days of discards

homeless panda at Goodwill Outlet (aka the Bins), Milwaukie, OR

Saturday morning found Jeff and me standing in line in the cold an hour early on a steeply inclined drive at an estate sale in Lake Oswego—our first. He was hoping to buy at least one of the three mid-century modern (MCM) teak pieces pictured on the Web site. Unfortunately, an hour early only put us about 20th in line, so before either of us were even through the front door, the three or four young dealers at the head of the line—one of whom we'd met before at his small but well curated restored-furniture shop on SE Hawthorne, Red Snapper—had already unpeeled the price tags off the coveted pieces and restickered them with "Sold" labels from off their fingertips: first come, first served. The dealers then disappeared, having claimed the booty. We stayed longer to look around what was essentially a temporary thrift store in someone's house. (Jeff considered calling his vintage shop "Dead People's Things" but knew most customers wouldn't appreciate the joke.)

The credenza had sold for a reasonable $650 and the upholstered armchair for almost $400 (a bit high), though I forgot to ask what the coffee table went for. Bidding was only for those who collectively found a suggested price too steep, as for the $3,000 Le Corbusier glass dining table and peach-leather-and-chrome chair set. "You didn't get what you wanted," noted the pretty, blonde, middle-aged estate-sale cashier, looking at the $2.50 black-leather Coach belt in my hand at the cash register. "Our upcoming sale will have a few mid-century pieces," she consoled.

For an introvert like myself, the estate sale was hard on the nerves, crowded and competitive. They let 50 people in at a time, and we were all in each others' way, though everyone was polite or at least indifferent. I found myself wandering through the house, wasting time looking for the teak armchair sitting between the credenza and coffee table the whole time. A hipster girl in a green wool coat and brown boots who had been behind us in line passed me in the hallway, carrying a large Chemex coffeemaker I hadn't seen in the kitchen. There was simply too much to look at, a once-home saturated with stuff. I doubt I could attend these sales often, especially if one must arrive two hours early to snag the best stuff and on precious weekend mornings. This one just happened to fall on the weekend before Spring Break, a rare week off work. But Jeff needs furniture for his budding business, and I'd like to collect some nice MCM pieces for myself over time, so face the madness again I must.

After the estate sale, still in Lake Oswego, we stopped into a women's pre-owned clothing store called Consigning Women, but everything was doubly or triply overpriced compared to Goodwill, at which one can find similar goods if one looks long, hard, and often enough, though in a less posh setting. I have no problem with consignment stores on principle, since many people can't handle or don't have the time for hours of thrift-store hunting and prefer a more boutique shopping experience, and of course middlemen need to get paid. Perfectly nice clothing is being resold and reused. I just tend not to shop consignment myself because of the markup—I'd rather dig and save money. At the clearance rack, a middle-aged woman pushed over a bunch of clothes right in my face, with no respect for rack etiquette—and this was not a busy store—so without a word, I threw up my hands and walked away. She could have the store dregs. In response, she only sniffed, "Huh!"

Another level of secondhand-leftovers madness was had after I begged Jeff to stop at the Goodwill Outlet (aka the Bins) in Milwaukie. He'd gone once or twice before with his mom a while back and said people paw into a new bin "like zombies on fresh meat." Plus, there's broken glass to watch out for. One woman I saw was wearing gloves, but most people weren't, and overall it wasn't as dirty, crowded, or cutthroat as I'd imagined from the Yelp reviews. Since I've often bought things in the Goodwill retail stores that should already have been pulled according to their six-weeks-to-sell policy, I knew there had to be some decent stuff making its way to this last-chance stop, such as clothing that had hung hidden in the wrong section or things that simply hadn't been noticed by the right person.

estate-sale and Goodwill Outlet (Bins) finds: Coach belt, batik scarf, vintage-print sash, wire fruit basket

However, most items at the Bins are either stained, broken, or otherwise beat-the-hell-up, though I imagine much of the breakage and lost parts happens at the Bins, considering how people were throwing things around. The furniture all needs refinishing or reupholstering, though if one has those skills, bargains could be had. For example, I overheard a woman buying a worn chair with good bones to reupholster for one of her college-aged sons.

Jeff bought a vintage Samsonite suitcase ($4) and a 1980's-era wool brontosaurus for resale, as well as a Ralph Lauren gray-plaid wool scarf and a couple of reusable grocery bags for himself. I picked up a batik scarf for spring/summer, a vintage paisley silk sash, and a large wire fruit basket in perfect condition that's already hanging in the basement, holding storage onions, garlic, and potatoes. Everything but the suitcase came to about $12 at under $2 a pound. In all, the Bins is a place I'll visit when I'm feeling daring.

basement onion storage: hanging wire basket via Goodwill Outlet (the Bins), Milwaukie, OR

After stopping at my place for lunch, we next drove up MLK to Community Warehouse's Estate Store about a half hour before closing. I coveted a shiny, black, brand-new-looking KitchenAid Mixer marked at $180 but couldn't justify the expense, considering how little I bake. There were a few mid-century pieces, but most had already been sold. So we headed a few blocks east to ReRun, where I picked up a check for household discards I'd consigned in early December, and Jeff found a vintage Lane surfboard coffee table to refinish.

Crystal Palace Yarns, Linen Rustique, Goodwill-thrifted

Though a bit tired by this point, we drove down to the Broadway Goodwill where I found various little gifts (thinking ahead), as well as a fitted, black Banana Republic boiled-wool tie-belt coat; a French-blue Sisley sleeveless petal tunic for multi-season layering; a dressy, Nordstrom Classiques Entier natural-linen lined swing skirt; a big variety bag of wool and linen-mix yarns; a wooden pizza peel; and a small blue-and-cream handmade stoneware bottle for table oil or vinegar that can double as a vase. It was probably the most I'd ever spent at one time at Goodwill, but only a little more than the consignment check.

secondhand goods: handmade oil jar, Heath Ceramics salt shaker, wooden tray, vintage handblown Chemex coffeemaker,
linen napkin, Heath Ceramics teapot, Pyrex measuring cup, Pottery Barn linen curtain panel, tall glass jar with cork

This winter, I had hit a thrifting dry patch, rarely leaving a store with even one thing—which was fine, better for the bank account. Jeff had been having all the thrifting luck, finding mid-century clocks and stoneware and yet more Le Creuset pots (though he was also making the rounds more often). But lately, it's been the mother lode for us both. All week, Jeff's been finding MCM furniture and lamps everywhere he looks. Sunday at my Goodwill, I picked up a brown print blouse for summer; a dark, like-new pair of DKNY ankle jeans (half off); and a white pottery bowl hand-thrown in 1981. Monday at William Temple and the Goodwill on East Burnside, I scored more yarn half off (most of which I'll consign to pay for the few skeins worth keeping), more small gifts for the year ahead, a nice wooden spatula, a spare pizza stone—you get the idea.

Of course, it's much easier not to spend money when one doesn't go shopping, even secondhand. Remind me to stop tagging along on so many of Jeff's scouting trips. And yet, on the rare occasion I'm in an all-new-goods retail store, even someplace like Walgreens or Fred Meyer, I contract sticker shock. In the end, my secondhand purchases don't add up to that much of my budget, and I never buy what I don't really like, won't use a lot, and can't resell. In spring, isn't everybody nesting?


  1. I love reading about your thrift store finds! Thrifting and estate sales are so fun in Portland, even though there is so much competition. Where is Jeff's MCM store? My husband and I have a '58 ranch & are looking for a few pieces.

  2. Thanks for reading, Melissa! My friend Jeff will be setting up a little corner in the Hawthorne Vintage mall (between SE 47th & 48th) next week, with the goal of eventually opening his own shop somewhere in town, if all goes well. (You're so right about the competition in this city!) He's still deciding on a shop name for branding, so suggestions are welcome. Do say hi if you ever stop in sometime and see him or us! He's very tall with blond, curly hair and is usually wearing black cowboy boots or Converse. :) —Brooke

  3. Love that oil jar, do you have a shop? Ant intent on selling it ;) ?

  4. For the right price, Ana, the oil jar could be yours. Make an offer via e-mail?


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