Monday, August 23, 2010

Digressions on Thrifting

Are thrifty genes are inborn, or do our early experiences have more of an impact on whether we're splurgers or penny-pinchers when we grow up enough to have our own spending money? For some (like me, presently, with an unemployed partner), the thrill of the bargain hunt is mitigated by the downer of necessity, but for others there is just an excitement in digging for treasure and getting it at an amazing price.

When I was a little girl, visiting my grandparents' summer place in the middle of nowhere Connecticut, my greatest joy came in trips to (what was to me, at the time) the most amazing place on earth: The Victorian House, a ramshackle old Painted Lady with an incredible series of rooms packed to the brim with every kind of knick-knack, kitchen item, old book, vintage fur, enormous carved highboy, broken doll, old postcard and vinyl record an estate sale could produce, plus a fabulous little squash-faced Pekingese who always manned the counter. I could amuse myself for hours in the costume jewelry or book section (here I found my first copy of Desiree and learned that my namesake was Napoleon's first love...) and spent many long hours tentatively brushing my fingertips over inlaid furniture and shining sterling tableware.

As the child of a single parent schoolteacher with conservative-- perhaps even 'tightwad'-- purse-strings, I also learned very early on that several hand-me-down or used-clothing-shop outfits were far superior to just one new outfit. It took me many years to release the resentment I felt at the time to be forced to be so much less fashionable than my (rather wealthy) peers, but I now realize that I learned skills that the girls whose mothers spent weekends in Bloomingdale's would probably never acquire (whether they'd ever have the financial necessity for such skills is another matter, but they say money can't buy happiness anyway, right?).

I see homes decorated with the latest from Pier One and Crate and Barrel and it's not that they're not lovely, but it seems to me that they are entirely lacking in personality. There are no special items lovingly lifted off a dusty shelf and polished to reveal their beautiful potential; no fascinating old objects of dubious origin but obvious perfection for the room; nothing with any fond memories attached. In these beautiful, sterile places, no old friend would ever possibly inquire "but, my dear, where did you possibly find that stunning wicker sphere set displayed in that fruit bowl!?" No, indeed. Ditto for the latest Ann Taylor dress or Tiffany necklace. Cute, but anyone could put it on... I prefer a little inventiveness, a touch of the unique, which may take a bit of rooting to find, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tell us about your own thrifty roots!


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