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.


Sewfast said...

Well said!!!

Songbirdtiff said...

Amen, my friend. I hate shopping with lists, I like shopping with my taste. I like it, I buy it, I use it. I went to the mall a few weeks ago, I went straight to the store, used my coupons, got my free shoes, and got the heck out of there. I hate that place, but a girl can't pass up free shoes. :)

Sonya said...

Loving every single post.

Melissa said...

Great post! I explained Snake Eyes to my husband last Friday, when I came home with a MAJOR thrift score. For two years I've been on the hunt for a dark brown leather Coach bag, ever since I bought my sister one brand new (steeply discounted) for xmas. I've been searching on ebay, the outlet stores, sales - nothing close to what I've been willing to pay.

Then last Friday my spidey sense tingled and I stopped at Goodwill and there, right inside the door, in the 'boutique' section - the precise bag I've been looking for, looking brand new, trapped behind a rack of ugly. Since I'd done my research I knew it wasn't fake, and for $30 it's MINE, ALL MINE ($250 retail price).

That feeling - when you've beaten the system - is the best feeling. Better than easy pickings on the clearance rack in a retail store, because you waited and watch and bided your time until the right opportunity came along. Thrift rocks!

Elizabeth said...

This is why I love your blog. You just make sense. I have haunted thrift shops for 35 years and I still love a bargain. Don't make lists and rarely go to the mall. I am so happy that garage sale season has finally started. I'm looking for two twin beds and won't be happy until I find them.

Christina said...

Great post! To tell you the truth, I love not making lists for thrift stores, because I love looking at everything to see what great deals I can find. I actually hate shopping retail now, unless I need something specific - even then, it's not nearly as fun, and I know I'm not getting a bargain.

NMPatricia said...

As I make the transition from old thinking to new thinking, I so wish you could put my brain in the paint mixing machine to break some of the synapses.

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason you chose the word mind instead of mindset? Nice message, but the usage bugged me throughout.

Shopping Golightly said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your correction. I’ve changed the writing in the article to reflect your suggestion. I consider myself a novice blogger and have always told my friends I need an editor. I was in a nasty auto accident in 2003 that gave my head quite a thump. Since then spell check has been one of my best friends. Should you be interested in assisting, I welcome your input.

Ms Shopping Golightly

Jayme said...

Wonderful post! My family sometimes gets frustrated with my thrifting mindset, but my Snake Eyes are not to be denied. When I bring home jeans that retail for over $100 ($4.00 from the thrift store) my teenage daughter can't deny she's pleased. She's wearing True Religion and 7 for All Mankind when we're on a no clothes shopping kind of budget. Too bad I rarely find those kinds of jeans in MY size. I'll never give up hope.

Saver Queen said...

Excellent article. Thrifting requires vision - to see beyond what current condition an item is in, but also to have foresight into your future needs.

However, I do make thrift lists (or at least mental lists!) But this would include items that are not urgent needs, but rather on-the-look-out-for items. For example, I have a pile of kitchen needs - rice cooker, measuring cups, cake pan, etc - so I will be keeping this list in the back of my head as yard sales, church sales and antique sales crop up this summer.

I think these kinds of lists help you weed out what you need and what is just clutter. I do read many blogs where thrifters just pile up more and more junk because it is kitchy-chic. I try to stick to buying items that I will actually need or that add value to my home.

Leslie said...

I really enjoyed this post. Delving into the mindset of a thrifter - clever, proactive planners, leaders - absolutely. I've been a thrifter all my adult life - it takes vision, persistence and savvy to do what we do. I am passing that mindset on to my two little thrifters too. Keep on keeping on!

grunge-queen said...

You've helped me put a finger on something that's been bothering me about my own thrifting habits. I'm the first to decry the homogeneity of the mall and what you call the retail mindset, and I think your idea about thrifters ruling the world rocks!

But as interesting as that distinction is I gotta tell you when I shop thrift, though I do it with flair and creativity (no lists!) and I genuinely believe it's a distinct lifestyle choice, there's a teeny part of me that feels my shopping is characterized by the same sort of compulsion that drives others to go to the mall.

Sure thrift is green and good in so many ways, but I don't feel I can get too smug because when I boil it down my behavior doesn't seem that different from the millions of non-thrifting North Americans who find the same thing in WalMart as I do in the thrift aisle: shopper's high, salvation through consumption.

Consumption is a part of our lives and I'm not making value judgments against that - but I do think there are some powerful cultural mechanisms that instill an even more powerful sense of self-hood that's bound up with acquiring THINGS ... and maybe that's where retail and thrift mindsets can overlap. Would love to hear your thoughts - thanks for providing forum for me to work through this. /K

Saver Queen said...

grunge-queen - Excellent points. I agree that if thrifting is a habit or a hobby it can easily escalate to the point where consumption and accumulation of "stuff" is a bigger part of our lives than it really needs to be.

I try to find a balance - I thrift for things I need and occasionally treat myself to something special. But it's important to set limits for yourself. I think this is a good way of keeping the shopping habit in check.

Miss C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miss C said...

I think the want to acquire things is part of that leftover hunter-gatherer instinct. Its just too bad people buy into the pretty picture painted by retailers. Its sad to me to see people that buy these super seasonal thins that I know will either: 1. end up in thrift stores 2. Are poor quality and might not even make it to thrift stores 3. Look sort of ridiculous- did you ever notice people that dress like the page out of a fashion magazine usually just look out of place and well, silly? I am on a college campus 3 days a week, and I see it all the time. What's the problem with waiting to buy something you really like instead of just settling with the cheapest thing possible?

Another point completely unrelated I wanted to bring up is clothing for the *ahem* larger woman (and men, actually). I have been shopping around the plus sized sections lately, and have noticed that pickin's can be slim. My theory here is that its so hard to find decent looking plus sized clothes in general (aka- dont make me wear another muu-muu top or pair elastic waist pants!) that people don't tend to get rid of them very quickly! Sorry, kind of a rant, but I am still hopeful!

Lastly- being inspired by this blog has meant a whole lot to me. I am going to be working at a sleep-away camp (meaning I live there all summer except most weekends), and I have decided to both sew and thrift everything I can. And guess what? I already found a great trunk/ footlocker for $10. Yay! Wish me luck today...

The Prudent Homemaker said...

Thank you for this post. I enjoyed it immensely.

You made me think about several things.

And that set of Beatrix Pottter books retails for something like $150! Amazing!

Shopping Golightly said...

Yup, and the Beatrix Potter set has clearly never been opened! Little Pie will love it as a holiday gift. A lot of the athletic wear I bought that day was brand new. I bet I saved over $500 and spent $50 on items that will be put to good, honest use. Am itching to get in those mountains to camp but the snow must melt first. I am not a winter camper! Brr! It's even snowing in Denver today.

Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam said...

Wow - after all those interesting comments, there has not been anything not touched on...
Thrift, in many ways, defines me as well....glad I am passing it on to my children so they never have to dump the retail mentality. :0

Shopping Golightly said...


Raising children that do not have the Red, White and Blue retail mentality in this country deserves an award! I laud you!

Anonymous said...

I've recently started thrifting, thanks to you, and I'm having a great time! Thursday's are 1/2 off children's clothes and toys at my Goodwill; and now my son (10 months) has more toys than any baby could want. I just wanted to comment and tell you a big THANK-YOU for the inspiration!


Frugal Babe said...

Yes, yes, yes!! My husband and I are determined that we will never set foot in any Disney theme park with our son. He'll be one next week, and his favorite toys are pinecones, junk mail from our recycle box, an empty plastic bottle, and a toilet paper tube that has a ping pong ball taped inside it (we made it for the cat, but our son loves it). He also loves the mini keyboard that we got at a thrift store.
We love to hike, and can't wait to put him in our hand-me-down backpack and head for the trails this summer.
I never make lists when I go thrifting. I sometimes have something in mind, but I'm open to possibilities. And I almost always find stuff I hadn't thought of.

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