Friday, January 1, 2010

for the love of thrifting

It seems like most people have a very specific attitude towards thrift stores. You either love thrift stores or are terrified of them. Either you think they're great, or you can only conceive of them as dimly lit, smelly, homeless-bum dens of holey socks and tattered, coverless books. However, this also means you never visit them. Whatever irrational fear is keeping you away, once you get the hang of it, you'll love thrifting as much as I do.

Did I mention that I love thrift stores? I have for quite a few years now, ever since I was old enough to drive and also old enough to have to buy my own clothes. I have this issue talent for searching for bargains and hidden treasures, and thrift stores are a great place for both of these things. (Photo: our room, most of the things on the wall from thrift stores & garage sales).

When I first started shopping at secondhand stores, I bought mostly wearable, practical things: shoes, clothes, purses, belts, sweaters. I balanced out my addiction to $.75 cardigans with the occasional splurge at Banana Republic, perhaps treating myself to a pair of $50 pants. (It still feels like a splurge, and I'm glad it does.) I needed to convince remind myself that I wasn't obsessed with thrifting, and I had more money for clothes since I'd gotten so many great deals at thrift stores, was the least I could do. A duty. :) My find of the year--no, of the century--was a barely-used pair of Birkenstock sandals, exactly my favorite style and color, and exactly my size, for $6. SIX DOLLARS. They'd have set me back $150 if I'd bought them new. If you aren't sure there's a God, thrifting might just change your mind.

I've also bought and resold a lot of those little hidden treasures, on sites like eBay and my Etsy shop. It's amazing how a $.50 trinket, old and charming, will go for $22 if you clean it up a little and take a few nice pictures. I've made money from my thrifting addiction, which is not the main reason I do it, but it helps. And it's so much fun! (Except for the pictures of our home, these photos are all things I've bought and resold.)

Lately, though, since I suddenly have a home of my own to fill and decorate and supply, I've been buying useable practical things. (Crazy, huh?) I've bought gorgeous mixing bowls, lots of serving saucers, beautiful plates, handy pots and casserole dishes, and a brand-new cheese plank with little knives and forks (still wrapped) stored inside it. Vases, pitchers, framed art, empty frames, chairs, coasters, books, fabric, candles, lamps, tools, baskets (oh the baskets), lidded jars, mugs, tote bags (please don't buy special, brand-new bags for grocery shopping) and storage boxes have also found their way to my apartment, all at a tiny fraction of what I'd have paid for them, merely for the extravagant privilege of not having to pick off tags. Oh wait, I'd still have had to do that. I meant the extravagant privilege of being the VERY FIRST OWNER. It's addicting to feel like you need to be the very first owner, but really not very practical.

Not that it's not ever appropriate to be the first owner. Things I would never buy (and have never bought) at a thrift store: lingerie, nail polish, electric kitchen gadgets, unwashable
shoes, socks, pillowcases (that I was intending to use as pillowcases). But that leaves a lot of things that don't need to be purchased new. Since we're all trying to save money, why not try your local Salvation Army or DAV before heading to your normal shopping source? (You're also supporting charitable organizations when you shop at these places.) If you're looking for something specific that you need right now, thrifting might not be the best option. But, for example, I've been wanting a set of individual-sized baking dishes, and I don't need them right now, so I'm just keeping my eyes open.

I've also started realizing that my thrifting has taken on a deeper, even philosophical motivation. I'll always enjoy the fun of thrifting little treasures, but lately, I've realized how much I pointlessly depend on brand-new things, and how much more efficient, smart, frugal, and yes, even 'green' it is to do everyone a favor and reuse stuff. This goes for things in my own home, like the jars/bottles/containers that have juice/spaghetti sauce/sour cream in them. But for whatever reason, we're trained to throw those things away before we go out and buy brand-new jars/bottles/containers. I felt really silly once I realized what I was doing! This same principle applies for practically everything I need. If you must buy it new, do that. But I've discovered that it feels really good to do things intentionally, carefully, and not mindlessly like we're used to.

This Christmas, I gave several gifts that I'd purchased secondhand, and I also wrapped many of them in thrifted fabric (yes, I washed it). A few beautiful antique poetry books were gifts for my sisters, and the collection of small gifts for my parents was collected in a basket I probably paid $.75 for. I could have bought brand-new poetry books (which would have had very little appeal) and stupidly spent twenty times what I did on a silly basket. These are just a few ways that I can save money and really enjoy shopping, too! (Photo: I realized that everything in this picture, except for the cabinet (an heirloom) was purchased at thrift stores and garage sales! Shelf, modern vases, antique plates, books, lamp, basket, art. Woohoo!)

Some suggestions if you're interested in thrifting...
-Go when they have their additional deals...usually stuff like "50% off ladies clothes on Wednesdays."
-I kinda mentioned this earlier, but don't go expecting a very specific item to manifest itself for you.
-On the other hand, thrift stores may have the psychological effect of making you purchase a lot of stuff you don't need at all, just because it's cheap! If you'll never use it, it's still a waste of that money.
-Thrift stores' stock changes very regularly, so if you go a week later, you might find totally different stuff!
-Some require you to pay in cash, or don't take many credit cards, or require you to purchase a certain amount before they'll accept your card. This is because credit card fees are very high, and since their item prices are so low, it can actually cost them money to sell some things. Just be aware, have some cash with you, and understand why it's that way.
-Be open--very open!--to gifting your thrifted treasures! Sometimes a gift is more meaningful, not to mention more interesting, when it's a vintage mixing bowl or antique crystal vase. Less expected, seems more sincere somehow.
-I hope this goes without saying, but wash everything you get, before wearing/using it!! Even if it still has its price tags on (which is pretty common), just assume strangers have worn it, eaten from it, whatever you need to imagine. :)

My favorite thrift store is the ARC, about half a block west on 27th and Vine. Their store is bright, cheerful, well-organized, not overcrowded, well-staffed, and...AND...students get half off on Fridays. :) Let me just say that a $4 sweater might start to look pretty steep after a while!

My least favorite store in Lincoln is the Goodwill on north 27th, between Highway 6 and Superior. For some strange reason, it's horridly overpriced. And I don't mean that because I'm used to paying pocket change for stuff, or maybe it is because of that, but I'm talking $8 for a glass jar, and $10 for t-shirts. If I wanted to pay retail prices for used stuff, I'd...I don't know, I'd be crazy, because that doesn't make any sense. If you're looking for great bargains, steer clear. It's also oddly shaped, like a bowling alley.

Oh yes, maybe you are still wondering whether the stereotype of ratty, smelly thrift stores is accurate! In most stores I've been in, it's really, truly not. A few are a little dingy, but only because they're charities and they send the money where it really needs to go, not pampering customers. Besides, if you're willing to stick around and search awhile, who knows what you might find? :)

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