Friday, December 31, 2010

All is (Not) Quiet on New Year's Day

The lot at our neighborhood Goodwill is a bottleneck of cars queued up to donate holiday gift castoffs, some still in boxes with “To/From” tags still affixed; coffee machines, mixers, and televisions replaced by gifted upgrades; and other purged during the last minutes of 2010 to snag the documentation for a tax write off come April, 2011. (Mr. Golightly does the taxes and gives the skinny on tending to those in his post "Thrifty tax time".)

Straggler donations will continue to filter in through January when "organizing stores" urge Americans to dig through their closets and purge by offering annual sales on closet shelving and storage bins. Which begs the question - do we need more bins or less stuff?

This makes January an exceptional month in thrift stores. One can score a two-year old TV for a tiny fraction of the original price. Wary that it might not work? Find an outlet in the store and plug it in. Also, Goodwill (and the other giants of thrift) have return policies, so just ask. It amazes me how Americans are so quick to rush out and purchase the newest generation of an electronic product that rapidly depreciates in value - and the next generation of this very same products is being produced in factories and will be available as soon at it can be shipped across the Pacific, clear customs and get trucked off to the discount retailer.

It is also the start of men’s suit season when gentlemen clean out their closets to forgo what no longer fits. Some gentlemen finally come clean and admit they're never going to have that size 32 waist ever again. I believe there was a Seinfeld dedicated to Jerry marking his Levis the size he used to be.

Today I scouted in my routine ten minute surgical strike:

New toys and games still in the plastic wrap. One that caught my eye was a plastic case ten plush animals for baby all neatly arranged with the FAO Schwarz tags dangling from the handle. A gift tag on the bottom read "For Ben" from an undecipherable signature. Why Ben’s parents didn’t want these animals, I know not. Perhaps Ben’s nursery is already full. Goodwill priced it at $5.99. Too bad I don’t have any infants in my life. There were Barbies and tea sets and no doubt more is to arrive.

An unopened hefty plastic casing container displaying a SiPix Stylecam Blink II Digital Camera for $5.99. Amazon has this camera discounted from $139.99 to $118.20, I don’t believe that includes shipping. For an original sale price of $140, I must say that the original packaging looks like hell anyway. Despite it being new, I’ll repackage it to make it look more enchanting.

A darling set of spring green new childrens wooden lawn furniture: a love seat; an Adirondack chair; and a picnic table for $34.99.

In addition, new kitchen electronics like a tea steeper - it looks like a coffee maker for tea. But, I love my vintage British Simplex whistling copper pot found for $6. It’s a classic design, Simplex still makes it today. Click here to see it, it’s the first model. I never knew of Simplex tea kettles until I started thrift shopping. Shopping thrift has provided me a very in depth product education. Probably one that most retailers don't want me to have.

More, you say? Many new clothes with tags still dangling and a few vintage coats that I adored. But, I already have more gorgeous vintage coats and capes than I can wear in a week. It’s a weakness of mine. Fortunately the cost I paid for my entire cashmere blend collection doesn’t even come close to the cost of something similar from a department store. And, I must come clean, I love the compliments. The mean part of me loves telling people it’s a one of a kind vintage I found for $15. Sorry, it’s fun to accept a compliment on something that other people can’t rush out and buy at the local mall. In a wicked sort of way it makes it MINE!

Here’s where this gets really interesting, tomorrow when my neighborhood Goodwill opens it’s doors at 8AM, most everything in that store will be 50% off. Same goes for all the Goodwill stores in the Denver metro area.

I am not a person who gets up at 3AM to stand in line to go shopping, but tomorrow is another day. 8AM? That’s not so bad considering it only takes me five minutes to get to the store and I can slap my black beret over my bed head. Or, maybe I’ll wait until the early evening when the crowd has died down and the stock room continues to roll out the dress racks and the gray bins because the New Year's Day re-stocking process never ends at the thrift store. They're getting swamped with donations and want to keep the mill moving.

If you have young children, you might enjoy taking up the tradition of A Letter From Baby New Year, a post from our sister blog Mommy Golightly.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Holidays on a $1 a day! Start now!

I’ve finally hobbled down the stairs this morning. I realized I'm packaged in my favorite vintage $3 mohair wrap from Neiman’s, handmade sheep-skin lined and hand painted mukluks from Black Dog Rise (bought new for $10 retailing $350), along with several vintage hankies in hand - all from Goodwill. Down with the flu for three days, I’ve been scheming. Time to lay down the gauntlet. Ready?

I challenge readers to spend NO MORE than $365 on the holidays in 2011. Celebrate the holidays for a dollar a day. Consider this a new holiday diet, a consumer diet.

For some this challenge might be an insult because it’s so easy. But I’ll bet for majority of Americans, taking on Everest blindfolded in thigh-high platform stiletto boots seems more likely.

It seems to me no one really knows how much the average American spends on the holidays. Many of us would rather stick our heads in the sand than face the hard sting of holiday expenses. Ever get hit with a snowball in the ear or face? Yikes. A cold, seasonally appropriate dope slap.

I've read figures from $600 to as high as $900, most of which is is slapped on mounting credit card debt. But, I suspect it's more than we think, especially when people are giving pricey electronic gadgets. $900 barely covers the cost of a state of the art television or laptop. Are we to assume the average American gives one gift?

Most of us have good intentions of starting out with a small budget. But the "unexpected" and last minute guilt of not giving enough gifts inevitably invites the credit card danger zone. Toss in the sleight-of-hand retail tricks retailers conjure with “buy three get the fourth 50% off” or purchases made because the shopper is just plain sick of shopping and will buy anything to end the suffering of listening to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” played to a beat that might be more appropriate at a rave. (I think that song that has the most annoying renditions. Well, that and the “Little Drummer Boy”.)

Do such figures include decorating, additional grocery expenses, packaging, and mailing fees aside from the standard gift cost? They certainly count, and it all adds up. Does the average American factor in the purchase of a holiday tree? Some trees easily sell for over $100. How about the cookie press we had to buy to make those classroom cookies? Oops! Did we bust up another mixer trying to slog through 10 pounds of cookie dough? A cookie or two on the sheet happens.

Weigh in the full cost of the holidays, and it’s no nickel and dime affair.

The sad thing about American holidays is that it’s so closely tied to the economy. Shopping figures become nightly news. Retailers plan out their year on a gland slam in the ninth. C’mon! Is that really smart? Put all your bets into just a month or two of the year?

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we invested a little more time in slowly stocking up? Wouldn’t that help build more anticipation? Would having more time to shop make for wiser purchases and result in fewer returns? Wouldn't purchases, spread throughout the year be more sustainable, both to merchants and buyers?

It’s disturbing how returning items has become accepted holiday ritual. Isn't this like re-gifting a retail item back to a store because it's nothing we want or need, especially if so little thought was put into the giving anyway?

We are, en masse, accepting the notion of paid waste during the holidays. What? Why someone would buy a “gift” knowing that it will most likely be returned makes no sense to me. But, it’s a common retail practice and many gift recipients take no offense if they receive a gift that is so unlike them it’s going back to the retailer the next day. This is a waste of time for both giver and recipient, and often a complete waste of money and the resources both natural and unnatural to make the unwanted product.

So think about the challenge. Compare it to your usual modus operandi. If you like, please refer to one of our first posts, “The 2009 Thrifting Gift Guide, A Resolution Revolution”. Perhaps then scan through “Wow! This is so… You! What’s happened to the art of giving?

Of course it should go without saying my challenge might involve multiple treasure expeditions to thrift stores. If you need advice on converting from conventional retail to the re-use market please refer to a series of post on How to Thrift in the left column. Invest three months in a new thrifting routine, and you'll earn a pair of Snake Eyes discover your personal Flinch Point and happily say sayonara to the long lines at The Monolith Mall.

You don't need buckets of money to make the holidays enchanting. All you really need is a little shift in the way you view time, and some forethought. If you start planning for 2011 now, chances are you will spend less money and enjoy the holidays much more. If you're done before the infamous Black Friday, you'll know you've arrived, and will be much less susceptible to impulse and guilt-induced spending.

Just try think about a dollar a day holidays for now. Should you choose this economic holiday diet, you just might find it's life changing.

We'll talk logistics later.

I'll be coming up my Top Five Thrift Finds of 2010 soon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank you

Many people are not aware most bloggers pull little income, if any. Those ads, they don't amount to much, it's more being a part of a blogging publishing community that counts.

This blog is the journal I always wanted to keep but guess I didn't just want to write to myself.

Especially after reading some of the comments in the former post, I am compelled to note that I am often humbled by the words of readers.

In the last post, Amber wrote of a meager holiday thanks to economic circumstances. But she concluded that by not subscribing to the consumer culture she wrote,"

" I still have money in my pocket and dignity in my heart."

Please read Amber's comment in the December 23rd post "Gifting Anxiety".

My wish to you all this holiday is to have what you need and keep "dignity in your heart".

Thank you to all who have written me directly. My email box is always open.

May we all grow, maintain, or restore our dignity in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gifting anxiety

I’m no fan of staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap gifts only to have my daughters wake me up pre-dawn. I’m nearly finished, just a few more to wrap.

One would think completion of such a large task as wrapping would usher in a feeling of relief or satisfaction.

It never does.

After everything is neatly wrapped with personal tags dangling, I step back and look at the whole of my year-round efforts of thoughtfully hunting treasure for my family. Instead of thinking,” Wow! It’s beautiful!” I think, “Wow! It’s such a small pile.” It’s especially small this year.

We’re trained to think that our children will feel completely dejected if there's still standing room in our living room on Christmas morning. We believe our home should look something like the home of Herr and Frau Silberhaus in the Nutcracker mixed with an FAO Schwarz two-story display of toys; beyond enchanting.

It really gets under my skin. I fall for the illusion every year. I begin to feel like I’m a bad mommy because I didn’t scout out enough gifts. I didn’t give enough.

This tempts me to race out at the last minute and fill that void with more gifts.

The reality? I really don’t have enough time to think about what else could be truly meaningful. I’ve spent the entire year searching and thrown a lot of thought into the gifts that sit before me. To think I’m going to find the great and profound missing pieces in the last hour is a bit foolish.

If I did race out to buy more, it’ll likely be gift filler, meaningless stuff thrown in to aid in the illusion that quantity trumps thoughtfulness.

Why this feeling always overtakes me every year is a real stumper. It is far out of line from my standard shopping mentality.

Perhaps I need some sort of therapy for this. Or perhaps, we’ve been conditioned to think we will never give enough presents to our children. The latter is a horrible thought. It would be cruel if I had succumbed to this as a deliberate marketing tactic.

I need a distraction. I think hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles, a fire in the hearth and a family game of dominoes under the tree might do the trick.

I think that’d make more sense than racing out now to buy stuff that’s going to be massively discounted in three days (both in the stores and by the recipient?). Beware of the hypnosis of a big sale. Are you buying it because it’s on sale? Or because you need it?

If you’re feeling an urge to spend holiday cash, wait a few days and then head to the thrift. There you will find rejected gifts still in their boxes. The original recipient might not have wanted/needed the item, but one person’s trash is sometimes another's treasure. And you’ll spend about 75-80% less than the original purchase price.

Does anyone else ever have this feeling? What's your manner of coping?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My wish came true! The First Lady wears vintage!

When President Obama took office, I had sights on Michelle. Why? I truly felt she could make a difference in the world of thrift. Maybe it was her personal background. Or maybe I sensed she was not afraid to make a statement.

I made various attempts to contact her to endorse thrift shopping and join us in petitioning to honor a commemorative, American Thrift Store Month. We have a Frozen Food Month - that'd be March - so I thought it not asking too much. I've loads of schemes: grassroots designers recycling thrift sweaters and men's shirts, thrift fashion week, a parade of homes outfitted in thrift, daily tips on thrift...

But I can only imagine there are thousands of people attempting to have the First Lady endorse their cause.

Imagine my delight when the news hit the celebrity circuit that Michelle Obama wore a vintage dress to a holiday event! Some are claiming she is the first of her line to wear vintage. I'm not really certain if that could be true for it hasn't been that long ago that wearing old or reused items was considered tacky by culture at large. Think about how Coco Channel got her start.

Here is Michelle Obama is in a beautiful design circa 1950's. Bought at New York Vintage in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, co-owner Jon Schneck noted, "Other dresses from our archive have been scheduled for use by the first lady later this year". What! More vintage is to follow?

This dress is classic, posh, elegant, feminine, and full of grace and a delicious dignity! Yes! Dignity and style do not need to be enemies when it comes to womens fashion! Tears of joy are forming in my eyes! Look at her! A timeless beauty!

Thank you Mrs. Obama. I certainly am eager to see your next vintage ensemble and have no doubt you will pull it off in spectacular style.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Take away the packaging!

If you have children or if you care about how a gift if presented, take away the product packaging before giving the gift. Please.

I loathe most all manufactured packaging.

Are Santa’s elves going to craft and present a doll strapped down by 20 wire cuffs in some plastic den of hell that says “Made in China”?

Think like a kid for a moment. Santa’s elves lovingly created that doll with a specific child in mind. Then they paint a smile on it’s face only to force it into a chamber of torture where this doll will surely suffocate before the child can resuscitate it on Christmas day? If this is how you’re going to present gifts from Santa, why go to all the trouble of developing his story?

Again, think like a kid. You’ve wanted this gift for months, maybe a year. So you finally unwrap it and Daddy must whip out chainsaw or hunting knife to break through the plastic and Mommy must pull out the tweezers to undo all the knots. Then all the pointless tiny pink plastic filler is immediately lost in the new carpet of wrapping paper and everyone tries to ignore the possibility that the toddler might find the tiny plastic shoe first and possibly choke on it.

It might take an hour to liberate that doll, so your parents tell you to open more gifts as a distraction while they're all off in the corner cursing and arguing how the hell to spring the it from its plastic prison. Wow. That sounds enchanting, and so relaxing.

I wonder how many families spend Christmas day in the ER getting stitches from using a tree saw to get to those heavy duty poultry cutters cocooned in industrial plastic, the very same material used to make car bumpers.

Well, I’m not getting stitches for Christmas and neither is Mr. Golightly. If I must incur hospital stitches, I want a good story to go with them. Like I saved my family from a mother grizzly about to ruin my outdoor vacation. Or I broke through the glass of a second story window to bust up a mugging of a mother and her infant triplets (all in a row in their custom designed Italian pram). Some event that might be embellished such as to require a mask and utility belt in it's retelling. When I go to the ER or check into the hospital, I want a legend.

Let’s get one thing straight. Santa’s elves do NOT work at Mattel. I've no doubt that any true elf would ever work under these conditions. I'm also certain Santa’s elves don't manufacture petroleum-based plastic products. No doubt they are fighting oil companies this very moment from attempting to build deep-water oil rigs near the North Pole. Imagine a farm of blowout preventers, right behind Santa’s castle! Could it come to pass that we're cleaning off oil from elves?

If we're to embrace the enchantment, we must really put ourselves into the scene to get it right. Besides, it's fun scheming honest to goodness enchantment for your kids. When I'm asked if I think Santa is true, my answer is always, "Who doesn't want to believe in a person who rewards the children of this earth for good behavior for just one magical night during the dark of winter?"

My daughter asked for a bell from Santa’s sleigh a few years ago. Below is what she received; antique sleigh bells nestled in reindeer moss in a birch wood box.

Contrast this to Hallmark’s (keepsake) packaging of Santa’s Bell. Wow. I wasn't aware that Santa uses Hallmark's Trademarked sleigh bells. I figured he had elves that forged them with some magical metal unknown to the Periodic Table.

As a child, which would you believe to be the real deal from the North Pole? Uh, how many graphic designers work for Hallmark? This is what they thought kid's would believe? Or is this what they thought parent would buy?

The wasteful product packaging sitting on store shelves is not designed to be pleasing and delight the consumer. It’s designed to outshine the competition, or to not be an easy item to shoplift. So, DON’T wrap it, put it under the tree or in a stocking.

A side note on stockings: Santa does not have a contract with any candy company. His elves make the candy onsite - best to go with wax paper wrapped candy like salt water taffy. Though I do suspect that if he did go with a candy brand, it would be something that has an old world look to it like classic Mary Janes.

Ever gone to Crate and Barrel? It has a fantastic atmosphere. Why? The products on display are all removed from their packaging. A newcomer to the store is delighted by a display of pots. The customer excitedly picks just the right pot to place in their shopping basket. Stage left, enter the sales staff to kindly note that they'll pull the merchandise from the backroom. At the register, a box is presented with the manufacturer’s name plastered on nearly every surface. The pot that was so appealing is lost in a mess of cardboard, plastic and paper.

Funny story. I bought my first coffee maker at Crate and Barrel. When given the model I carefully selected now hidden in a Krups box, I was tempted to say, “Can I just have the one on the shelf?” The actual product had much more appeal without the packaging. That damn packaging took the fun out of my whole purchase experience!

Packaging often does this. It steals the fun out it all and serves as a reminder that the item was not made especially for us.

Ever buy something in a box only to bring it home and find half the contents missing? I once bought two boxes of barware only to get home and discover the items filthy from another person who bought them, used them and returned them. On that same shopping trip I scored a new, vintage-inspired jacket from Banana Republic, it’s $99.99 store tag directly contrasted to the Goodwill tag for $4.99.
So I went to the thrift store and bought new merchandise for a thrift price and went to the chain retailer and bought used merchandise for a new price.

A plus on thrift shopping, more often than not, is that I don’t need to manage excess packaging. I get to actually touch the product I buy with my very own fingers! With thrifted clothing, you are often witness to how the product washes and wears. Ever bought an expensive new sweater only to have it pill on the first wash? I have. Tell ya what, I really don't enjoy shaving my legs. How do you think I feel about shaving a $100 sweater?

So, as you wrap the gifts you have so carefully scouted out for those you love, don’t forget to take care in how the gift is presented. Take it out of the box. Get creative.

If you’re afraid to take it out of the box because you suspect the recipient might return the gift, perhaps you should return the gift yourself and think a little more about what might genuinely make those you love happy. If you’re having a hard time with ideas, read the post below. The perfect gift just might not require any shopping at all.

For those who've followed this blog, I will note that my youngest daughter, Little Pie, asked Santa for a record player, a quill pen and a plush horse. We have a family tradition to ask for three items. Anything more might appear greedy. Santa's gifts are usually not wrapped and prominently displayed for immediate use. Should you need to wrap a present from Santa, don't use regular wrapping paper. Remember, Santa is very old and resourceful. He doesn't shop for wrapping paper and pre-made bows. Use craft paper and twine or a tin. If your child asks why Santa didn't wrap his gift, tell your child, "That's only on TV".

If you're curious as to what Little Pie asked for last year, refer to the post, Santa's elves shop at thrift stores too!

Monday, December 13, 2010

When giving gets personal

Most Americans think it disgusting to give a gift from a thrift store or something used, unless it’s something huge like a car, a boat or a second home. I’ve given reused and re-purposed gifts for years and been met with gratitude, not a slap on the face. I have never been re-gifted a gift I gave - quite the tongue twister but, I’ll bet there are plenty of people who have experienced just that. Nor have I seen my gifts sitting on the thrift store shelves. Though I have put plenty there myself.

Why the common American associates thrift with old socks is a head-scratcher. Why the common person associates a gift from Wal Mart as classy, a double head-scratcher. I’ll take that vintage Nieman Marcus plaid mohair wrap for $3 over a $99 mass-produced bicycle with a planned obsolescence of approximately two years any day. Better to darn a slight moth-eaten hole than to have new bicycle breaks fail in city traffic.

This year, I’m taking gift giving a step cheaper. This recession landed on my family like Dorothy’s house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and we’re still pinned under it. I was not able to routinely visit the thrift store to find treasures throughout the year as I have in the past. Yup, even that $10 purchase scoring me six items was too much to spend.

Like many American families, mine is geographically scattered. I am no Cyber Monday shopper. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I like to hold and examine the sweater before purchase because brands no longer guarantee quality, only a name. This phenomenon is something that probably really grates on the few brands that still take pride in their quality. I suspect those manufacturers still exist. I hope.

Quality has become to be something akin to fairies. Something we want desperately to believe in, but reality doesn’t offer much proof. Perhaps, if enough of us clapped our hands and pleaded, “I do believe in quality. I do!” We could revive it, like when the Darling children save Barrie’s Tinkerbell.

There’s so much stuff in the American market, I’m not certain the average American knows what quality is; they’re just thrilled to buy three t-shirts for $15. Never mind the fabric is cheap, the stitching poor it and the cut out of line or that it will likely fall apart in the third wash that is if the clothes washer can make it through the third wash.

This last week, my dinning room table disappeared under boxes and re-used bubble wrap as I pulled out and wrapped gifts for those living out of state. Shopping was sparse this year. Running both hands through my hair and releasing a sigh, I realized there was so little in the gift queue. Not only am I short on time but dollars as well. Another sigh.

That’s when I decided to shop my own home. I have various rare curios, vintage cookware, hard to find books; not massed marketed stuff. If I enjoy having them, wouldn’t some one else? Is it not a symbolic gesture to give something you love that you know will be accepted with gratitude? Isn’t it the thought, not the cost that matters? We say that, but how many of us practice that?

What am I giving? A copper double boiler and strainer that I do not use nearly as much as the person I’m giving it to will. My sterling baby cup given to me by the wife of the Colonel of my father’s unit; he was at war overseas when I was born. His unit is engraved on that cup. I’m giving a hefty rock of amethyst quartz crystals I found ten years ago on a hike in the Rockies to a person who I know values unexpected treasures and the thrill of finding them. I’m giving my daughter my recorder from childhood so she need not borrow one from her school.

It disturbs me how so many Americans are in extreme economic hardship but the media doesn’t really reflect this. The holiday commercials still run on an irritating loop.

For those of you hit by these hard economic times. Please fall out of the retail hypnosis of the season and give of yourself. Think about what others might enjoy that you have and let it go. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with love?

No doubt, the market wants us to think giving used items is an insult and not considerate. A monetary transaction – one mostly on a credit card that is accruing debt – must transpire to legitimize a gift. Least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.

The practice of giving handmade items, used or treasured has been done for hundreds of years, if not thousands. I think a new three foot tall chocolate fountain or S’more’s maker is more an insult than an old photo album or high school letter jacket; both treasures.

I’m not talking about giving stuff you have no use for. That’s no different than buying gifts people have no use for. Both are tacky, waste energy and end up in landfills or in third world countries in huts with no electricity. Who knows what these harebrained inventions are thought of there. No doubt it’s not good for foreign relations or how Americans are perceived.

I’m talking about the items your friends and family constantly note. I have an ancient Emile Henry baking dish that with crazing so intricate, it looks like it could be a map of Paris. I wrote of it in the post Haunted Cookware. I also have a friend that adores it. It cost me 99 cents. Luckily for me, she is one of the few people I was fortunate to score a gift. Lucky for her, her gift is old and French and will be welcomed, perhaps not as much as the ceramic baker would be. I’ll make a deal with myself, if 2011 is anything like 2010, 2009, and 2008, she will have it in 2011 and I will be happy to give it to her.

Call me tacky. Call me cheap. But, you can’t call me stupid for spending money I don’t have because the American retail system makes me feel obligated to buy gifts that my friends and family don’t need.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here we go again! Faux is foe! How hard is that?

A quick visit at an import store nearly put a pie in my face. Kokeshi and Matryoshka dolls are the new black in holiday decor, stationary and cookware. What Japanese Kokeshi dolls have to do with the holidays is one big head scratch.

The sad thing is both dolls have origins in pride, originality and craftsmanship, celebrated for their unique quality. And both traditions have been around longer than anyone reading this post.

Seeing them massed produced and sold for ridiculous prices is heartbreaking. Once again a case where consumerism has made the cheap knock offs more expensive than the originals. I was about to expand on that thought but realized, I all ready have.

That original, hand-painted, bone china Wedgwood tea cup for $4 at the thrift store? It's 80 years old and has a chip! Toss it over your shoulder and buy a mass produced ceramic one instead.

Same with the Kokeshi and Matryoshka dolls. Nevermind they are a cultural tradition. There's a whole display of them at the mall - all made in China. Maybe shoppers can buy one get one free or super-size.

Faux is foe!
August 27, 2009

I encounter it all the time. Say it’s a dainty teacup with elaborate crazing and a blurred emblem with letters that look like they might be from a French restaurant long past. I think, “Why, that’s darling!” I am so enraptured by the prospect I fail to note the finish is a bit too shiny, the style too modern. I turn the teacup over to see that cursed Made in China sticker stuck to the object like a canker sore devaluing it and my confidence that I can sniff out a fake. I feel infected.

Why do we have an entire retail movement dedicated to presenting a vintage appearance to NEW products? Isn’t vintage earned? Fading and crazing often accompany use. Add a slight chip to represent honest use. Now that’s a real treasure, a piece of history. With age, don’t we chip and craze? Many cultures place a high value on scuffs and tears; signs of wisdom and experience.

I like to imagine that these items, products, have little souls. Take that fake vintage teacup I referred to and serve it at high tea. THAT teacup, with no experience, would shout, “Help! I’ve never done this before! Quick, I need Valium! Oh, I’m starting to shake and hyperventilate!” Who wants a shaking teacup? While, an old, experienced teacup would lovingly say, “How many lumps of sugar, dear? Milk? Lemon?” The aged, experienced teacup provides comfort.

The fact that manufacturers attempt to create vintage in factories in China is a complete head-scratcher. Add in that people actually buy this stuff and it gets troubling. Now, think about the prices people pay for these new, old-looking items! Is having something that looks old in pristine, new condition a sign of a refined style? I don’t think so. I've fallen prey to this before but those days are gone thanks to the thrift store.

In many ways, thrift stores are a mere reflection of the new product market but with a wonderful dash of estate goods. The fakes run out onto the field but at least there is competition from the originals. In thrift stores we have level playing field and the shopper is referee. I blew an “Out of bounds!” whistle at that fake teacup.

I’m not writing about furniture found in alleys and thrift stores brought back to life by painting and refinishing and sold in boutique home stores. That’s reuse or repurposing. It’s imaginative; art. I’m talking about massed produced furniture that is made to look like its distressed and 100 years old. Good gracious!

I guess it’s somewhat parallel to the American ideals of preserving physical youth. We can’t fight off age. So we suck in Botox and attempt to surround ourselves with objects that look old (like we are) but are new in origin (like we are not). Perhaps we are trying dictate what is agreeable and stylish when it comes to signs of age in both plastic surgery and product manufacturing. Perplexing, no?

If I could wave a magic wand on women and I'd convert crow's feet to peacock feathers. Frown lines would become endeared frauleins to keep your spirit young. Frolicking frauleins to accompany you wherever you go making you laugh and smile, getting richer with age.

How a woman ages is not based in plastic surgery, it is based on her ancestry (genetics), her choice of her lifestyle, the scars from mistakes…In the end shouldn’t our bodies be a part of the book of our lives? I agree that trauma deserves help, but everyday living should be celebrated.

Put an end to this madness! Celebrate age! Say, “No to faux! It's off to the thrift store I go!" Acquire originals and be an original.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From gluteal cleavage to breast cleavage. Oh joy.

I joined the Great American Apparel Diet and pledged to not buy any new clothing for myself until September of 2011. That's an easy one for me. However, my oldest daughter likes to mix new with vintage. This sent us on a recent trip to the mall.

I visit Denver's Cherry Creek Mall on occasion and head straight to Anthropologie where I put on tunnel-vision glasses until I'm in the sales closet just to poke around at upscale bric-a-brac or indulge myself with the purchase of a scented candle. Afterward, I scout about to see what the Anthropologie store designers have been up to.

But this time, we went into other stores in search of a few needed additions to my daughter's wardrobe. What I saw was terrifying. What are we doing to little girls? Why is retail attempting to push them out off the cliff of childhood? Why would anyone run from childhood? For many of us, it's one of the best times in our lives. Do little girls need to dress like they are going to a rave?

I pulled out my soapbox and sat on it for awhile with my head in my hands and thought.

For over a decade millions of women have tossed aside those “mom jeans” and fallen into the short-waisted pant. I will admit, when worn properly, they are a little flattering to the figure and can take a large rump roast and give the illusion it’s a smaller serving.

Note I qualified that with “when worn properly”. Not until a few years ago did the fashion industry offer any mass solution to help women hide their coin slots (butt cracks, that annoying "gluteal cleft") that short-waisted pants are promised to feature when left uncovered. Women became vending machines of a sort.

I’ve worn short-waisted pants and still do. It’s a break from wearing men’s button fly 501 Levis. Back in the years of coin slots I found an online store offering body suits with the snap in the crouch. Dressed in a classic, black, ballet neck bodysuit I was safe and I could use it as underclothing with a sweater or blouse. No matter how far I bent over, even if I decided to stop, drop and do a few yoga sun salutes in the grocery store, no one was going to deposit a quarter in my posterior, unlike the woman below. Is this what we really want to see in the frozen food section? Perhaps if you're on a diet you'll forgo that Sarah Lee pound cake because you just lost your appetite.

So for years women walked around breaking two basic fashion violations, don’t show your undies or your butt crack. Many women were in coin slot (aka "appliance repairman's butt") denial, believing theirs was not showing while being appalled by everyone else's. And for years we were stuck on crowded escalators with an exposed butt practically shoved in our face.

I guess a couple extra quarters inserted might eventually pay for a latte. But – let’s be honest, you think a barista is going to want to take money I literally pull out of my ass? Talk about dirty money.

One day in a store I was thrilled to find a body suit and pulled it out of the rack only to discover it was thong bottomed! In my world, a thong body suit is an oxymoron of fabric. And, let’s be honest. Thongs are literally dirty. Many doctors don’t recommend them because they are known health hazards. Perhaps The Surgeon General should take up this one. I'll bet it would parallel the whole history of the cigarette industry and another Insider would step forth.

Have you heard? There's a new take on tight jeans, the "jegging". My prediction? The new jeggings of today are the old “stirrup pants” of yesteryear. Jegging? What marketer came up with that name? It sounds like an insult. “Yeah, he wouldn’t stop jegging on me so I just stood up and left him with the tab.” Jegging has a Wikipedia entry if you need. Oh, and don't worry, they do come in acid wash.

Several years ago the fashion industry finally - en masse - released longer tops that could be tucked into or pulled over the coin slot. Finally.

Well not really. American fashion merely substituted “gluteal” cleavage with breast cleavage. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Granted blatant breast cleavage has been around for a long time, but it was saved for events like Oscar Night. Now it’s everywhere, everyday, even in middle school - and if they can pump them up - in elementary school.

So the coin slot traveled up the body from the butt to the boobs. And we continue to break the most basic of fashion rules like don’t show your foundation (bra) and dress in context (i.e. breast cleavage is not appropriate in a middle school Health Science class).

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the majority of t-shirts are a double if not triple swoop on the chest line? And they’re sheer. We’re told that they’re for “layering”. But, it’s genuinely difficult to find anything that covers more than the double swoop unless it’s a turtleneck or a crew neck. So do we layer low cut tops with low cut tops so that we purchase two tops and still have cleavage?

Cleavage is the new a national fashion crisis. We see it nearly everywhere. Why does a 7th grade girl need to show cleavage (with aid from a push up bra) in American History? Does she think it’s going to wake our Founding Fathers from their eternal sleep to teach the class? Sure, schools have dress codes, but this is so out of line administrators would spend every minute of the school day writing up violations if they where to fully tackle this. Which reminds me of a tackling dummy. A lot of tiring, often futile work.

Where's the class in this? That's right - full of boys not paying attention.

I’ve an idea. It’s a turnstile of sorts. A person walks into this contraption and both back and front gates close, the person must stand in place, a life-sized model of a hand on a lever swings down and performs the “hand rule” check. (I image this hand to have a clown glove-like appearance to signify how ridiculous this has become.) If the person does not pass the hand/finger/quarter/marble test, then the back gate opens, wild sirens and buzzers blow and the child’s not admitted into the school. Perhaps we could get Dan Castenllaneta, the voice of Krusty the Clown, to shout, "You're shirt's too low, go home and change kid!"

When you go to the mall you're subjected to the latest trends. Here today, gone tomorrow. Lather, rinse, repeat. Many are flat out ugly and not flattering to the most svelte of figures. I guess that’s because they want people to eventually throw those clothes away with a giant, “What was I thinking?” and journey off to the mall to replace one catastrophe with another.

When you go to the thrift store, you see decades of fashions and you can pull the best from each decade and build your own style, not be a fashion zombie and have to shudder ten years out in the future because you fell for the jegging.

Hey fashion industry! Can you stop making fools out of women?

How about you design scissor-cut crop t-shirts for men and make them the rage, the only shirt men can buy! How about something that accentuates and pumps up the air in that spare tire? How about a new line of cosmetics for men that present an honest red neck? Okay, I will admit the mens shoe industry is making millions off of "sport shoes" that look like something Neil Armstrong must have worn and probably cost the same as Armstrong’s NASA boots back on a certain day in July 1969.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Great American Apparel Diet

If you’re a true lover of reuse, I encourage you to go on a diet that you cannot fail. Promised glory!

You’re laughing right?

It’s The Great American Apparel Diet and it started on September 2, 2010. It’s a year-long pledge to forgo buying new apparel from the conventional retail market. (You have wiggle room with foundations and socks/tights).

To be honest, I’m embarrassed I just learned about it. I will swear that my pledge is retroactive to September 2nd and far beyond.

Here’s how they explain it:

“The Great American Apparel Diet, what is it? We are a group of women and two men who have decided to go on a diet of sorts. A fast really. We are completely eliminating “new apparel” from our diets for one year. Yes, the next time you see us sporting new tags it will be Sept. 2, 2011. Sound easy? Well think again. This is going to be a stretch for most of us. You see, like most women we are attached to our wardrobes in some form or another. In fact buying a new something-or-other is as natural as a dark chocolate pick-me-up. We all have our reasons for embarking on this project but it all gets down to this…who are we without something hip and new in our closets? We shall see.”

Visit the site, The Great American Apparel Diet. If you are not a full convert of thrift, I understand some reluctance. At least review the site, there is a very funny support group in constant discussion. If you just try, I promise it will change the way you think.

To be clear. This is not anti-retail. This is smart and resourceful retail. Think of all the items that go unneeded and unused in homes across America. If they were tossed into the market, our shopping would be stronger and a bit more economically sustainable. The retail market at large could easily be a salt and peppered mix of new and reuse. If we were to significantly up the percentage of reused product in the market, we'd be lowering the carbon foot print of our shopping. On this, please refer to an opinion I wrote some time ago for The Christian Science Monitor, "We count calories. Why not carbon?"

Join already! Either dive in or get those toes wet. Just try.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Retail Remorse

We’ve discussed the Flinch Point, Closet Thrifter, Environista and – my favorite – Snake Eyes.

Since the yard sale, I’ve been stuck in the doldrums of Retail Remorse. Like Home Buyer’s Remorse, I’ll eventually get over it. I hope.

As I stared down 15 years worth of stuff from the kitchen, living room, dining room and basement; a guilty feeling crept upon me. I was edgy and annoyed. It took awhile to name this feeling. It’s Retail Remorse.

I’ve always dipped into thrift stores and resale shops, even as a child. When I was eight or so, I bought my mother a pin from the local thrift shop. I swore it was diamonds. Diamonds for 50 cents!

Some five years ago, I took the full plunge. Now, it’s a rare occasion that items – aside from groceries - from a conventional retailer are carried through our front door.

My one guaranteed conventional retail purchase is a quality-scented candle; it’s a deeply appreciated indulgence. I sporadically go to Anthropologie to the sale section to find a candle on sale, and it’s always marked above my Flinch Point. But, it’s a luxury item and I know that. I also check out what the store designers are displaying and sometimes mimic it in my home. What irony that their glorious displays are made from simple items: Mason jars, empty wine bottles, pipe cleaners, wire, sticks, paper, and –get this- white plastic drinking straws. Juxtapose the cost of these beautiful displays against racks of dresses priced $180 and up. My definition of great style is extracting the extraordinary from the ordinary. One cannot purchase that.

A funny thing happened this week. I went to Anthropologie, but there were no candles on sale. Sigh. The visit was not a total waste, I did make note of the gorgeous chandelier constructed from giant bundles of long sticks hung about one large, clear light bulb. It was inspiring.

I moved on to the nearby thrift only to pull a new Anthropologie candle off the shelf for $2.99. That’s two dollars below my Flinch Point. It’s Yuzu Peach from Illume. This really happened, no exaggeration. In a similar story I bought a vintage inspired Banana Republic jacket with its original price tag of $99.99 dangling next to the Goodwill price of $4.99. On the way home I stopped at a major retailer to purchase a $9 tube of mascara and, well just read the post, “What’s the bait and where’s the switch” because this story gets weird and disturbing for the consumer.

As I stared at the items all in queue to be toted out the front door for last week’s yard sale, I felt sick at heart. Sick because I saw how the conventional retail market had hypnotized me. Looking at all the stuff set for the yard sale, I saw waste. Granted it was nice and pretty but there was no argument, it was waste. At least it was waste for me, perhaps a need for someone else.

Years before I went full on thrift, I shopped sales. Let’s take the Pottery Barn that used to reside in Denver’s Cherry Creek mall near my home. I’d visit that store once a month. Like Anthropologie, I’d head straight to the sale area. Only I wasn’t out to purchase one luxury item. I would buy not out of a need but because I was led to believe I was getting a steal. The reality? I wasn’t purchasing the item. I was purchasing a deal. Deals are great, if they are of use or need.

I’d been fooling myself, thinking sale shopping was smart. It can be. But, often we are led to believe that we are coming out the winner by walking off with a 60% off item that will not have use. Enter Retail Remorse.

The shoppers at the yard sale were getting deals. But, I heard more than once, “This is a great price and a great item but do we need it?” That’s smart shopping.

Godspeed all thrift shoppers! Common sense is on your side as long as you focus on a need and not, as Dr. Suess called them in The Lorax, a thneed.

Post Script:

Our above the stove range microwave caught an innocent item on fire. At five years old the darn thing is toast. In our current economic state, we cannot afford the hefty cost of a new one. So, I purchased a small counter top microwave for $15 at Goodwill to meet our need. I do not appreciate planned obsolesce, as discussed in the post “Built to last? Don’t think so!” Once again this makes me think of the 60 year-old refrigerator still chugging out cold air in my grandparents basement serving as back up to the latest model in the kitchen that is probably just a few years old. That little fridge was built to last, not built to fail.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflections on a Yard Sale & The Acquisition of Stuff

The Golightly’s yard sale was a success. To my pleasant surprise all visitors were cordial and didn’t attempt the vicious low-ball on price. Perhaps it was because we varied our music from Miles Davis Kind of Blue to Billie Holiday’s Songs for Distingue Lovers to Stan Getz and Bebel Gilberto. You know, keep it mellow.

Or, perhaps it was because all shoppers had to “pay the Piper” as Little Pie sat at her post as money collector. In addition to playing money collector she also sold her sets of homemade pastel pies, book lanterns and a few mason jars of specially selected buttons from her collection. It was a very long day and she was in the throes of it the entire time. What a trooper.

Upon reflection, most of my learning happened the week of pricing. It wasn’t that I learned more about product information or online values, I learned more about The Acquisition of Stuff.

As a family, we're very good about keeping our clothes closets clean. We just were not aware of all the stuff that had collected in the home at large.

Here’s a few things to consider so that you need not end up with stuff you don't need.

Just because it's on sale and a fantastic bargain doesn't mean you need it.

Newlyweds and new parents buy picture frames. Loads of them. After a while photos are taken down. If you fit into either category, get thee to the thrift store and save but also have some awareness that you might be purchasing more than you really need.

With silent auctions now a popular fund raising method for the PTSA’s about the country, I learned that I don’t value the items that come home from such auctions. The one exception is a beautifully framed class sketch of Piper’s Kindergarten school garden. That is a treasure and it hangs above the fireplace mantle. But most those items were bought out of a sense of duty. Given all the work it takes to acquire auction items – and I know because one year I rounded up $5,000 of stuff – I think I’d just rather write a check. How I wish schools would be elevated to the level they deserve when it comes to government spending. Our PTSA raises a lot of money each year and the majority of it seems to fill budget cuts.

When you move from one home to another, don’t just put stuff away to be done with the move. Yes, there is a pressing urge to finish the damn job. Moving is very stressful. But, as you unpack items while standing in the new home, consider if it’s still going to be of value. Ideally it’s best to purge items before a move. But sometimes, whether or not an item will work in a new home cannot be determined until it’s in that home. I had items from our former home shoved in the backs of cabinets from our old home. Ugh, we moved to Denver in 1998. One can have a yard sale before and after a move.

If it hasn’t seen the light of day in a year and it’s not an heirloom, it’s gone.

Take caution on items you intend to save for your children’s children. Mr. Golightly had a huge stash of such items. When seeing the complete pile, we realized we were hoarding items for our grandchildren that we don’t even know if we’ll have. We hope to but there’s no guarantee. Pile was purged with a few meaningful items tucked away.

Often times when you buy a new item, the old goes down in the basement. Na-uh. It’s off to the thrift store! Purge! Be free!

Toss emotions aside. You may have an emotional attachment to an item, like how I love the beautiful solid brass candelabra that hold’s seven candles. But, it really doesn’t work in our home. Poet was so excited to see it and thought she could use it in her Halloween costume, until she attempted to carry it. It weighs more that a meteorite I’m certain and it's really too big to hold and not look like you just might topple. Once you let go emotionally, you become motivated to sell.

Watch out for piles. They can clog you up. [Wink.] I had piles of table linens. When we purchased our dining set from an estate sale, I failed to purge the linens to the old table. It was difficult to open and close the buffet drawers. Not now!

Don't feel bad about abandoning unfinished projects. So what if it didn't come to completion. It happens. Be rid of the guilt and dump the supplies, chances are good that this project will be finished by another and you'll have less clutter.

When you finish a phase, clear out the equipment. Before the girls, Mr. Golightly and I ate sushi at home. We had time to prepare the fish and roll it. The making of it was as important a ritual as the eating of it. One of my kitchen cabinets was full of sushi serving supplies. Thankfully not any leftover fish.

I am very glad that we did this. The week leading up to it was not fun and I was a bit grumpy, partially because I had all this stuff and felt rather, ugh, stupid for acquiring it and the constant price checking on EBay gets tiring. But, I feel cleansed and have a nice chunk of change that I took to the bank this morning. And, I know there are a few people in Denver who found a few items they needed at a fair price.

If you have any purging tips, please share in the comments. If every household in America purged, just think of how full the re-use market would be! Perhaps so big, it would crush new products for awhile and the country could stop taking on water. This stuff has led us into debt, let's not allow it to sink us.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


This post was not scheduled to run on September 11th. I was very surprised to see it up this morning. It must have been some technical glitch; all indicators tell me it is to run 9/12/10 at 1AM. Maybe it was a cosmic thump. Regardless, I do not wish to diminish the profound significance of this date.

So I write this intro in response to the people who lost their lives and their families on this date. I believe that all the victims and their families of the tragedies want us to feel love and compassion on this day. I’m certain that if they could, those who lost their lives would tell us to love, to reconcile differences, seek commonalities and work for peace.

So on this day, please do something kind for a stranger. For in these times many of us need assurance that we are valued and people care. If you wish, please write what you chose to do in the comments. If you continually give to those in need, please share what you do in the comments.

This post is about hard times.

See that house? That’s Dorothy’s blowing into Oz.

Well, the Golighty’s happened to be in Oz that day engaging compassionate listening tactics with Wicked Witch of the East to figure what made her so red-eyed mean. Just when she was about to pounce on her personal, “Aha!” moment, that house, also called The Great Recession, landed on all of us.

Tis a shame. Oz was about to one up their population of good witches. The Witch of the East was going to mend her ways. Then a house landed on her. At least she died a better woman.

Two years later we’re still stuck under the darn thing. No matter which way we dig, we don’t see light. We are lucky we didn’t meet the same fate as Witch of the East.

Now I know for a fact, other houses sailed across the skies of Oz that day and every day since more continue to fall upon unsuspecting families. We are not the only ones stuck under the weight of this economic crisis. There are a couple, oh, million other people with us – all suffering on many levels.

What is carrying us through this crisis? Thrift before this mess and thrift during it.

Hope helps too, but some days that hope hides under the bed and doesn’t want to come out.

I try hard to fight off the encroaching bitterness when Congress hems and haws on critical things like COBRA assistance or unemployment benefit extensions. Send ANY legislator my way that says the paltry unemployment insurance makes people lazy and I’ll serve up a hearty “what for” to that person. What the Feds and the State seem to think a family of four can live on without aid is a joke. Maybe by 1950 standards.

I’d like to see a politician try and live like that. Maybe it could be like that reality show, “Undercover Boss”. I think we’re all laughing at the thought of the “Undercover Senator” waiting six hours for his/her number to be called so he/she can simply SUBMIT the one-inch-thick application for Food Stamp Assistance and go back to waiting the waiting to receive the appointment date to meet with a caseworker which could be two weeks out and will, require another number to be taken to wait to be called. Or how about waiting six months for a doctor’s appointment?

See, a few years back, we thought we were living right and smart.

We paid off our credit card bill each month.

We maxed out our 401(K) contributions.

We forwent cable TV. Not only do we have more active lives but also we are not subjected to the pounding of commercials designed to create Want.

We bought a home within well within our limits. I fired the first realtor. He kept thinking he could bump up the price by showing me a suite with a fiberglass monstrosity with seven jets that shot water into the bath. He even thought I’d drool over a three-car garage. How wrong he was.

We lived as a one-car family for the first seven years of our marriage. Had to buy the commuter car when Mr. Golightly took a job 20 miles north. We’re a mile south of downtown Denver and Mr. Golightly used take the light rail or jump the bus. He arrived at his office in 20 minutes, door to door, with no traffic worries or parking concerns. This was the first time Mr. Golightly used public transportation and he quickly grew to like it, a lot.

Not only is a car a heavy thing to carry around but it’s a heavy expense. Few realize it but a car can be likened to a child; it needs healthcare, life insurance, day care (parking fees), sustenance and some people even put a roof over its roof. That commuter car is being donated in about three weeks for we can no longer afford it’s insurance and it’s become a money pit. I’ll be glad to see it go and keep my sights on possible a job opening downtown so we don’t need another economic addition to our family. Maybe we can go back to the life we loved so many years ago. Maybe. Something’s gotta give.

Most of our vacations were spent resourcefully exploring our beautiful state of Colorado. With the exception of the northwest corner, we’ve been all over on old mining roads and have seen amazing sites with such beauty you gain every bit of confidence in a higher power, no matter what you wish to call it.

We felt we lived a rich life and paid little for it. We don't care what The Jone's are doing. They can have a plasma TV, I don't want it.

I come by the name Golightly honestly. My childhood can be labeled a wandering one. I went to many schools, had many addresses. So, possessions weighed few. This continued into my twenties when I moved every year, mostly to explore new neighborhoods. In Chicago I lived in Hyde Park, several locations in Lakeview and Old Town. In Boston, I lived in Allston and The Fenway. I never had a car and loved public transportation. The company I worked for in Boston subsidized my monthly T-Pass. I paid $11 a month for transportation. When I wanted to get out of town on the weekend, I rented a car for the price of one city parking ticket.

However, we have not always been so wise and things were not always so economically painful.

I confess when we married in 1995; I was a Mighty Consumer, as was Mr. Golightly.

And even worse, I was in Mighty Consumer in Denial. I shopped the sales. Shopping sales is great if you don’t focus on how much money you’re saving, thinking it means you can buy more. We’ve all heard it, it’s a well-marketed mantra for many, “Save more, spend more”. Sale used to be my favorite word. I laugh at it now.

Until I married Mr. Golightly, I’d forever lived in rented apartments and was not aware of a behavior home ownership and staying put can quietly engage. That’d be accruing Stuff because you have a place to chuck it, whether it’s a garage or a basement.

Stack having children on top of home ownership and, wow, do have we a situation for the collection of Stuff. Mounds of it either tossed with out care or neatly organized in plastic bins.

Wait. Let’s toss in one more factor to my collection of Stuff. Thrift shopping. Yup. When you’re a born again thrift shopper or a newbie, it’s easy to fall into a trap. The barrage of fantastic items for such fantastic prices is overwhelming. So happened to me about seven years ago and I remained in that condition for a year or two.

Without the seasoned wisdom of thrift, there is no awareness there will be more cashmere for $4.99 than imaginable flowing through the thrift store. The idea that you can be really picky about purchasing a cashmere sweater or Cole Hann shoes for $4.99 just doesn’t seem natural, so the born again/newbie often buys with a joyful abandon and unknowingly falls into a trap of Stuff.

Take all the new thrift back to the house and if it doesn’t make the closet, chuck it in the basement or garage. It’s worth $100 more than you paid for it, you can’t toss that!

Well, you can.

Fall is coming on and I’m about to swap out the closets and purge the clothes that no longer fit Little Pie and any clothes that just aren’t being worn. My overarching goal is to purge less each season, which would mean that I’m shopping wisely. Last April I posted, "The path to fashion enlightenment" about my spring purge. It felt great! I was basically ready for spring and summer with beautiful clothes I love and had no need for more. My seasonal donations to the thrift store are shrinking. Our clothes closets are efficient, tidy and the clothes are all worn, not left hanging unused for months or in some people’s cases, years. Below is a recent photo of Little Pie and I in Georgetown, CO in fall attire pulled early from the bins under our beds. The total cost of BOTH our ensembles is $30 - not including panties and socks. I've a good feeling my family won't be wanting clothes for fall or winter and this is a very good thing.

Now, I confess there’s been a sleeping demon in my life. It recently awoken and reared its ugly head.

After receiving another bill in the mail that I’m borrowing money to pay, I think I might of hit some sort of rock bottom or maybe I short circuited. We need money. In a state of total frustration and a need to be cleansed, I emptied the kitchen cabinets not of food but of implements.

I confess that there are items in my kitchen that haven’t seen the light of day in over 10 years. How could that be? What else is in my house that has been of no use? Served no purpose?

I feel a fraud. I feel I’ve been dishonest. I feel angry that I’d fallen prey to accruing this Stuff. Or I feel sad that people spent their hard-earned money on gifts they felt obligated to give for a birthday or holiday, and it sat unused. How I wish I had that money that was wasted in my fist right now. But simply put, that ain’t gonna happen.

So I donated more items to the thrift stores. I feel an obligation to donate to maintain the healthy cycle of reuse. You know, the give when you take concept? Hmm. I think many Americans need a lesson in that simple concept. We cannot take and take and take and take and expect there to be something left. Duh! No matter how it’s done, we ALL have something we can give. Problem is we seem to be running short on those people these days. Why is that?

I’d been so focused on the bedrooms; I had forgotten a whole first floor and a whole basement. Yeah, the books are prominent. But, they’re used and every Golightly values them. Oh yeah, there’s a garage in the alley too. Well, the garage isn’t too much of a mess considering it holds our camping gear in bins, ready to roll for an impromptu get-a-way. Mr. Golightly’s workshop is there too. It’s a mess. That’s because we’ve not put the items we’ve been using for projects back in their proper place. We’re using the items in the garage. That makes me feel a little better.

Mr. Golightly and I’ve been talking about this inventory of Stuff and we’re thinking, due to our economic situation, we need to break with Golightly tradition for just one day. We’re still talking. I’ll fill you in with our conclusion.

Oh, it’s also a little known fact The Wicked Witch of the West has a big beef with me. She knew about her sister’s intention to mend her ways. It’s been cropped out of this photo, but there was a PS to this message in the sky reading, “You too Golightly!” In the words of my family’s matriarch, I answer back, “Like Hell I will!” I’m carrying my bucket of water with me wherever I go and I am not afraid to use it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Come! Let us go back!

The Thrift Culture Now interview in the post below put me to thinking outside the thrift store.

It’s not rocket science but it’s a bit amusing and disturbing. The forward-looking folks, pursuing healthy economic and environmental practices, are actually looking back.

It’s frightening how this “Use it then lose it” culture in terms of human history is but a blip in time. But this tiny blip has done and continues to do great damage.

The majority of us have no awareness as to how new this the “Use it then lose it” culture is. It’s like the child who grows up in the dysfunctional family and thinks all families are that way. It’s all they ever knew. Unless they do some hard self-reflection (an often painful process) and work for a change (one that usually involves a fight because rarely does any one else want to change), things will remain dysfunctional.

If I could escort my great grandmother, as a young woman, to today’s grocery store and show her the shampoo/conditioner/styling product section I’d have to revive her with smelling salts and not because of her corset. Born in the 1880's she studied Elocution at a women's college and was known to be a lady. But I'm convinced that she would fall out of character, turn to me and say something like, "What the hell do you need all this stuff for?" I somehow don’t think she would feel like she landed in the glory land of hair product.

Know what she probably used to wash her hair? Baking soda. From what I’ve learned it’s actually better for your hair.

This is a woman who kept a book to record her spending. Not her receipt spending but itemized spending. If she bought sugar, she noted the amount and the cost. She was well off. By today’s standards people would think she’s crazy to be in her financial position and write how many pounds of corn meal she purchased in a book. But, I think it’s crazy how most people don't even reconcile their credit card statements. Is it denial?

Assuming you know it’s definition - the word is almost as dead as Latin – elocution may sound archaic and pointless. But, take away all the entertainment electronic gizmos in the house and sit down and converse with your family or roommates. Might go well for a half an hour. But, eventually you’ll be in need of a person versed in the art of conversation and would welcome a poem or story. I love listening to stories that transform into a journey: the voice, the intonation, and an appropriate pause make it so. Let’s face it; America’s Next Top Model and professional wrestling are replacing the art of storytelling in America. Yesterday a kid made fun of my daughter for watching PBS. I imagine the shows he watches are empty in content, as as empty as the calories in the food he ingests. And he’s making fun of her?

Let’s face it, there are few great elocutionists left in this time. Along with our spending habits we’ve become sloppy with words. Not only that, but we are not trained in the art of gathering them together in our mind, we just spit them out with no care for consequence. Sad that we do the same with our hard-earned money. The perculiar thing is we are often taken aback by the response; we’ve either offended someone or we’re broke.

Aside from this, we are terrible listeners. So bad, that the self-help industry has made grocery bags of cash writing books on teaching us how to listen. Obviously we still don’t get it because those books are still on the shelves. Perhaps the mere purchase of the book makes people think they’ve done their duty.

We do seem to think a purchase can transform ourselves into something we are not whether it be younger, more attractive, like we have more hair on our head or chest, sexier…it’s all a bit silly.

There have been studies that suggest our flash culture is re-wiring our brains – not for the good. Understanding there have been many studies, "The Shallows: This Is Your Brain Online" caught my attention on NPR. This piece also mentioned "Is Google Making Us Stupid" a piece in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr. Carr took the subject and wrote a book on this subject, the title being the title of the NPR story.

I suffered a brain injury from an auto accident. One of the first things I noticed was how painful it was to watch TV and certain movies. The get-as-many-scenes-in-a-short-amount-of time method gave me headaches. It left me distracted, confused, and unable to remain focused. Yeah, I was recovering from a head injury. But don’t tell me that you don’t feel that way at least twice a day. Concentration is critical. We will not problem solve if our minds are turned into a manic mess. Nor will we create for as soon as an idea appears, it will be replaced by a new thought. I’m not certain the young minds of today have the bandwidth for a story. I’ve seen it on shelves and it makes me angry, “Five minute fairy tales”. What!?!?! My daughters and I have read books at bedtime for hours even to the point where I’m fighting to stay awake as I read and Petite Poe is demanding “Read!” because she is so involved in the story.

Of course we’ve made great strides in Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and bringing to light many bad behaviors that must change. But, perhaps there is a value in the past that we have forgone, thrift.

As you go about your day, look at the items you encounter and ask yourself if a person 150 years ago would appreciate them or find them pointless. No doubt my great grandmother would appreciate the clothes washer, well maybe not because she did not have as many clothes as I. But, I’m not so certain she’d think a shine serum for her hair (especially given the cost) or a bubble bath that may contain skin irritants would not be so wonderful.

What actually provides an honest comfort or need? Hold those things close and dump the rest. The world will not collapse and you will not be a bad person if you do not buy a new bedding set because fall is coming and your house must show that in with a celebration of autumnal color. Want fall colors? Go pick some bittersweet and put it in a clear vase – one that is not seasonal. They make seasonal vases now.

I’ve written about my great grandmother in the past, the post was “Six Baccarat Tumblers”, a story about how being thrifty doesn’t mean you must be cheap and have junk.

Now that I think more about visits with her as a child, I don't believe she even owned a television. A visit to Mamaw's was like time travel and I'm so fortunate so have had that experience. She told me stories. One of my favorites is one when she lived in Chicago and was in the fabric section of a department store (Marshall Field's I would assume) where the fabric bolts were kept in huge drawers. My grandfather, then a toddler, climbed out of his pram and into one of the drawers and all the women in the department store went on a frantic search. One of those stories that wasn't fun at the time but, funny after it was over.

I lived in downtown Chicago in my twenties. When they remodeled the State Street Marshall Field's, I frequented that beautiful store and wondered. Follows is a rendering of what the store would have looked like around her time.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Tiny Home Movement

A friend Ms Gently Used produced this segment on PBS's Need to Know, Living Large: A look into the tiny house movement.

Do take the 10 minutes to watch the segment. It's inspiring; it really is. Ha! And many Americans would think the Golightly home small at 1,800 square feet. It fits us just fine.

My only dilemma with a tiny home would be what to do with my childrens book library. I plan on being the grandmother who reads to her grandchildren someday. Things are changing so fast, I want my legacy to have books land in little hands.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What is a Thirft Store Convention?

I wish a thrift store convention were a gathering of stores and followers for a week at some swank hotel in San Diego on the harbor. Apron Thrift Girl and I toss that idea about. For certain there’d be fantastic forums, featuring, How to buy quality clothing – it’s not all in the brand or Product Re-purposing to accompany the urban crafts movement. I’d love to host a forum on Snake Eyes. We could design programs to become a Thrift Master.

Imagine the consumer enlightenment. It could bolster in a new age, a revolution turning away from our current Economy of Crap, an economy saturated with stuff we don’t really need, stuff that's only purpose is to meet quarterly projections. It’s kind of like an Economy of Nothing but comes with a heavy cost in dollars and carbon.

Thrift conventions are posts demonstrating the various paths to incorporate reuse into a consumer’s life. In short, these conventions feature items you need not buy new so you need not waste money, resources and energy. You can live a little lighter.

There have been many posts on the conventions of thrift. Unless there is an accompanying story, we delete the original post and add the photos (which have more meaning) with captions into to the slide shows on the left bar of this blog featuring: Clothing & accessories, Home & Entertaining, Kitchen and Children. Photo captions tell the story.

Take some time to view these slide shows. You’ll see beautiful completely outfitted place settings for under $5, fine jewelry for a few dollars, new clothing for 5% the retail cost…

Below is sampling of what you'll find in the growing slide shows. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

There is thrift in alley trolling

A few days back, I was hauling the remains of a tree a neighbor cut down and left for reclamation in the alley. We’ll run this new woodpile through the table saw and to begin our stash for the winter. It beats buying wood at over $100 for half a cord; add in a delivery fee and a stacking fee and the cost tops off near $175. Often we discover we’re stuck with a lot of pine, which burns much faster than hardwood. The money has left our hands. No returns. Funny how customer service seems wither quickly and die after cash has exchanged hands – a lesson I’ve been trying to work with Petite Poe. “Money back guaranteed” ain’t so easy. I’m no longer ordering wood. I can cut it and stack it myself. If I use a tree saw, I’ll get a great upper body work out. Besides, I like honest exercise.

One of the qualifications when searching for our home was that it: 1) be walking distance to restaurants and parks; 2) be old to symbolize it can brave the forces of time; 3) have an old fireplace and; 4) have a claw foot tub like children still draw in their artwork today even though claw foots have long been replaced by giant fiberglass shower-tubs. It’s odd how children draw items from the past, houses with high-pitched roofs, claw foot tubs, window seats... I wanted a home a child would draw.

Denver has a pollution season where they designate days with wood burning restrictions, with corresponding requests for people to drive less. The only way you’re going to find a real fireplace in Denver is in an old home. Wood burning fireplaces where banned from new home construction decades ago. Gas burning fireplaces are allowed, but it’s just not the same.

The irony is that it’s the cars that make that ugly Brown Cloud. But no one limits cars. A few years ago the number of cars exceeded drivers in Denver. No caps on cars you can own, but heaven forbid a family turn off the TV and gather around a fire in the hearth to read, play dominoes or roast marshmallows.

Our 1900 coal-burning insert in our fireplace makes for a comfortably lit, cozy living room on cold nights. Sometime in the 1920’s our fireplace was restyled with – what I am certain are - Van Briggle tiles. Artus Van Briggle started his pottery shop just down the road from us in Colorado Springs the year our house went under construction.

As I think about hauling long limbs of a retired tree in the heat of summer, I realize I’ve never discussed alleys. I love alleys. The children on our block ride bikes, race scooters and toss footballs in ours. I’ve a blackberry patch in a 4’x5’ raised bed next to our garage.

I often dream of a non-profit or an extension of the Mayor’s Office that helps develop alleys from places of neglect to resources for neighbors to garden and meet. It’s really amazing what one can do with small spaces, especially with gardening. One can harvest loads of fresh berries or vegetables from very small spaces. We don’t need an entire farm to feed a single family. Like zucchini and yellow squash. Ever heard the adage --- “Good friends don’t give friends zucchini”? Beautiful flowers that thrive on heat and neglect can be tossed in alleys, hollyhocks, poppies, lavender and, self-seeding cosmos. Roses love the heat of Colorado; here they are flowers that can withstand neglect.

As if from a magician’s top hat, I’ve pulled glorious things from the alley; items people chuck out their windows. My red Schwinn cruiser came from the alley, as did the bike that Little Pie currently rides. Tables, pots, old dishes, flowerpots, the coolest old chairs…My neighbor built all of her raised beds for gardening from salvaged wood from the alley.

My favorite alley find is a fainting coach. Yup - I pulled a fainting coach from the alley. Refinished and re-upholstered, it’s now a beautiful addition to our living room and rests by the fireplace. All little girls dream of fainting couches. Least I did. I’ve refinished many pieces of furniture but never re-upholstered anything. It wasn’t that hard.

I think I love these finds more than I do a planned store bought item. They were surprise gifts.

In our information-overloaded, multi-tasking world, we’ve forgotten how to truly be resourceful. Value can be pulled from every space in your life, apartment, home, and property. Are you using it wisely? Is there neglected space? Do you live in a home that has too much space? Our 1,800 square foot home fits us just right.

A few years back we had a family with two children on our block opt out of their gorgeous three bedroom Victorian with wood paneled walls, fireplace, and pocket doors for a huge newer house in the ‘burbs. They sold their house in a day. Upon their moving, a lovely 85-year-old neighbor asked me why they moved. Upon learning they wanted a bigger house, she was appalled, “Why? They have one the biggest houses on the block! What more do they need?” This wonderful woman should know. She grew up on the block in the house that her grandparents originally bought when the house was just a few years old.

This reminds me of our neighbor Joe, who passed away near ninety. Joe was Italian, originally from Philly. We used to chat over coffee at the neighborhood bagel shop. He and his new bride bought their one floor bungalow after he returned from the war in 1946. The two of them happily raised six children in that home and the children went to a parochial school down the street. They held the important things in their lives close together. These days we’ve scattered our resources to far away places.

What do we really need and are we looking in the right places for those needs? I found one of the nicest pieces of furniture in our home in the alley, not a high-end furniture store. Chances are mine is one of a kind and all I had to buy was some sand paper, varnish, stuffing, upholstery fabric and upholstery tacks. I love that fainting couch more than any new piece that could be bought. It’s priceless to me.

Treasure is always found in unexpected places. It can’t be bought in a mall where you are but one in a few hundred thousand in the world, left holding the exact same item.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Legendary Thrift

I appreciate and enjoy receiving emails from readers. They come in all contexts. This particular email landed in my in box after the former post, “A Tale of Two Rings”. It’s a similar story with a different ending, more humorous than mine.

Such serendipity makes me wonder if there is not a higher power orchestrating this giant game of thrift.

Grinny writes:
My husband and I married after dating five months. We just wanted to be married and didn't care much about ceremony. He wore a suit he already owned with a tie that I never cared for.

In fact, I thought the tie was downright ugly.

Fast-forward five years and our oldest son is attending vacation bible school. The school had a little store of donated goods where the children could pick prizes.

With the coming of Father's Day, requests were sent out to donate “manly” items the children could to give to fathers as gifts. I happily donated the mentioned tie – without a peep to hub.

Unbeknownst about the tie or it’s history, of all the choices, my son picked the infamous "wedding tie" to give to his dad on Father’s Day.

I had to come clean. This tie moved back into my husband’s closet, twelve years later. He has never worn again. Good thing hubs has a forgiving sense of humor.
Great story Grinny.

Sometimes I wonder if Mr. Golightly is Yogi Berra incarnate. Of many head-scratcher sayings, he often tells me to, “Go so you can come back”. I used to translate that to, “please run your errands now so you can come home and watch the kids”.

But I have to wonder if “Go to come back” has a more cosmic significance. Perhaps my ring and Grinny’s husband’s tie needed to go so they could come back modified in meaning to build a better story.

We can call such stories, Legendary Thrift. If you have one, do tell. I can be contacted by clicking on the Contact Section in the left column.

Now I must go so I can come back.