Thursday, April 30, 2009

We count calories. Why not carbon? Golightly's opinion in The Christian Science Monitor

It's been on my mind for several months. On every store shelf, in every product, I now see energy and imagine over-sized atomic models spinning about the store. Hey look, there goes oxygen! Cool! Check out the carbon in those bananas!

It's not frightening. It's perplexing. Why do we pretend that the daily product market is devoid of energy? Is it because physicists and engineers of energy don't go shopping? Do they leave their ideas at work? I find that hard to believe, I always have stuff simmering on the back burners of my brain.

I tossed my thoughts over to The Christian Science Monitor. They caught them and published them online, "We count calories. Why not carbon?" This article will appear in print on May 3rd.

Please read this and perhaps you'll start to see these giant atomic models in layman's terms and realize we have to slow down and overhaul the information flow between manufacturers and consumers. Wait! We need an infrastructure for this information exchange because manufactures are not sharing.

When points like mine are raised, many people find them overwhelming. Well, some things in life are just that, overwhelming. My point is certainly one of them.

We have become an impatient culture and become annoyed and find a hundred reasons not do something that might make a healthy difference when we cannot have results on demand. We bark at our PC/Macs when they don't load fast enough! I often see adults pitching fits of impatience made for a toddler.

My answer? Recognize that we need to mend our ways for a healthier world and, in the least get on the road of continual improvement. It's a long road but someone has to walk it.

Why would anyone have a problem with consumer carbon education given the current energy crisis?

What about Global Warming? Don't tell me Global Warming is all in my head. Someone hand me a fan! I'm getting warm and no it's not menopause quite yet. Ladies, remember when we were told hot flashes where in our heads?

Until the debate that will be raised is settled and the fits of impatience are tossed, I can write with certainty that if you wish to do right by the planet in your shopping carbon footprint, get thee to a thrift store where we reduce the flow of items to landfills and reuse and recycle perfectly fine products.

Looks like money is not the only thing we need to be thrifty about.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dump that retail mindset!

There are parts of our lives we know we need to change. Unfortunately we opt for an easy way out to awaken that change by taking away or adding small tasks. This works - for about a month. The above photo is of me, Little Pie and Poe a top Mt. Antero, a 14,269 feet wonder in Colorado. Read on and I'll explain.

Honest change involves a radical shift in the mindset. If we can make that shift, then the supporting simple tasks come without planning, they feel second nature.

Some folks tell me they tried to thrift but it didn’t work for them. My guess is they took the retail mindset to the thrift store. Tsk, tsk. Vinegar and oil that is!

The retail mindset is a concoction of advertising, mass media and simple laziness. It’s based in convenience and the capitalistic nature to make money, even if it destroys nature.

Isn’t it convenient that we can go to the grocery store, have our carts and cupboards full in less than an hour? Well, yes and no. It’s rather nice that we can buy a can of diced tomatoes instead of tending twenty plants for five months only to stand for at least two days over a hot stove during the dog days of summer to can tomatoes for the winter. I did that once. Regardless, I still grow tomatoes in our community plot with Denver Urban Gardens because nothing beats a true vine ripened tomato and I want my daughters to know that. I have a three-plant minimum. But I have nicely sized raspberry and blackberry patches which Little Pie’s Brownie troop regularly tends. Want raspberries to bear fruit all summer? Sic a troop of young Girl Scouts on them and they will.

This convenience comes at a cost. We lost our will to plan for the long haul. Okay, we plan for retirement, our children’s education, but we recently learned that is no guarantee. I’ve not peeked at my retirement in over a month. Why? I don’t have many sound options to exercise. I’m stuck waiting for the market to recover so why wallow?

You know what the pioneers did come spring? They started planning for the next winter. Life was a preparation for the next hardship and winter was one hell of a hardship. If we expected hardship perhaps this recession would not be as horrible as it is. Imagine what you'd have today had you not listened to the TV to engage in conspicuous consumption. What if you had saved your money in a diverse mix, part emergency funds and part savings? Hello America! Hardship is a given in life. It's going to happen. It’s good to be strong and prepared. I’m not talking bomb shelters and doomsday. No! I’m talking strength of character and wise choices.

"I ask you to dump that retail mindset. You don’t have to dump it entirely, but in the least put it in the passenger seat or better yet the trunk wrapped in duct tape. The planet and your pocket book will be better for it."
Thrifting is a green practice? For more explanation I offer the opinion piece that ran in The Christian Science Monitor, "Green Shopping, Don't say eww to thrift stores" or the blog post "Shopping Golightly is Shopping Go Green."

Ever seen those paint mixers in hardware stores? They shake the you know out of the paint in the can to mix it, mix it good. Confession: I imagine putting America’s retail mindset in one of those machines. That sounds horrible of me but it’s the only metaphor I can think of that’s strong enough to descramble all the synapses that have built this intricate, exquisitely honed mind to shop for items en masse or items that ultimately serve no meaningful purpose while piling credit debt upon credit debt. These synapses are so bold one might confuse it with instinct. Yikes!

Often times when I see tips on thrift, one of the first things I read is “Make Lists.” No! No! No! Shoppers make lists when they go to the grocery store. Making lists is so retail! It’s thrift passé. Why? Because we know that apples, butter and cream will be in supply at the grocery store. Aside from those fondue pots that I keep ranting about, one has no idea what they will find that the thrift store. There is no promise on inventory. There are high likelihoods on many products but no guarantee. So if you put a three pack of mens white undershirts on your thrift list, the odds are dismal so walk away feeling the thrift store let you down and walk right past that beautiful wool dress coat that will be ready for your daughter in six months for $6.99. Fast forward to the day before you are to take your daughter to The Nutcracker ballet and it becomes apparent your daughter is in need of a warm dress coat. On the list it goes next to stockings and men’s t-shirts and off to the department store you go to buy possibly the same brand coat for $89.95. Okay, The Nutcracker is a luxury. But it’s worth it. I still remember when we went in Chicago and I saw Baryshnikov.

When I shop thrift, I’m shopping months out from today and I shop with Snake Eyes and let The Thrift Effect guide me with my $5 flinch point. If it’s a screaming deal, I’ll shop years out. I hit three stores yesterday with no list and picked up a load of athletic/hiking wear for the girls, a holiday gift for my grandmother and a complete set of Beatrix Potter books for Little Pie’s holiday. Much of it was new for roughly $3 per item.

We plan to camp the summer away and get on top of many of Colorado’s highest peaks so the hiking apparel will be worn a lot. Did you know Little Pie hiked Mt. Antero last year? At seven, she did seven miles with a 3,000 foot elevation gain to suck air at 14,269 feet above sea level. Call me crazy but that family experience beats the tar out of some pre-fab theme park experience. And, it involved honest accomplishment. To think there are children who grow up in Colorado who will never plant their feet on top of a majestic 14ner or 13ner but will tell you they've been to Disneyland to ride a teacup. Sure Disneyland is an American thing. But you have to admit things like purple mountain's majesty trump teacups. But that is my little soapbox.

The thrift mindset is a creative one, adaptable, flexible and capable of reaching into the needs six months out from the present. I’d wager that thrift mindsets make great leaders. Leaders with retail mindset are - quite possibly - misnomers. Why? Because they can’t see past the selfish needs of the moment and don’t factor in how those needs will play into the future.

So if you are to grow a mindset, what’s it going to be? Warning, if you want thrift, turn off the TV or at least give cable the boot. All those commercials on childrens networks, even the shows, are building young retail mindsets. Trust me. Children do not need the toys you see in the aisles of chain retailers but Children Want Spending Power Too and the thrift store is about the only place they can actually buy things with an earned allowance. Unless your child earns $20 allowance which seems steep for an eight year old.

I babysat my dear friend’s 10 month old last week. She and I had a great time playing with pinecones from the Colorado blue spruce in the backyard. Their papery texture captivated her.

Or how about the bamboo Geisha shoes I found for $2 for Little Pie yesterday? Walking in those shoes is like walking on stilts. She loves them. However it's opened up what I know will be a month-long conversation as to why she cannot wear them to school - one month because that is all that remains in the school year. Had I procured them in January, I'd have pulled my hair out explaining by now.

Oh, and while you're thinking thrift. How about putting your name on the petition for National Thrift Store month? Give thrift a little lift. The icon link is at the top right of this page. Godspeed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thrift or Miss II

Here's the Yoana Baraschi dress purchased at Goodwill for $8.99 that I will wear to Goodwill's annual Power of WorK Luncheon recognizing individual achievements within the Goodwill community. How appropos to wear a thrifted dress.

The dress is silk with grosgrain ribbon pleates. This is one of my favorite dresses EVER and I saved hundreds of dollars.

So when you hit the thrift store doldrums (referenced in the post below), just remember that treasure may only be a rack away. So, it's thrift or miss baby!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thrift or Miss

I have bouts of thrift store depression. Surprised? Don’t be. It’s not something that requires medication but it’s still melancholy. I even get resentful, “If I see another fondue pot, I’m going to slap it on my head and walk barefoot into those cragged peaks due west of Denver and make Starbucks out of snow!”

I sometimes fall from thrift shopping grace and want to ride my own rolling dress racks into Anthropologie singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” then stack up more Sundance necklaces than Mr. T only only to race over to Nordstrom to grab more shoes than I am capable of confessing.

My husband and I have enough credit to do that. We just don’t have enough money. There’s a big difference between fantasy and reality that can make for a lot of trouble.

In the throes of my retail self-pity, something small happens that forces me pause. Yesterday I purchased a beautiful Yoana Baraschi dress for $9 at Goodwill. I’ll be wearing that dress to their annual Power of Work Luncheon. My husband will be striking in his $9 Kenneth Cole suit with a practically new Hermes wallet purchased for $3 at the Disabled American Veterans thrift store in his pocket. Acquiring those things new would have at least cost $2,000. The people who meet us will never know unless I spill the beans. When complimented, I say, “Why, thank you. I purchased this at [insert thrift store].” Their eyes pop. I never care to guess why.

Some of my friends like to debate with me about designer and name brands. They ask, isn’t it counter to thrift to shop such brands? Aren’t I falling prey to the retail machine, just at the thrift store level? I understand their point. But, at many thrift stores, a sweater is a sweater regardless of origin. So toss out the name brand mark up. If there is a mark up, it’s usually $3 not $300.

It’s not necessarily the brand but the quality. Quality makes sense and thrift stores make quality affordable. Designer doesn’t guarantee quality. I’ve seen designer items I don’t think would make it through one season let alone one wash.

Many people ask me for guidance on names and brands. I really don’t have much to advise. I’m not a label guru. I’ve learned more about quality fabrics and design in my last four years of serious thrift than I have learned in decades. Get in the racks. Learn the feel of quality fabric; get yourself a pair of Snake Eyes.

When I really think about it, this whole notion of shopping in divine elegance is an American device and you don’t always walk away with better merchandise. Consider the markets of the world. They aren’t hung with chandeliers and music to get you in the mood for a little afternoon consumer delight. They’re loud open places with stalls of people selling handmade wares and people shouting, bargaining prices. Yeah, that’s how most of the world shops. Most of the world doesn’t even shop in grocery stores! Okay, many western countries have posh stores. They do. But, they also have more open-air markets than we have malls and I think they’re better for it.

So when I'm feeling sorry for my self because I am not willing to shop out of league with my bank account, something serendipitous always comes my way via the thrift store that reminds me that I'm shopping smart and still find the good stuff.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Catch ‘em while they’re young

The credit industry is so tired of hounding Mr. Golightly and I to take on more cards they’ve finally given up. Hallelujah!

Now American Express is offering both our daughter’s free airline tickets for becoming esteemed card members. They even sent along fakey boarding passes with their names printed right on ‘em. Litte Pie’s convinced she’s going to Paris. That ticket looks pretty real when you’re eight and why should a silly little word like “sample” spoil the fun? The kid is packing and ready to give any ticket agent a big what for that denies her.

There’s a few hitches with the credit application process for my children. What do we list household income? We haven’t reported allowances or babysitting income. We thought reporting would land us in a trap with child labor laws.

Forget the Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar, can’t you just hear Veruca Salt with that snappy British accent, “Oh Daddy I want an American Express Card and I want it now!” Pray that never be my child! What would my Mamaw or Grandmother Hardin think, lending agents after their grandchildren!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Channeling Grandmother Hardin

The news is bad. We keep hoping the economy’s hit rock bottom, a radical change in American morale compared to the last 80 years. When addicts beg for rock bottom, they’re usually there. But, our economy? Who knows?

Decades of living large and buying cheap have finally snagged us. It was long run kicked off by the racing gun fired in the 80’s. But, I guess all the junk we kept collecting weighed us down and now we’re caught good, pinned down by debt and unemployment.

Despite our frugality, the Golightly’s are in hard times too. So, I’m channeling Grandmother Hardin, my great, great grandmother, hoping she’ll reach back through the generations and share her sage advice. She was a survivor of The Depression. I recommend we all channel the women in our linage that ran the households of The Depression. Summon them now! They are the ones with the sound advice, not news anchor teams claiming they have the secrets to “Beating the Recession.” Sheesh!

Golightly thrift has saved us from what would feel like complete oblivion, foreclosure or bankruptcy. 10 years ago the line was laid to ignite the Denver market. We started house hunting when the fuse was first lit and spitting and flickering it’s way to the final ka-boom. In response, we were pre-approved on a loan to help initial offers stand solid. It nearly knocked the wind out of me to learn what banks were willing to throw at us. What? You want me to dive that deep into debt? Don’t we need pressurized submarines to go down there?

I fired the first realtor. He kept thinking he could nudge me up showing me homes with master suites with fiberglass monstrosities they call bath tubs and more bathrooms than we have people and pets in our family with a three-car garage. We were a one-car family. It might make sound me old and feisty but I’ve always said, “A car is a heavy thing to carry around and a pain to store and park.” Toss in a few explicates for emphasis if you like. That’s the simple truth. Here that Detroit? Cars are heavy! Make them light not lite! Make them go lightly too! For goodness sake be real and be honest!

I have Grandmother Hardin’s Singer treadle sewing machine. It’s basically a piece of furniture. She made her living off it and I surely suspect she made my grandfather’s boyhood clothes with it. It came to my home a few years ago, damaged by many years of sitting on crowded back porch with a good deal of water exposure. I tenderly took the wooden pieces apart to refinish them. I no idea the scale of this project, which lasted a month where she evened entered my dreams. The damaged veneer on the machine was too expensive to replace so I carefully sanded and stained every part to match. I felt I was resurrecting her legacy and coming to know the woman who was such a profound force in my grandfather’s life. He, in turn, is a profound force in mine.

Grandmother Hardin’s legacy was thrift. She walked the sidewalks looking down for lost coins, did her own dry cleaning for her husband’s suits and reused everything imaginable from buttons and zippers on thread bare clothes to wax paper.

Though she was thrift personified, she had enormous generosity for the things that mattered, mainly her grandson. And, what she gave always grew into something good. He has stories about her that would bring a tear to the hardest of hearts.

I’ve visited her grave only once. It’s far off in the country in a small town. I guess that’s a bit symbolic because her frugal lifestyle has been in an out of the way existence for a long time. The day I visited, I had a few minutes alone with her to thank her for her creation and care for my grandfather. I left a penny next to her gravestone as a small token. Why a penny and not a quarter? Well, I just don’t think there’s inflation in her current plane of existence and I’d like to think it’s a place where a penny can still make someone smile and say, "Thank you."

Sadly, I don’t know my way around a sewing machine, maybe when the children leave for college. But for now, I’m happy to sit at the machine, tap that smooth, perfectly balanced treadle and try to get in closer touch with the part of me that is Grandmother Hardin. Now more than ever, I need her. She knew thrift and never felt like it meant sacrifice, it just made common sense. As I tap the treadle I realize that we might have amazing new technologies, gadgets and gizmos, but what does that earn us without common sense and thrift?