|bedroom view, July 2010 (image processed via Poladroid)|
In the image above, one-and-a-half years later the desk, the chair, the blanket, the water glass, and the bedspread are no longer mine. I realize I would save money if I never bought anything and cared nothing for aesthetics, owning just one bowl and one spoon, or organizing my electrical cords with used toilet paper rolls, and so on. After all, number one in the "Ten Sure Ways to Save Money" section of the classic business self-help text, Your Money or Your Life, is "Don't go shopping." And while I agree in principle with the adage, "Buy the best and cry only once," I can't usually afford the best—and neither could my grandparents or I, too, would own a giant French farm table or sleek mid-century-modern teak or marble design classic passed down in the family. So when shopping, I'm usually trading up.
Call me bourgeois, but it's easier to give something up once you've had it. This is why the Chinese who can afford them are buying cars when their streets jam even with bicycles. I've been called a snob but grew up in a mobile home in a family for which a meal of a 39-cent McDonald's cheeseburger, shared French fries, and no soft drink was a rare treat, and I cleaned my grandmother's house to earn money for clothing that came from a mall rather than K-Mart.
On the other hand, maybe it's a character flaw, but I'm not terribly sentimental. So since childhood, I've had a revolving-door policy when it came to my possessions; at some point, that cast set of teeth pre-orthodontia no longer worked as a knickknack on my bedroom bookshelf. It's the same reason I can't imagine getting a tattoo—how could I possibly be sure my tastes wouldn't change when I can't even keep a sofa for 10 years?
As a result, I've always had some form of outbox, generally a paper bag that when filled gets dropped off at Goodwill (though when I was a kid, the outbox was my sister). However, a few years ago I discovered that, gasp, I could actually receive money for much of that outbox stuff if I took a couple of detours. So now, first I make a month-ahead appointment at ReRun; then what ReRun doesn't accept for consignment, I take to Village Merchants to sell for cash, and what's leftover I discard at Goodwill. Today the cycle began again—things come, things go.
My favorite essay in the reader I'm currently teaching from, excerpted from Lars Eighner's memoir recounting his period of homelessness, Travels with Lizbeth, is "On Dumpster Diving." At the end of the piece, Eighner says he came to share a kind of ennui with the very wealthy: the understanding that there's always more where that came from. Though I don't (yet) do dumpsters, having thrifted regularly this long, I see to some degree what he means—if one is patient over time, whatever one currently needs appears at the thrift store, even recurs. Yet I wonder if, considering the expected state of the warming world ahead, this will continue to hold true. We are a wasteful, destructive species, and even I, who own far less than most Americans, have too much. These are such first-world problems, no?—owning more than one bowl, trading for shinier bowls, voiding both cultural guilt and class resentment in a blog. . . .
After the ReRun appointment today, I popped into Goodwill on Broadway, looking for another large basket to better organize my attic storage, and came out with an unused set of cork trivets and a large, round, white-glazed planter, neither of which I was seeking; but when thrifting, one learns to seize unexpected opportunities. The cork set is replacing a couple of silicone pot holders I don't really like, and the planter is because I enjoy houseplants, I like white ceramics, and rarely do I find large planters secondhand, let alone large white ceramic planters. Do I need these things? No. Will they give me pleasure to look at and use? Yes. Will I have them forever? No.