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.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rewire us please


I know it’s not true. Why do I hold fast to the assumption those “new” items will work or even meet basic expectations when they arrive in my home? I constantly forget to give “new” items a good once over while shopping. More often than is right I must about face and return a “new” item because it is defunct, lacking. I waste too much time on “new” items and I don’t even buy that many compared to the average American consumer. (I do not enjoy the abuse of quotation marks, but time has taught me that new items are often “new.”)

Let us be clear. Just because an item is new, it doesn’t guarantee that it: 1) has never been used before and returned; 2) is clean; 3) is in working order; 4) has all the parts required to work; or 5) will function in the manner as promoted. All five unfortunate events have happened to me many times. They’ve happened to you as well. We take the abuse. Think of all the miles wasted to return or exchange a “new” item. The time in return lines. The anxiety spent on whether we will be challenged or insulted by clerks standing at the dreaded customer service desk. I’d like to see these figures in the February Harper’s Index.

Let's face it. Not everyone returns or exchanges a newly purchased disappointment. Many are tossed in the trash or sent packing to thrift stores. How could we be so wasteful?

I thoroughly inspect secondhand items. Rarely does a thrift store purchase not meet expectations when carted through the front doors of my home. This phenomenon needs a catchy title. Anyone?

I have mantras that come in handy in the thrift store. Why are they chucked out the window when I enter the conventional market? Is it the music that choreographs shoppers to spend more? The overpowering product displays? The offensive maneuvers of a commissioned sales staff?

From now on, I’m going to dope slap myself out of the haze of the check out lines so that I might avoid the return lines.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The price of living


As January sets in, I face another birthday. At 44, I don’t consider myself “old” but I no longer see eye to eye with youth. Could this be the nether years?

My daughters are growing up; fast. College will set upon my oldest faster than I’m prepared while my youngest clings to the elementary school years and I cling with her. I’ve cuddled with Little Pie most every night of her life. Hard to imagine that shall pass.

Watching them grow makes me aware of my own mortality and I realize just how lightly we tread on the history of humankind.

Going lightly is an approach I try to apply to many life endeavors. It’s common sense.

My home is a collection of historical curios, books, and items pulled from the forest compiled in attempt to evoke a rounded curiosity in my daughters. I think it has. But sometimes, like when I have the blues, it feels a bit overwhelming and a visit to some Scandinavian furniture store to replace my curios and mix-matched vintage with light wood and simple lines seems to make sense. That’s likely the fault of the blues. Stepping back, I see that we are not consumption junkies, though the basement is always tornado alley after the holidays. My little family is moderately mindful about our material acquisitions.

But it still begs the ultimate question, why do we consume so much when life is so short? Especially when so many of us place a higher value on experiences rather than material goods. Think of all the possessions and waste each of us will leave behind. In many ways, the current American culture forces us into a corner of consumption instead a plain of awareness.

In a world where it can be so confusing as to what action is best for the planet and future generations, I can take refuge in the fact that shopping second hand is a sustainable practice. At least I know I'm doing one thing right.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Purchase Patience

Stopped by the credit union the other day and did the standard 10 minute surgical strike at the neighborhood thrift.

I found one. It’s been two years of searching I call Purchase Patience. The price is always dirt-cheap and never the issue. The problem is there’s a certain model I want. You know the old doctors scales with a platform to stand on with two weights to balance? This recent scale was close in design, but not close enough. I passed.

Snapshots of all the scales found but not purchased came to mind. There’ve been many.

It’s not aggravating, the scale of the wait. [Pun intended.]

Purchase Patience emphasizes the value of waiting for a reward, something seldom promoted in the current American Now Culture. When consumers are given the latest gadget and toys year round, what could one want for Christmas? I guess that’s why we have Chia Pets, chocolate fountains and S’more makers. Yikes.

A girlfriend once told a precious story about her brothers and sisters crowding around the freshest JC Penney catalog with lightening fast reaction to be the first to slap their little hand on an item and call, “Dibs!” for Christmas.

I remember the Penney’s catalog and the roller skates I wanted for Christmas. Once received, I wore them everywhere but school for about two years, possibly three. I asked for a size up and stuffed the toe until I fully grew into them, thinking ahead as to how I could make these skates go the distance on time.

I reminisced items passed over just this year alone. Can’t count how many pieces of cashmere not purchased, all under my Flinch Point. If the funding were available, I’d open the Girlfriend Hotel where women check in for much needed therapeutic respites. The hotel would have a huge library of movies and books, serve the best comfort food, have suites of adjoining rooms, an in-room spa service for pedicures, and each visitor would be given a complete ensemble of cashmere to wear during their stay. The hotel would offer all the things that help women relax so they can come together for girlfriend laugh therapy. Until that day comes, camping in the mountains with our little girls serves as a primitive hotel. The bathrooms are not bathrooms but the views of the Milky Way can’t be beat.

In today’s world it’s a bit comical that I’ve passed on replacement glassware because the glass was $0.99 not $0.49. The same applies to replacement plates and bowls. I’ve passed on natural fiber yarns, new skeins for about $1, because the color wasn’t quite right.

People not familiar with Purchase Patience will dive on a bargain without stopping to think, “Is this really what I want or need?”

The knowing that what you want will eventually present itself, eliminates the pressure in purchasing and allows Purchase Patience to take root.

I hope more Americans pause and realize we, as a nation, need more Purchase Patience on all items we consume, both large and small ticket. We’re purchasing jokes, frauds, default credit swaps. Why?

If we haven’t learned that the Now Culture is not sustainable, wow, that doesn’t speak well to our smarts as a first world country.

Think about it, wouldn’t Purchase Patience be a good thing to want for Christmas? That, and Peace. [I made Peace a proper noun because I think it important enough.]

Our family received an unexpected and much-wanted gift yesterday. Our dear friend, unanimously elected into the family, showed up at the front door via Jamaica! She’s in little Pie’s room and is about to sledding on Governor’s Hill. Being from Jamaica, this will be her first time. Today, we sled!

Best to all and may you find what you truly need and want this Christmas. Godspeed!

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?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My home of abandonment

My brother in law visited recently. He had not been to our Denver home, quite a different place from the home we left in Boulder. Built in 1900, it’s much older as are the contents.

Nearly every piece of furniture was once abandoned, whether it be found in an alley, yard sale, estate sale or a thrift store, someone had given up on it.

As I’ve written many times, the ultimate value of an item cannot be determined by money. If the only attributable thing to an item is money, like company stocks, it will never be stable. It even has the potential to fail. Other items, like cars, have a set schedule of depreciation of value.

But items of ultimate value only accrue value and meaning. I’ve a tattered, worn, once plush rabbit that is nearly as old as me. It has no monetary value but its ultimate value is more than almost any item I own. The same applies with my collection of unique alley finds and thrift store treasures. They have stories. Some involve my repairs, others complete refinishing, and others with the complete wonderment that something could be so old and in such amazing condition.

I’ve learned many things since opening the Etsy store. The thing I enjoy most is the items I release onto the Etsy go to homes where they will be valued. Not because of cost but because of what they are as items and the purpose they serve. The many stories I’m told by customers at point of sale serves testimony.

Perhaps if we truly held ultimate value to the items we purchased, we’d all be better off in our pocket books and our states of mind. Something to think about during this season of buy, buy, and buy like your life depends upon it, or at least Wall Street does.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Go chopping not shopping!


For over a decade my family has been chopping in lieu of shopping the weekend following Thanksgiving. The National Forest Service offers many sites and invites citizens to purchase a tree-chopping permit for $10 each on select dates and select areas in Colorado.

Tree hunting when the girls were little.

This program is a win-win for all. Families get a real Rocky Mountain experience, roaming the woods for their holiday tree while helping the rangers manage the forests from devastating fires by removing excess fuel.

We go to the Buffalo Creek area just south of Pine, CO, about 40 minutes outside of Denver. If you’re interested in making this a tradition, contact The South Platte Ranger District. If you’re not in Denver, they can direct you to a site near you.

Pack Thanksgiving leftovers, hot chocolate and gingerbread.

There is no comparison to a day in the quiet woods to that of a crowded mall. One year, we came ten feet within a gray fox. We stared at the other for what seemed like ten minutes, though it was probably more like ten seconds. I felt so honored and am most certain I thought a lot more of him than he of me.

The gray fox almost looks feline and is the only canine that can climb trees.

Have a relaxing Thanksgiving and ensure that it has some element to allow you to reflect. These are such hard times. I just heard today on Colorado NPR that Food Stamp enrollment is up 80% in Colorado since 2008. Perhaps a little more balance is needed in our country and the world. If only…

Until that balance can come to fruition, turn to traditions such as our holiday tree hunt for comfort.

If you live in another state and participate in a similar state or federal ranger-sponsored program, please share details in the comments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Totally outfitted placesetting: china to flatware to stemware to individual salt and pepper shakers, under $4.75

This post originally ran in November of 2009.

Just over a week before Thanksgiving, we thought it wise to remind Americans there are alternatives to outfitting a table worthy of a spread in a magazine. Only in this case, the full, complete table setting will cost less than a new dessert plate purchased at a conventional retailer. Quality will not be sacrificed by shopping thrift.

When most Americans think of entertaining, they think of racking up purchases at department stores or discount retailers. To put on a full spread for twelve guests for one swank occasion could cost over $500 on the china alone!

But there is an alternative that few consider. The thrift store is the smart entertainer’s choice. Thrift stores routinely have all the accoutrements: punch bowls, domes and pedestals, linens. The host can save hundreds of dollars buying these items thrift.

The above photo features one of my treasured finds, an L. Bernardaud $ Co. Limoges
antique covered dish bought at Goodwill for $5.
My favorite spot to save big is the $0.49 per item shelves a la Goodwill stacked with plates, bowls and glasses; both tumblers and stemware. That’s right $0.49 per item. Sure some of its Corelle, but some of it can be Alfred Meakin Tea Leaf Ironstone, or crystal.

This complete place setting cost less than a venti mochaccino.
Once you're done with it, you get wash it and enjoy it again

The above photo serves testimony. Not certain if it’s apparent in the photo but the water goblets are new, with sticker still affixed. They were $0.49 apiece, the heavy crystal tumblers $0.49 per item too. When buying china from the $0.49 shelves, stick with a simple dinner plate for the foundation of the pacesetting. These $.0.49 apiece plates have a simple gold rim and fit well with most china patterns. Now, I confess my grandmother pulled the green glass salad plates and gold bread plates (I think) out of her giant grandmother’s purse that also serves as a weapon in a pinch. But similar items can easily be found on Goodwill’s $0.49 shelves. Okay, my grandmother found them at estate sales and they didn’t put a dent into her checking account. But they could fit in that purse.

Silver plate flatware shows up in thrift stores for $0.10 apiece.

Wait. It gets even better. The flatware in this setting is a mix of estate sale and thrift. We use it daily. Sure, it’s not sterling but I prefer the vintage patina that silver-plate earns. Sterling can be 100 years old and polish up looking new. There are advantages to that, but I don’t want to pay the price for a set of sterling flatware.

Adding this up per place setting we have:
three plates $1.50,
two glasses $1.00,
seven pieces of silver-plate flatware $0.70,
individual salt and pepper shakers $0.41,
tea cup and saucer (not in photo) $1.
The entire placesetting totals $4.61.

 Punch bowls sets easy finds at thrift stores  usually be purchased  for about $7.
Always wise to buy two, one for virgin and one for alcohol.

 All candles and candle holders came from Goodwill for pennies on the dollar. 

Glass pedestals and domes are musts for entertaining and are easy finds that run from $7 to $12.
We don’t need bother to compare these prices to conventional retail the difference is laughable.

There are so many more possibilities to entertaining an addendum was written to this original post.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Listing is a lonely process

With over 100 listings, some repeat items, on my fourth week of hosting Shopping Glightly, an Etsy store, I’ve arrived at the sad conclusion that listing is a lonely job.

Mr. Golightly thought I was playing the drama card. “You like it. It’s fun looking up stuff.” I gave him my best Beatrice Arthur glare from Maude and said, “No. It’s not fun. Not fun at all.”

I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs three times. Always ENTP. Something to note, very heavy on the E, the Extroversion. So heavy, I could be labeled an Extrovert Junkie. This is weird because many of my very close friends are introverts so why they tolerate me is beyond understanding. Guess that’s just love because we do have sincere fun, a lot of it and we laugh hard and often.

I tried making games of listing. When photographing items, I pretend I’m shooting for Vanity Fair, “Work it enamelware platter! Give me that gorgeous color. Show me that sheen! You're too sexy for the tabletop!” Even asked books to literally talk to me. They don’t and I scream, “You’ve tens of thousands of words in your pages! Can’t you say just one thing? One syllable? Sheesh!”

I’ve used my imagination. Hard. No matter how I try, I cannot make these inanimate items my peers, my work mates. I’ve lost that child in me that I witness as Piper, my Little Pie, has when she plays for hours with her Papo horses. Ugh!

Oh yeah, and now it’s chilly outside making photographing in natural light more unbearable. I’ve learned to run outside, snap a few shots and race back inside to do this silly dance to warm back up. I wear a red knit cap with earmuffs, finger-less gloves with my mukluks. Thankfully I only shoot in my backyard.

Then there’s the monotonous categorizing the item and writing its description. I’m already frustrated with the item because it cannot play or talk with me, so it’s hard writing something nice about it. I’ve cranked Carmen, Peter Gabriel, Charles Brown, Annie Lennox and I always end up wanting to jump around the house to the Ramones “I want to be sedated.” But I don’t because if I did, I’d hit replay 200x and be chronically late to pick up Piper from school. Then I’d have to write why I was late in the late pick up manual which would eventually warrant a meeting with her principal.

But sales! Sales are another story. A voice talks back and it’s lovely meeting people and learning why they bought the item. Like the kind woman in Virginia who bought the baby scale as a prop for photographing newborns. (She’s sending me a photo soon.) Or the retired teacher in Washington who collects typewriter tins, over 900 of them, and I happened to have one he did not. What are the odds of THAT? Or the mother of four in Texas who wanted something a bit different in her life, just something small, so she bought a bright teal stapler with a huge button to stamp for what I call “I mean it office work.” The kind woman in New York who makes hand bound books and has love of vintage bookplates. The gentleman in London who bought the magazine rack with the porcelain enameled “Keep clear of chute” sign, which I thought to be right on with British humor. The friend in Wyoming who immediately jumped on the vintage tablecloth who collects them for her home.

Etsy’s a pretty cool place, it’s a community. The listing just sucks. I’ve thought of hosting listing parties, but who’d want to come to that?

Any suggestions? Hey, I’m hip to kooky ones.

At least it’s reuse.

Maybe I could hire a psychic while listing to channel the former owner of the item or, even better, a person who had a part in it’s making. If I did that, I’d be running in the red. So far, I’m learning re-sale is not for those wanting a heavy profit. Well, maybe it just takes time and becoming more established. Few new ventures go gangbusters from the start.

Again, at least it’s reuse.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

About the only item, aside from groceries, we buy new without second thought

Thrift store family of horses for my Little Pie, my Piper.
This weekend I picked up this family of horses at Goodwill. They are tucked away for the holidays for my little Piper. I will not wrap them. On Christmas morning, they will be sitting somewhere about the living room for her to spy. Besides, would it not be animal cruelty to box them? From my daughter’s imaginative point of view, these horses have feelings, personalities and eventually names. Shouldn’t I respect that?

She loves horses and when she cannot play or ride real ones, she turns to her extensive collection of Papo and Schleich figurines. Piper ensures she has the current pocket-sized catalogue to determine what Papo figurine she might like next for a treat or birthday. Sometimes she just looks at it like I used to thumb through the JC Penney catalog. Yes, these are mass produced toys, but the quality is certainly not lost.

Yes they’re imported from France and Germany and, yes, they’re plastic. But, the only shelf packaging they have is a small price point tied about one of their legs, easy to remove without leaving that annoying sticky residue. Tear it off and you’re ready to play. Daddy doesn’t get a hernia attempting to open some ridiculous packaging.

Piper plays with these figurines for hours a week.
In this photo we see the fairies have rounded up the horses in a tinker toy corral.
I know a lot of children play with Papos and Schleich. Rarely, I mean, very rarely does one find them in a thrift store. I imagine that’s because they become a legacy toy, something that is kept for the next generation. They withstand the wear. This is just like it’s highly uncommon for one to spot a wooden train set in a thrift store.

A Papo or Schleich can even enchant adults. I’m going to be a brand snob, most other plastic figurines just don’t make the cut.

The family of horses I found at Goodwill are not Papo. They larger figurines, more expensive than their little Papo and Schleich cousins. These horses sit on the toy store shelf in loads of packaging for about quadruple the price. Hmm, is that the price of packaging? It is a heavy price that no one knows for certain. If we knew, we’d probably rather not pay the price of the cardboard penitentiary and just set our toys free. Regardless, I’m happy to pay the thrift store price, sans packaging.

After the round up, the horses convene on their own.
I graduated college in the early 90’s recession. Until I landed my what I will call the career job at The Lincoln Park Zoo Society in downtown Chicago, I worked the floors full time at Crate & Barrel. We had fun at Crate, a load of recent graduates waiting for our break, break as in career.

Crate & Barrel did something unique in store display and design. They allowed the products to sit out of the box on the shelves. Customers were able to really see and touch what they were about to purchase and it made them happy.

Time after time, I witnessed the disappointment in a customer’s eyes when they eagerly brought an espresso machine off the display shelf up to the register desk and I’d journey to the stock room to pull an espresso maker, new in the box to give them. It was like they didn’t want the one in the box that they couldn’t see or touch. I do believe I had customers ask, “Can’t I just take this one?” Photographs on the box were not enough to make them satisfied about their purchase. The same thing happened with glassware, china, and pot and pans. We watched it over and over again.


Let’s have a round up of wise toy purchases for children. Aside from the Papos and Schleich figurines, my daughters have experienced a lot of mileage on Thomas the Tank and Brio wooden train sets, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. If you’re going to invest in toys, invest in something that will be a toy, meaning it spawns imagination not hands it over, and it will go the distance. I was a Tinker Toy and Lincoln Log kid myself.

Thoughts? Ideas?