have 10 dress shirts, do we really need four more? Depends on the lifestyle.

Sweep Items In Need Of Dry Cleaning: Unless we absolutely love it or need it, like a suit, leave the stuff that needs to be dry-cleaned.

Sweep Moth-Eaten Items:
Be certain to check woolen items over. However, the fabric can be recycled into mittens and other items when one knows their way around a sewing machine. I have a friend who takes thrifted wool sweaters and washes them in hot water for boiled wool and makes the warmest mittens imaginable. She even lines them with recycled fabric from thrift. She's a saint, known to us as Joan of ARC (after the many ARC Thrift Stores that dot Denver). Some people even take sweaters and unravel the yarn to reuse. Sounds tedious but quality yarn isn’t cheap and if we’re going to invest loads of time into knitting something, shouldn’t the yarn be quality?

Sweep Cheap Reproductions: Be patient, originals pop up at thrift stores. I’ve seen several reproductions of Wedgwood and have also found the original, a cake stand in perfect condition for $3.

Sweep Chipped Items:
Dodge chipped items unless the chip is hardly noticeable and the item is of a fine maker, like Limoges. However, I understand that some chips in crystal can be sanded smooth.

Sweep Items That Create Projects: That bookshelf is amazing but needs refinishing. If the project queue is full, will the bookshelf ever be refinished? Or, will end up being donating back to the store? If the project list is short and there is time, go for it!

Sweep New Items Still In The Box: A new item still in the box at a thrift store is a score but happens more than one might think. Unless needed, leave it. Items still in the box make many appearances at thrift stores – a lesson in how wasteful Americans have become.

Sweep Baby Furniture: Laws on many baby items have changed. Investigate specifications online.

I Sweep Underwear & Swimsuits: Perhaps it’s because I was an only child and didn’t receive super personal hand-me-downs. However, new swimsuits and undies can be found with tags still dangling in thrift stores. Besides, I think we are fooling ourselves about new swimsuit purchases. I seriously doubt all women follow the rules and leave on their panties when they try on suits in department stores. And that little plastic panty liner? Like that is some assurance! Plu-ease!

Sweep Seasonal Impulse Buys:
Sweep fondue pots, spinning popcorn poppers, chocolate fountains and other seasonal impulse buys from years past. Should you decide you suddenly want one, you can always find it at the thrift store. It’s where impulse items go to die.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pulling a little weed

The March 2nd opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, “Green shopping: Don’t say ‘eww’ to thrift stores” was picked up by several news sources including Yahoo News, Business Exchange, Lucianne, The Daily Kos and many other sites and independent blogs. I’ve always read comments to my opinions on TV, radio and news blogs like MSN Money. I never jump in, just sit back to learn what others are thinking. Some comments make me chuckle. Some make me proud. Other make my scalp sore from head scratching. When I read a funky comment, I enjoy watching another swoop in to bust it. But I’d never felt bitten until the Monitor piece ran. A reader reported that thrift stores spray fungicide on their clothing. He cited no reference. Just wrote it without documented evidence and from what I know that is called a genuine rumor.

I had a bad reaction to this bite. It became an irritation. So I asked my friends at Denver Goodwill to clarify. Follows is their formal response:

"Goodwill Industries of Denver is redefining the thrift store experience. Stores are cleaner, brighter, more organized than ever and shoppers expect an experience similar to a traditional big box retail store. Our stores have never used any fungicidal spray or treatment on clothes. Our donations are carefully screened to bring the best quality goods to the floor for our customers and we ensure that each piece meets certain standards. This is not your grandmother’s thrift store!"
Meaghan Carabello
Public Relations and Communications Coordinator, Goodwill Industries of Denver

Another myth I asked my friends at Goodwill to dispel is the one where people claim that thrift stores only want “poor” people shopping their stores. I asked Goodwill Denver to comment and it ran in our January 21st post. I’m always amused by this notion of only “poor” people allowed in thrift stores and visualize the security stanchions like the inventory control systems of retail stationed at the front doors of thrift, monitoring shoppers as they enter the store. Imagine walking into a thrift store and an alarm sounds and a fakey, loud, slow female voice barks out "PLEASE leave the store, you are NOT POOR!"

I guess that would assume that we've all been implanted with net-worth chips. Wait! Perhaps that’s how other people walk in restaurants and get seated before my family. Who knew? This must not be good because we don’t visit fancy joints.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Perhaps New is Ewww!

For those of you who think thrift stores are dirty places, I offer this bite, excuse me, bit of news from the Associated Press, Wal-Mart customer finds teeth in wallet. I'm certain attorneys will work with this gentleman for an undisclosed amount of money to hush this up right fast. Just a sampling to reveal the new products retail market just might not be as clean as one might expect like the situation I faced in What's the bait and where's the switch?

This information came vis a vis blogger extraordinaire and National Thrift Store Petition backer, The Q Speaks. When Amanda Quraishi speaks, one might want to listen as she has recently been listed as a 2009 Honoree for National Women’s History Month. If I ever write an alphabet book for girls, Q is for Quraishi.

Shortly after I wrote this, a thrifty reader found another item of dirty interest from Wal-Mart and sent it my way. I am not specifically picking on Wal-Mart, they just happen to be in the news this week. Looks like there will be another undisclosed settlement.

But there is a lesson here. Maybe, just maybe new product retailers are not as up front with us as we'd like to think.

On the flip side, there is a certain gentlemen following every news agency that ran the opinion piece I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor declaring that thrift stores spray pesticide and fungicide on all their clothing. This gentleman cites no source but I'm sadly certain his rumor is discussed. My friends at Goodwill and ARC are developing their response to this bit that sniffs of myth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Six Baccarat Tumblers

There is a growing mentality in America that success happens overnight. Companies go public one day and 50 new millionaires are running about Silicon Valley. Television shows like “Extreme Home Makeover” roll their bus into town and in a few days, a family’s life is forever changed by a new home with gizmos and gadgets the family never dreamed of. We say things like, “When I win the lotto.” I am guilty of that and the funny thing is I have never purchased a lotto ticket. Not one.

We focus on the success and forget about the sweat equity put into achieving it. That’s assuming the sweat equity was fair, transparent and honest. For years we’ve given praise, bought stock and believed in companies that were jokes, frauds. Of course now, we pay the price for these crooks and their schemes to make quick money.

Here’s a very scary part to this mentality, we shop to it. We shop like our bills are paid, the mortgage is paid, the college savings is ready and retirement will afford us 50 years of luxury and bliss. We stack up credit like, something’s big will happen in our future that will settle it all and leave us even more to spend.

So what does this have to do with thrift? First off thrift is a noun, so every time I use it as a verb or adjective my spell check scolds me. The first definition of thrift in is: economical management; economy; frugality.

Spending with the intent that someday you will win the lottery, your company will go public, that big promotion is just a few months away or your bonus will be huge is wrong. No, it’s stupid. No excuse for it.

I have a set of six leaded crystal tumblers that my great grandmother, born in 1880, purchased. I believe they are Baccarat. Each tumbler is different. Why? Because my Mamaw, though college educated and well off with an educated husband who traveled the country working for various Pulitzer Newspapers, could not smartly afford to buy six at once. She saved money and when she had enough, she bought another and did so until she had a set of six. Today I’m certain the acquisition of a set of six Baccarat tumblers would have been managed quite differently and my grandmother would be appalled. Of course she would mange her words with care for she studied elocution in college, but her disappointment would be clear.

I also imagine that the reverence for the product bought on today's terms would be significantly diminished. I'm not certain what research has been done, but I imagine items that are saved for are held with a higher degree of worth than items that are simply tossed onto a mix of inflated credit accounts. Over one hundred years after their purchase, I still hold those tumblers in esteem for the effort and patience my great grandmother put into acquiring them. I knew my Mamaw, she lived well past one hundred and told me stories of days before people knew cars.

The Golightly home is over 100 years old and is an eclectic mix of items of things purchased at estate sales, yard sales, thrift stores and stuff pulled from the alley. Our snug home did not happen in one week of visits to posh furniture stores to replicate a prefabricated design, it came from years of digging, salvaging and refinishing. And it’s still not finished. It never will be.

Like a life, a home is not built in one obscene week of shopping. A home is a living thing that slowly changes over time. There is no race to finish it, so don’t shop like there is. Make each purchase mean something special to you. Make it treasure. Don't replicate pages of a catalog. Here’s a money saving hint: most treasure is not found at the mall. Treasure requires effort and effort often grows appreciation.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fond Memories of Thrift

Earlier this week, I received the following comment from the January 17th post, “Children want spending power too!”

"Twenty years ago, when I was seven, my parents started thrift store shopping. They were looking for the obscure. My two younger siblings and I were each given a quarter every Saturday to spend. We ran to the outdoor area known as the As Is Yard. It was a horrific mess! We loved it! I could pile my arms high with pieces of Barbie's Dream House and castaway dolls. The man at the front would write a ticket for the price for all the items we collected. Eventually, he caught on that we had a quarter each to spend. Funny how our tickets always added up to just that amount.

As with age, my allowance grew and I learned to save for the wonderful pre-priced paper back books found inside the store. Over three quarters of my toys were handmade or came from the As-Is Yard at Goodwill."

~ Kat Shumar of Indianapolis, IN

I realize that some adults do not have fond memories of thrifting as children. But I also know there are many who do.

For those of you who were teased about having to thrift, I am sorry. I ask you to understand it was not the thrift store that was the problem, it was the spoiled children. These spoiled children were ruthless. I was cruelly teased because I wore Keds sneakers. These kids called them Roach Killers. So, after my mother left for work I would take her Adidias sneakers and stuff the tips with socks so I could fit into them. I may have been wearing shoes two sizes too big and looked ridiculous in clown feet but the teasing stopped. It really did.

Many Americans might find it appalling that I take my children thrifting. But, like Kat, they love it. Besides I think most Americans are completely unaware of how wasteful they’ve become. I’m ready to catch that new Sundance sweater, new handmade mukluks, new Anthropologie sweater, new Banana Republic jacket, new purse, and new shoes you so casually toss over your shoulders and I’ll pay less than 5% of the price you paid. Poe, my 12-year-old daughter, has more cashmere in her closet than the average American. Little Pie Goligthly grew her own pair of Snake Eyes and now can spot cashmere off a 10 ft packed rack of sweaters. Most seven-year-old’s don’t even know what cashmere is.

The other day, Little Pie Golightly found a brand new wallet that the thrift store without a price tag. Little Pie took it to the cashier and asked for the price. The cashier smiled, “You really like that wallet?” Pie nodded. “Hmm. How about 50 cents?” Little Pie reached into her pocket, paid for her wallet and walked out of the store with new treasure.

Thank you Kat Shumar for sharing your story.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wow! This is so…You! What’s happened to the art of giving?

Many people don’t realize gift giving is a subtle art. Often people buy gifts that aren’t necessarily the recipient’s style. Ever received a gift that makes you want to declare, “Wow! This is so you! Why don’t you just keep it? You’ll get more use out of it than me.”

In no way am I trying to sound ungrateful, but I hate being wasteful. I also don’t like clutter. So, I’ll be quick to tote unwanted gifts off to the return desk or thrift store donation bins. This makes me sad because dollars were simply wasted and I wasn’t left feeling honored, just dejected. A little seed called, “You Don’t Know Me” starts to grow, and grow until have to I kill it with some kind of emoti-cide, usually in a prescription form.

Are my tastes so hard to clock? I wear black. Lots of urban black. I wear scarves and berets. I love quality scented candles, almost always have one burning. I wear artisan sterling jewelry. I read a lot. I collect childrens books. I garden like mad. I camp. So why do I get a floral flannel robe festooned with ruffles and cheap, itchy lace? Because the person who bought it for me was thinking of themselves. I won't even wear that thing if I make it to 80.

We do think of ourselves, a lot. Especially when we wait until the last minute to buy a gift, often during the holidays. This is exactly what retailers want because you are unknowingly lost and most relieved to discover that fork in the retail road. To the left is “I Like It Avenue.” To the Right is “Impulse Buy Boulevard”. Most take the Boulevard because it's broad and wide and the stores are piled high with easy-to grab-items of construction that would give the smallest Pyramid of Giza a run for its scale. The sales associates tell you this impulse buy is the hottest thing this season, least that's what management said. So how do these associates really know? Next time, ask them if they have a [inset impulse buy here]. Chances are they cannot afford one or wouldn't want it if they could.

Impulse items eventually land on the shelves of thrift stores where they end up not selling and are thus crated off to third world countries. So I wonder if there is a person in Bolivia in a hut with no electricity staring blankly at a chocolate fountain at this very moment. Where do impulse buys go to die? I mean, how many fondue pots does this world need? Since the '60's there are fondue pots from just about every decade sitting on the shelves at thrift stores. Is there an artist out there who can turn these fondue pots into art? Now that's a challenge! If you bought a chocolate fountain or a fondue pot please don't feel bad. We've all bought impulse buys and must find a way to break this cycle.

Whoops! I'm stepping up on soap box! America needs some serious retail reform! I'm talking hard core, urine test, stress test, blood test get a new personal trainer, doctor and diet reform! Consumers have but one major problem, uh, we've been jobless for months, some well over a year, and therefore no income which basically translates to, WE HAVE NO MONEY! The only change consumers need in our lives at this moment is employment.

So far, retailers keeps pointing their fingers shouting like Gilbert Gottfried, "They're not buying items at a rate that satisfies our profit expectations! Hey Feds we need a bail out!" This becomes national news in print, radio and TV. We watch it nightly. Sigh. Did you know the pornography industry sought a bail out? Another sigh.

Well, a nun (even though I'm not Catholic) told me when I was five that when you point your finger there are three more pointing back at you. I guess the thumb isn't considered a pointer.

Okay, someone's thinking, "Damn! She's being hard on retail!" In the words of my family's matriarch, "Someone's gotta be!"

Okay, off my soapbox and back on point: Impulse items are mostly given by people who feel like they have an obligation to give. Now that sucks. Shouldn’t giving be fun?

There’s another crowd, those who want to honor people on certain occasions with reminders that we love them and give them things that might make them feel a little spoiled or make their life a little easier. I like to hang with these guys. But to do this, you have to be smart and think ahead and shop year-round. And, you have to know your family and friends. Really size them up and be selfless. And you know what's really cool about these people? They are not giving to get. They are just giving, no hidden agenda.

It’s not so hard to learn your friends' likes. Look at how they dress. Do they wear solids, prints, wool, cotton, urban, conservative? What is the style of their home? What are their hobbies? What kind of food do they like? Do they entertain? Do they travel? When they are chatting, what books do they mention they are reading? What are they listening to when you ride with them in their car or visit their home? Isn't this what friendship is about? Listening and learning about your friends? Knowing them?

Want examples? Fine. I have a family member or friend who:
  • Could give any French baker a run for their money. She gets unusual cookie molds and copper cookware.
  • Can BBQ, smoke, roast, saute anything pork, beef, chicken or lamb to sublime measure. I give him tools to assist with his art.
  • Was in the Peace Corps in Thailand, has a cabin in the mountains and her home has walls painted a delicious pumpkin color. She gets items in a combination thereof.
  • Is a major bibliophile. He gets rare and vintage books.
  • Is a Franco-phile. He gets anything French.
  • Enters more flower shows in a year than the number of countries in Central America. She gets unusual vases, anything that might provide an advantage over her competition. Hey, they don’t call her “Blue Ribbon Betty” cause she takes honorable mention.
  • Loves anything manly, as in "Dogs Playing Poker" and manly BBQ trays.
  • Has a home that looks fresh out of the pages of Victoria. She gets items that enhance that image.
  • Has just about everything he wants. He asks for and gets written letters.
  • Loves a spot of red. She gets things with a spot of red.
  • A friend who collects scales and wants more cowbell.
Plug all this into a grid into your head and take it to the thrift store throughout the year. You’ll be astounded by the wonderful things you’ll find. Why the thrift store? Because it’s like a Morrocan Bazaar, a ParisianFlea Market or Portobello Road. Everything and anything is there, just waiting. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit romantic. I've never been fond of the white institutional feel of most thrift stores. So, use you're imagination, we don't use it enough anyway.

You’ll be fighting back the urge of giving their gift early because you’ll be so excited. It’s true. Ask Mr. Golightly. I do it to him all the time, poor guy. “Honey, here’s your birthday present two months early!” He hates it when I do that. I even have to physically corner him to release my selfish urge. But I don’t think it’s so bad because I find something else to add on to his birthday booty. So it’s not like his birthday arrives and he is left giftless. And, since I thrift, I spend about$20.

Thrift now. Up on the top left of this page, there is a “Thrifting Gift Guide” slide show full of over 200 items of thrift to whet your whistle. Below that is a “How to Thrift" section of posts that should help the novice along their path to becoming thriftmasters.

Here's one more incentive to go. Maybe, just maybe you'll make restitution with all those gifts that you had to be polite about. I assure that on your adventures, you'll find many things that will make you declare, "Oh! This is so me! I love it! Thank you!" And, it will most likely fall in the $0.99-$4.99 range.

Given all that I have just written, you should be a good two months into your holiday shopping and have bought a few birthday gifts early. You're with me, right? If you're not, don't come to me in January, 2010 and ask, "Why am I broke?" While all the gifts you gave are on the shelves at Goodwill. Godspeed!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who is Shopping Golightly?

For kicks Bunny Glitter listed Golightly as their Interesting Person of the Week.