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The collectors’ graveyard. October 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Usually, I love going to thrift stores—Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like. To me, it’s like going on a treasure hunt: You just never know what you’ll find, and often, your treasure costs 48 cents. Even when I’m feeling financially strapped, I can convince myself that it’s okay to spend 48 cents on a new kitchen gadget or a basket for my shells or an attractive picture frame or a colorful multi-strand bead bracelet for my little niece.

Last time our friend Ben and I visited our local Goodwill, we saw two matching sofas that were not just in great shape, they were actually great-looking. The fullsize sofa cost $25; its matching loveseat, $20. We stopped in to the nearby Big Lots after that to look (in vain) for a floor lamp for Ben, and saw that their hideous sofas cost closer to $300. And that’s still a bargain compared to going into a furniture store or buying a sofa through a catalogue, when prices tend to start (if you’re lucky) at double that figure. Good luck finding sofas that look as good as the ones we saw at Goodwill at any price! I was practically in tears when we left the store, but no, we didn’t need any sofas and we didn’t buy any.

One thing we do need on a regular basis is clothes, and thrift stores are a great place to buy them, as long as you’re more concerned about fit and attractiveness than current fashion. Over the years, I’ve bought skirts, tops, tee-shirts, purses, and winter jackets for pennies on the dollar. I’ve found fun tie-dyed tee-shirts, which our friend Ben and I both love, for less than a dollar, and many of Ben’s beloved Hawai’ian shirts (he insists on pure cotton, no rayon) have gotten a second life when we rescued them from the thrift-store racks. Ever since I read that, even if no new shirts were ever manufactured again, there would be enough shirts to clothe all humanity until the end of time, I vowed to buy as many of our clothes second-hand as I possibly could. Why add to the merchandising glut?

So yes, usually I find shopping at a thrift store fun and relaxing. And I especially enjoy it when I also have a bag of things to drop off before I shop. De-cluttering and shopping, all at the same convenient location. Life is good!

But my last trip to our local Goodwill made me sad. That was because I saw three different collections offered for sale. They were all cheap trinkets—miniature mugs with travel destinations emblazened on them, porcelain thimbles, miniature animal figurines. None would have cost their owner much to collect, but it was very obvious that all had been lovingly accumulated and cherished over a lifetime. Now, here they were at Goodwill.

Somehow, I couldn’t convince myself that the owner of these lovingly accumulated assemblages of junk had decided to unload them and move on. No, the collections spoke of loving, attentive accumulation, someone whose desire to commemorate her life was greater than her taste or bank account. I could only, sadly, conclude that the previous owner of these so-called collectibles was now either in assisted living, in a nursing home, or no longer here at all. I could see why her children or heirs wouldn’t want to hang on to Ma’s collections. In fact, I’m sure they couldn’t wait to get rid of them. So here they were, languishing on the Goodwill shelves, where nobody seemed to be rushing to snap them up, either.

This smote me to the heart. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears, staring at those piles of pointless trinkets. Someone’s life story was lying before me on a cluttered thrift-store shelf. Someone had spent years commemorating every trip, every triumph, with these trinkets, only to have her life put up for sale to the lowest bidder. 

Our friend Ben and I are also collectors. We collect everything from Pueblo pottery and cookbooks to rocks, shells, and fossils. No, we don’t think our collections will someday grace a thrift shop’s shelves. But we wonder what will become of them. And we wonder what became of the collector of mini-mugs, ceramic thimbles, and tiny animal figurines. In heaven, on earth, we wish her well.

       ‘Til next time,




1. Barbee' - October 26, 2008

Nice post, poignant. I enjoy carrying in a bag full to donate to the charity, then shop some while I’m there. Have gotten some very good buys. The sweater I am wearing now is one of them.

Good for you, Barbee’! That’s my favorite way to shop there, too—drop stuff off before you bring any back. And thanks for the kind words!

2. nancybond - October 27, 2008

I never thought of it like that, though I do know exactly what you mean. I, too, love thrift shops, and my tiny little size 6 daughter buys all her clothes there…refuses to buy new, in fact. (She has an Environmental Science degree. 🙂 Kudos to you.

And to you and your daughter!

3. Cindy - October 27, 2008

I used to attend a lot of auctions and it was always very sad to see what had taken a lifetime to acquire, dissipated to the highest bidder in just a few hours. I owe most of my teacup collection (each one different) to such an auction. At least a few of someone’s large collection got to stay together.

And at least you’re cherishing them as much as the former owners, Cindy! I think that’s what really counts.

4. Daphne Gould - October 27, 2008

I’m so not a collector. I’m happier when I don’t have a lot of stuff in the house and things are uncluttered. I have way too many knickknacks in the house anyway. And no I didn’t mean to collect them. They were all gifts. How can I get rid of a gift? I think I’ve finally convinced my mother I don’t want stuff. Because she is the collector. When I have to get rid of her collections it will be so sad. And she has informed me that it is my job to do it. Aaaaarrrggg. It’s a horrible thing to think of getting rid of your parent’s possessions. She has a huge collection of primitive art from around the world, but her biggest collection is her Navajo pottery and blankets. She doesn’t want her stuff to end up in a thrift shop.

Hey Daphne! Your mother sounds like a discriminating collector. And Navajo pottery and blankets are extremely collectible and valuable! Ideally, you should head to Santa Fe and Scottsdale and check out the galleries for yourself (going with your mother would be quite a trip, but no doubt she’d end up with more than she started out with). But if you don’t have the time or inclination, I’d suggest getting in touch with Alexander Anthony at Adobe Gallery (www.adobegallery.com) when the time comes. Thrift shops for Navajo heirlooms? No way!!!

5. Cinj - October 27, 2008

I am a collector myself, I find myself thinking similar thoughts as I browse the stores. Your post reminds me of a recent trip I made to our local Goodwill. There was a wonderful sweater and matching booties set for a baby, well acutally about 4 sets, but one really struck me. I briefly thought about buying them. They reminded of my grandma, but instead I took out my camera and took a picture. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t so recent since I could actually see what I was taking a picture of, but that’s beside the point.) I keep meaning to write a post about it but I just haven’t made the time.

What a great idea, Cinj! Taking pictures would save me from buying many things I love but don’t need. They could all go in a nostalgia scrapbook or something and I could enjoy paging through it on a dark, cold day when I needed cheering up. Thanks!!!

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