Monday, September 15, 2014

Looking for hope

  
Along with a new Grand Canyon of wealth inequality plowing across the US, there’s a growing disparity in what the media presents as reality and what is actually so. Like income inequality, this distortion’s been creeping up for some time. We don’t talk about this disparity. We don’t protest it but it’s certainly influencing us in a bad way and its playbook is full of bad form.

Many years ago I came across a speech written by my great grandfather. He worked for The St. Louis Post Dispatch along with a few other major midwestern papers. Born before the turn of the century into a line of frontier newspapermen, he faced a different world. His speech was persuasive, selling the merits of advertising. The anticipated push back? “I already have a base of customers and business is fine. Why pay to advertise?” The media has taken an evolutionary leap since my great grandfather penned his arguments and I’m not certain he would approve.

In the early days, advertising was a bit more representational of reality. How else could companies capture an audience? My great grandfather’s talk noted how a business could banner a sale or that a new product had arrived. Yes, it was that rudimentary, very similar to the reporting of news. 

Companies then related to the common condition, they didn’t dictate it. The concept of selling impossible and unattainable realities would have likely seemed unscrupulous. Least I’d like to believe. Now I fight hard to avoid the trap of feeling lesser the mother because my home is not cleaner than a bare, newly-tiled room steamed and bleach bombed 20 times over. How about feeling crummy because I wasn’t able to purchase all my furniture at once to have it mate up beautifully? We all fight the noise but when the message of failing to provide keeps pulsing, we start to wonder if there is merit in that message. Stupid, right?

Does the media want me to feel grossly deficient in my ability to provide? Yeah, they do. How else are they going to get me to purchase a new bedding ensemble because it’s nearly autumn but my present bedding is fine? They keep it up and we’ll have a new clinical disorder for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. Really. This is a bit cruel and it’s going to crash down on us all. We know that. So why allow it to continue?

Lately, I’ve upped my frequency of trips to the thrift store, not just going when I’m nearby one at the bank or grocery store as described in developing a thrift store routine. I’ve started making the thrift store a destination. I'm not exercising Psychic Shopping or Snake Eyes either. After realizing this, I have to ask myself what's changed.

The answer? I’m looking for hope. Hope does not live in a shopping mall or big box store. Hope can be found in a thrift store and I’m so grateful it's still available.





 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wear Black, Serve White


As the Atlas of our family, my shoulders are weary and my head’s nearly overflowing. An ear/nose plug combination might make sense because sometimes there’s dead certainty my brain’s leaking. Yet, it’s all good. I think it'll stop when our chicks fledge. Someday, I hope they’ll have respectable wingspans casting wide shadows through city canyons, over mountains and across oceans. Please, if you're a mother and know for an honest fact that mental load increases with fledglings, please don't tell me. I'm not capable of handling that news. If you've been there I've no doubt you understand and would lend a soft shoulder with a knowing stroke of my hair. I need to go see my grandmother.

Don’t think I’ve ever had so many extra servings of life choices heaped on my plate at once. It feels overwhelming. Follows is what I can publicly write about. 

I’m guiding my oldest daughter through the college/scholarship application process. [Message to the Cosmos: Please give her hefty financial aid with generous scholarships. Returns on this investment will yield high. She has serious talent, a sharp mind and one hell of a will. Trust me. I battled that will through preschool and adolescence never raising a white flag. Want to see the scars? That will? It’s hungry to thrive in design school.]   

My youngest daughter, my sweet Pi, is entering 8th grade. We must select a high school choice for the following school year by December. Denver Public Schools offers a system of choice, both blessing and curse. 

Guess the Cosmos sent me an answer to the question of a third child in that debilitating car accident ten years ago. The Cosmos does reply. Sometimes the answers have a wicked sting that can make one feel a bit stupid for asking. 

Mr. Golightly has taken up running 100-mile races in the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies, above 10,000’ altitude.

Me? I’m now 46 and a half. My body’s doing freakish things, lady things. Mother Nature, could you please do that to men? In case you have noticed, man invented Viagra. This presents a serious conflict of interest. (No. Mr. Golightly has no affiliation with the drug. He’d want me to clarify that.)

Toss in trying to start a second career in the wreck of this American economy. I hope never to work as a retail store greeter because it would not be pleasant, think demonic. Every job's a fight these days. I don't blame any specific person or party for this because we've been on bad road for decades. If Charles Dickens were still alive he'd have a wealth of material if he could stand being in America long enough to collect it. I pray to always have a place to live, not be a burden to my daughters and have a time in life when I don’t need to breathe into a paper bag when the bills arrive. Yet these are indeed first-world problems well the exception being a place to live.

Again, my head’s packed. Probably why I’ve not written in years. No space to make personal flourishes. Hope to have that space again but these days I rely solely on bread and butter when it comes to design so it’d better be artisan bread and honest, freshly-churned unsalted butter.

Factor in I could care less about the mindless trending flock. I didn’t buy jeggings, think layering is a rip off, am certain the 80’s should never come back and admit high heels are a bitch and the pain of wearing them makes me one. The purpose of a high heel is to pump up the calf muscle. Instead, jump rope for a few minutes a day, you’ll get the same results without bunions and you won’t walk like Bigfoot and be in denial about it. Want to be taller? Cork platform sandals or clogs. I cannot scream loud enough, “Leggings and camisoles are foundations! Going about in them is like running around in your bra and underwear. I don’t care if you’ve the body of an Olympian.” So my mind is packed but it’s not packed with crap and I’m not fooling myself. Least I think I’m not. Truthfully? I don’t have time for a double check.

A packed head makes it really difficult to face the start of a new chapter. A girlfriend and I were having a spirited conversation over gingered spirits discussing our subscription to uniforms. We lamented our 20's and 30's. In our 40's we’ve about four clothing combinations we rotate without thought. Wake up, brush teeth and hair, slap on number two and out the door we go. It works, only if the choices are wise. I receive compliments from strangers and need every one to help me deal with the lady things happening without my consent.

Contrast my very limited attire to our population of teen girls. It seems as though many teen girls presently prefer to shop in stores that create the mood of a hypomanic episode. Sadly there are plenty of stores that purposefully build this environment because apparently, it drives stocks. Why a company would want to create an environment similar to a serious, painful and disabling mental illness is outright shameful. Just walking into those stores makes me want to find a psychiatrist and a pharmacy pronto. Think about it, this is how our culture is setting up our children’s spending behavior. With the turn of one generation, there’s been an explosion in available and accessible choices in consumer goods and there are no filters helping those coming of age to navigate this mess.

Here’s the precious nugget: You’ll spare a load of headaches and save a lot of money if you make it a standard to wear black and serve white. Of course this can be pulled out of thrift stores to save you even more and engage in reuse practices that save in energy costs. Yup, we’re using up energy when we shop. A lot of energy. America has yet to come to terms with our fickle and changing tastes in style that send us back to stores monthly for a new fix, making more waste. One thing I can say is that it fuels American thrift. There's so much volume flowing through homes, we'd have to have quarterly yard/garage/tag sales to keep pace. So, off to the thrift store it goes, sometimes tags still dangling.

Wear something black. Black is flattering to all skin colors and it rides through all seasons. It’s eloquent. As a child I was taught black is for funerals. On my own in Chicago as young professional I discovered the value of a black ballet top, black wool turtle neck, black pencil skirt, black cigar pants, black beret for bad hair, black stockings in winter. Sweet freedom with style and I still have a few of those items. Psst! With the exception of the t-shirt, try to avoid black in cotton jersey. It can compromise the integrity of a strong, solid black. However, there are quality jerseys that will stand the test of time if washed as a delicate and line dried.

When serving, it’s white. Fine white porcelain or English ironstone will always flatter the tabletop. Make it as simple as possible. What really needs to be emphasized is the food on the plate. I’ve white Noritake porcelain, antique J & G Meakin, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and Bauhaus from thrift stores. Guess what? It mates up beautifully and looks awesome for casual or guests. It just means I’ve to up my cooking standards but that’s okay. Though one time there was some confusion, my family prepared a birthday meal for me and served one of the side dishes in a 100-year-old ironstone chamber pot.

Wear black and serve white, a shopping mantra that will last a lifetime and save money and headache. Make that your foundation. Add flourishes when you've the mental space to do so. If you don't have the mental space, at least you'll still receive compliments on a sturdy framework.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blog Reclamation


It's been some time since posting. 

Life required I devote attention to areas other than the blogging world, still strange and uncharted, a place I don’t always take comfort in.

I still shop thrift and have strange thoughts and observations and still shop conventional retail and remain appalled by the products and gimmicks.

The new goal is to write one post a month while my daughter overhauls the look of this site. Blogger is more flexible now than it was in 2008. Right now, I look at this and scream, “Yikes!”

The Golightly's have done many things since the last post.

We rescued two puppies. Luna, named so because she’s just as bright as the moon, is nine pounds and roughly two years old. We suspect she's a toy poodle/Jack Russell mix. She’s been with us two years. Sometimes we’re uncertain if she’s a dog that chirps or a bird that barks so she also goes by the pet name of the Moonie Bird. (The pink moon boots in the photo came new from Goodwill. Pinky swear.)


Laika, named after the first dog in space, is often too quick to photograph. She’s rocket fast and just turned one on the 14th. I put a dab of whip cream on her nose to make her stop for just a second. The vet suspects a black lab and terrier mix.


Nora Ephron wrote, “When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” Ephron nailed it, she always did.

Original plans dictated at least three posts in the hopper before restarting but that’s not going to happen. It’ll be seat-of-the pants, like it’s always been. We’ll have more chat on reuse soon.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the archives

When reviewing old posts or interviews hindsight can be a curse. In this case, I think, it was a blessing. This piece from Thrift Culture Now delivered a message worthy of running again.

It’s a myth that frugal people never shop. People often think that to be thrifty one must swear off all spending unless it falls into the basic necessities sections of their budgets, and even then they must buy the cheapest versions of those basic necessities. I know I would often find myself battling my conscience, trying to resist the urge to spend while stifling my love for quality, stylish clothes and house wares. Then I found the blog, The Thrifty Chicks.

The Thrifty Chicks was created in late 2008, when four friends decided that they needed a creative outlet for their thrift shopping expertise and their desire to “build a more robust reuse market.” With the pen names, Ms. Shopping Golightly, Ms. Gently Used, Ms. Goodie Wilhelmina, and Ms. Modern Mommie, these women write about shopping in a way that dispels the falsehoods of frugality.

According to Amy (aka Ms. Shopping Golightly), people often confuse frugal living with great sacrifice and zero fun because they don’t understand the real meaning of the word.

“It appears that many misconstrue ‘frugality’ with ‘miserly’ which means to compromise, be stingy and parsimonious, connoting unhappiness in saving money. To be frugal, by simple definition, is to not be wasteful,” she explains. “By living thrift, we are not depraved.”

Just one read through the pages of this fun, informative, and thought-provoking blog, and a quick glance at the fantastic photos of Ms. Shopping Golightly and her family modeling their thrift store finds, and you will see that they certainly aren’t deprived. It’s shocking to read that the beautiful, quality clothing (Amy and her family often where brands like, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, and Hannah Andersson), furniture, kitchen wares, and toys that would cost one a small fortune to buy new, have been purchased for a few dollars at a variety of reuse venues including, thrift stores, garage sales, or online.

But don’t think, even for a minute, that this blog is only about light and fluffy shopping fun. Along with the great tips on how a frugal fashionista can find great deals, a strong and important message is conveyed; where you shop and how you shop has significant environmental and economic implications.

Amy explains that The Thrifty Chicks’ goal--to create a more robust reuse market--is heavily rooted in a desire to lighten the impact that the American new product market has on the environment. “Our current shopping behaviour costs a lot more than the price tag we see. It carries a heavy carbon footprint that no one’s fully deciphered. We know the calories in one stinkin’ pickle because the FDA regulates food labeling. But we’ve no idea the cost of manufacturing and shipping of a new pair of blue jeans made in China across the world to the U.S.,” Amy says. “The carbon footprint of our shopping is undeniably large and it continues to grow, even during a devastating recession. This makes no sense. Product reuse can significantly help lower the flow of cheap, new, energy intensive goods into the country.”

Making a conscious effort to buy from the reuse market not only helps to keep more stuff out of landfills and decreases the demand for goods that are environmentally damaging to produce, but the reuse market is also a lot easier on our wallets, and that’s good news for anyone who’s looking to save money.

Amy says she thinks that consumerism is completely out of whack in our society. We no longer give careful thought to our purchases, considering the quality and price of a particular item, but instead, we give in to impulse and buy things because they’re trendy or we think that it gives us a particular image. She refers to this consumption epidemic, and the marketing that draws us into it, as a dumbing-down of our culture. These days, even frugality is marketed.

“Save more, buy more. That is not a frugal practice,” says Amy. “For the honest frugal-natured consumer, money saved is just that--money saved, not spent.”
The way in which we’re spending—largely without thinking—has fueled the “economy of crap,” as Amy calls it (check out Amy’s thought-provoking post entitled, The Harbingers of Decline). Companies produce more and more stuff that adds no value to our lives and eventually ends up in landfills. The environment is more polluted and ravaged of resources, consumer debt rises, and the only ones who gain are corporations and Wall Street.

“Sometimes I dream of a rush of angry consumers tossing Homer Simpson Chia-Pet Heads, plastic singing fish, and chocolate fountains upon the trading floor in protest to all the crap that is created with a cause for profit, not need,” says Amy. “That’s my dark side.”

But even though it’s easy to point the finger and blame the producers of the crap, Amy knows that it’s consumers’ poor spending habits—what and where we buy--that ultimately keep the latest versions of the Chia-Pet in production. The ‘buy-more,’ or even ‘buy-more-than-you-can afford,’ mentality has definitely contributed to the growing levels of consumer debt in our society.

“It wasn’t that long ago credit cards were a hard-earned badge of honour and debt was a sign of disgrace. Now, credit cards rain on us like a ticker tape parade,” Amy says. “I cannot count the number of times my underage daughters have been pre-approved for credit cards in the mail.”

The Thrifty Chicks aim to wake-up consumers and teach them how to make better decisions when it comes to spending; where to spend and how to decide what’s worth spending money on. In particular, Amy says that she and the other women behind The Thrifty Chicks hope to “help young consumers learn more about being resourceful so that they will spend less and save more for something lasting in life like a home or advanced education, rather than the alleged ‘latest styles’ that change as soon as the clothes hit the racks.”

Amy offers some sound advice for how to improve your spending habits:

1) Learn to honour the value and not the cost: Amy says that this means stopping to consider whether or not an item fills a legitimate need or whether you’re only thinking about buying an item because it’s inexpensive. “Put an end to the super size, the more is better mentality and you’re off to a good start,” she says.

2) Learn how to identify quality: Amy says that “an ignorant shopper will spend more money,” so getting to know the feel of quality materials and looking for well-constructed clothing is a great money-saving skill. She recommends starting at the thrift stores, where you will find quality cashmere and silk, as well as less-desirable rayon and acrylic. You can feel the difference in the materials and will be more discerning when deciding what to purchase. Amy says she wore a black dress (that she purchased at a thrift store) inside out, on more than one occasion, because the quality was so high that she couldn’t tell which was the right way to wear it. She paid $5 for that dress.

3) Determine your ‘flinch point:’ Amy has a system that she uses when she’s thrift shopping to help her decide what she’s willing to buy. She says that her personal flinch point is $5, and if an item costs more than $5 then she thinks long and hard as to whether or not she will buy it. Only at thrift stores could the $5 flinch point makes sense. Compare that to regular, new market retail: “Imagine what it’s like to pick up a new jacket from Banana Republic with the $99.99 price tag still dangling next to the $5 Goodwill tag, only to stop at a major retailer on the way home and buy a tube of mascara for $9,” Amy says.

4) Purge: Amy says that a good look at the items in your closet could help to put your spending practices into perspective. Plus, if you haven’t worn something in a year, then chances are you’re not going to. Donate it to go Goodwill where it will resurface in the reuse market.

I’ve always been pretty good at saving, but it was spending that I needed to work on and I don’t mean that I needed to spend more. After reading some of the Thrifty Chicks' posts, I realized that I wasn’t always fulfilling my thrifty living mantra, not to mention doing my part for the planet. The cheapest option isn’t always the best option. The best option and, therefore, the best use of my money, is the clothing and the wares that are good quality and going to last. Only in the reuse market can you consistently find items that are both good quality and inexpensive.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beware of the looming Gifting Anxiety

This post ran last year and resonated with many. I think we could all use a little reminder...

I’m no fan of staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap gifts only to have my daughters wake me up pre-dawn. I really appreciate sleep. I’m nearly finished, just a few more to wrap.

One would think completion of such a large task as wrapping would usher in a feeling of relief or satisfaction.

It never does.

After everything is neatly wrapped with personal tags dangling, I step back and look at the whole of my year-round efforts of thoughtfully hunting treasure for my family and friends. Instead of thinking,” Wow! It’s beautiful!” I think, “Wow! It’s such a small pile.” How crazy is that? I need to remind myself we've a home with a holiday tree we chopped down ourselves in the forest and a real fireplace. We have heat and food in the pantry. Warm beds. Coats. Each other.

We’re trained to think that our children will feel completely dejected if there's still standing room in our living room on Christmas morning. We believe our home should look something like the home of Herr and Frau Silberhaus in the Nutcracker mixed with an FAO Schwarz two-story display that assaults the senses.

It really gets under my skin. I fall for the illusion every year. I begin to feel like I’m a bad mommy because I didn’t scout out enough gifts. I didn’t give enough. Enough of what? I'm not even certain.

This tempts me to race out at the last minute and fill that void with more gifts.

Attention, shopping never feels psychological voids. Nope. Na-uh. No way.

The reality? I really don’t have enough time to think about what else could be truly meaningful. I’ve spent the entire year searching and thrown a lot of thought into the gifts that sit before me. To think I’m going to find the great and profound missing pieces in the last hour is a bit foolish.

If I did race out to buy more, it’ll likely be gift filler, meaningless stuff thrown in to aid in the illusion that quantity trumps thoughtfulness. A cheap acrylic sweater isn't going to tip the scales.

Why this feeling always overtakes me every year is a real stumper. It is far out of line from my standard shopping mentality.

Perhaps I need some sort of therapy. Or perhaps, we’ve been conditioned to think we will never give enough presents to our children. The latter is a horrible thought. It would be cruel if I had succumbed to this as a deliberate marketing tactic. The only thing we can give more of to our children is love.

I need a distraction. I think hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles, a fire in the hearth and a family game of dominoes under the tree might do the trick.

I think that’d make more sense than racing out now to buy stuff that’s going to be massively discounted in a few days. Besides, I'm not even certain I want the items when they're 80% off so why would I pay full price?

I KNOW others deal with this psychological issue every year too. How do you manage?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unconventional Harvest


The autumnal equinox was last Friday, the 23rd. Fall is my favorite season. Not only am I a person who loves sweaters and hats, but also I love a good harvest, an unconventional one of course. We’ve been harvesting vegetables and berries from the garden for some time. I’m writing about the stuff that falls from trees and I’m not talking apples (though apples are appreciated).

Last week the call came in from Modern Mommie. “They’re falling! Bring some bags and meet me on the north end of Marion Parkway now.”  She didn’t need to say what, I knew. Acorns. We scavenged the grass and gutters for acorns with the endearing help of Modern Mommie’s three-year-old daughter who simply refers to them as “corns.” She was completely enchanted and very serious about collecting.

Why? Because acorns are beautiful! A mass produced holiday anything made in China doesn’t stand a chance when placed next to an acorn. Yeah, not even a plastic acorn can beat the real deal, but they manufacture them anyway and people buy them when they could just pick them up for free. Go figure. Once you bring them home, roast them in the oven at about 180 degrees to be rid of any little natural critters (worms) that like to burrow into the nut. If you pick up an acorn with holes in the nut, best to leave that one on the ground. You'll note the caps will fall off after the nut dries and shrinks, a little wood glue will take care of that. 

An aside: I've always wondered what the people in China think as they paint decorations for Christian and Jewish holidays. I'm certain its a very different experience from when their ancestors made items that pertained to their culture. Funny how for thousands of years imports from far away lands had high value and often represented fine craftsmanship, something friends came to admire. Now it could be a plastic Easter egg or a plastic carnival whistle.
 

The horse chestnuts will be falling soon. Here’s a garland I made several years back. I’ve about 30 feet of horse chestnut garlands, maybe more. Readers will ask so I’ll explain now. To make this garland, take freshly fallen horse chestnuts (which are NOT edible) and grab that drill. Drill holes completely through the chestnut while fresh (try to drill after they’ve hardened and be prepared for a trip to the ER). Roast the chestnuts in the oven on a low setting, say 180 degrees, until they dry out and harden up. String them up and hang them in a place to completely dry. If there is ANY moisture left in the nut, it will mold from the inside. Best to ensure it’s really good and dry. That’s it. You have an organic, homemade garland that will decorate your home for years and cost you nothing but some fond memories collecting and string.

Here’s something to think about. Young children love collecting acorns and chestnuts. It’s something they can do without help. Bring some cider and gingersnaps along when you go. When the holidays arrive the acorns and the chestnuts hang on the tree and the children feel a nice satisfaction of seeing they truly contributed to the magic of the holiday tree.


Modern Mommy’s little one had a terrific idea. She told us we need to place our “corns” in a “nature bowl.” She was right!

So, out came the wooden bowls from the thrift. I prefer to purchase bowls carved from one piece. Bowls at thrift stores may come home a little scratched but sandpaper will take care of that. I often sand off any finish and prepare the freshly exposed wood with mineral oil. They’re simple and eloquent and cost something crazy in convention retail. But, you don’t need to pay that price when you thrift.

 
This beautiful bowl was purchased at a half-off sale for $1.50. This is art.




Found for $6, this myrtle wood bowl somehow magically ripens pears to a mouth-watering perfection.
Our bread bowl for $3. Now's the time to prepare citrus and clove pomanders to dry in time for the holidays. Young children enjoy this most when the fruit is pre-punctured in patterns, cloves slide in the peel without struggle.
Before racing out to buy holiday decorations, which have probably already arrived in local shopping malls, take a look in your back yard or a walk in the woods. Nice memories at little cost that build up to something magical and meaningful for the holidays. 

There's one more reason I take note of the autumnal equinox, it's Mr. Golighty's birthday.

Among a few things, we made a hand stitched book of poems about his favorite things.
Please list in the comment, other handmade holiday decorations your family enjoys. Ah, if only bittersweet grew wild in Colorado. Wait, roses do. Hmm, something with rosehips would be nice.

Least I not forget the Ponderosa Pinecones. They're a bit sharp but beautiful. A small eye hook drilled into the base with a ribbon slipped through make for something beautiful to hang.

Post Script: On a recent reconnaissance mission I saw that Pottery Barn is selling wooden balls with acorn tops glued to them, made in China. $14.50 buys you 56 fake acorns. I don't have 56 acorns, I've a couple hundred. They're also selling wine corks. I doubt they're recycled corks. Rats! A missed opportunity to compare the cost of wooden bowls.


Monday, September 19, 2011

New Position: Blue Jean Distresser

Officially announcing availability as a Blue Jean Distresser for the fashion market. Now Hollywood starlights can wear and feel the truly and honestly distressed jean from hard, backbreaking work. No more fake wear from machine scrubbing or acid washing. The Real Wear market is open!

I’ll even offer a line of Double Distressed starting with a pair from the thrift store. That's twice the honest wear!

They’ll be green too! These jeans will be engaged only in healthy work. Hike mountains, garden, bike, build… honest actions to establish the true and telling signs of honest work.

Special orders can be taken too. Say you want that horseback look. I’ll ride horses. Or, perhaps you’re more of a construction type, I’ll remodel my home and accent with a few paint splatters from the roller.

Be assured, the extra $200 - $900 you will be paying for that distressed look will be genuine wear. Take these above for example. They’ve held up over ten years and now I only use them as “work” clothes. I’ve planted countless gardens, hiked mountains, painted rooms, refinished furniture and many other life activities in this pair.

See! Here’s me and Petite Poe at 12,000’ on Mount Emmons in this very pair in 2004. Yup, these jeans have truly made the circuit.


Such masterpieces take about ten years to create so order now! I’m certain there are plenty of prospective Blue Jean Distressers just waiting to be called to action. Please list your name in the comments and we’ll start our list of professional Blue Jean Distressers.

Call me crazy but, I think the machine market is quite passé.


Leave your comment to become a professional Blue Jean Distresser. Only honest workers apply. Women who work family farms, I beleive you will now have a second job.

We shall be the John Henry of Blue Jean Distressers! Except we shall not die in the end! Our hard efforts will put our children through college. Just in ways we hadn't quite imagined.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How much are you going to pay? To who?


Above is a project I'm happy to complete, refinishing this vintage sewing box. Little Pie and I spied it at Goodwill three weeks ago for $9. Hand-crafted in Poland, each component still has penciled numbers on the undersides. It was a tedious process and it was well worth it. I used products we had left over from restoring our 100 year old casement windows in our bedroom. The only new items purchased for this project were brass screws and washers from the mom and pop hardware. I've deep appreciation for the amazing craftsmanship and care that went into constructing this piece so many decades ago. I think it's a work of art.


Now my thrift store sewing and craft supplies have better organization. Everything below is from thrift. Particularly interesting are the early plastic, possibly Bakelite, scuttles.


I cannot remember how much embroidery floss below cost, but am pretty certain I bought a wide color spectrum of 30 spools for less than $5 flinch point.


Embroidery floss is easy to pick up at thrift stores and it's a bargain too. I purchased this set for $1 this weekend. Modern Mommie and I took our girls to the high country of the Rockies for a two night camping trip. We sat about the fire making friendship bracelets. Little Pie makes them lickety split. I can't keep up.


Thrift stores are many things. One thing for certain they are an excellent resource for sewing, knitting, art projects and crafts in general. Whether you are purchasing something never used like a skeen of yarn, reusing yarn by unraveling a scarf or finding a new use for a moth-eaten cashmere sweater, thrift is common sense and resourceful.

Let's get honest. Shopping for craft items is really a question of who do you want to give your money to and how much are you willing to pay. Please consider that before racing off to the chain stores that largely sell products imported from overseas and likely send their profits out of your state. For example, I paid $4 total for all the black grosgrain ribbon below. It was 50% off during Labor Day weekend at the ARC. It'll take me awhile, but I will use all this ribbon. Imagine how much this would have cost at a chain retailer.

Fortunately, this ribbon was manufactured in the USA. I understand that some purchases at thrift stores are mass manufactured items from China. I'm not particularly thrilled that jobs went overseas to bring such items into our market, but once in circulation we might as well make certain items are used in a resourceful manner - if that can happen. Better to use the item than toss it unused into a landfill. Hard to imagine that unused items are tossed in landfills every day in this country.

In essence, how about we better manage the stuff we already have via reuse, repurposing or recycling before we race out into the new market and fetch stuff from across the Pacific Pond?


As I've written many times, I cease to be amazed by the stuff Americans toss. Like all this quality origami paper pictured below. I use this in making cards and invitations. Little Pie folds it. I give some to the classrooms at Little Pie's school. It does not go to waste. 


This week I picked up two Strathmore drawing pads. The first to pages had been used, that's all. There are loads of art supplies awaiting purchase in thrift stores. Drawing pads are not uncommon on school supply lists.


Every now and the a little gem comes along. Modern Mommie and I've yet to determine what to do with these crocheted flowers and snowflakes. All 25 handmade pieces cost me $6.


Follows is a random brain dump of items commonly found in thrift stores that had their original start in chain craft stores. Many of these items will never have been used. Shopping thrift is smart on the pocket book, saves items from landfills and supports a wide spectrum of charities.

Rubber stamps and stamp pads
Cutting boards, die-cutters, scalloped scissors
Picture frames and mats
Crochet hooks and tatting needles
String, yarn and ribbon
Silk flowers, dried flowers, garlands
Stickers
New scrapbooks, paper and stickers
Glue guns and refills
Oasis and Styrofoam forms
Glass vases, chimeras
Baskets
Polished stones, glass balls, seashells, cedar wood balls
Sewing patterns
Embroidery and quilting hoops
New and vintage fabrics
Cut quilting squares
Paper card stock, poster board, foam-core and construction paper
Bottles of glitter and confetti
Sewing machines and bobbins
Volumes of instructional manuals from making paper to recipes
Cookie presses, piping tips and bags, assorted cake pans
Buttons
Boxes of new mason jars, vintage mason jars too

Along with great deals and green shopping there is another benefit to thrift. One learns a new resourcefulness when participating in the reuse market. For example, my old sewing box was not one purchased at a chain retailer, it was an old over night piece of luggage.

I'm thankful for what I find. Currently I'm knitting a holiday gift that requires eight skeens of yarn. I found eight beautiful skeens of quality yarn for $7 thrift. Conventional retail would have easily pushed this project over $100 for product.

Please share items you have found or items you have found new life or new purpose for. If you thrift, you know what's available.

Post Script: A smartly outfitted sewing hamper would be a lovely gift for the person who's about to leave the nest and strike out on their own. Do it thrift and make it personal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It ends and begins on Septemeber 2nd

On September 2nd, a group of about 300 American consumers will hit a personal milestone. With the exception of a few items like undergarments, they will not have purchased any new clothing for a full calendar year. The will have completed their pledge to The Great American Apparel Diet. The first annual diet was launched in 2009.

Often times when people remove something from their lives for a set period of time they race out and indulge once they’ve met their goal. Like, if I gave up baked sweets for a year? I’d have a huge sheet cake waiting for me to jump upon and roll around in so that every pore of my body could soak up that butter, cream, vanilla, sugar…

I don’t have the impression these consumers are going to be renting U-Hauls to hold all the goods from some wild shopping frenzy after September 2nd.

I imagine they’ll simply sign up for another year of not buying new. I imagine they’ll recruit friends to join.

Radically changing your shopping behavior in America is a personal and spiritual journey. We’re blasted practically everywhere we go to purchase items, many items that serve no real personal purpose.

It’s time to consider if you’re ready to join this group for the coming year. Should you take this challenge and hold to it, I promise other parts of your life will change too, all for the better. I’ll sponsor you. Email me when you’re fighting the urge.

Yes, many people treat me like I’m “cute” because I shop reuse. This is not fluff. This is how we choose to spend our money, our personal resources.

Me? I'm now in need to go out an buy a batch of cupcakes.

If you know of other retail diets, please list them in the comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pushing the re-set button on American retail

My mental back-burner's been simmering since the former post, “A Plea to Anthropologie.”

I fell short on a few critical points about this business proposal. Keep in mind, the mission of this blog is "dedicated to a robust reuse market." We do this by offering tips, testimonials, photos and stories from our readers. Sometimes we must pull back our sleeves and climb out on the fragile limb of brainstorming alternatives to the current retail system. Strange how this can be such a touchy subject.

Our American retail system has effectively constructed many mental obstacles on our consumer highway. New product retailers cling fast to their current MO - which is slowly (and not so slowly in some cases) destroying their customers' purchasing power. Even the most simple business model shows we can't buy much if we have no money. Who wins then? Example, do we wait until we’ve tapped all the global oil wells before we are forced by a monumental crisis to significantly make change?There is such a thing as change that can benefit both retailer and consumer. It's time.

It messes with my brain to witness how short-sighted the American cultural ecosystem has become. We’re short-sighted on energy, education, economics, health care. Even our eating habits are short- sighted. Short attention spans, anyone?

Obviously businesses are in business to first make a profit, or they can't do anything else, but that doesn't mean that's all they can ever do. Sadly, whenever someone hints that businesses consider having a social conscience, the market stops smiling and wags that nasty finger, declaring such a gesture would be one from a"socialist" or "anti-capitalist." Tell you what. Businesses better start caring about their American customers. Guess what guys, the majority of us? We've just about maxed out on credit and have little assets left. If you don't think it necessary to care about the health of your customers, I recommend you move your retail centers overseas to the countries were you've outsourced our income. However, you will need to adjust your price point to a third world economy.

I can't believe how much unsolicited credit lenders at throw at us. Should I jack the Golightly spending up to its credit limit, I can't fathom how the debt would ever be paid off, even with our modest but very smart mortgage. I’ll bet there are consumers out in Credit Land who could have bought two homes with all the (non-mortgage) interest they’ve shelled out. Someone please explain how this is good or right.
I once stood in line behind a woman at a major retailer who had two credit cards denied on her purchase. The clerk then gave her a 10% discount by opening a new credit account sponsored by the retailer. The clerk was thrilled because she received a commission for adding a new credit customer and the customer was thrilled because she now had more credit to mismanage. So there you have it. Spend money you don’t have. It’s okay. Really. Just live in the moment with your spending, it's the USA!

Here’s a few of what I perceive as mental/cultural obstacles that get in the way of people coming to understand the former post. If you don’t like Anthropologie - great - substitute a store you do like and believe sells a lasting, quality product.

Secondhand is not a market strictly open to poor people. I believe major discount big-box retailers have done a bang up job pushing the economically poor through their racks and double-wide register lines to purchase cheaply made crap. Unfortunately, this population has been, for some time, targeted as a growth industry. I cannot imagine how any architect can now design a structurally sound bridge to connect the gap between the haves and have-nots that "sustain" current conventional shopping. How about the corporate retail moguls be the first to test out that bridge? It might be wise to think about the purchasing patterns of such a large (and growing) segment of our society. Don’t ya think? Instead of thinking about methods to milk the poor, how about methods to give the poor milk so they can have strong economic bones to run that economic mile?

Secondhand is a market - plain and simple. There seems to be a misconception that profit cannot be pulled in this market. Au contraire! Goodwill has been widely recognized as a terrific business model. Okay, yeah, they are run off donations. But! Stores like Buffalo Exchange are thriving. We don't need to be victims of the usual demographic pigeonholes. We can dare to brainstorm alternatives.

Consumers don’t balk on buying a used house or car. Why the drama and disgust on other used items (unless they're considered antique or vintage)?  Most readers of this blog have no hang ups with secondhand goods. But, step outside your community and examine mainstream America. They have serious problems with it, almost a borderline phobia. I know, I know! I run into my friends at the neighborhood thrift and no one is embarrassed. It’s like meeting for coffee. I’ve friends who have significant income who shop thrift and feel not an ounce of shame. But there are people who would rather indiscriminately abuse $40K in credit card power by purchasing $178 blue jeans (yes, at stores I cite on this blog) rather than even considering a similar (or even identical) pair for $4.99. This may be true even if the original price tags for $178 were still dangling from the thrift store pair!  My fellow thrifters, these people don't need our pity, they need our help! Maybe conversion to second hand can be an act of civic responsibility. Don't think twice about it

There are more points to be scored in mass reuse than recycling. We mostly recycle down in product quality. The business world likes recycling because it doesn't really offer much competition. Recycling is a worthy practice. There is a now a huge industry that supports recycling. Note recycling requires a respectable use of energy to transform the product. Recycling = Good. What's wrong with Reuse = Good?

Reuse fundamentally requires a simple exchange via transaction. Purchasing a gently-used wardrobe? That's competition for new product. How strange that most Americans like the word competition, but not if it's from reuse. Fine for department stores to sell a "lot" of unsold merchandise to close-out retailers. But reuse? Forget it. I guess the American businesses want us to just chuck our reusable items in landfills to clear out our homes so we can purchase more new stuff. This is actually happening with some large retailers. They destroy unsold merchandise before placing in it the dumpster. Remember this January post in 2010?

It is entirely possible to build a reuse economy that caters to different economic tiers. There is a relatively small system of a tiered reuse market in place but, it’s in desperate need of growth both in product and customer quantity. There’s enough inventory in American homes to sustain a sweet secondhand market. Think of all the stuff that’s been acquired via decades of conspicuous consumption. Wow. And it’s just sitting there in closets, attics, and basements. We’ve even had an entire storage economy housing this stuff! Double wow.

Our market system was once globally admired because it encouraged ingenuity, not just greed. Used house and car market aside, its an irony that we lack the collective creativity to succeed in a statistically significant way through a more open and prevalent resale reality.