Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thrift is truly orginal haute couture

"Do people mind that you give used gifts?"

That's a frequent question. As I have written many times, it's hard to discern the origins of my gifts (unless it's clearly vintage) because I free new products from their horrid packaging. Look, this packaging is not designed to delight the recipient, the intention is to slide that product over home plate (the register scanner) to be added on to a score board (a well stacked credit card statement). [Sigh.]

Besides, my friends and family know that I give thrift. But, whenever I surprise someone they look at me with mouth agape. "Where!" they demand. Upon learning they usually follow up with, "I'm going there tomorrow!"

If you are new to thrift, please scroll down and on the left there is a series of posts on How to Thrift. Since thrift has recently been in the news, many reporters, with no thrift experience, have taken weak stabs at "How to thrift." I find 99% of these articles quite lacking. The thrift couture is an entirely separate game from conventional retail. With the exception of paying the cashier, the rules are completely different. Trying to mix them would be like serving goulash and sushi for dinner. Blech! Wonderful separately. But a disaster when mixed.

Mr. Golightly heard this intriguing piece, Second Hand Christmas in France, from Public Radio International's The World. I recommend you listen and be a little more enlightened about other cultures. So, not only do the French eat lovely buttery, creamy treats with fine wine while still managing a lovely figure; but their haute sense of style is due in part to second hand items. However, I learned from a spot on CBS Sunday Morning that the recent rise in the French obesity rate might just be linked, in part, to the rise in sales of Big Mac's in France. [Double sigh.] American influence is not always a plus, well maybe in dress size.

Unfortunately our country, probably by geological design, has a tendency for monoculture. Consumerism has done an amazing job of furthering and filtering a craving for excessive homogeny through nearly every aspect of American culture from chain restaurants to clothing to furniture to home designs. I believe this merely happened because it's cheaper to produce 20,000,000 pairs of the same blue jean design than it is to produce 20,000,000 originals. Let me be plain, I think that kind of sucks and wonder if most Americans really understand what it means to be an original or how we desperately need originals. The idea of being an "original" has even been mass marketed! Come again?

Esteemed author Michael Pollan points out the perils of farming monoculture species in his best seller, The Botany of Desire. This amazing book was made into a PBS documentary. I recommend the both it and the documentary. The documentary is easily viewed online.

I believe Pollan's argument in favor of promoting plant diversity holds true to human culture. Much that plays out in nature plays out in human culture. The parallels are astounding. We need pioneers. We need diversity. We need originals. Else-wise our culture will weaken and problems will be widely homogeneous, like mass obesity, children with brittle bones, mass home foreclosures, mass credit card debt, mass unemployment, dot com bubbles, real estate bubbles, and overdependent reliance on one particular source of energy...I truly believe a healthy culture has diversity on many levels.

If you're a parent, don't follow trends. My best advice to do is to yank the cable TV and dare your child to develop their personal inner interests. Our children really are truly individuals until commercials take hold of them. Let them decide what they enjoy and they will grow up to be originals, pioneers.

If you are a new visitor to this blog, be certain to scroll back up and pull up the Thrift Catalog slide show featuring over 240 items. This could give you an idea of what could be waiting for you. Also check to the Table of Blog Contents to read on how to incorporate thrift into your life in Thrift Store Conventions.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Golightly 2009 Holiday Annual Report

This Friday was the last day for the 2009 school year. We are now on official holiday break. Friday was a giant personal deadline, my cut off date for purchasing holiday gifts and having them wrapped and ready for Christmas morning. I don’t like staying up until 2AM to wrap gifts while my children sleep.

Like most deadlines it can be a bit frantic as it nears completion. It’s not the shopping that makes this deadline brutal, it’s the wrapping. Given that I have 365 days to find items that recipients will appreciate, I won’t stress over shopping. Along my quest, I find items my family needs, often in advance of the need. This too lowers my stress.

My methodology is quite different from the 28 days of standard holiday shopping from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. As explained in the post Designing a Thrift Routine, most of it is accomplished in a series of 10-minute recon strikes married to the routine of my errand life. For example, when I visit the bank, I visit the thrift store next door for a quick ten with a pair of Snake Eyes to hone in on what’s new.

As an aside, I truly believe the thought counts more than the amount. If you’re in a tired, frantic, grumpy state, are you really thinking? Or are you desperate to be done with it? Please remember, the True Gift is to be Known & Understood, to have someone who’s taken the time to know you, understand you and supports you being who you are. Those are the gifts that make people want to fly. No price tag can be put upon knowing a person. I think this true gift is often lost in the holiday madness culture our country’s market has crafted. We might drive retail sales figures but in turn do those figures drive our happiness? Do they fill our closest needs?

Aside from making an honest effort to find gifts people will need or appreciate (and saving money) I want to spend the winter break with my family. I have a finite number of holiday breaks with my children and this number is shrinking every year. Why would I spend it in crowded malls getting grumpy? Truth be told, I absolutely hate spending a day driving all over town to find the right gift in panicked state. It makes me mean and impatient. Is that a decent role model for my children? Is that what I want them to believe giving is like?

Before reviewing the Golightly 2009 Holiday Annual Report, please know:
  • We have a large extended family that spans the country, our shipping costs are often more than the actual gifts. Mailing done before Thanksgiving rewards us with a cheaper ground rate.
  • None of these gifts are re-gifted.
  • These gifts are a mix of thrift and conventional retail.
  • These gifts do not include items for Little Pie’s and Petite Poe’s stockings. But most of that was thrift, I just didn't keep count of the cost. The cost is not much but the girls will love the goodies.
  • Since I work at this through the course of the year, the spending has been spread out over many months. December’s bank and credit statements won’t be bleak like the long winter nights.
  • These gifts do not include the cost of Little Pie's three wishes to Santa which tipped just over $100, very steep indeed but so worth keeping the belief alive for another year.
  • These are the gifts I have purchased and don’t include items that my daughters will give to each other, Mr. Golightly or myself. Nor do they include gifts that Mr. Golighty will give to me – that is for him to know and me to find out.
  • Though mostly thrift, these are not gifts to snub your nose at - they are eclectic, antique, brand new, and many are worth hundreds more than I paid for them whether it be a new item from thrift or a vintage item purchased thrift minus the mark up finder's fee on EBay.
The 2009 Golightly Holiday Annual Report:
  • for the extended family, I spent $87 for 17 gifts, a $5.11 average per gift;
  • for friends, I spent $28 for 9 gifts, a $3.11 average per gift;
  • for school related items, I spent $33 for 8 gifts, a $4.12 average per gift;
  • for my immediate family, I spent $199.75 for 35 gifts, a $5.70 average per gift.
My 2009 total spending for the holidays was $347.75 for 69 gifts , a $5.03 average per gift. I an pleased with the results. My average per gift was only three cents above my Flinch Point. This is especially interesting given that many greeting cards sell for more than my $5 Flinch Point.

Now, this many sound really obsessive, but I keep an Excel spreadsheet of holiday giving. Let’s face it, when the rubber hits the road, I cannot remember what I gave three years ago. But recipients remember. A similar record is kept for birthdays. These spreadsheets also help me keep track of what I’ve already purchased and for whom. For example, I bought an amazing find at the thrift store two days ago for an August birthday. I boxed it up, put it in my gift bin and noted it in my records. This particular gift is so cool that it will be hard not to give it for the holidays! Giving gifts early is a chronic temptation of mine.

You may think my process entirely obsessive, perhaps over the top, but I don’t stress over what to give people or how much I am spending. And, when Little Pie receives an invitation to a birthday party that she forgot to hand over and the party is tomorrow or that afternoon, I don’t need to race out and shop. I go downstairs to my little girls birthday bin and pull out a gift that this particular child would like. Done!

I stuck to my schedule and met my deadlines. But something is happening in Denver that is making things most difficult for me. This year has brought, what I believe to be, an unprecedented surge in last minute donations for 2009 tax deductions like no other. It’s wonderful for the thrift stores. But it’s cramping my shopping methodology. Knowing that incredible deals are quickly and rampantly running through my local thrift store as I write is making me edgy. Really edgy. In the last three days, I’ve purchased five brand new, wonderful birthday gifts for little girls for a total of $7.50 and the retail cost is $47.79. This is 15% of the retail cost for new items! Why wait for holiday sales in the conventional retail universe when the best deals are at the thrift stores now?

As Little Pie and I went to our neighborhood Goodwill last night a large U-Haul truck was backing up onto the donation ramp as we walked in. The theme from Mission Impossible blared in my head as I daydreamed of taking a blowtorch to the side of the van and burning a hole to climb inside to check out the goods first!

Like many people, some of my relatives send me money for the holidays. Usually I spend a small amount at post-holiday sales. However, within the last few days I bought myself a key necklace from Tiffany’s for $4, and a handcrafted vintage sterling spoon bracelet for $4. Last night I caught a vintage 1950’s button-down cape in mint condition for $13 -literally as it rolled onto the sales floor. I love my gifts!

So, maybe I will break with my methodology if it scores me some good stuff even before 2010.

If you are a new visitor to this blog, be certain to scroll back up and pull up the Thrift Catalog slide show featuring over 240 items. This could give you an idea of what could be waiting for you. Also check to the Table of Blog Contents and read about other Thrift Store Conventions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa’s elves shop at thrift stores too

In the December 6th post, Little Pie’s three sweet wishes, I wrote of our experience taking our youngest daughter to meet up with Santa. At eight years old, Little Pie is a solid believer. You may recall, our family has a standing agreement that we wish for three items, anything more might appear greedy and greedy children are not good children. For at least a week out, Little Pie had her list on the straight and narrow: 1) a monocular, “like the sea captains of old used;” 2) a big plush tiger to cuddle; and 3) money from around the world. We were set and I had all my plans in order.

The monocular above I ordered from Ebay. I found a wooden box at the thrift store for $1 and had reindeer moss for filler to spare. In the previous post, I mentioned my elfish notions on North Pole gift presentation. Simplicity is critical. If you need help to think like an elf to make the magic, I recommend and elf’s diet which is mainly cupcakes and coffee. During the holidays I figure eating sweet helps make you sweet and the coffee, well, to stay awake. Achieving a full belief system of magic requires a lot of skill so best to be alert.

I could not afford the full sliding brass monocular as typical with what we think Captain Ahab might have used. But, this monocular is old. It’s not from 1891, but old enough. I love how my daughter asked for something vintage and has a notion that Santa also gives vintage or shall we say “reused” items. Yes Virginia, Santa is indeed green and cares very much about the state of our planet and is saddened by waste.

I’ve often found old objects carry more magic and evoke more curiosity. Ever noticed how when children draw bathtubs, they are often claw foot tubs? Yet, most homes do not have a claw foot tub. Ours does and if you like the luxury of a hot bath, you should ask for an old iron claw foot tub for the holidays, if your stacked with money get a copper one.

The plush tiger. I found him at Goodwill for $4. He is in like new condition and passed a cuddle test. A quick wash, not in our claw foot, put him right and ready to meet Little Pie on Christmas morning. Many of the plush toys at thrift stores are in excellent condition. The average American child receives more plush toys than they ever could play with and it’s off to the thrift store they go. I clipped off the tiger’s tags. As mentioned in the prior post, the North Pole is a free enterprise. So when possible, get rid of the tags, boxes or anything else that might even hint that this toy is not from the North.

The money from around the world. Wait! Little Pie pulled a shell game on me and at the last moment. While on his lap, she switched strategies to an EGYPTAIN COSTUME!

What? Once home with Little Pie asleep, I raced down stairs and dove into the Net. Most everything there was that barely-threaded, flammable fabric stuff. Sigh. Santa wouldn’t give that! I was in a pickle because I do not sew. Really. I have about 30 Girl Scout patches to sew on two uniforms. I am years behind. I have two girlfriends who are amazing designers but they have daughters of their own and asking them for an Egyptian costume would not be cool in December. Maybe in June but not December.

I did what I always do and took my snake eyes to the Goodwill at Archer and Broadway in Denver. There, I found the ultra cool necklace and two little red cases. Feeling good I jumped over Broadway and went into Boss Unlimited, a well organized vintage store. I found a simple cotton vintage slip in good condition. I figure Piper is thinking ancient Egypt so this dress has to have an old feel to it. Great! I’ll sew some kind of hieroglyphic on this slip. It’s hot in Egypt and the images portrayed are always in a simple white dress.

Finally I drove over to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where I found the gold headdress and a few scarabs to sew onto the slip. I figure that is enough to make my Little Pie feel like an ancient African queen. As little girls, didn’t we all dream of being Cleopatra? I printed off a few “tags” to help the little suit cases look like they’ve been traveling and passed through customs because this costume was coming from Egypt.

Thankfully I carefully checked out the gold wig. It had a “Made in China” sticker in a hidden spot. Good thing I found it. An Egyptian wig made in China? Indeed! I’ve always wondered what factory workers in China must think about as they whip out oddly shaped erasers, plastic blow horns and other senseless stuff. What would you think about another culture if you sat in a factory for 8-10 hours a day making paddleballs for them?

So there it is. A little girl who is asking Santa for antiquated items. Children are fascinated by the past. I refer to real items from the past. Conventional retail would have you think otherwise because they don’t sell old things. But when a child is suspended from the mass advertising, amazing things happen.

If you are a new visitor to this blog, be certain to scroll back up and pull up the Thrift Catalog slide show featuring over 230 items from thrift stores to give you an idea of what could be waiting for you.

Now, I have to find me a few good cupcakes. Being an elf isn't so easy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Little Pie's three sweet wishes

Pictured above is our little elf, Nimble. He finds a spot in our home 'round the holidays and is the eyes and ears from the North. Nimble is quick, so quick human eyes cannot catch him. He appears when it's time to visit Santa and stays until Baby New Year arrives. Baby New Year is another story. All kinds of magical creatures visit us during the holidays including Mother Nature.

Last Friday evening we went to a little pocket of locally owned businesses on three blocks of South Pearl Street in the Platte Park neighborhood of Denver, a mile due south of us. Each year, these businesses sponsor Winterfest with horse-pulled wagon rides, roasting chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa makes a call. Even though mom and pop stores sponsor this, it’s not heavily commercialized and that’s really nice. It all happens outside and sometimes it can be very, very cold. But, the man lives in the ARCTIC, so 30 degrees is like Miami. That’s where Little Pie has caught up with the old man since she can remember.

Plus, it's fun to visit the stores on South Pearl. They are the mom and pop of Anthropologie. Actually they are a step above for their inspiration is not dictated by some corporate standard and the shop owners are the people we live next to and meet in coffee shops. If not thrift, these are the people who might be best to visit first when purchasing new items. Little Pie is pictured next to one of the Five Green Boxes stores. There is a home, clothing and now cards and decorating store in the Five Green Boxes genre. All are completely inspiring.

Petite Poe used to eagerly come too, but at 12 years old, she opted out for spending the night at friends. Why must we grow up?

As mentioned, our family has a long standing agreement that we offer up no more than three wishes to Santa. Anything more would make us look greedy and greedy children are not good children. This limit also makes the girls think of what they really want instead of just listing whatever comes to mind. This year Piper asked for:

1. A monocular, "like the sea captains of old used". Hmm, the sea captains of old. She is envisioning a brass instrument, something worn. Could Santa possibly save old treasures to give? Interesting concept. Speaking of sailors, our freshly chopped Douglas fir from the Rocky Mountain wilderness continues to drink like a sailor. As a family, we made three wreaths from the extra trimmings and the remaining trunk is in the fireplace as I write.

Last year, he did give her two bells from his ancient sleigh. Pictured above, you see they are old. These are real sleigh bells, not made by Hallmark with the words "Polar Express" inscribed upon on them. What does a card company have to do with making bells for Santa’s sleigh? Wouldn’t he have elves that tend to that? I love the book and the Polar Express movie but the bell is supposed to come from the sleigh, not the train!

2. An Egyptian costume.

3. A big plush tiger that is soft so she can cuddle. Piper is selective on the plush toys she keeps and she truly plays with them.

It’s wonderful to see that my daughter’s imagination travels the high seas, visits ancient Egypt and explores the jungles and mangrove swamps. All these places still need exploring, though we’d prefer to think otherwise, there is still so much to this wonderful planet that remains inconceivable to our current knowledge - of which we have only skimmed the surface.

In the past Piper’s asked for: magnetic rocks, a big bag of jellybeans, a little bag of jellybeans, a plush butterfly, skeleton keys, an hourglass and a thimble. Poet used to ask for similar things. She had one recurring wish, to fly by her own powers. Perhaps that’s why she is a champion swimmer and makes the breaststroke look like a waltz. But, I imagine if she keeps up her smarts and that resolve, she will fly someday.

No, we did not stand in line at Denver’s upscale Cherry Creek Mall for 45 minutes while getting blasted with the next Disney promotion. And no, there was no expensive photography scam attempting to make us feel guilty for not buying a poorly shot $18 photo of Little Pie on Santa's lap. At Winterfest, we take our own photo – no cost!

Parents, you must think like an elf to make things magical for your child. Here are some tips:

1. Elves make toys. They do not twisty tie down dolls or put toys in garish boxes intended to market the toy. Besides, it almost seems like a cruel punishment if you have the child's view that a toy can be a living being to tie it down. An elf-made toy comes ready for play in a simple brown reusable box. Children want to pull that toy out of the box and start playing right away! Any assembly, batteries, whatever needs to be done is done in advance. Your child has been waiting for –in some cases- months for this object. They want to play with it upon opening!

2. There are no discount chain retailers at the North Pole and they do not have access to cheap wrapping paper. Simple wooden boxes are great to hold gifts from the North. Okay, I know there are no trees on the polar ice cap but a wooden box looks more magical than misprinted Scotch-taped candy cane paper. Especially candy cane paper that is making other appearances around the tree – that is one of the most common belief killers! Children notice that and quickly conclude it is no coincidence. Besides, elves would get to the Boreal forest before they'd find a Walmart. Simple wooden boxes make appearances in thrift stores.

3. When elves need to add filler to a box to hold an object, reindeer moss is a good choice. This makes appearances in thrift stores too.

4. Elves use real ribbon – no plastic-icky imitations. Real ribbon can be found in thrift stores.

5. If it’s a big present, the elves will put a pretty bow on it. Presents don’t always need to be completely wrapped to bring magic.

6. A very quick note on nice paper, usually parchment or vellum can be left behind. The Man has class and is older than the mountains, so he’s not going to leave it on a standard sheet of paper or a card that has a company’s name printed on the back.

7. If a stocking is stuffed, it is not stuffed with name brand candy! Elves make candy! Duh! Well maybe the North Pole has a contract with Frango from Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. (If you’ve had Frango you know what I’m talking about.) Remove candy from it’s packing and tie it up with cellophane or put it in little satin bags.

8. The North Pole is its own enterprise. Despite what TV commercials tout, the North Pole neither partners nor endorses any one company. That needs to be very clear to little ones who doubt and are looking for the signs. You may think your child is a believer but, a simple faux pas could sway the pendulum in the beat of a heart.

Do whatever it takes to encourage the magic. The way I look at it, elves are sweet-natured. I figure that if I eat sweets (cupcakes mainly) I too become sweet. So make this the one time of year where you can mack on a few tasty C-cakes to get you in the mood. Gingerbread is a nice choice too. Grumpy elves, they’re no fun and their toys usually don’t measure up to North Pole magic QC.

I ask all other elves reading this to chime into the comments with their activities to educate the masses.

Oh, here’s a funny irony with gift giving. It’s often hard to tell whether my gift is thrift or new because I most always remove items from the original packaging. Let’s face it, it’s ugly! Well Tiffany’s isn’t, but just about everything else is. Packaging is not designed to present something pretty, it’s designed to market the items or make it impossible to be stolen. Besides, why would Santa Baby need an inventory control chip on a gift?

These earrings that I placed on vellum, did they cost 75 cents or $17.50? Do you like them? Does the cost matter? Or does it matter how they look on you?

If you are a new visitor to this blog, be certain to scroll back up and pull up the Thrift Catalog slide show featuring over 200 items from thrift stores to give you an idea of what could be waiting for you.