When I was young, I was embarrassed when my mother went to thrift stores and bought things second hand. I would stay in the car and hope that no one spotted us in parking lot. It wasn’t cool to have a pair of shoes from goodwill or a bed comforter that my cousin out grew. My mom would proudly tell people about the deals she scavenged from this thrift store or that as if it were some sort of honor badge.
In college I became a raft guide, and I came to realize that all my new friends bought second-hand not because of the better price, but because they preferred the hunt (well, maybe some of us couldn’t afford full priced things). I had one girl friend that vowed to not buy anything new for a whole year because she didn’t want to support the cost of child labor for new clothes. No one cared when I bought an overpriced shirt from Anthropology and got $200 boots for my birthday.
The world around me started to change; buying second-hand, driving fuel efficient cars and recycling was the socially responsible thing to do. Socially responsible became cooler than new and expensive, at least in the circles I was in. Not that it is about being cool, but spending reflects values; the value I put on impressing people trumped saving, reusing, and minimizing.
Then I had a house of my own and I stood wide-eyed, mouth gaping at the price of new hand-towels, much less a set of plates or a frying pan or a 4 x6 picture frame. My mom’s shopping habits suddenly made more sense. Now, practically my whole house is decorated and stocked from thrifting and I learned it from my mom, who was being socially responsible before it was cool. It took me a while to get over the fact that the plates I bought I goodwill were from someone else’s home, but after a few uses at my table, they were mine. Or the pan with scratch marks from someone else frying eggs. Or the tarnished brass candlesticks that lit another couple’s romantic dinner. But soon the candlesticks and frying pan and plates all became a part of my story.
My mom’s whole home is socially responsible. Her whole home is from thrifting, repurposing what she already has to make a space and create peace. Isn’t that the point of a home? When I was in her home recently, I went through the house pointing at objects asking where they came from. The answer was almost always the same, “Goodwill, $2.” “Goodwill, $5.” Or “that was my grandmother’s.” It is only a bit of an exaggeration to say that the only thing from Target was the toilet paper and the dish soap.
My mom can make needlepoint look hip as well as mixed china match, collections of life and love. Old tin casters for flour, sugar, coffee and tea. Copper pots and pans and even a fondue set. Those cast iron skillets work way better than any new non-stick pans when seasoned right and you don’t have to worry about unwanted chemicals. Thrifting is more time consuming than one-click on Amazon, but thrifting is much more rewarding. You have to be willing to wait and search, but patience is a neglected virtue in our instant-consumeristic society.