Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Step Twenty-Seven: Explore Some Thrift Stores

I have a confession: I love to shop. Even buying groceries brings me intense pleasure, so imagine what shopping for clothes or home goods does for me. This love for shopping was not well harnessed in my past, and it got me into some money troubles. Part of the appeal of zero waste was buying only what I needed,  and being surrounded only by things I loved and used often. I have drastically reduced my shopping and spending, and can truly say I only make purchases which I can afford and which bring some measure of utility or joy to my life. However, I still find myself in need of things occasionally, and so I have re-channeled the thrill of shopping into the satisfaction of the hunt. By purchasing items in thrift stores, I reduce my impact on the planet, spend my money on a good cause, and have a little fun exploring all the weird stuff people collect.

Today's baby step is to explore some thrift stores. For some this will be old hat, for others a novel, scary adventure. Thrift stores can be challenging, as they don't have multiple sizes, back-up inventory, or customer satisfaction guarantees. We've become accustomed to these conveniences, and so may balk at their absence, but how many things do you really need multiples of, or a lifetime guarantee for? I buy my underwear, socks, and shoes new, without hesitation, but everything else is much more interesting when I've found it after a long thrift store hunt. Coats with secret pockets, a porcelain pig pot that has a facial expression that is the definition of wabi-sabi, and even high-quality cookware are all treasures I've been amazed I only had to pay a few dollars for.

If you are new to the thrift store game, it's best to go with a rough plan of what you want. Remember back when we found our style? That will come in handy now. Knowing what gaps you have in your wardrobe, tool collections, or home inventory gives focus to your search. Knowing what characteristics you appreciate, what colors will mesh well with your home, and what features in an item you require will keep you from coming home with a dud. And knowing how much time you have to spend, what stores are the best organized, and which days stock is replenished will help expedite your search.

For example, in my home town, I have a favorite thrift store for clothes shopping, but I know my best bet is to check craigslist for gardening tools. It takes a little while to learn where to go for certain items, but I've found that stores are pretty reliable in what types of things and what range of selection they carry.

When I go shopping, I usually have an item in mind to fill a hole in my home, like khaki pants, a picture frame of a certain size, or a stainless steel mixing bowl. There are also times I have a nebulous idea of what I want, like a gift for a friend, or something I can turn into a planter. Even the roughest of ideas helps guide me through the store and narrow my search. Plus, then I can enlist the help of friends in searching the store, before we retire to a more entertaining activity, like gossiping over smoothies or people-watching at the mall.

Lastly, the key to thrift store shopping is patience. You won't always find what you want, and you may come home empty-handed. That's okay. Most of us are lucky enough to live free from true need; those extra dinner plates or perfect summer book can wait, and second-hand good can always be had almost instantly from e-bay if true need arises. Thrift shopping is something that takes a little bit of practice, but soon you'll be amazed at the great deals you can get with just a little bit of searching, and a sprinkle of savvy.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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