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.


Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder

December 16, 2009

I live in a charming small town with a charming small-town thrift shop. The shop is housed, rent-free, in the former town hall building that is over 100 years old. It is run by volunteers from the town’s senior citizens organization. The clothes come from residents who bring their bagged, no-longer-needed clothing to the transfer station (read: town dump). The town employees take the donated bags of clothes to the Old Town Hall for the ladies to sort and display. These volunteer efforts give to the shopper an incredibly good deal. You can fill up a bag for $3.00. If it goes over the top, it’s $4.00. This shop truly represents the spirit of community service and volunteerism.

 If you didn’t live in this town, you might not think the shop was so charming. First of all, it’s only open six hours per week; on three different days for two hours at a time. Inside, there are two small rooms and, given the age and general lack of upkeep of the building, it is admittedly dark and dingy. There is no dressing room or bathroom (hence the short hours). And in the winter, it is cold.

Because of the odd hours, I can’t shop there on impulse, so I have to remember their hours and plan a visit, but it is worth it. The volunteers obviously try their best to display the merchandise attractively. Everything is organized, well spaced and clean. The volunteer for the shift is always friendly and helpful. Not to mention the great prices. When I do make it in to the shop, It is easy for me to overlook the negative impression this shop may initially project and enjoy the experience.  

 I’m proud of our little thrift shop, proud of the town’s donation of space and manpower, proud of the residents who contribute, and I’m especially proud of the senior citizens who choose to spend their time to keep it running. It is that spirit of cooperation that allows me and the other shoppers the ability to fill a bag full of shirts and shoes and pants for our families and not break the bank.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary When it’s Only Twenty-five Cents

December 4, 2009

 My summer Saturday mornings are spent venturing our back roads to the local yard sales. Recently I stopped at one farmhouse that, at first glance, appeared to offer very little. The folding tables were lopsided on the lawn and held mostly rusty tools and dishes. The clothes arranged on the blanket on the grass were mostly men’s or clearly not my size. But then something caught my eye.

Many people ask if I made this hat. I didn't, but brag about it as if I did.

I saw the prettiest winter hat. Usually, the last thing I want to think about on a hot summer day is winter clothing, but this item made me think again. It was green (my favorite color) with blue and tan mixed into a fine geometric pattern. The fabric was thick but not too heavy. As a bonus, it had a fleece band around the inside. It fit snug and soft around my head. A quality item to be sure.

In truth, I don’t need another winter hat. Because I knit, there are plenty of hats in my house to choose from. Can I rationalize this purchase? Let’s see. I do face the elements for my work, so a good warm hat is a comfort. Naturally, I like variety. This green hat is like none other in my collection. I decided to ask the young lady the price. She looked at the hat and tilted her head side to side.

 “Twenty-five cents,” she said. That was the answer that made up my mind.

Now my hat is the coolest winter hat on the planet. I know part of what endears the hat to me is the fact that I found it at a yard sale and paid so little. In a retail shop, I would have admired but passed it up, no matter how beautiful or unique. Now I can wear this extraordinary garment but keep the price . . . under my hat.

Aunt Jean’s Barrel

December 2, 2009

When I was growing up, my mother had a blue barrel that she kept in the basement. It was full of clothes. Some of these clothes were hand-me-downs from friends and family, but most of them came from our own closets. How they got there was usually the result of the mandatory closet-cleaning before school started. With four sisters (and no brothers) in the house, that barrel was never empty.

But just as often, the barrel would be given its own cleaning, but one we enjoyed much more. A rainy Sunday was excuse enough for all of us girls to trample down the stairs. Mom would roll it out along the grey painted concrete floor and, in quick succession, unveil one colorful garment at a time. It was like opening a time capsule.  Then the mayhem would start.

“Oh my god. Did I wear that thing?!”

“This might fit you, Judy”

“I wore that to the eighth grade dance!”

We would have so much fun going through that barrel. Time just stood still. There was suspense, anticipation, hope as well as reminiscing. We would try on skirts, coats, tops and dresses; some for laughs, some with a specific future event in mind. Eventually a pile of garments would form beside of each of us. Some of us, of course, fared better than others but before we knew it, all of our wardrobes were refreshed. And so the cycle would begin again.

Mom also shared the wealth of the barrel with her sister, my Aunt Mary, and her three daughters about the same age. Doreen, the youngest of the three, reaped the benefits of the barrel year after year. She was especially lucky. Those clothes told no stories from her own family and she was free from the concern that they would be recognized as her sisters’ hand-me-downs.

In school, Doreen began getting compliments on her unique and varied wardrobe. Of course, the question that inevitably came after the complement was, “Where did you get that?” Doreen wasn’t quite sure what to say, but eventually she’d answer, “My Aunt Jean’s barrel.” Bewildered, they would respond, “Where’s that?”

Mom once told me that if she ever opened a thrift shop, she would name it Aunt Jean’s Barrel. I think she understood, as we all did, the magic feeling that was created when we went through her blue barrel. Besides the obvious material gain of “new” clothes without spending any money and the practicality of keeping them out of the landfill, there was the sense of discovery, the fun, the camaraderie and the memories. Nowadays, I find all these attributes by shopping at thrift stores.

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December 2, 2009

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