Friday, June 10

Why I Never Buy Anything New Unless I Have To

It's a quirk I have. If I gave you a tour of my house, I've guessing that 80% of the things you see would have come from a garage sale, the Salvation Army Thrift Store, a used book store, or be crafted by someone in the family. This extends to my closet, too. If you complemented me on something I was wearing, most likely you'd hear that I found it at the thrift store.

Is this because I'm a big tightwad? Not really. Although saving money is one huge advantage to buying used, I'm not one to count my pennies obsessively. I buy fresh flowers every week, and no-name ice cream never crosses my threshold.

I just prefer that my stuff have a history, and time spent on the shelves at my local Superstore doesn't count as history. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a chenille bedspread in my list of garage sale goodies. While I was paying for it, its previous owner was holding it to her face, sniffing it because it smelled like her mother's house. I'm going to make a couple of cushion covers from it, and when I see those cushions, sometimes I'll be reminded of that. I think about the history of my cushion covers as a bedspread in a bedroom of some woman I didn't know, but whose daughter wanted one last whiff of the smell of her mother's home.

This little chest in my living room was made by my husband's father. Long ago, before my husband was born, his dad was up here in the Yukon for a year or so doing plumbing during the construction of the Alaska highway. While he was here, he built this little wooden trunk to hold his stuff. See how its handles are made from a shovel handle? After he returned home, the little chest was used lovingly by my husband's family as a piece of furniture. It's been repainted several times by my husband's mother, who had a flair for decorating, but very little money. Somewhere along the line, perhaps when my husband was in his preteen years, the chest became his to hold his treasures. It held photo albums and newspaper clippings and old watches and old coins and his deceased dad's wallet. Some of those things are still in there, and once in a while we look through them, just like my husband used to.

And when I see that little trunk, sometimes I think of my husband's dad, working up here sixty years ago, making that chest in his spare time. Did he have any idea that someday some of his descendants would be living here? That the little chest he was crafting would someday be returned to its place of origin? Sometimes it makes me think of his mother, deciding what color the chest should be next; or of my boyish husband, protecting his stuff in it (and not always successfully) from his many brothers and sisters. You can't buy reminders of things like that at Superstore, can you?

I don't have to know the specific story of something to love it. If it looks like it has history, then I can imagine one for it. Whenever I listen to AM radio, it's on my old Crosley radio with its slightly buzzing tube. We bought this at a garage sale, and I have no idea what it's real story is, but I like to imagine a whole family gathered round the kitchen table, listening to a radio drama, perhaps.

Of course, when you shop at garage sales, there's always a chance you'll find something really exciting hidden within. The most money I've ever found is $30 (and I returned it) in the pocket of a parka I bought for a few dollars, but some people find things like this.

The reason I get almost all of my clothes at the thrift store is not so much because I like my clothes to have history--I'm not interested in wearing vintage clothing, particularly--but because it's a fun challenge for me. When I think of a woman's clothing store, I think boring, boring, boring. What sport is there in a rack of clothing where almost everything would work well enough? Who wants to chose between several similar styles of navy slacks? But at a thrift store, there's the thrill of the hunt. Searching through the racks of last year's cheap, trendy, much-worse-for-wear clothing for that one good find--something with a good label, in a classic style of the right size, in one of my colours, with no stains or rips--is exciting.

Not to mention that when you find something used at a thrift store, you know how its going to look after a few washes. If it looks good at the thrift store, chances are it'll still be looking good a year from now after you've worn it 50 times.

I come by my love of the sport of used clothing shopping naturally. I grew up dressed in clothes from the "missionary barrel". My mom had a real talent for dressing her family out of the missionary barrel and making it look like we weren't--refitting, redoing, making over as necessary. I learned how to do it and how to love it from watching her, and I've passed that love on to my oldest daughter, who will undoubtedly make several trips down to the thrift store while she's home this month and come away each time excited by her haul.

History and the thrill of the hunt. There you have it. It's embarrassingly materialistic at the heart of it, isn't it? (Perhaps I would have been better off going with the tightwad defense.) I want to be able to say, "See what I got!" I want to be excited about my shopping. I want to love my stuff.

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