Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don’t splurge! Purge! You’ll feel much better.

I value emails and comments from readers. This email came in last Saturday after the September 25th post, I’m sorry major retailers, say what?

Dear Thrifty Chicks,

On my job, we were invited to have old papers shredded in exchange for donating food for the Food Bank…I took 9 big boxes of old paper to the shredding truck!

Tossing out the old paper was like Atlas getting a chance to take the load of the world off his shoulders!

It felt so good that I sorted through the clothes in my closet and found 50+ garments that were the wrong color, size, fabric, or style and took them to three or four of my favorite thrift stores. Not only did I feel good about recycling the garments for those who can use them and get them at a reasonable price, but I also appreciate the tax write-off. I also had a defiant, courageous feeling, "You call this a recession! Hah! I can afford to let go of these clothes!" [Like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn].

Clearing the clutter made me feel much better than if I had just acquired new things. What is left (of the clothes, at least) is harmonious with each other, and I can better see what garments I need than in a crowded closet. I still have plenty.

This process has been one of the most uplifting events I have experienced in years!

Karen A. McDowell

Denver, CO

Three points need to be highlighted:
  • Clearing the clutter made Karen feel better.
  • She can now utilize her closet because it's not stuffed and her wardrobe mates, meaning she can build more ensembles from less.
  • She still has “plenty.”
Compare that to a trip to the mall to engage in some retail therapy and a few more items that would have been lost in the mix of an overstuffed closet.

We need to wind up that donation cycle and jump start this reuse economy. When economists study sales indicators and make statements about the condition of the national economy, I’m not certain thrift is tossed into the mix. But, it’s high time it is.

How about us take all the stuff we’ve been buying for the last 30 some odd years and put it into the reuse market and make it explode! Good grief America, the inventory is sitting unused in your homes, filling up rooms and closets.

Thank you Karen for such great testimony. And, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a favorite book of mine. I have a vintage hardback copy for my library that I bought for $1 at the thrift store. Last night I began reading to my youngest daughter Little Pie. It's a long book and will require some editing while reading but I figure it's a story she should know. Little Pie was very intrigued how the children of the neighborhood salvaged gum wrappers and bottles to take to Carney's to sell for pennies on Saturdays. It's hard to imagine that Betty Smith based this book on her childhood and was published a mere 66 years ago. So much has changed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm sorrry major retailers, say what?

Okay folks, we are in hard times. As of August, the US unemployment rate is 9.6% and it’s on the rise. More layoffs. I’m baffled by the lack of response from the retail market. I don’t watch much TV and we don’t carry cable or dish. But when I do, I see business as usual in commercials and am left feeling deficient because there is no possible way I can go out and live as the television instructs. Retail denial, that's what it is.

We need to reform our retail structure and there has not been one word about in Washington. It's head-scratching to watch this Economy of Excess flap around like a fish trying to get back to water to swim through this deep recession. Retailers, the days of more upon more upon more are behind us. An Economy of Excess is simply not sustainable. It's hurting our pocket books, the economy of our communities, our health and our planet. How do we overhaul this broken retail system?

Retailers don't get it as highlighted in this article brought to me by The Queen of Fifty Cents from the LA Times, "Savers need to resume buying habits to aid recovery, experts say." As far as I'm concerned she is the Queen of the Fiftieth Sense! "Experts" are telling us, who have no money, we need to start spending to get us out of this mess? Do "experts" really think the average American's tiny little pocket book is going to get us out of this mess? Who are these "experts?" I desperately need a job and think I could make a lot more sense and produce a healthier economy than they've been. I want to elbow my way through this crowd and take the helm.

Hey America, it's time to Dump Our Current Retail Mindset! Eventually retailers are going to be forced into change because I need that money for my mortgage payment, not some stupid chocolate fountain or a $90 pair of jeans!

This is reminiscent of the whaling industry scoffing at the prospects that a coal industry would ever take over the need for whale oil. Why everyone needs whale oil!

Stock your stores all you want guys. We cannot feed your registers if we can barely feed ourselves. Many of us cannot even afford your sale racks.

My grandfather grew up in The Great Depression. He honestly tells me he never felt deficient because "we were all in it together." I sense no togetherness here. I sense an odd isolation and a confused fragmentation. I sense identity crisis.

We cannot let times like this pass without it making a permanent mark on our ways. This is a time to suck in some serious life lessons. I wish we could turn back to the days of economic practices of my great grandmother as described in the March 10th post Six Baccarat Tumblers.

I personally like Le Dandy’s Shopper’s Fast.

You are not alone like the TV might like you to think! And this recession is not your fault. Maybe this post sounds a bit angry, but given the path that the American consumer's have been led and being told shopping is patriotic, someone's gotta be! We're none the better for it! In fact, we're jobless and in the hole.

Should you want more on this Economy of Excess and the lessons it MUST teach us, please read Kurt Anderson in the April 6, 2009 issue of TIME The End of Excess: Why this crisis is good for America. Anderson went on to write, "Reset." I've been hoping this book would eventually land on thrift store shelves and I've yet to see it, which possibly means it's something to hold on to. Yeah, new books can land on thrift store shelves in a matter of weeks of release. I was hoping Anderson's cover page feature would have made more stir in the economic dialog. But, I guess the major retailers are going to have to go by the way of the whaling ship captains.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Golightly trips to the mall and what does she see?

I’d burned through my stash of premium scented candles and decided to trip to the local upscale mall. Off to Anthropologie I go to score a few good candles in the back 40 of the store also known as the saleroom. Illume’s Yuzu Mint fragrance gets a big thumbs up and also I bought Sweet Rhubarb. They were $20 but I pay $9.75. That’s $4.75 above my Flinch Point but, hey, this is my one simple luxury. Well, it’s more than a luxury. It’s piece of mind. We have three cats and I am forever in fear that visitors can smell the litter box. The candles come in handy. The other day, I almost didn’t clip any fresh basil because I’d feared the worst. But no, it was just a pungent basil odor, nothing more. I’m not shy about my fears either and will often interrupt good friends to ask, “Do you smell cat pee? You’d tell the truth wouldn’t you?” I’m a bit flakey that way and my friends are used to it.

As I walk out of Anthroplogie I see SALE posted in five-foot tall letters in some garish color over at Urban Outfitters, a younger cousin to Anthropologie. Sale is one of my favorite words, so I’m game. In the kitchenware section I spot something that instantly flashes me back to a comment from Saver Queen from the August 27th post Faux is Foe!

“I also notice styles from antiques or vintage house wares being recreated. I recently noticed a bunch of kitchen products being sold in stores and advertised in magazines that have the "hobnail" look. I wonder why anyone would by modern hobnail items when this style can be found on vintage items that are easily gathered from garage sales or thrift store. For example, hobnail milk glass vases are a dime a dozen.”

Saver Queen is right! But what I saw reproduced at Urban Outfitters made me laugh. I cannot count how many times I seen this covered dish made in the shape of a nut with a squirrel sitting on the lid in thrift stores. It’s usually marked at $2.99 and does not fly off the shelves. So, technically one could wait for a 50% off Saturday and buy it for $1.49. The buyers at Urban Outfitters have a different approach; they are promoting a remake of this head-scratcher of a classic for $18. Don’t believe me? Click Here. If you don't see it on that page to back or forward a page. They keep moving it.

As an aside, on my way out of the mall, I spied a new boutique that caters to uninformed Francophiles. A quick look-see raised my eyebrows to find items I’d seen on the shelves of Goodwill just that week. This shop was selling a certain item at a 500% mark up. Who knew? Thrift shoppers that’s who! All other customers are unsuspecting and are paying heavily for their lack of awareness.

What a strange retail world we shop in.

Oops! I almost forgot. You know how you see all these wonderful candles in Anthropologie alight and resting in a glass container atop sand, birdseed or acorn tops?You can find those containers at thrift stores for $0.99. Or you can pay huge mark ups else ware. Tough choice, but someone's gotta make it.
So, say I bought the original at the thrift store on a 50% off Saturday, which run frequently. I could pick the original for about 8% the cost of the remake. Funny, I always thought originals were worth more than remakes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Would you? Could you be an environista?

We’ve been having a lot of laughs lately. But I feel a need to bring back an old post from January and get a little serious.

Thrift is easy on the pocket book. It’s a sustainable economic practice. It drives funds into charities that repurpose lives. Thrift is an eco-friendly practice and this is not always discussed.

The act of thrifting can be silly and light and fun. But, it is a serious endeavor and we need more people participating because, trust me, American homes have enough inventories to feed our nations thrift stores for a good long while.

We need to change our retail ways and going to the neighborhood thrift is one of the easiest ways to start.

January 28, 2009

For months I’ve been brainstorming a sister for frugalista. I’m a proud frugalista. But, it’s not just frugality that drives my thrift store pulse. As mentioned before, Shopping Golightly is also Shopping Go Green.

I’ve been hard pressed to find a word that describes a person who “shops with the intention of reducing their personal carbon footprint.” I’ve thought and thought and thought. I’ve banged my head against my desk. I went on a week-long vision quest in Death Valley without water, food, clothes and sunscreen. (Well, okay, I did that my dreams.) I even got punchy and fell into Rob Schneider’s SNL Copy Guy persona, “The Greenster, the Eco-ater, the Green Meister savin’ the planet, protectin’ dolphins. Greenorama, Green!”

I tried eco-thrifter on Wikipedia and the wiki police eventually gave that humble attempt the boot. Admittedly, I didn’t think it all that great but had to try something.

Then it hit me, environista! It rolls off the tongue just like frugalista! We need environistas! We need a whole lot of environistas!

I kindly ask you to comment to this post and pledge that you too are not only a frugalista but a smart and beautiful, handsome environista too! Okay?

For other references on this topic, please see my commentary in The Christian Science Monitor on March 2nd “Green shopping, Don’t Say ‘eww’ to thrift stores” and on May 3rd “We count calories. Why not carbon?”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sturdy Black Dress

My hand-crafted, little black dress for $8.99 from Goodwill was so well made, I just learned I've been wearing it INSIDE OUT for over six months since purchase! Call me a fool but the only words I’ve received while wearing that dress were compliments.

It took Little Pie, while zipping up the back this morning, to discover this fact. Tell me folks, can you buy something of THIS quality, so nice you can't tell inside from out, for $8.99 at a mall? Don't think so.

Now get to the thrift store and find your item of exquisite quality. It’s there. I’ll race you!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Parable on Retail Pinches

Many times, in many posts, I’ve noted the trick to spending smartly is avoiding the great Retail Pinch, the times we must purchase something quickly, usually spending more than we’d like. The retail world prefers we shop by Pinch; Summer Pinch, Back-to-School Pinch, and the Holiday Pinch, reported in all venues of national media. Many people unknowingly fall victim to this cycle and burn through a lot of money and worse, credit. This spent money could have been used for other needs.

Thinking like a pioneer and shopping ahead in thrift stores helps avoid the Retail Pinch. Why thrift stores? Because the thrift store, by nature, offers a greater diversity of product, often not limiting the shopper to a season, trend, or brand. Many of today’s thrift stores are chock full of the leftovers of retail therapy, wasteful spending and offer quality products, often new, for a less than 10% retail value as in the post, "What's the bait? Where's the Switch?"

Despite my distaste for Pinches, they happen. But, I recently learned that they can happen even when you’re prepared. I guess I knew this deep down, it just hadn’t come to light.

I learned this vis a vis a parable of sorts that happened this Sunday during Labor Day weekend. Though the unexpected Pinch was out of my control, my preparedness made a huge difference in the outcome.
My family was hiking Little Pie’s second Colorado 14ner, a mountain over 14,000’. Mt. Princeton is in the Collegiate Peak Range, near Buena Vista. (Petite Poe wanted to hike Mt. Harvard. There is a superstition about the Collegiates. But, Mt. Harvard is a long hike, much too demanding for Little Pie at eight-years-old.) The above photo is of us at the 14,197' summit.

We played by all rules of smart mountaineering. We had all the right gear, the majority of it vis a vis the thrift store which, on this trip, saved me an easy thousand to outfit a family of four.

Mountaineering at high altitudes is like a fashion show. The weather is in severe flux forcing a constant change of attire. But unlike fashion shows, mountaineering lacks the behind the scenes crew to snap the hiker out of one ensemble and on with another in a matter of seconds with a pat on the rear to get back on the trail. This constant changing can grow a bit tiring but is essential to a safe and successful hike.

Maybe there is a market for ensemble changing crews on hiking trails across Colorado. They could also coif hair and yell, “Make-up!” so that all hikers looked tidy and smart as they strut the trailway.

Well equipped and prepared we were on the trail at 6:15AM, ascended the summit by noon, took a few photos, and began our descent. Upon seeing Little Pie on her final ascent, the crowd atop the mountain cheered her on, being so little as to accomplish something so big. It brought tears to my eyes. I think it embarrassed Little Pie. The photo below is us on the descent with Mt. Antero, Little Pie’s first 14ner, in the distance. Mt. Antero was the perfect hike in every way.
After going down a good 1,000’ of very steep and tiring talus, we took a break before hitting a series of switch backs around 13,000’. It was then that we saw it, the peak completely shrouded and a wall of hail rushing through the basin towards us. We had just enough time to toss on our parkas and scoot. Totally exposed on miles of talus, we were pounded by bead-size hail for over an hour following a trail over a field boulders with nothing but randomly placed cairns to keep us on target. It thundered, which meant lightning. Our eyes constantly on the trail, hidden by the collecting hail, in attempt to move as fast as possible.
I was so proud of my family, especially my daughters. We worked together in extreme circumstances without complaint, all of focused on one goal, getting everyone safe, below tree line.

Had I not supplied my family with the essential gear, we would have easily fallen into hypothermia, exposed on a mountain ridge in a hailstorm with lightning – all seriously life threatening. My husband and I spent some time stewing about what happened on Mt. Princeton. We beat ourselves up for a while. Eventually, we agreed that it was a freak storm both for the time of day and time of year. We were smart and prepared and that saved us. Our daughters learned a few serious lessons and gained a lot of confidence and are proud of their accomplishment. There were many other people on that mountain this Sunday and I am glad to note, there were no reported casualties. Being struck by lightning in the high country of Colorado is not an uncommon occurrence, but it mostly happens in the late afternoon of a hot summer's day.

The majority of the hike had fair weather with an amazing sunrise and a beautiful moon set over the peak on our way up. Upon seeing this little cloud over the peak, Piper was excited about the possibility of her being on top of this mountain and "eating a cloud".
So shop like a pioneer and think about needs in advance. Buy them in the thrift stores when they are revealed to you, whether it be your child’s winter coat for next year for $8.99 ($79.99 retail) or a new men's suit for $8.99 (retailing hundreds). This will help avoid Pinches. But, when they happen, say the furnace tanks out in January, thanks to savvy shopping, there will money on hand to cover this unexpected event and it will not become a heavy addition to a pre-existing mountain of debt or involve bushwhacking a trail to some new form of credit.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thrift Store Conventions: Camping

This post is truly off the beaten path. Enjoy.

I have a theory. On the last day of school, districts across the country slip teachers, parents and children a specially-designed sleeping potion. It’s produced in uncharted New Mexico, probably near Area 51. It could be in the punch at end-of-year picnic, in an undetectable mist, or in mechanical mosquitoes that juice you up. After receiving a dose, we go to bed feeling exceptionally tired. We sleep heavily, and have a series of dreams that make for an entire summer. The next morning is the first day of the next school year. I think schools made a deal with the rest of the world for continuity to their scheme. This is done make to us believe there is a reprieve from the grind. They call that reprieve "summer."

So summer is merely a dream. I realize there are a lot of holes in my kooky theory but I’m certain many of you are nodding, thinking, “That explains a lot! Like how me move from Memorial Day to Labor Day in a blink! Yet we cover a lot of ground before we get to the New Year.” So, I might be on to something after all, no?

Here we sit on the eve of Labor Day, and because I was sleeping, I was unable to write a post on thrift vacations where my family wanders through pristine wilderness and pays next to nothing to do so.

What is available in the bank usually dictates what is a vacation. This recession has landed on my family like Dorothy’s house landed upon the Wicked Witch of the East. Though we didn’t fall into Oz, I sometimes wish we had because all I’d need is a bucket of water to blast that evil witch and get her bat monkeys off my back. And, don’t they go to a spa in the Emerald City?

I had a “dream” my family took a 4th of July vacation that cost us nothing but the gas to get there and back; groceries (we would have needed anyway); a few cups of joe at our favorite coffee stand on THIS PLANET; a Frisbee; and one dinner out. Oh yes, I purchased my $3 vintage mohair wrap and vintage earrings for $6 mentioned in the previous post "Have you been claimed?" Not bad for five days of vacation.

For those of you who don’t camp, I’m adding pretty pictures to carry you along, so you don’t leave me. Come, be an armchair traveler to the backcountry of Colorado.

The five-hour drive from Denver to Crested Butte is a vacation in it’s own right, weaving along mountain streams; up to a plain touching 10,000' where antelope freely roam, surrounded by snow covered majestic 14,000' peaks; up to Cottonwood Pass which becomes a winding dirt road; down through a tiny canyon of red rock; and off to Jack’s Cabin Cutoff to land on the fringes of the small community of Crested Butte. The ski resort is up on the mountain and is not visible from the town. I like that. Resorts are a dime a dozen in Colorado. It's nice to feel like you're actually visiting a town, a community.

We camped about 10 miles outside town on a dirt road on Brush Creek with Teocalli Peak well above 13,000', heading off the valley. (Above is the view from our campsite near sunset.) Teocalli is reminiscent of Colorado's famous Maroon Bells near Aspen. This is not surprising because Aspen is not far as the crow flies from Crested Butte, but it’s one heck of a long car ride. You can hike it or mountain bike to Aspen via Pearl Pass but it ain’t easy.

I’m guessing by now you’re thinking, this is all lovely but “Show me the thrift!”

To really do up a happy camping trip for four to six nights with a family, you need A LOT of gear. Purchased new, this can add up to a quick thousand, easily two and on up to three. My family is completely fitted for the outdoors and much of it is owed to thrift stores. Anyone who has shopped an REI or EMS knows that outdoor clothing is expensive, but a must for serious campers. Regular cotton fabrics are no-no’s. Get them wet, you’re uncomfortably wet for hours (or days) and you'd better hope that it’s not cold, because then you’re wet, uncomfortable, and cold and that’s NOT good.

Yes, it helps to live in Colorado, I find all elite outdoor gear clothing in thrift stores and it usually sells for $3.99 to $2.99, doesn’t matter if it’s adult or child. There are flashlights, Nalgene bottles, stoves, air mattresses (for le car camper), tools, daypacks, pots and pans, coolers, stools, folding tables…all cheap. And, say you get that stove home to test it and it’s a flop. Thrift stores are easy on returns, just save the receipt and get back in ten days. For items like tents and sleeping bags, go to used sporting goods stores. They sell sleeping bags in thrift stores but generally not the kind you want for outdoors.

Acquire all this, and you now have access to supremely inexpensive, wonderful vacations for years and years to come. I’m not joking. My mummy sleeping bag is 30 years old. This stuff is good and sturdy. Our tent literally blew down the side of Medano Pass while we were away for days. But, that’s another story, a real whopper.

Many of you might not view camping as a vacation. I say a vacation must meet four criteria: 1) the biggest decision is what’s for lunch and dinner; 2) you don’t know the time or what day it is; 3) you can sleep in - but don’t because you can’t wait to start the day, and; 4) you want to extend your stay. For me, that’d be camping.

The frequency of bickering between my daughters drops down from about a gazillion times a day to one to zero when we camp. There’s something about being outdoors that puts one’s soul to peace. Look at the photo to the right. Is that love or what?

When camping you find yourself doing unexpected things that contribute to trust in the family and builds self confidence and esteem. Imagine how much trust was being offered up in the photo to the left with Daddy Golightly carrying Little Pie across freezing cold white water. Imagine the trust I had to stomach. Then the celebratory aftermath of how brave everyone felt, including myself for not freaking out.

The photos should provide enough description as to what we did on our thrifted vacation. The girls are laughing above because I just flung a cow chip on the fire. It smelled very herbal. As for Labor Day, I believe we'll go a bit north before we turn into the mountains for yet another family adventure that costs us some gas and a bag of groceries.