Since I first started earning my own money (at age 11, as a barely-legal babysitter) I have been gradually learning to love thriftiness. It started unbeknownst to me, during the melodramatic middle school years where I longed to wear “cool” clothes like my peers and was no longer content with the Walmart clearance rack from which my mother bought me most of my clothes.
Around this time, the late 90s, my mom discovered a Goodwill store near our home which suited her stress-relief shopping needs, and helped her find me and my siblings even cheaper clothes than before. So, the day she realized I was earning completely untaxed, expendable dollars (at a whopping $1.50/hour, I was rolling in it) she informed me that I would now be responsible for buying my own clothes.
I was crushed. I could never afford the Abercrombie and Fitch threads that I saw on the public-school girls my age. (As a home-schooler, I was hyper-tuned to what my publicly-educated peers wore to church on Sundays. It was very pathetic, but probably appropriate to my developmental stage.)
One day, bemoaning my plight to my mother as if she was somehow wronging me by not buying me the over-priced sweat-shop-produced name brands I so incorrectly felt I needed, she took me to Goodwill and told me to hunt. Hunt hard and hunt long, and you will find something.
So I hunted. I poured over the wobbly racks of other people’s musty cast-offs. I hated every moment. I found nothing that fit my very narrow desire for sand-blasted flare jeans and shirts that would let me advertise “my style” in brazen “A & F.”
My sainted mother didn’t listen to my whining. She just kept inviting me to go to Goodwill with her, and thankfully, I went. Gradually, I learned the ways of the Thrift. Over the years, I got really good at it. I developed a hunter’s instinct about where to find clothes that were either vintage-cool or almost-new and on-trend. I overcame my repulsion to that musty odor.
Most of all, I learned about my own style. Perusing a wide variety of styles thrown together at random forced me to notice clothes I never would have looked at before unless I’d seen a certain Heather or Jessica wearing it at church. I learned what I liked, what looked good on me, and the joy of owning something unique.
By high school I was both a thrift-store pro and getting regular compliments on my clothing, with no lingering desire whatsoever for the name-brand fads. By college, my friends were asking me to take them to my favorite thrift stores (Arc’s Value Village in the Twin Cities is still my all-time favorite chain) and show me how to find deals.
To this day, I still can’t resist when I get a compliment on my gold and crystal pave heart earrings to reply, “Thanks! I got them for $2 at a garage sale!” Or to my vintage leather purse: “Thanks! Thrift store, $6.” Or to my other wardrobe frequent fliers: My neon yellow LOFT shorts ($4), J Crew Periwinkle Trousers ($8), geometric print blouse ($6), etc. (Why do I remember the price of each item? I have strange skills.)
These posts get wordy quick. I just need to express my love of thrift and why. What do I love? I love getting bargains on unique and high-quality items that I can’t find anywhere else. Why? Because a frugal life is one that does not accommodate every impulse of consumerism, but waits, watches, and seizes the opportunities missed by others for things that have real value. That makes me Happy, Happy, Happy, as Phil Robertson would say, with having just enough, and loving what I have.