When thrifting isn’t thrifty

Last week a blogger I follow announced that she would be having a hoard sale, a sale to get rid of a bunch of thrifted stuff she bought for her house but has decided she won’t be able to use.

She included a picture from last year’s sale, in which furniture of all kinds literally lined both sides of her street for a really, really long distance.

It was pretty amazing. Almost as amazing as this:

This (sorta) Old Life: Messy garage

Just being clear: This is OUR garage, not that of the blogger who got me thinking about thrifting this week.

Before I go any further, I’ve gotta say this:

I really like the blogger and her blog. I love the way she empowers her readers to trust our guts when it comes to making our homes. I love her fearlessness, her confidence, her honesty, and her humor. And I love much of the stuff she’s done in her home. It’s unique and creative and fun.

But something about that street lined with stuff really pushed one of my buttons. Perhaps it brought forth too many feelings from the days when my garage was filled with stuff.

You see, there’s one part of me that loves stuff, especially old stuff that others have discarded but that I see beauty in. I love the history and evidence of humanity I see in so many things.

This (sorta) Old Life: Library corner with vintage school-desk chair

Another part of me, though–she hates stuff. She hates waste. She hates the throwaway nature of our culture. She hates the mindless accumulation of crap, and the messages we swim in that make us think we need more and more stuff to be better and happy.

She thinks the production and consumption of much of our stuff causes a lot of unhappiness in the world, and she doesn’t want to have any part of it. (And worries that the writing we do here might contribute to all of that. It’s one of the things about our niche that can make me itch.)

This (sorta) Old Life: As Seen on TV display

But all that is not just coming from some high and mighty place of principles. It’s also very personal.

This (sorta) Old Life: Messy garage

In case you missed that previous garage picture.

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve come to realize that bringing stuff into my life–no matter how awesome and full of potential it is–takes other stuff out of my life. Namely, time and energy.

Stuff requires space and care. If it’s stuff that needs work, it can bring with it feelings of obligation and guilt.

This (sorta) Old Life: chair project

How many times have you heard me refer to this albatross of a chair project?

A turning point for me came more than a year ago (which I wrote about here), when I walked away from a great Goodwill find.

This (sorta) Old Life:  mid-century china cabinet

Yes, it was an awesome bargain ($65!), and yes, I really liked it.

No, we didn’t have a place for it or an easy way to transport it. Assimilating it into our home would add a lot to its cost.

So, yes, we walked away from it–even though I’d already paid for it. (See the “SOLD” sign on it? It’s there because I bought it.)

As the hoard sale blogger pointed out, she writes a blog focused on thrifting–an idea that we love, support, and participate in. Thrifting rather than buying new is socially and personally good in so many ways. And it’s pretty dang hard to write a blog focused on an activity unless you’re engaged in that activity on a regular basis. I totally get that.

But if our consumption of thrift-store goods is as conspicuous as others’ consumption of mass-produced, cheap, chain-store junk, I don’t know that we’ve really made much progress–either socially or personally.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Retail v. thrift

Too much stuff is, still, too much stuff.

My intention is not to judge or cast stones or imply sin of any kind. One person’s too much (or little) is another’s just right. I think we’re all human and trying to figure out how to live well and doing the best we can most of the time. I’m writing from the authority of my own struggles in this area. 

It’s how I end up with cupboards overstuffed with this

This (sorta) Old Life:  spring cleaning kitchen cupboard

…a full year after that garage you saw above was finally cleared of all that junk and we vowed not to replace it with more of the same.

Just three days ago–after I’d already started writing this post–I had to make myself walk away from these:


Aren’t they sweet? And there were about 9 of them. Only a dollar each. What a great find!


We don’t need them. They are smaller than we like.

I took my photo and kept moving, reminding myself of a bedrock truth:

There are no awesome things I’ve walked away from that I have later regretted not buying.

(Not even that cabinet, although if there were one thing, that would be it.)

While there are lots of reasons people accumulate things they don’t need/love and that detract more value than they add to their lives, when I’ve done (and, sadly, continue to do) that, it’s generally because I’m operating from a fear of scarcity.

If I don’t get this thing, I might not find anything else as awesome as it.

If I don’t get this thing, I might not have enough things.

If I don’t get this thing, someone else is going to have this awesome thing that could be mine.

If I don’t get this thing right now, I might not be able to get it later when I really need it.

If I don’t get this thing, I might have to pay more for a less-awesome thing later.

I do it when I forget what has become, for me, fundamental truth:

When we’re making our home, we need to act from love, not fear.

Because, as we’ve stated before, how we do home is how we do life. We want to live a life that is love-based, not fear-based. So we’ve got to do home the same way.

In the few years that I’ve been actively working and thinking and writing about what it takes to make a true home, I’ve come to learn that there is enough. Way more than enough. And that the right things appear, if we’re clear about what they are and wait for them.

This (sorta) Old Life: milk crate

This milk crate-firewood holder was a right thing that appeared when I least expected it.

Cane and I love to hunt for treasure in thrift stores, and we don’t have any plans to stop searching for it. It’s fun and fascinating to see all the stuff people bring into their lives and let go of.

This (sorta) Old Life: 70s sofa

Something hanging out at our local thrift store this weekend.

But we buy much less than we once did. As our house contains more of what we love and less of what will do until we find something better, it’s harder for thrift store/flea market finds to make the cut.

This (sorta) Old Life: footstool on wool rug

Two favorite finds.

Talking about it this week, we’ve realized that we’ve become much choosier (aside from occasional wild splurges on art) about what we pull the trigger on. For us to carry anything to the cash register, it has to meet three criteria:

1. We have to love it. Deeply, madly, truly.

2. We have to have an immediate place/use for it.

3. It has to be affordable–meaning not just the money it will cost us, but also any time or energy it might require.

All of which means we don’t bring home as much as we used to.

Are we perfect in this? Heck, no! And, of course, these are just today’s guidelines. As we continue to experiment and grow, we’re pretty sure they’ll change. We always reserve the right to change our minds.

The older we get, the more we realize that change is the only constant.


How about you?

Do you ever struggle with questions about stuff? How do you decide what to take home (especially if you’re a thrifter)? If are or have been a thrifter, have your views/habits changed over time? Would love to know what all of you think.


Sharing this post with the William Morris Project folks over at Pancakes & French Fries.