Thrifting can be a glorious endeavor, but it's not a sport for the impulsive. Garages full of useless shit that "might be worth something" have led me to much unhappiness. It's best to keep purchases to things you can actually use, like clothes and shoes that fit (not clothes you'd like to fit into someday) and things you can and will use tomorrow.
Usually the latter fits into a category of things that have been needed recently but weren't available, or something that will make an everyday task simpler. This must be something not already in the house. An adorable peeing boy corkscrew is not useful, and will immediately be regarded in the household as useless clutter. Stay away from knick-knacks in general, and remember that electronics are always a crapshoot. Anything in the glass case at the counter is going to be junk, so don't even bother looking unless you have something already in mind.
Also, don't buy a project. Big, fancy speakers will probably sound great, but chances are there's something wrong with them and you probably already have speakers hooked up to a stereo. This violates two rules of thifting already. There's another very, very important rule that may not apply to everyone, but when it does, it's the most important. Will the person with whom you share a house be pleased with this purchase? There's varying degrees of "pleased," ranging from acceptance (a minor eyeroll) to anger (loud, vulgar and ceaseless questioning). That velvet painting of a topless, soulful woman from the 70s may be your idea of high-art, but your housemate (let's be real, I'm talking about a spouse or partner, here) will probably have a different opinion.
Clothes, on the other hand, are personal. They're cheap and will be on display on your body, and if South Park has taught us anything, "It's MY body and I can do what I want with it." So If I want to wear orange plaid pants and penny loafers, that's my business. And If I want to pick out a classy outfit that I may wear just once it will be affordable and memorable. But the other rules of thifting still apply: No projects and it must be usable/wearable immediately.
Clothes can have minor defects, too, so check them over thoroughly. They might be forgivable, like a tiny hole in the cuff of a sweater, or a scratch on a shoe that will likely buff out. Stains are a sin, as are rips, large tears and extreme ill-fitting. Remember, this stuff is cheap and often discounted after the sticker price. It's OK to make it back and donate it one you find out it won't work or if you just don't like it. This is a much better solution than comply keeping a closet full of clothes that just didn't make the cut. Be honest with yourself and don't be afraid to re-donate. For constant thifters, it might be a good idea to keep a bag of clothes in the car ready to drop off.
The idea of buying something second-hand makes me feel like I'm helping the planet. That sweater didn't need any more energy put into it's creation, and that money went to charity while I still look like a million bucks (or at least $200). It's best not to get political, here. There are thrift stores that donate to charities which might not be fully aligned with one's internal beliefs. Salvation Army, for instance, has donated large sums of money to political campaigns against gay rights. But remember, it's not really about helping the cause, it's about buying cheap stuff.
Just as our summer guide listings went to the printer, we received this sad news:
We are at an exciting and pivotal moment in our history. The Obama administration’s focus on renewable energy coupled with the need to create jobs for the legions of newly unemployed has created an unprecedented increase in demand for the educational services that the Solar Living Institute provides.
We have seen a surge in interest over the past several months in both our renewable energy courses and our green career workshops and conferences. The recently passed stimulus package includes potential funding for the type of green jobs training that SLI has been providing for almost two decades. With the huge amount of opportunity we have before us we feel it is of paramount importance to step up and focus our attention on continuing to provide as much quality education as possible.
For this reason, we have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s SolFest so that our staff can focus entirely on our educational mission.
We have many exciting projects and events in the works this year. We are working with an internationally renowned e-learning company towards swiftly expanding our renewable energy course offerings to include on-line distance education. We are executing our grant from a private foundation, and partnering with Solar Richmond to offer solar installation training to low-income folks in the Bay Area. And we are very excited to be working with the City of Ukiah to develop a green jobs training center in Ukiah. These projects and more to come will be demanding our best and we are very excited to be putting our efforts toward them.
We are tremendously energized about the opportunities we have before us and we hope you will join in our excitement about this momentous time for our organization, our country and our future.
We hope to have a party and fundraiser around SolFest time to celebrate our victories and gather the SLI tribe. We will revisit having SolFest in 2010. Stay tuned…
For the Earth,
The Solar Living Institute Staff
Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008. Sebastopol, California.
(Note the sad little balloon.)