Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category


February 2, 2011

Lately, I haven’t had the time or inclination to stop at a thrift store. I mean, I have enough stuff! It just seemed like too much work these days. Then my friend convinced me to join her for a Saturday morning romp. I reluctantly agreed.

Scanning the irregular displays and multiple colors, I walked into the shop almost weary, anticipating the work it would take to get me in the mood.  But I decided to give it my best effort  – for my friend’s sake. Maybe it would be fun.

Predictably, we sifted through the women’s tops first, almost mechanically. What was I doing here? Nothing looked interesting, even if it was my size. They were skimpy, or oddball colors. *Sigh* Oh! But then I felt a familiar twinge. I spyed a cute top that would look fabulous with my green vest. Good price, too. Ooo, Talbot’s. Even better. Suddenly my enthusiasm was building.

We continued through the vests, sweaters and jackets. My friend has a thing about tops and  lingered there for a while longer than I usually care to linger, but we eventually progressed onto the pants.

Luckily, this store was one of our favorites had the pants separated into sizes. We could easily find our way to the right spot. My friend tried on three pairs before finding some just-right jeans that she was looking for. I was totally taken by surprise by a pair of hiking pants that were in good shape, the right color and fit perfect. Sweet!

After this excitement, we cruised the trinkets in the housewares department. We played around with gadgets a bit and found some that were useful. My friend found a brand new rubber jar opener for me and I found a garlic peeler for her. All there was left to do was check out.

We moved to the counter to find someone in line ahead of us. So in suspense, we stood admiring our finds and commending each other for our good taste. When we finally got to the counter, I was so thrilled with my purchases that I couldn’t count my change. When it was over, I felt like screaming, but I composed myself.

So, even though sometimes it feels like a chore to get to the thrift store and take the time to shop, once you commit yourself to being there, you’ll find it very satisfying.


Too Much of a Good Thing

May 30, 2010

Thrift shops are the inexpensive way to get new (to me) clothes. I love that. Shirts for work, an extra pair of jeans, skirts for dressy events are easy and painless to obtain when they only cost a few dollars. But I confess, I indulge in this guiltless pleasure a bit more than I should, and today I am paying for it:  I’m cleaning out my closet.

I told myself to be ruthless. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn in a year. Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit you well; anything that is dulled or worn. And above all, get rid of duplicates.

I started with sweaters. Ugh. I love them, but they take up so much room. Here is where I complied easily with the no-duplicates rule. How many green cardigans does one person need? But I had to bend the not-worn-in-a-year rule. I can’t get rid of my handknits – even if they are over twenty years old.

Shirts were split into long and short sleeves. I have a few of those long hangers that can accommodate six shirts at a time, so that became my limit of each type. That turned out pretty well until I had to factor in my sleeveless blouses and the turtlenecks. Because they are in season, I had to compromise and create overflow for the sleeveless blouses (only three). I decided to forfeit all regulation for the turtlenecks and hid them away for the summer in the trunk (all nine of them including three white ones).

Clearing out my pants was easy. I rarely buy pants for fun. When they fit and look good, I wear them routinely. But I found a few pairs that were bought for their cool color (or their just-as-cool label) that never seemed to make it into the regular rotation. Out they went. No regrets.

Then there are the miscellaneous items like fleece vests, dresses (I don’t have many), dress shirts and skirts. Those dress items were tough. I kept saying, “What if . . . .” But I was eventually able to come to terms with saying good-by to some of them.

This project took several hours. Does that make me want to change my thrift shopping habits? Not a bit. Even if I’ve worn some of the discarded (now donated) items only one or two times, I’ve gotten that thrill of wearing something different and braving a new look. I feel good about having weeded out my clothing. I can’t say that I was as ruthless as I had hoped, but I do have less congestion in my closet. I just wonder when I’ll muster up the same determination to go through my shoes.

How to Deal with Loss

January 25, 2010

Much to my family’s frustration, I have a tendency to lose things. Sometimes I lose big things, like my purse (Boy, was that a bummer.), but mostly I lose small things. I lose keys, sunglasses, reading glasses, hats, watches and gloves to name a few. There was a time when this caused me a lot of stress, but now I rely on Thrift Shops to ease the pain.

My attitude change came after leaving my gloves at a rest area coming back from a faraway family Thanksgiving celebration. (Argh!) As soon as I could, I visited all the local Thrift Shops to find a replacement. This caused almost as much strain as losing the gloves because of the hit-or-miss nature of Thrift Shops. I just couldn’t find what I wanted (and needed because it was cold!). But I would not consider buying retail. To me, that would be a double loss – the money and the item. At last, I did find a suitable pair, but the experience altered my thrift shopping practice.

Since I am aware that the sunglasses I’m wearing today may disappear tomorrow, I wander through thrift shops these days keeping an eye out for such elusive items. The great thing now is that while I am looking, I am under no pressure to buy. I am choosy and only buy the good stuff at a good price. I will buy almost any quality item that I, or my children, might lose.

Yes, this practice can lead to excess, but it is also very freeing. I have collected enough hats and mittens to lend out to the neighborhood – and I wouldn’t care if I ever saw them again. The larger lesson I have learned is that nothing is permanent; nothing lasts forever. That’s why I stock up at the Thrift Shop on all the items that are transient in my life, so that when they leave me – and I know they will – I don’t mourn their loss.

Why Thrift Shops Beat Out Walmart

January 2, 2010

Let’s say you get a brilliant idea. You think of the perfect gift for your mother-in-law, or you invision a small shelf that would complete the laundry room. Now the way to act on that idea is to purchase the item. But where do you look first? I’d like to make a case for checking out your local thrift store before the discount stores.

 The first reason to shop at the thrift store is the price.  I know. That same claim is made about discount stores. But the real advantage to a thrift shop item is value. Let’s face it, the stuff you buy at the discount store is cheap. By cheap, I mean of poor quality, smells like polyurethane, and is primarily plastic. Yuk. The things you can buy at the thrift shop tend to be quailty items that have proven their worth and are ready for a new life.

A second reason to devote much of your shopping to thrifts stores is convenience. For example, I live in a rural area and my commerce choices are limited. I would have to drive 15 miles to the nearest Walmart.  But I don’t have to (or want to), because within a ten mile radius of my house, there are at least ten thrift or second-hand shops to serve my needs.

The final and best reason to choose to shop at thrift shops is the experience. Thrift shops are just plain fun. Discount stores are so predictable, boring and the lighting tends to give me a headache. At thrift shops, on the other hand, there is always something new and colorful and interesting on the racks and shelves. And chances are you will find that one item that will fulfill your brilliant idea.

How to Start Thrift Shopping

December 28, 2009

My friend, who is not a thrift shopper, asked me how to get started in the thrift world. The question was odd to me at first. Like, what do you mean? It’s easy. You just walk in the store and start shopping. But then I thought about it. Not everyone has their thrift radar up like I do. So I am going to share a few strategies I use to find great thrift shops.

 So, you find yourself in a new city and have some time to shop, the easiest way to find a thrift shop is to look in the local phonebook. The Yellow Pages have two useful headings. One is “thrift,” and the other is “consignment.” These two headings should give you a fairly comprehensive list of the thrift shops in the area. Not only that, but you also get the street address and the phone number. (Definitely call first to find out if they are open.) Under the “thrift” heading will be stores run by not-for-profit organizations, while “consignment” will list stores that have single proprietors. Other useful Yellow Page headings are “clothing” and “resale.”

 If you are taking a trip, plan ahead for that thrift shop adventure. Do a web search for “thrift shops in (blank) city” before you go. This option not only gives you the address and the phone number of each shop, it also gives you a map. There may be a fabulous shop right around the corner from your hotel! As with the phonebook, try searching  “consignment” or “resale” for additional shops.

 To find thrift shops where you live, you can employ the above strategies to get you started. Or you can just keep your eyes and ears open. Certainly look closer at the churches. Many towns have a thrift shop connected to a church, so look for those little wooden signs. Once you find a thrift shop, ask the salesperson if there are any others in town. If they can’t help you, the other customers can, and they will surely tell you where the good ones are. 

Good luck! Let me know what you find.

Gifts from the Thrift Shop are Nothing to be Ashamed Of.

December 24, 2009

I started buying gifts for my three children from thrift shops out of necessity. We were broke.  So rather than burden their hopefull minds with excuses and apologies for “not getting much this year,” I got smart. I just shopped where I love to shop all year – at the thrift stores. This meant that the children never had to go without a variety of fun gifts under the Christmas tree.  

When the children were very little, it was all about toys with color and noise. These were easy to find in thrift stores, especially the stores that catered to children. Even if the toys weren’t in perfrct condition, a little soap and elbow grease made them sparkle, just like those tiny eyes.

As they grew, I could still find appropriate gifts that were special to them. I remember finding a beautiful tea set – in the box – that my daughter was thrilled with. There was the talking book that helped my son to learn how to read. The weaving kit that I bought my other daughter started her on her crafting way. I could even find educational computer games that matched our just-behind-the-times computer.

By now the children are on to me. And the things they have on their lists are too current to find at thrift shops. So I limit my thrift gifts to the truly unusual, not-to-be-found-elsewhere items. The great thing is that on Christmas morning those gifts still bring a sparkle to their eyes.

To Buy or Not to Buy, That is the Question

December 8, 2009

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to let my daughter buy it herself.

My 15-year-old daughter and I are at one of our favorite thrift stores. It is 25 miles away, open on Sundays and at each visit we spend a minimum of one hour perusing the always-eclectic merchandise. We’d been there about 10 minutes when she appears to me, holding up a muted lime green ski jacket and sporting a hopeful grin on her face.

I mentally note that the jacket is clean, about her size and says Gortex at the bottom hem. These are all good indicators. But in my mind, I can see the nearly-new Columbia ski parka I bought for her (for $15) two years ago. (more…)