Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category

Even more shopping parables to demonstrate the value of improvisation

January 28, 2009

A couple days before the end of 2008 I was standing in line at Joann’s, a crafts and fabric store, waiting to get some fabric cut.  A woman ahead of me had bolts and bolts of trims spilling out of her arms.  When she reached the front of the line she proceeded to drop them all on the table with a triumphant, “Half a yard of each, please!”  As the clerk busied herself, the woman held up the lengths of lace to the light, inspecting them, mental calculations evident on her face.

“What are you making?”  It is the standard question to ask at the cutting table.  This time, though, everybody in line was curious to hear the answer.

She laughed.  “My daughter loves Abercrombie & Fitch.  They have these $30 tank tops with lace on them.  I told her, ‘No … you can have the $8 tank tops instead’,” she gestured to the trim that the clerk was busy measuring, ingredients for tank tops at one third the price.

I admire her approach.  Then again, I’m the one standing behind her in a fabric store, so maybe I’m inclined to admire her approach.  Still, with the recent decline in the economy, I’ve read all sorts of reports of parents who must cut back on teenager’s spending money, how tween stores are not faring as well as they used to; doomsday articles foretelling the psychological damage economic uncertainty will inflict upon impressionable young teenagers, articles fretting about the best way to broach the topic of money with children.  After working with children and teenagers for two and a half years now, I’d argue that our children and teenagers are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.  Challenge them and they will rise to the occasion.  Parents, put your foot down.

It won’t create a sense of deprivation.  This woman is teaching her daughter the value of a dollar, and demonstrating creativity, improvisation.  She could have brought her daughter along to match trim to tank tops to involve her in the process.  Even without that, she’s showing her daughter that she doesn’t have to stay loyal to a certain expensive retail brand.  She can create her own look.

The thing about dressing to one company is that you’re no longer just buying clothes.  You’re buying an image.  In some ways this is easier; you can achieve instant cool with “the A&F look” or “the Gap look.”  Some careerwomen I know like the cache that comes along with certain expensive suit retailers, and shop accordingly.  In the impressionable teenage years, though, when spending habits are often set, it is dangerous to blindly fall into the trap of brand loyalty.  It is expensive.  You’re not creating your own style, your stamp on what you like and how you view things.

Even more benefits of buying used

January 26, 2009

The last time I took it upon myself to buy nothing new I was in the process of moving from my parent’s place to an apartment to be closer to work, and I decided, in the spirit of the challenge, that I would only furnish my apartment secondhand. January is far from yard sale season but luckily Craigslist still dredged up a couple moving sales, and I spent an entire Saturday driving up and down the peninsula in search of something, anything to help me set up camp in an unfurnished 10’ by 12’ room.

I was looking for dressers, a desk, bed tables.  I found a small bookshelf and a TV stand instead.  Nothing else was the right price (cheap), the right size (small enough to fit in the back of an Accord), or the right weight (light enough to be manhandled by one person).  Along the way I happened upon an estate sale where most items were out of my price range, but discovered a really great antique-reproduction lamp that I picked up as an impulse purchase.  “Ah, lighting,” I thought.  “That could be useful.”  Total spent that day: $34.

I packed up a couple weeks’ worth of clothing and bedding, borrowed a folding card table, folding chair, floor lamp and foam futon pad from my parents, squeezed the TV stand into the backseat and the bookshelf into the trunk, placed the thrifted lamp as my prized possession in the front seat, and drove off into the heart of San Francisco.

I laugh whenever I think of those first few months in the apartment.  I was living in a drafty converted dining room, folding up the futon during the day for a place to sit.  My clothes were stored in the bookshelf, my crafting supplies in the TV stand; my shoes lined the fireplace and my laptop sat atop a rickety table that was barely large enough to hold the computer.  I stuck books on the ledge in the fireplace, placed photo frames on top of the fireplace.

It was good as a temporary solution, but lacked that feeling of “home” to really settle in.  I still had piles of clutter on the floor that had no permanent storage place.  The card table made it difficult to craft or write, activities I usually used to decompress from work.  A natural homebody, this forced me to spend more time socializing with friends to relieve the stress of work, and as a result grew much closer to new friends than I otherwise would have.  This period of time also illustrated the importance of home as sanctuary in my life.  It was a trade off, but taught me valuable life lessons.

Still.  It was livable.  I hadn’t broken my vow to furnish the apartment second hand.  In May I bought a couple pieces of furniture off my brother’s graduating college friends, picked up more lamps, took the card table home and brought up my sewing machine instead.  I nailed hooks into the walls to hang up clothes and purses.  I borrowed a bookshelf from my brother to eliminate the final piles of clutter on the ground.  My room saw every furniture rearrangement possible.  And so, through improvisation, thrifting, scrounging and borrowing, the entire apartment was furnished secondhand, albeit in stages.

As I learned in furnishing my apartment, the used market can successfully fill your needs.  It requires advance planning, improvisation, patience, and the ability to “get by” as you sift through what’s available to suit your needs.  Part of the fun of thrifting is the thrill of the treasure hunt – you never know what you’ll find, like when I stumbled upon a matching pair to the abovementioned reproduction lamp while looking for a desk.  The flip side of the coin is that it can be quite difficult to find an exact piece of item at any one given moment in time.  This is where it helps to put the word out to family, as it was my brother who eventually tracked down not one but two desks for me (it worked for me to have a writing desk and a crafting desk, and then I really had little space for anything else).

In return, you gain as much from the end results – fuller wallet, helping the environment, providing loose change to the former owner or supporting the charities that benefit from thrift shops – as you do from the process.  Thrifting is not just a treasure hunt but also fosters creativity through improvisation, the ability to look at old materials in new ways.  And whose career hasn’t required that same skill?  Parenting, keeping the magic alive in relationships, handling life’s day-to-day problems, managing a household all benefit from this outlook.  I carry these lessons with me every time I move to a new place, in crafting, in finding new ways to bring friends together.  The benefits of buying used, as with so many other aspects of wellness, carry over into all aspects of life, and continually pop up in surprising places.

The psychology of shopping: how to avoid the slippery slope

January 24, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I had to break my January challenge to buy a pair of dress pants.  This confession has a Part II, though.  While I was there, I was severely tempted by a knee-length gray wool coat.

I’ve wanted a knee-length wool coat since high school.  It’s been nearly a decade and I’ve never found one that fit, but this one did.  Bodice, sleeve length, hips, knee length – it fit like a glove, flattered my body, had some fantastic detailing, and best of all, was on sale.

Ooooooh.  I hate it when this happens.  You walk into a store looking for one thing and come out with another.  Worse yet, you come out with several others, none of which are the item you initially sought.

I stood there in the dressing room, staring at the best-fitting pair of pants, which paled in comparison to this fantastic coat, and wanted to hit myself over the head.  In fact, I spent more time staring at the coat than at the pants.  I kept rationalizing to myself “Do you know how long you’ve looked for something like this?” “When’s the next time you’ll find something that fits so well?  You’ve been looking for ages!” “You’ll use this enough to justify the price tag!”

That’s the catch.  I don’t need the coat.  Here in the Northeastern United States, it is far more practical to use a waterproof down jacket in winter than a wool coat that soaks up sleet and snow and is weighed down by wet.  The potential times I may need a long coat for formal occasions are few and far between.  I can get by with what I have now, and it will be years before I may come to a place in life where I’ll need a more formal winter coat.  In the meantime it will just sit in my closet taking up space and inspiring guilt every time I see it.

It was with great regret that I returned it to the rack, and meekly headed to the cashier with one pair of pants in hand.

Advocates of the pantry principle first introduced by Amy Dacyzyn in The Tightwad’s Gazette recommend stockpiling necessary food items as they go on sale, rather than purchasing food items as the need arises.  This allows you to take full advantage of sale prices to supply food needs, and decreases time wasted on “emergency” trips to the store to pick up an essential (like that pair of dress pants).

The difference between the pantry principle and a “closet principle” is that our food needs and clothing needs are different.  We have to eat every single day, and the food we consume is not reusable.  Though we must dress ourselves daily, our clothing is reusable.  This difference is the ability to identify necessities.  I can only guess when, if ever, I will need a formal long wool coat.  Given my current thinking about post-graduation plans, the odds are it will be a long time away, if ever.  On the other hand, I am darn certain that next week I will still need to eat 21 meals.  Stockpiling makes sense when future needs are easily extrapolated.  This is what separates the immense practicality of the pantry principle from the dubious wishful thinking of the nonexistent “closet principle” that I made up for the purpose of comparison.

This also points to a subtle point about consumer psychology that I think I first read about in Predictably Irrational.  The decision that has the greatest sway over how much we spend is whether we commit to making a purchase.  Notice this is not the decision over what to buy or where to buy it.  The single factor that holds the largest influence over whether we choose to pick up four sweaters from Target is deciding to buy that very first sweater.   Once we commit to the first purchase we surpass a mental threshold, which creates lowered resistance to making the second, third, and fourth purchase.

I’ve certainly found this to be true.  It took the greatest internal debate to commit to the initial purchase (in fact, this is why it was a night-before-the-flight shopping expedition, and not an afternoon-before-the-flight expedition – I spend a lot of time coming to this decision).  Once I had decided I would purchase a pair of pants it was much less difficult to cave in to just try on the coat, and then to bring it into the dressing room, and then to come up with all sorts of reasons to let myself purchase it in addition to the pants.

This is yet another reason to remain firmly resolved to stay out of stores when attempting to consume less.  In addition to eliminating temptation, it lowers the likelihood of surpassing that threshold of commitment to the very first purchase and thus the subsequent purchases that sneak their way into the shopping cart.

Short-term vs. Long-term decision making

January 22, 2009

I have a confession to make. I broke my January challenge and bought a pair of dress pants.

Let me explain. My January travel was for a winter session course involving a gaggle of grad students collaborating with several federal agencies. As a student working with mid-level and senior members of federal, state or local agencies, it is critical to be as professional as possible. This includes wardrobe considerations.

None of the jobs I have ever held have required formal outfits. They haven’t even required business casual because it didn’t fit with the culture of the organizations. There was no interview for a Masters program. As a result, I have very few formal occasion outfits, and the few that I have tend to be a stretch and not properly formal.

Thus, after the first week of the program I could tell I was going to have to step it up a notch to just keep pace with the rest of my classmates. I mean, I still don’t have a suit, but at least I have a decent pair of pants now.

I did plan ahead by purchasing some items during the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales. I scoured the pants racks of several thrift shops, something I never do. I admit, though, that I hate finding pants, particularly dress pants, and through the years I’ve constantly put that one off and mentally prayed that the khakis I have on hand would be sufficient for the occasions that present themselves. Pants rarely fit well (hence various techniques to tweak them), and I’ve never invested enough time in shopping to find the one brand or style that I can passably wear. Frankly, the thought of spending an entire weekend hitting up every single store with business formal clothing is not appealing to me. Hence the procrastination that has stretched out for years.

Which is why, when I was standing in the dressing room in my last-ditch attempts to find something, anything passable, I kept screwing up my face in the mirroring and mumbling, “I HATE pants. Hate, hate, hate.” Unfortunately Ohio in January is too cold to wear anything besides pants, so I was trapped into a purchase that, realistically, will only help in the long run, if only to avoid further night-before-my-flight excursions to the shopping mall to find myself screwing up my face in the mirror, growing desperate and angry over the lack of any decent prospects.

As much as it hurt to falter in my January challenge, I made the conscious decision to do so for two reasons. One, I was running out of time, and when you need something in a hurry, thrift shops and eBay generally don’t cut it. Two, it is more important to maintain a professional appearance than to maintain the sanctity of the challenge. These will be my supervisors and colleagues once I graduate from this program. This January challenge is but one piece of a larger, yearlong challenge to myself.

Although the best life lessons are the ones learned from handling the consequences of our mistakes, in this instance the consequences would have farther-reaching consequences for my career and the relationships built during these two weeks. That is very different from living with a smelly sponge for a month (I was only joking, though it didn’t hurt that I was gone for two weeks in January). Either way, in the future you can be sure I won’t cut it that close in the future. The choice to break the challenge was a matter of balancing priorities, but I don’t anticipate any other big emergencies coming up for the rest of the month. Furthermore, I am already reaping the gains that the challenge intended to produce.

More on that in my next post.

On the road: eliminating temptation

January 17, 2009

Although being on the road holds its share of challenges for buying nothing new, it has several upsides as well.  First of all, I’m not tempted to buy all sorts of useless souvenirs that create great waves of buyers remorse every time I look at them back home.  It would be nice to have something for friends, but I may tweak this month’s rules to include postcards as a compromise option.  Most of my friends are far more excited at the prospect of a handwritten postcard or letter in the mail than by a t-shirt that reads, “My friend went to [insert tourist trap] and all they got me was this stupid shirt.”  They’d rather read about the tourist trap than advertise it on their clothing, and I don’t blame them.  Then again we trade letters on a semi-regular basis, so it may just be that birds of a feather flock together.

For these two weeks, at least, I’m participating in an intensive class that lasts 9-5 each day.  Our hotel is situated in a remote area; other than the conference center, the closest restaurants, convenience stores, and grocery stores are a mile away.  Suddenly placed in a vacuum of stores and the temptation to purchase goods, I don’t experience many urges to consume.

I’ve felt this contrast strongly when having dinner the past two nights.  The first night a group of us walked about a mile to the nearest cluster of restaurants.  On the way back we stopped into CVS, a national drugstore chain.  Faced with row after row of sale candy, snack-sized packaged foods, weekly specials and other non-essentials packaged as essentials, my fingers started wandering.  Dark chocolate-covered cashews are a healthy snack, right?  Oh look, but there’s the fig newtons.  And food isn’t part of my challenge, so picking up a couple preventative snacks is totally within the rules.  I mean, I’m really saving myself money aren’t I?  And look, everyone else is getting something, I can’t egg them on and then turn around and buy nothing.  It wouldn’t be right!

Like I said, rationalizing is a slippery slope.  (I did wind up with the fig newtons; paired with the bananas I brought from home, they make a decent stopgap breakfast option)  Last night, though, a group of us took a cab to a restaurant surrounded by shops that had already closed for the night.  When we emerged there was no temptation to buy anything because there simply were no options available to us.  It’s hard to spend money if there’s nobody around willing to take it.

Likewise, if you’re trying to steer your mind away from hyperconsumerism, the safest thing to do is to stay out of stores, stay out of the malls.  Stay away from any place you love to stop, even if there are sales going, even just to check if they still have the pants in your size.  Just like that mental laundry list of sweaters I’m planning to knit one day, if you wait long enough some items may just disappear off the list on their own accord.

Goal-setting and planning ahead

January 16, 2009

I’m starting to wish I’d planned this out a little better.  Don’t get me wrong; for the most part I’ve been able to anticipate what I might need in January and to arrange to have them on hand.  I live alone, so staying stocked on daily necessities like toilet paper isn’t too difficult.  Of course, the minute I returned to my apartment January 2nd I took one look at my sponge and realized I should get a new one for the spring semester, but the situation isn’t dire yet.  I’ll just, you know, let the dishes pile up for a month.

On the other hand, I’m going to be on the road for several weeks this month, and there are times when my fingers itch for something to do.  I love a good book as much as the next person, but there are times when it doesn’t quite hit the spot.  I’m a crafter, and small handcrafting projects usually fit the bill perfectly.  Embroidery, knitting, crocheting, hand sewing all fall under the category of light, portable, little equipment, and projects that can be worked for a few minutes or a few hours.  As a crafter whose love affair with knitting has warmed and cooled through the years, several months ago I decided I was done with knitting and donated all my yarn to a thrift shop.  I was going to simplify all areas of my life including my hobbies.  Unfortunately, the handcraft I now long for more than anything is knitting, and there is this small problem of a self-imposed ban on buying yarn until the month of February.

I admit I’ve been tempted to break the challenge for yarn.  “But its just yarn!  I don’t have to include hobby supplies on the banned list!” or “Well, spring is coming soon anyways, so unless I get a start on my knitting now nothing I wear will be usable for long.”  But just as with my pinging experience, I know this is a slippery slope to travel down, one little infraction becomes two, then three, and wipes out the entire spirit of the challenge.

This also holds several lessons for myself.  Keep a backup on hand just in case.  Improvise – I brought some embroidery instead, and am making do without a hoop and without a pattern to follow.  I never knew doodling with thread could be so much fun.  Test your impulses with a cooling off period.  We’ll see if I’m still hot on knitting the five billion projects in my queue once this month is over.  If not, well, I’ll have saved myself a bunch of half-started projects, not to mention balls of yarn falling out of bins all around the apartment that I eventually tire of and purge in the name of simplifying my life.  Some poor thrift shop loving yarn addict out there will just have to count on another source of yarn.

9 Easy Tips for Making Over Thrift Shop Clothing

January 15, 2009

One of the beauties of thrift shops is that you never quite know what you’ll find.  Of course, one of the downsides is also that you never quite know what you’ll find, or worse yet, you’ll find something that is almost perfect but not quite there.  This happens to me all the time.  I used to automatically put the item back and keep foraging, but have since discovered the fun and magic of tweaking thrift shops finds.  This list focuses on clothing, but there are other websites that offer great improvisational ideas for furniture, toys, household decorations, and home improvements.  Most of these tricks involve basic sewing knowledge and may take up to a couple hours, depending how complicated your design becomes.

Without further ado, 9 easy tips for making over thrift shop clothing:

1.    Shorten the hem.  This works especially well for pants and skirts; sleeves can be a bit tricky, depending on the type of garment.  The simplest is to just turn the hem under and sew it into place.  If you want less bulk, cut the fabric and turn under twice before sewing.  Tutorial here.

2.    Change the buttons.  Buttons can really date a garment, but they’re also cheap to come by and completely alter the look of an outfit.  Be sure to substitute buttons that are similar in size to the originals.

3.    Add trim.  Lace, ribbon, buttons, embroidery, appliqué, vintage trim, doilies are all great embellishments and really make a piece pop.  Ever wonder why Anthropologie can get away with selling their clothes for so much money?  The money’s in the details, and they use embellishment to their advantage like no other.  Phenomenal examples here, here and here.  I haven’t read this book myself, but it gets rave reviews for garment embellishment ideas.

4.    Take away ugly trim.  Thrift with an eye for potential, not necessarily the garment in hand.  Is it well constructed, made of high quality materials, or have a classic cut?  If so, it may be worth the half hour investment to freshen it up by removing sequins, an oversized collar or other decorative details.

5.    Applique over imperfections.  Applique, or sewing fabric shapes onto fabric, is perfect for covering up logos, rips, stains, and holes.  Examples here and here, basic tutorial here.

6.    Dress up a simple tee or skirt with fabric paint.  The paint bonds permanently to the fabric, and you can go crazy with all sorts of shapes that make your outfit perfectly one of a kind.  A popular technique is to cut shapes out of freezer paper for a one-time-use stencil, or you can freehand as well.  Tutorial here.

7.    Salvage jeans with elastic in the waistband. Have you noticed that woman’s jeans no longer curve inwards from the hips towards the waist, so that if your waist is at all narrower than your hips you’ll spend all day hiking up your pants?  This trick solves this problem in about 30 minutes.  Just snip a small slit in the inside part of the back of your waistband, thread a piece of elastic through it, and sew it into place on both sides.  This shrinks the waistline enough to keep the pants sitting on your waist.  Thanks to this, I’ve gone from 1 pair of functional jeans to enough pants to get me through winter.  Brilliant!

8.    Alter a dress to skirt but cutting off the top and making an elastic waistband.  This works best with dresses that are several sizes too large.  When thrifting with potential in mind, don’t forget that you can make one piece of clothing over into another, or that a garment that’s too large or too small may still be salvageable!

9.    Cut down a too-small waistband to make it fit.  Have you ever bought a piece of clothing thinking, “This will fit perfectly if I just lost 5 pounds!”  Come now, don’t be shy, I’ll admit to it if you will …  A couple years ago I found a great skirt for $2 that was just a tad snug but that I couldn’t pass it up.  It sat in my closet for over a year until I finally trimmed about an inch off the top of the skirt, then bound the raw edges with bias tape, which is a stretchy finishing trim.  Tutorial here.  Now I wear this skirt all the time and love it!  This tip is a bit trickier and involves more extensive sewing abilities.  Just remember, when cutting down a waistband even ¼” goes a long way, so trim conservatively!

If you’re interested in learning more, there are entire websites and books devoted to restoring, altering, and refashioning vintage clothing.  One of my favorites is Wardrobe Refashion, a collaborate blog that chronicles the efforts of people as they pledge to purchase no new clothing and instead refashion vintage clothing, make it from scratch, or make do with thrift shop finds.  I’ve taken a four month pledge this time around (over the summer I pledged for two months) so I may not be entirely unbiased in recommending the website, but you really should pop over for a peek – there is a whole range of projects that will change the way you see garments and everyday objects!

Tips for buying used goods

January 13, 2009

You’re convinced of the advantages of buying used.  You’re chomping at the bit to get started.  But where to look?

In this pick-your-own-adventure book, my friends, you have the following options:

-To spread the word to friends for free gifts, to hear about swaps, or to start wandering the streets looking for Free! Signs on sidewalks, turn to p. 17
-To start devoting weekends to garage sales, turn to p. 143
-To seek out neighborhood thrift shops within walking distance of home, turn to p. 31
-To develop a friendly relationship with the owner of your town’s consignment store for business clothing, turn to p. 59
-To spend your time in the office scouring online listing sites like eBay or Craigslist instead of working on the report for your boss, turn to p. 101

For the most part the prices, variety and quality all increase as you go down the list.  There are still some great deals to be found on the online listing sites but they require more sifting and time to stay on top of bargains.  Do note that those sites also list thousands of new items daily, often at a discounted price.

A couple thoughts on adventures into land of the used purchase:

·    You may not always find what you’re looking for at that moment, but you may walk out without something unexpected instead.  Most of my favorite purchases were unexpected ones.

·    Examine all items carefully for rips, stains, tears, and discolorations.  If something is really cheap it may be worth tinkering with or compromising on.  If a couch has a couple dirt marks it is still cheaper to replace the pillows, turn the cushions around, or drape a blanket over the couch, than it is to buy a new one.

·    Clothing sizes vary widely between manufacturers and through the decades, so don’t just pay attention to sizing.  Learn to eyeball which clothes will fit, bring a tape measure, or don’t be afraid to hold items up to your body to gauge fit.

·    If you prefer certain brands keep an eye out for them!  Banana Republic clothing fits my body really well and breaks my budget every time I purchase something from their store, but is quite affordable on the used market.

·    Used is a great source of high quality classics at a reasonable price.

·    It is also a great source of outlandish, funky, bold accessories for the home and body.  If you turn these over frequently there is less guilt over the price paid.

Of course, buying used has its pitfalls too.  A wool sweater for $5?  Never mind that it is slightly too long and too boxy, and so it just sits in the closet for months on end, maybe worn once or twice.  That still isn’t a good investment because it creates clutter.

Tempting as the low prices may be, it is important to stop and think if the item is really worth the money spent.  A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself the following questions when making a purchase:

·    Would I pay twice as much for this object? This helps ward off the “but it was a bargain!” purchases that you may regret later

·    Do I have an immediate use for this? Can I see exactly where it will go, how I will use it, what clothing I will pair it with?  If you cannot answer this question within 10 seconds, chances are the purchase will create clutter and is therefore not a bargain.

·    How much do I really need this? Have I been getting along without it, or will it regularly save me time, money, convenience?  My $5 used blender saves me time and money by making it much easier to make winter squash soups that I cook up in large quantities and freeze; without one I wouldn’t make these cheap meals nearly as often.  A food processor would also save me time, but the monetary investment is so great that the tradeoff isn’t worthwhile.

So start exploring your neighborhood for sources of new-to-you items!  You never know what you’ll come across.  It isn’t every day that the opportunity for a treasure hunt AND a bargain show up in the same place.

The loophole in my plan; advantages of buying used goods

January 12, 2009

I haven’t mentioned it until now, but I left myself a gaping loophole in creating this January challenge.  Notice that I haven’t banned myself from purchasing anything for the entire month (aside from food, that is).  I’ve just banned myself from purchasing anything new.  This leaves the entire market of used goods still in play.  Granted, January is an odd time to take upon this challenge: not only am I missing out on after-Christmas sales, but garage sale season is in summer.  Still, given the root causes that I am attempting to address it seemed a fair tradeoff.  And to be honest, I really don’t need anything that is on sale in the stores.  I don’t anticipate a mad rush to the mall in February to make up for lost time, so this truly is a recalibration instead of mere delay tactics.

To be honest, the used goods loophole was more applicable the last time I took up this challenge.  Two years ago I was living at home and a mere 10 minute walk from one of my favorite thrift shops.  Call me weak, but I left myself a bit of a loophole, just in case.  Even then I didn’t go crazy buying used, and certainly spent less that month than normal.

Fast forward to 2009.  Even though I’ve lived here for four months now I’ve only checked out one thrift shop and it isn’t terribly convenient from where I live, so I do not anticipate using the loophole very much this time around.  Still, I thought I’d take some time to plug one of my favorite sources of clothing, furniture, household goods, books and crafting supplies.

Otherwise referred to as “thrifting,” tapping into the used market offers a number of advantages.

1)    Used goods are almost always cheaper than retail.
2)    Vintage goods are better constructed and made of higher quality materials.  Furniture, clothing and toys used to be built to last.  These days companies expect consumers to tire of their products in a season or two, and it shows in the manufacturing quality.
3)    Higher quality goods are available at lower prices than their discount store counterparts.  One of my favorite sweaters is a black v-neck 100% Italian merino wool sweater that I thrifted for $5.  No matter how great the sale, I’ll never be able to find the same quality sweater at that price at Walmart or Target.
4)    It is eco-friendly.  We rarely use things all the way through before we get rid of them, which means that perfectly good items are sent to the landfill all the time.  Why not rescue our landfills by giving items a second home?
5)    If you have a favorite brand, style, or consumer good that has been discontinued, you can still find it on the used market.  Hate low-rise or skinny jeans?  Since thrifted goods tend to lag fashion trends, you can still find high-waisted (or reasonably-waisted) jeans if you know where to look.
6)    You never know when you’ll stumble upon something really unique.  Garage sales and thrift shops are filled with all sorts of eclectic, quirky, offbeat finds.
7)    Mistakes come cheap.  We rarely nail our purchases 100% of the time, but the learning curve is less expensive with used goods.  Maybe you’re not a cardigan person or the coffee table just doesn’t work with your living room.  Used provides a low-stakes test run.
8)    For those who love the thrill of a bargain, there’s no better place to find them!
9)    How well an item looks at a garage sale or in the thrift store provides clues to its’ durability.

Of course, used goods are not panacea.  Buying used does have some disadvantages, including:

1)    Most finds present a one-off opportunity.  That means there isn’t the same range of color and size options that are available at retail.
2)    Low prices increase the temptation to come home with more than you need.
3)    Due to variable selection it can take longer to find what you’re looking for.
4)    Often you’ll have to wade through a lot of junk to find a few treasures, so if you’re in a hurry or dislike browsing, it may not be the approach for you.
5)    Some people feel a stigma attached with buying used.  That’s silly since other people can’t tell anyways.  After all, other people tried on those shoes you decided to buy.

Even with all these disadvantages, thrifting remains an excellent source of inexpensive, high quality, one-of-a-kind goods.  And there are ways to work around these advantages, so stay tuned!

January Challenge explained

January 9, 2009

Why buy nothing new?  At first blush it sounds like an odd challenge to start off a year centered all around wellness.  After all, what does material consumption have to do with anything related to wellness?

Everything, it turns out.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start closer to home.  As I type this I’m sitting at a desk in a one-bedroom apartment overlooking bare trees and snow.  It is the second time I’ve started over in a new city thousands of miles from friends and family, my first time in school in over three years.  When faced with the continual reworking of self-identity and future aspirations that has defined my life from college through my mid twenties, my first reaction has been not to tackle the large challenges but the small ones first.  As my best friend said the summer before we both started grad school, “It’s too much to figure out what I’m going to do with my life once this program is over, so I’m planning out my room instead!”  For both of us a comfortable home environment – our safe harbors – is important to tackle the uncertainties of a new world outside.  As such, each room I’ve lived in has had a distinctive décor to fill this need, at turns whimsical, nostalgic, bright, quirky or all of the above, filled with mementos and faces of loved ones, past lifetimes that peek through in the person that I am today.

I’ve also noticed that in times like this I have a tendency to shop for clothing.  This is not “retail therapy” in the popular sense of the phrase, for normally I find shopping far from calming.  Rather I’m coping with the new environment, new people, and new challenges by redefining myself through the clothes I wear.  New pieces are incorporated into the daily rotation just as the self readjusts the composition of pieces of my personality, even if the core elements remain the same.

The danger, of course, is to linger too much in the material adjustment phase to the detriment of addressing underlying concerns, and that is where January’s challenge comes in to play.  Although I do not want to deny myself these coping mechanisms that have carried me through the past eight years I also do not want them to become a crutch to avoid facing the larger questions at hand.  My place is cozy, inviting and unique to the version of myself that exists at this very moment in time.  I have enough warm clothing to make it through a New England winter.  It is time to move on to the next stage.

With this pledge I am deliberately shifting focus.  As I mentioned earlier, I want realign my day-to-day life to better adhere to the wellness values I hold dear to my heart.  More than that, there are some larger dreams and goals that have been lurking in my peripheral vision, shuttered into the cobwebbed recesses of my mind by the incessant demands of daily life.  The challenge in January is to buy nothing new so that I can turn my focus away from the little details of the external trappings, to the big picture of my internal world, full of hopes and dreams and roads left unexplored.

Maybe this is the beginnings of of, or reaction to, a quarter-life crisis, though I don’t feel in crisis mode at the moment.  At any rate, at the cusp of the last year of the first decade of the new millennium, it feels like a good place to be.