Sunday, May 8, 2011

The items we value

I’ve lived in many places in this country and never experienced anything like Denver weather. It’s sunny over 300 days a year. Rain is in short supply in much of Colorado. This is perhaps the only city where if there is a 10% chance of rain, The Denver Post whips out a storm cloud icon to mark the day, never mind the 90% chance of sun. When it does rain (rarely as predicted), I swear the news anchors act like they’re on mass suicide watch, like we’ve all fallen into a major depression because the sun is not visible.

Somewhere in Denver, there is a weather switch. Today an anonymous person flipped that switch from winter to summer. Perhaps it was in honor of Mothers Day, the first day of the year when gardeners can be confident their plants won’t be nipped by a frost.

It’s time for The Big Summer Clean Up at the Golightly house. Denver’s a dusty place by nature and the urban pollution from that infamous Brown Cloud that covers the entire Front Range makes for more dust. We’ve a turn of the century cellar (not basement) complete with cobwebs. We fly through filters in the constant battle for our furnace to exhale warm, clean air into the house. Toss in three cats (one is a huge, very hairy Maine Coon) and that adds cat hair and furballs. A person with a lot of allergies would need an iron lung to live amongst this family of four. Oh, did I mention we have an old fireplace and love our wood fires on cold nights? Our little Mount St. Helens. Despite all this dust, I’ve made peace with the bunnies. Dust mites don’t live at 5,280’. Our warren of bunnies is hypoallergenic.

It’s time to wipe down the walls, clean behind appliances and give the house a good shake so we can lather, rinse, and repeat next year. Deep cleaning our home gets me to thinking deep.

There’s an irony in my household. Items I purchased for $5 often have more value to me than something purchased for an easy 50x, sometimes up to 100x the amount on the new retail market. I’ll bet most people who largely shop secondhand are nodding their heads right now knowing that the honest value of an item has little relationship to the cost. We're taught to believe otherwise.

Most people believe that thrifting is the thrill of the hunt or that we are pirates out for treasure or that we’re really just veiled conspicuous consumers. Why else would someone shop second hand in America? Discount retailers now give thrift stores a good run for the money opening up piles of new merchandise at costs no-one would have thought possible a generation ago.

Okay, I’ll admit there’s a little high one gets when they find a something completely extraordinary for two dollars. I don't think it's all that different from the high that happens in conventional retail when something comes along that truly is "so you." But, I do think that if you're a an honest Bargain Junkie, you're going to catch quadruple the fixes in thrift. Please note there is a difference between a Sales Junkie and a Bargain Junkie. I know this first hand. My name is Shopping Golightly and I am a recovering Sales Junkie. Sale used to be one of my favorite words. But one day, I realized that I wasn't buying sales items out of necessity. It was because I thought little me was out smarting big retailers. Is there any sense in spending money to proudly announce you saved it? I stopped cold turkey and have never looked back.

I place more value on my secondhand items because I’m thankful to have them for a cost I wouldn’t ever agree to pay new, or at a cost that I simply couldn’t afford. There is a deep gratitude if an item is both of use to me, and the cost of it allowed me to save more money - or spend it on something more important like a mortgage, or our daughters’ college savings.

Most of my pots and pans are thrift store enamel bought for a few dollars apiece. Enameled cookware does not do well in a dishwasher; many of these pieces were made long before dishwashers became mainstream. This has often irritated my daughter when she’s in a rush to load the dishwasher and tries to slip a pot in for a just-this-time wash. When caught she says, “But this is thrift!” My retort is always, “All the more reason to take good care of it." Besides, if my daughter someday wishes to live in Manhattan, she needs to know how to hand-wash dishes because chances are she’ll be lucky to have one foot of counter space and a low pressure faucet, let alone a Maytag.

It used to be that we paid extra for quality. Now we pay extra for name brands, forget about the quality. It’s nice there’s a market that can offer that old quality for a few dollars.

Not too long ago I was at a meeting and a person was boasting about their new French cookware purchased for a small fortune. I leaned forward, put my elbow on the tabletop with my chin landing in my hand and said, “Really.” I thought of my well-loved haunted French cookware that cost so little.

Valuing something by touting how much more it cost or because it makes you feel self-important because of that spending is one of the saddest ways to treat money and yourself.

Most Americans verbally shun materialism. It's down right stupid to think that purchasing a certain car is going to turn you into an irresistible sex machine. Deep inside we all know this. The truth? Most Americans lack a healthy degree of self awareness.

Next time you shun materialism, think about the items you own. Challenge yourself to really reflect. Do you value the item? Do you need it? Or, do you like that it makes you feel like you've arrived. To what you're arriving is a big question and hopefully the answer is not bankruptcy. There is no pride in going broke.


Anonymous said...

Once conversations move past the prefunctory niceties, most quickly move on to consumption topics -- sales, bargains, hopes and plans re: decorating (home and self), trips, vehicles (cars, boats, bikes, and ATVs, etc.) and more. So much of our lives and material assets get mortgaged to these pursuits. Thrifters know, that there's very little that can't be acquired at pennies on the dollar and at least have added the virtue of patience and the thrill of adventure to the pursuit of things.

Anonymous said...

I admit I enjoy the hunt as well as finding the great treasure. I also value items that have more than one purpose and aesthetic value is a bonus. I have never been a label chaser. I am enjoying learning online about name brand makers and items valued that way, but I can be as happy (even happier) owning a no-name item that is more rare.
If something gives you pleasure I believe it has value.

Mama B said...

Interesting post...I love going to the thrift store in our neighborhood, garage sales and Craigslist are also equally useful to me as well. I wouldn't say I'm a "label chaser" but there is something to be said about finding a quality piece of clothing, cookware, etc. and I've found that it often times comes with a well-known label.

Marilyn said...

My valuables are mostly things of my family's and the treasures I've found while exploring the junk stores. GW is opening a new store out here on the eastern plains this weekend and I AM EXCITED about it! ♥♫

Kay said...

>> honest value of an item has little relationship to the cost.

Amen!! I just learnt yesterday what Warren Buffet said about cost and value. What we pay for an item is its cost; what we get out of it is the value!

AvaTrimble said...

Your posts are always so inspirational! They make me want to go out and start thrifting sensibly right away. But at the moment, that would not be sensible - because I'm about to graduate from college in Massachusetts, fly across the country and spend the summer back home in Los Angeles, and then move to New Mexico later this summer to start graduate school in the fall!

So I'd probably better wait to go on my quest for dishes and pots and old linens. But I'm making lists and plans, and I keep thinking about your lovely enamel cookware!

My boyfriend and I are both big believers in sustainability (plus, it plays in peripherally to my studies, and he studies it centrally, along with bioethics), and emphasizing secondhand, high quality, long-lasting goods in our home is really important to us. We're on a mission to have as little plastic as possible, and as little disposable junk as possible.

Thank you SO MUCH for your wonderful blog. It always inspires me! And, by the way, since I've been thinking about this so much, I suspect others probably are as well - what if you wrote a post about how to go about setting up a kitchen for the first (or first-ish) time, using thrift stores to supply it? What would you recommend that people buy? What's easy to find, what lasts, what's sensible? How do you recommend cleaning things? I suspect I'm not the only one who'd love advice on such things! :)

Antonella said...

I second AvaTrimble on the post suggestion. Also, how about a list of essential clothing and what to look for (as in quality, durability etc)?

thanks for all the inspiration you give us

Alex M said...

Oh how true!!!

btw... While I am sure you know this, but air filters for your furnace are the best bargain going. Granted, you can't buy them thrift, but they save you so much money in the long run that you can't beat their value. You can also take them out monthly and vacuum them. In fact, I'd suggest in your climate, that you take them out, bang them on the floor, and vacuum them. You can also turn the hose on your vacuum out to blow air and blow air out of the crevices too.

If you do this regularly, you will have a little less dust to deal with each spring.