When Thrifting isn't Thrifty

I try to purchase as many of my household items as possible from thrift and second hand stores. In fact, I consider myself something of a thrifting master. I once bought a $5,000 stainless steel grill for $75 at the Habitat ReStore in Beaverton, OR. I think I must have inherited this gene from my grandmother, whose superhero qualities included going to garage sales to find stellar deals, and digging damaged items out of dumpsters and fixing them up.

I do my thrifting by frequenting second hand stores on my lunch breaks. I think there must be something to that whole 'retail therapy' thing, because it's just something that I really enjoy doing, even if I don't buy anything. It's a time for me to clear my head and just let my creativity flow. But I think, more than anything, I enjoy it so much because it's fascinating to me what others choose to discard. The whole experience is enlightening because it becomes pretty apparent really quickly what we collectively don't value anymore, especially when some of the wares up for sale seemed ubiquitous or essential when they first arrived on the scene. TiVo readily comes to mind. 

Among the obsolete electronics, dated furniture, and home decor, there are the racks and racks of clothing, most of which was made cheaply by small hands in factories in far off lands. Our clothing has become as disposable as paper plates at a Memorial Day barbecue. And this just couldn't be possible without the cheap labor that makes the end products so affordable, and thus more easily disposable. For more information on this, there is an excellent documentary you can watch on Netflix called 'The True Cost'.

That increase in clothing supply and cheap access has no doubt been a boon for nonprofit second hand clothing stores and the services they provide. Putting aside my own judgments as best I can, I'm sure the outcome of this cheap clothing economy has also been a much welcomed reprieve by those relatively less financially fortunate Americans among us who want to feel the sense of normalcy and belonging that can come with wearing certain types of clothing, as fleeting as that feeling can be. Although I care very little about branding outside of it sometimes being helpful in predicting the likelihood of buying a durable product, I recognize that this is a privileged perspective to have. Growing up in a low-income household, there weren't many things more important to me at the time than just feeling like I was normal, that I belonged, and few things had the power to equalize me amongst my more fortunate peers than a new pair of Nikes, for example.

Not too long ago, I found some of those same wants and desires from childhood finding their way out again, and they began leading me down a rabbit hole. I started picking up clothing from thrift stores on a weekly basis. Before long, my closet was completely full. But what I found was not only did I not feel more fulfilled, I actually felt a negative impact on my life.

The thing is, I wasn't really saving any money by 'thrifting'. I was under the illusion that since I was spending less per item that I was actually saving money. But all those small purchases added up to more than I would spend on just a handful of high quality things. On top of this, mornings were stressful because I had a more difficult time deciding what to wear because I had more in my closet. Laundry day was also an enormous hassle because I could let my clothes pile up because I had more clean clothes to wear. This year I finally said enough is enough and cleared out about 90% of my wardrobe.

Although my partner sometimes gets annoyed with me because I have a tendency to leave things in the dryer since I wear the same things over and over, laundry day is now a breeze. It's usually a one and done scenario, unless we're doing towels or bedding. Mornings are a lot smoother as well, and I generally alternate between wearing 2 different colored pairs of dress pants to work Monday through Thursday, and I wear my favorite pair of jeans on Fridays. I have probably 10 dress shirts, a handful of really comfortable t-shirts, a couple of hoodies and sweaters, and a few pairs of shorts, but that's about it. Oh, and I got rid of all but my most worn pairs of shoes. I have a brown pair of work shoes, one black and one brown pair of dress shoes, a pair of running shoes, 2 pairs of casual shoes, and a pair of sandals. That may sound like a lot, but I use all 7 regularly as each pair has an intended purpose.

So now when I go to the thrift store, I am more deliberate about what I pick up. I'm usually on a mission for something very specific, but if I run across an item that I really like, I will usually skip it unless it's an upgrade to something I already have. In that situation, I do a 1-for-1 swap in my wardrobe. Life has been a lot simpler ever since.