I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. Aside from running clothes, I cannot remember the last time I bought an item of clothing new. Likewise for home decor. All from thrift stores, yard sales and second hand shops. When one frequents thrift stores, one notes certain immutable laws like “the shoes will all be trashed, but a lot of the clothes still have tags on them or are barely worn.” After a while musing about this, I figured out why. It’s partly that shoes are a bit more basic, less faddish than clothes can be. But it’s mostly that, no matter how much your weight wildly vacillates, your shoes will probably still fit, with the notable exception of pre- versus post-pregnancy. I became a half size larger and the bones of my toes spread into froggish paddles, a state from which they will never recover. More delights of motherhood.
Other than that, your shoes will usually stay with you for years, until they have holes in them and are water-stained and completely dated, at which point they finally appear at the thrift store. Most other things at thrift stores tend to be less threadbare. The clothes, especially, speak of other, imagined lives. The dress bought in the hopes of fitting into it after losing a few pounds and finally relinquished in a bout of despair. The slouchy, silky tunic bought in a misguided vision of oneself, cocktail in hand, tossing one’s graceful head back on its willowy neck in elegant mirth, only to realize, months or years later that one is 5’1″ and will never be either willowy or particularly elegant. And that the silky tunic actually makes one look like an adolescent boy in a fancy feed sack.
One of my favorite sections of thrift stores are the dusty and mostly ignored craft bins. Yarn and needles bought in an optimistic moment, embroidery kits one quarter finished, quilts partially pieced: these discarded projects used to depress me. They made me think of people dejectedly abandoning their dreams of being self-sufficient, crafty folk who delight in handmade goods and a world where people still knew how to do things. But as I have scooped up half-finished blankets, and crewelwork on linen, and this time, a completely untouched kit for making a pillow in the shape of a pheasant (!), I have come to see it differently. All these projects in these bins, they now seem to me evidence of liberation.
The people who donated these items critically evaluated them, there at the back of the closet and decided, “I will never finish this. Perhaps someone else will.” Whether they would like to finish it, but have decided they don’t wish to spend the time, or whether they’ve realized they don’t actually enjoy crewelwork on linen, or making pheasant pillows, these people have freed themselves from the reproachful presence at the back of the closet. I think most of these people are women, and anytime a woman can realistically assess her days and decide what’s worth doing and what isn’t, I applaud her. I know a lot of women who feel a great pressure to be the right kind of woman or the right kind of mom; one who cooks her own farm-to-table meals, and crochets her kids little animals just for fun, and sews whimsical clothes for them. I get a lot of sighs and raised eyebrows when fellow moms learn that, yes, I did make that cable-knit sweater my son is wearing. But I find making things like that fun. I do not, however, find cooking fun. Which is unfortunate, because we do have to eat. But still, I try to limit my cooking to under 30 minutes three times a week. I hate it. If I could leave cooking in the unfinished project bin at the thrift store, I would.
So let us all be gentle with each other. For though I may have made that pheasant pillow myself, tonight we will probably be eating frozen waffles and a can of refried beans. Every woman according to her ability, and her wish.