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.