Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Real Talk: Vintage Shopping Habits (Why Can't I Go in Normal Stores Anymore?)

Good morning!

Hope you had a restful President's Day-- back to the races today, oh are we ever. I have now lost interest in House of Cards (I binge watched the rest of season 1 and half of season 2 before just giving up...O Kevin Spacey, where is thy sting?) and am back at work, slinging books as usual. One thing that I was thinking about over the weekend, as I tried my darnedest not to go out and hit the thrift stores, was exactly how long it had been since I'd been in a retail setting that wasn't Goodwill, an antique/indoor flea market type store, or Kroger's, and why I'm so compelled to shop secondhand in the first place. 

From a 1950 Life magazine ad
On Valentine's Day, after lunch with some of his family and a trip to McKay's, my Bub and I braved the crazy pedestrian and car traffic on Hillsboro Road to get one of my beloved ready-made vegan pizzas for our V-day dinner (kalamata olives, spinach, sundried tomatoes, and Daiya cheese-- YES). In the course of this labor of love, I visited for the first time that weird, al fresco shopping district right down from the mall in which the Whole Foods is nestled. It was pouring down rain, but through the wet windshield I peered out at the storefronts, taking in the drizzly view. West Elm's in there, Anthropologie, a bunch of those stores whose names I didn't recognize, and people with umbrellas, kids, women tottering on stiletto heeled boots, were darting in and out of the overhangs and storefronts in a frenzy of I'm sure holiday inspired gusto or panic. I had a book of speaker's anecdotes from 1937 that I fished out of the free bin at McKays, so I was content enough to wait in the car while Matthew went to pick up our food, but as I was sitting there, I thought about how "Dickensian Orphan" my mindest is when confronted with real life, retail environments. Nice to look at, but yeah right, I'm going to go in there and buy a sixty dollar scarf. How can they charge a hundred bucks for this lamp and sleep at night?! Who actually buys these triple digit priced shoes? Dream on, kiddlings! Not that I'm, at least consciously, trying to be either haughty about that fact or sad about it-- it's just funny that it would not occur to me to go shopping somewhere where everything is new and priced accordingly, and how that whole retail world just doesn't even cross my mind when I "feel like shopping".

It looked way less New England small town/ Updike-esque
in real life, trust me, especially in the rain.
When I was a little kid, my family would hit Rivergate about every weekend in a fairly predictable routine of stores-- Target, Michaels, Walmart, in that order. Sometimes we might squeeze in a trip to Shoe Carnival or the Book Attic, and back before it closed, Service Merchandise was a must-see, but the funny thing about it was we were never looking for a) a particular thing or b) anything that wasn't on sale. My mom's greatest past time was ( and still is!) finding a bargain. She played the discount game like some people play ponies or the lottery-- with a concomitant joy and compulsiveness that leached out into her children as we saw her snap up scarecrows in January and snowmen in July for a fraction of their original cost.  There were huge red signs at the end of the aisles in Target then bleating, in white on red, what the discount was on the items at that particular endcap. My sister and I would look at containers of Gack that had been hastily resealed with packing tape at the return desk, or sets of pens that were missing one pen. A Ziggy advent calendar at the first of the year or a stationery set that just hadn't sold for some reason drew our magpie eyes, and we would weigh the forty percent discount with how much we actually wanted the item. The whole game was to see how much you got, at how much of a bargain, multiplied by how much you actually liked whatever your weekend's quarry was. It's great to get neon toe socks on sale, but HOW MUCH GREATER IS IT to get those neon toe socks you were looking at in the retail section on sale but one week since it was full price! AND they still have them in your size. WHO EVEN BUYS THINGS RETAIL? Don't they know the money they're wasting and the fun they're missing out on?

Put me in this fray! I'm ready!! (1955 Life magazine ad)

Between my mom's discount shopping and my dad's junking habit (I think I've told you before his parents did flea market antique furniture stalls on the weekend, so he was raised at the fairgrounds dickering over 1920's phone books and tin toy soldiers) what freakin' chance did I have NOT to be obsessed with the acquisition of material goods? Unlike my fellow compulsive shoppers on Hoarders, however, regular stores just don't do it for me. On the off occasion I've tried to go to a Target in the past five years, I'll kind of listless wander around, look at price tags, think about things I might need, and end up buying tights and underwear (something, admittedly, you should not buy at the Goodwill). "Oh, that's a neat mirror," I might think, but then when I pick it up, the frame is flimsier than I thought it would be, there's a nick taken out of the paint, and it's "on sale" for 39.99. WTH. I will recoil from this type of situation as from a rattlesnake. I'm used to going in somebody's grandma's house on the other side of town and getting a mirror twice that size that WAS two hundred dollars when it was bought in 1970, made out of heavy, ornate material, and is walking out the door for twenty bucks. And get a gigantic thrill out of having found something I truly love for a fraction of the cost it should have been, in a treasure hunt type setting. Don't even get me started with clothes. Why would I buy even the "So and So for Target" line of designed-by-designers ready to wear when I could have a chic, chic 1950's suit for $12 at the flea market, or why would I buy a faux fur coat at the department store for $60 when I could get a real fur coat at Goodwill for $20? People often tell me, "I don't know how you have such luck at the thrift store" but between my marksman's eye for crazy clothes and the frequency with which I visit thrift stores, I really can't much lose! It's the thrill of the hunt and my love of pretty things that drives me.

Where that's gotten me, though? HOARDER. CITY. POPULATION: BUB AND ME. I've spent the last year and certainly a lot of 2014 so far trying to actively "fight" clutter, but how can one go so diametrically against one's nature?

Nice couch, but where's all the STUFF? source
For example, having things being so cheap, being so into things, and compulsive shopping means I HAVE A HOUSE FULL OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS with nowhere to put them/store them/display them/actually enjoy them. I've been clearing out in 2014 and have been pretty ruthless with things going back to Goodwill, but God ALMIGHTY is it hard to let go of things I have a story behind. I've told you about trying to cut down on some of the buying, and spending more time looking even when I'm in retail environments, but the heart often wants what the heart wants, and I break down and buy. Of course I don't think twice about buying a sixties' check suit jacket at Goodwill, it was $5.99! Why wouldn't I buy my sixth mink stole when it's in great condition and only $12 at the second day of an estate sale? People who haven't been bit by a shopping bug or been inculcated at a tender age into the cult of acquisition probably think I'm completely over the cuckoo's nest, but it's hard to differentiate sometimes between "I actively need this item to be in my house" and "I need to remember that day I got this and so I can't get rid of it" and "You can live without this". The same as when I got rid of those massive bookshelves and something like 75% of my bookshelves, it was about not having to have those things to be me. I've read 'em! I've got the knowledge in my head! I can get them again if I'm dying from need of them! But I don't have to have them to show you who I am.

Nashville flea market: One of everything, thanks. source
And that gets to the crux of it-- if I didn't go across town at 8 in the morning with my dad through this totally bizarre, ramshackle farm house into the attic to get that commemorative plate, if I just got it at Target, wouldn't it be easier to get rid of it? And if I didn't have so much fun regaling people with tales of how the guy and his son helped me load these huge lamps into my Civic and we forgot the shades under their carport and had to go back for them the next day but they were so nice about it...for example, wouldn't it be easier to just see it in an aisle at Dillards and let it pass by? My The Hoarder in You book talks about how a lot of the time you buy to ward of the anxiety you feel about whether or not to buy, and this is magnified times 1,000,000 in a second hand/estate sale/ flea market setting. You may never see that kewpie doll towel holder again! And certainly not at that good a deal! I sat on my hands all Monday trying not to fidget out to the stores in my leisure time, and I was successful yesterday, but who knows where the weekend will take me? I love stuff! I just have to find a teensy, weensy bit healthier way to interact in the shopping world with it.

If I could go shopping here, I might just shop retail.
Vintage deparment store, take me in your loving arms...
Ruminating thoughts, partout! Anyway, I don't know if that had much of a point to it, but I was thinking today about how that buzz by the retail stores made me think about my own shopping habits, and where I am as a collector/shopper/person. What do you think? Do you ever struggle with the excitement buying gives you versus the downer trying to keep the house together becomes? Have you changed much over the years as a shopper? Have your parents or your childhood influenced you one way or the other towards being a minimalist or a "collector"? What's the "why" behind your shopping habits? I'd love to talk shop and shopping with you guys, so let's get to it!

Anyway, I gotta get back to work now, but don't worry, I've still got plenty of hoarding stories to tell you. I'll hit you up about the (teeny tiny, hardly even that many!) weekend finds from last weekend and some gems from my coat closet tomorrow. Act like you won't see me out at the flea market this weekend, too, in spite of this whole post, haha! Have a great Tuesday, and we'll talk tomorrow. Til then!


  1. I'm with you! The only things I buy at traditional retailers are the things I can't (or shouldn't) get at the thrifts. The thrill of the hunt, limited budget, and the love of old things makes it the only reasonable practice. As you say, it seems in every borderline hoarders life there comes a threshold of too much stuff and recently, I think I have met mine. Lately, I think of my cache of treasures as emergency gifts just waiting for a good home.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Mr. Tiny, I knew you'd agree! :) I am readjusting my thinking, you're right-- they ARE GIFTS WAITING TO BE GIVEN. I bought a chair a couple months ago and it was the first time in my adult life I've had to go "Wait...there is not room for another STICK of furniture in this house!" It was sobering! Still doesn't keep me from hitting the junk trail of a weekend though...the call is too strong...!!

  2. I totally get the shopping high, and I love Hoarders, the TV show too. I enjoy shopping, thrift and regular stores, but I don't always buy much. Purchases happen more often if I have a particular item in mind. Here are some questions I ask myself before making a purchase: Do I LOVE this? Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Do I already have something similar? Am I buying this only because it's discounted so much, in other words, would I love it if it were full price? Would I rather spend this money on yarn? Often the answer is yes on the yarn front. And if I'm feeling low on money I will not shop or will only window shop. I think your secondhand shopping where items are unique is very tempting. I bet if you went to Opry Mills and walked around the tons and tons of merchandise on offer, much of it identical or similar in different stores you would be like me: overwhelmed by choosing one thing, underwhelmed by the lack of variety. And then I don't buy anything.

    1. That's an interesting perspective, Sarah, seriously, thanks for commenting. And I love your thought process when you go through buying things, I am trying SO HARD to be better about this (especially in the knickknack department...whew, Lord...I am weak!). I guess it's part of growing up, setting limits on stuff, but I am learning!

  3. All of this. YES. Thank you!


  4. i´m no shopper at all. i REALLY have to need it or it must be very special. i don´t like it when to much things standing around the house - in the end i have to clean them. puh.

    i have a weak spot for clothes, but - thank god - modern stuff don´t fit me in no way and the quality is too bad. you know - mostly i sew my vintage-y looking clothes myself because around here are not so much midcentury fashions available - WWII/DDR cut a hole in the wealth. and the effort to make a pattern, cut out and sew put enough weight on my wanting for new dresses :-)

    1. I am slowly getting the point about "the less stuff you have, the less you have to clean"-- revolutionary in my household, but so true! It's so neat you can whip up your own wardrobe-- I tell myself OVER, and OVER, and OVER again I'm going to learn to sew! And thinking about it geographically, if there wasn't so much STUFF everywhere it would be less tempting to buy as much...

  5. Lisa...you should think about an antique mall booth. Dealers have all the fun of shopping and none of the burden of keeping it. You have a nice eye, an appreciation of history, an endless capacity for going to estate sales and a dad who will help you haul bigger pieces--that's pretty much all it takes! If you ever want info on GasLamp Too or need a recommendation, let me know.

    1. Thanks so much, Lauren, for the kind words and encouragement! That really is nice. Reselling is something I've thought about in the past but am not sure if I have the "oomph" and sticktoitiveness right now to make it go on top of all the other plates I'm keeping spinning. But I see how much fun/what great items/what great stories sellers like you have and it sure is tempting! :D



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