June 6, 2013

Thrifty, Cheap or Making do— Thrifting

My Favorite Thrift Shop

Thrift- n. Wise economy in the management of money and other resources; frugality.

Thrifty- adj. Practicing or marked by the practice of thrift; wisely economical.

Thriftiness- n. Frugality in the expenditure of money or resources.

Thrifting- v. Refers to the act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, or a shop of a charitable organization, usually with the intent of finding interesting items at a cheap price. A larger philosophy often permeates the act of thrifting, which celebrates the recycling of formerly-owned items, finding new use and new love for vintage material goods which had been thrown out, and the thrill of imagining what the former life of the item was like.

I am always the first to admit that I am more than a little cheap. It is in my nature I think— perhaps a genetic attribute passed through the generations, affecting some of us but not others in my family. In a previous post, I spoke of my love for collecting the shiny, the old, the odd and the unusual. I like stuff. Though part of me is always aware that we do not really ever own anything in this life, that we are just passing through and should strive to simplify and live more frugally, I still achieve the keenest sense of joy from the eclectic items I surround myself with. And nothing makes me much happier than getting a great "deal".

My cheapness comes in some part from not having an over-abundance of money for much of my life and to a strong strain of Yankee frugality, but I would be lying to you and myself if I did not admit that it goes very much deeper. I was going to tag sales, junk shops, thrift stores and flea markets for a long time before they gained the chic stamp of approval they currently enjoy. As a teenager, my wardrobe consisted of treasured finds from the fifty cent bag sales at a local thrift shop and jeans from the downtown army-navy surplus store. I sported things like sequined sweaters and to my mind, the find of all times, a genuine fox fur stole with a closure that made it look like it was biting its own tail. While I was, in my own view, so very haute couture in fifties jackets and argyle socks rolled above my boy's converse sneakers, my Mother cringed. Most mornings we quarreled before I finally departed for school. I was a terrible embarrassment, I know, but I was the definition of cool (Which is—not having a clue that you are. I only found out in later years when people I had went to school with would tell me in reverent tones that I was. And here I spent my high school years thinking I was a socially inept geek. Most of my friends were folks I met at work and outside school.) I have digressed somewhat, but you see, my need to thrift goes way back. I also am physically unable to pass a clearance rack or final sales table without stopping to look.

I have at times wondered if it was a disease or malady that should be cured, but I do not think so. I like that the definitions for "Thrift" include the words wise, frugal and economical. I think that those are important concepts in a world that is drowning in a material flood of goods and commodities. While I may love a deal, I shudder at what industrialization and mass production have resulted in. A proliferation of cheap and ultimately disposable products are one of the great nightmare's of this fledgling century. It is a paradox, in my view, that things mean so much to us and yet so little. People work so hard to acquire more, better, newer, and more fashionable stuff, and yet those same folks discard and replace these things so easily. Very recently, this week in fact, after I had already begun this post, a perfect illustration of this waste that has become part of the Consciousness out there occurred. My mother and stepfather have a rental property which was vacated over the past weekend. Mom called and told me there was a LOT of stuff left behind if I wanted to come look through it.

This is just a bit of the hoard after two days of sorting  it.
I did want to look. How could I not? As it turned out, I am still in some sort of shock. The people who had lived in this place were Hoarders in the truest sense of the word. The place was horribly dirty and went further beyond cluttered than I have ever actually seen, and I have been into a lot of cluttered homes over the years. It is very hard to describe. There were stacks of books, papers, clothing and household goods everywhere. Some of it was garbage, old newspapers and other refuse, but mostly it was the largest and most varied stash of collectibles I have ever seen in one place. Horror movie posters and paraphernalia; Disney collectible items from tiny miniatures to large pictures and stuffed toys; Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia; And anything ever having to do with the Titanic. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg and the most difficult part to assimilate is that they left it all behind. Comic books, toys, limited edition collectibles or memorabilia in original wrappers were stacked among personal papers and photographs and household appliances and furniture, and every bit of it has been discarded by its owners. What did they take with them? Amongst so much stuff, how could you even begin to guess?

We began sifting through after the initial astonishment wore off, and brought home a variety of items from Christmas decor to curtains and towels. My son found a trove of collectors comics and my daughter delicate Japanese tea sets. Lots else, too. We are supposed to go back later today. My Step-dad is trying to salvage what he can out of it before having it cleaned out. It is too massive an amount of stuff for us to get through it all ourselves.

While I proudly proclaim that I like stuff, I cannot understand the mindset of such acquisitiveness. I care for my possessions. I keep my home reasonably clean, and I like my clutter organized. When I am through with an item for any reason, if it is still serviceable, it is donated in the proper quarter. Thrifting is recycling in a complete sense for me. My wardrobe changes with my whims, but at any given time, over half of the items in my closet are from thrift or consignment shops. My favorite things almost always are. When I am tired of something, it returns to the shop or gets reused for something else. We only discard that which no longer can be used.

Used Furniture- Book shelf
Oak book shelf we found at a used furniture store.
 Our house, in large part, is furnished in a style which should probably be called Modern Thrift Store. Having furniture and accessories that match does not loom large in my decorating approach. While lots of pieces have been acquired by me at thrift shops and similar establishment, there are also discards, hand-me-down pieces and some of those old stand-by bring it home in a box and put it together yourself shelves and desks. And it is all just fine. I have been doing some thrift shopping lately since my wrist is healed enough for driving, and I have made a few great finds. I love Christmas stuff any time of the year, and I have brought home a selection of ornaments, some of them vintage (Meaning that they are fairly old. I really think the word vintage has been hugely overused the past few years, but I'm not certain what to do about it.), some for repurposing, and some that are lovely just the way they are. Anyone who follows me on Pinterest will know that I have six or seven boards devoted to the Christmas Holiday. Some of my other nifty acquisitions were baskets, a very old tin I have not had time to research yet, some doilies and other lace bits, picture frames, and two lovely lace panels to replace the old window treatments in my studio. Oh, and before I forget, a pair of glove forms. I already had a pair I found in an antique barn eight or nine years ago, so what a surprise to find another.

Vintage plastic glove forms

Since we are in a much larger house now than when we lived in North Carolina, there were still some bare spots here. A recent trip to a local used furniture store remedied that. My Dad wanted a new TV so he had given us his old one. It was larger than the one we had, so a new stand or entertainment center was needed (This is what I call the trickledown theory of home management; The TV and stand from our living room moved to my son's room. He did dismantle his old entertainment center and it has been slated for recycling projects. His TV was larger than my teenage daughter's, so it was given to her, and the small monitor she had has taken the place in my workroom of an ancient TV/DVD player with a eight inch or so screen that I had used previously. That one will be donated or used out in the garage workshop. Phew!). We did end up buying a new stand for the TV, as the store had both new and used furniture, and there were no used entertainment or media centers large enough to accommodate it. It was a very economical piece though, and since it is table style rather than a cabinet, should serve us for years to come. The fun part though, was discovering a largish book shelf that would fit in our front hall and a lovely hutch for the dining room. Both items were purchased for a fraction of what new furniture of like quality would cost. The hutch needs a bit of TLC before it is quite what I want, but I am very satisfied with both pieces. No more books stacked in the corner for lack of shelf space. Now we have extra— always good in a household of avid readers. Our house may not be furnished with the newest or most stylish appointments, but when I look at it I see a warm and inviting Home.

Hutch from used furniture store.
My dining room doesn't look so large and bare now.
I like the phrase "make do". I remember hearing my grandmother use those words as she mended, repaired or found another use for something because she knew that there was not the luxury of replacing it. Things were handed down, socks were darned and cast-off clothing became quilts, pot holders and finally cleaning rags. My grandmother didn't sew and make quilts as a hobby, but because she needed to. Though recycling has become fashionable and ecologically satisfying to some extent. It doesn't go nearly far enough. We need to make a shift in consciousness— to consider the ultimate replacement value of each and every material possession. We need to trade the cheap and shoddily made for quality and craftsmanship that can stand the test of time and use. This is only going to become more of an issue as the Earth's population grows and our natural resources dwindle. No news here. I was aware of these very same issues a quarter of a century ago, and it saddens me that so little has really changed in the interim. It is true that much has changed where technology and lifestyle are concerned, and in fact more people are aware of the growing ecological, climatic and economic challenges the entire world faces, but so very little is being done about any of it.

Thrift shop goodies
Thrifted Treasure
I am guilty as are most of us. My youthful activism and commitment to change gave way to complacency and dependence on the convenience that our present culture provides us. I have way more of everything than I need, and often, instead of "making do", I toss out those shoddily manufactured socks and garments and replace them with equally deficient items. I daily make choices that are not the best ones for myself, my children and grandchildren, and the planet. But I would like to do better, and I continue to do what I can. As usual, this post is becoming a platform for thoughts and ideas which while related to my original theme, are much larger than I intended.

Perhaps all I am doing is justifying my secondhand lifestyle, but I do not really think so. I love this particular way of obtaining things I need, and would live this way anyway, but I really do think that thrifting, recycling, reusing and repurposing need to go beyond being fads and trends, and instead become a way of looking at life. We need to learn to "make do" again.

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