Monday, July 26, 2021

New Treehouse Series: Thrift Talk. Part One: "Chatting Fears"

I've been looking at tables and racks of used stuff, one way or another, for the past fifty years. I just came across a blog post from about fifteen years ago that mentions some of my "early days." Flea markets and church bazaars were pretty much it, though, until yard sales started becoming more common here in the 1980's, and it was also  around that time that I found my first thrift shop. Ask me about the cowboy boots some time...and the vintage record player...and the entire set of antique china dishes that I bought at a yard sale during high school but never did end up using.

Our kids grew up during the peak of yard sales and big church rummage sales, both of which seem to have fallen off a bit in recent years (and not just because of the pandemic). They were also around for the changes in thrift shopping, some of which have been an improvement and some I'm still not sure about. What we've definitely seen over that quarter-century has been (as many have said elsewhere) a huge increase in the stuff people buy, and the stuff they then have to dispose of, and the stuff that the thrift stores now have to deal with.

My own take on what to buy (and what to keep) has changed over that time as well. Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad advice in the early '90's was, more or less, if you could get whatever it was free or cheap, and you had the space to store it, you might as well hang on to anything that might come in handy. It was a making-do kind of simplicity, and if you were going to use what you had, you needed to have some "had" in the house. In recent years, though, there's been more public...I almost want to say scrutiny...of too much "had." I have to be careful not to mix up current perceptions of "Minimalism" (and its cousin "Essentialism") with my own changing needs as an empty-nester. It would be easy for me to say "you don't have to hang on to so much, look, I don't," but I don't know what your circumstances are and what you might need today or tomorrow. 

I do agree with Dana White's "container concept" of managing your space, and I wish I'd come across it a long time ago; I think it's good advice whether you live in a big house or a tiny one. A  fictional example is a murder mystery called Closet Confidential by Mary Jane Maffini, one of those paperback series where the sleuth is also a florist or a baker or whatever; in this case she's a professional organizer with two clients. One is a rich ex-fashion model who has seven closets full of designer clothes. The other is a middle-aged woman living in a chaotic household, who is gifted a makeover of her small closet (but it has to be on a budget). The contrast between the two is amusing, but it's what Charlotte (the organizer) says to her rich client that is the point here: when it becomes clear that she's just not ready to get rid of much, Charlotte suggests that maybe what she needs is another, bigger closet. Sounds crazy, but this is a wealthy person who lives for her personal image, and she has enough space in her mansion to build an entire clothes library if she wants one. The other client gets a tidy little space with hanging shelves (bought with a coupon). Charlotte has no fixed minimalist agenda for either of these women; she just accepts them where they are. And it seems to me that in our own lives we might go through seasons where we have the luxury of space and of deciding what goes in it; and other times where every inch is precious and we find ourselves playing the old "desert island" game. The trick, as Marcus Aurelius said, is to see things, even shelves and closets, for what they are, and to be grateful and content in either case.

I saw one article recently that went overboard analyzing why you shouldn't buy too much secondhand stuff, because if you do, and you then commit the crime of re-donating it, you're just as much a part of the problem as the person who bought it in the first place. But during the past year and a half, when the thrift stores have been allowed to open at all, most of them don't even have change rooms; so if you're buying clothes, you're going by labels and eyeball, and even that's not always enough. Last week I bought a pair of pants for a dollar and brought them home. The size was right, and they were even the right length; but whoever wore them before me had stretched out the waistband too much, and that was something I didn't notice until I tried them on. So yes, they're going back, no regrets.

Last night I was reading C.S. Lewis's Letters to Malcolm (borrowed from the library), and at one point he quotes a phrase from George Herbert's poem "Conscience": "Peace, prattler." I looked up the rest of the poem and found these also-appropriate lines:
By listening to thy chatting fears
I have both lost mine eyes and ears.

I'm hoping that this series will be about using eyes and ears, but that it won't be too much of a prattling conscience.

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