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.


Someone said...

It's complicated isn't it - I have mixed feelings about boycotting retail, because if we all did that, SOME Americans would lose some jobs. Not great jobs, but jobs that are perfect for people doing more important things concurrently, like getting an education, for example.

However, I readily admit that I'm rarely a retail shopper (I am also a yard saler/flea marketer from childhood, which I didn't learn from my compulsive-retail-shopping mom..)

Non-perishables I buy new (and heavily discounted where I can) are underwear and shoes, and an occasional T-shirt. (I will buy special items from independent sellers and hand-makers though, things like jewelry and unusual scents, and now and then something from a department store SUPER discounted.)

I do think that the retail world really has called the backlash on itself. Its cynical quest to push a constant stream of crappily made crap on us is insulting.

Have you noticed that Scott Tissue has relented a little in its corner-cutting? They always made a good quality staple, then in recent years they started putting out this absolute trash quality paper (while charging no less). I was shocked at how bad it was, a real comedown. Just this month though there appeared a better version (but still not as good as it used to be). I wonder how many complaints they got? I'm sure I'm not the only one who found their extremely inferior version extremely insulting.

Shopping Golightly said...


Well, we cannot totally boycott retail. However I do NOT believe the retail industry at large is on the tip of changing or reinventing a more sustainable system. I think they [retailers] still look to us [consumers] to fill their coffers by purchasing crap.

As for the TP situation, I hear the old Sears catalogs did the job a few decades back.

Hey! I finally thought of a use for all the phone books that keep landing (unrequested) on our door step! Usually they funnel through the house to the recycling bins. Probably shouldn't flush the pages though.

At first I was a bit perplexed by the Scott TP thing. But then I made the connection of retailers selling crap.

Laurie said...

I emptied out my camper this past week, thanks in part to inspiration here. Several boxes went to the thrift store, a few things will be sold, & yesterday a very happy man came & got all my old stereo equipment, on his birthday, no less. Space is good!

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post.

I had a college writing prof who's mantra was "Less is more." It's so true.

Space clears the mind. :)

Anonymous said...

Did you enjoy the things you bought thrifting while you had them? If so, that's pretty much all you can ask. You successfully passed them on to new homes where they'll likely be cherished and then passed on yet again. Really, that's a lovely thought. Judging by the photos of your sale, your merchandising efforts paid off for you and even added a bit of respect for these much used, much loved treasures. As a buyer (as in the retail trade) you have a great eye and your sale seemed a real service to the community. Congrats

Shopping Golightly said...


Good question. Yes and no. This was 15 years of stuff and I don't like to keep unneeded product. Unlike my clothes closets and children's toys, I had not been digging into kitchen cabinets and such. Or the basement. Yikes the basement!

The items from the old sushi days? Yes, we used them while in that phase. The sale items accumulated from Pottery Barn, some were a complete waste, some not. The linens from the old table in the dining room were used, they just needed to be purged.

Regardless, there was a lesson in what and I believe I can now show with even more discretion on household items.

I've been very good about shopping for clothes at thrift stores. I didn't know that needed to expand to the home at large.

A person might argue that our home has curiosities and isn't that a s bit materialistic? But a closer look reveals that we've collected rocks and a few interesting pieces of wood from the mountains; fortunes from fortune cookies and varies terrariums of moss that I harvest from the backyard. Oh yes and the childrens's library, but that is used and will hopefully be passed down to grandchildren and if not that than a school or children's hospital.

Now, I ponder phases. And wonder if I can recognize them. For if a phase is something that passes, is it worth an investment or is there another way?

KDbeads said...

I want to thank you for this entry. I'm an avid thrifter myself and i'm facing a massive cross country move in the next month. I'm spending a good portion of each day going through all my 'finds' and realizing... I just don't need most of them. Most of them are being donated back but I do plan on having a small yard sale for the larger items.
I'm still in shock over how much I brought home and how much I'm going to be parting with.

Anonymous said...

I knew some people who would buy things that they thought they would use in the future but when the future arrived they did not want those things, they were outgrown. They bought them at the time because they were on sale or 5 dollars off. They thought they were saving money. But now they have a house full of boxes of stuff they don't use, can't use and an empty savings account. That scenario is just too frequent these days. makes me cry for our country and want to string up some advertising executives.