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.