Confessions of a Thrifty Shopper.

mouse with
        blueberriesI enter many situations with the question: "Can I afford it?" The approach is so pervasive that I steer clear of some places because I think the answer might be no. Thrift stores are my haven - places I can afford anything, little museums where I can buy what's on display, and where my arcane understanding of kitschy stuff can sometimes be rewarded with a bargain. I quip that I own everything that's ever been marked down to $2. My formula is to check in on a favorite thrift emporium for ten minutes, once a week. There, you have my secret.

My friend Alice once asked, "Do you own anything that's not interesting?" And I felt complimented.

But behind all this is the idea that somehow there's not enough in the universe, for me. As my buffer against running out, I have: a drawer crammed full of nothing but white turtlenecks, another of red cable knit sweaters, two spare containers of salt in the kitchen (insurance against running out, which hasn't happened in forty years), a shelf of drawing paper - some of which I've had so long it's slightly foxed - and always an extra dozen eggs. Bookcases full of books, most of which I've read, plus some extra copies in case I meet someone who hasn't read one of my faves.
In the movie Conspiracy Theory, Mel Gibson is compelled to buy every copy of The Catcher in the Rye the movie's script has him encounter. He can't not buy them. I recognize the feeling - it's brought on in me by old wooden boxes, cigar boxes, antique ironstone casseroles, and fruit-patterned glass refrigerator dishes. Sense a theme here? Containers. I am drawn to containers. When I go to purchase one of these inestimably valuable treasures, I float a trial balloon at the checkout counter, and find, in the cashier and amongst my fellow shoppers, what their compelling objects are: Turquoise-and-silver jewelry. Tupperware. Dolls. Turtle figurines. Sweatbands and socks. Jackets of any kind. Pink Depression glass. The lists go on, and I'm not making any of them up.

How much is enough? The other night I made spaghetti for company, and could barely lift the colander of pasta I'd cooked. And, as I hefted it out of the sink, I realized that, to my eyes, it didn't look like enough. And the better bit of my brain knew with certainty that not only was it enough, but far too much. The disconnect between what I felt and what was true was remarkable - like I had some sort of reverse anorexia. The proverb about food for company comforted me - "a little too much is just right" - but this was enough for that dinner, the next dinner, and a take-out dinner for another family. Literally.

How much is enough? The question takes me back to a childhood incident. My family lived on twelve acres of woodland, covered with wild blueberry bushes. Once, my dad and I went out and picked an overflowing bucket of blueberries to be turned into a pie, but my mom waited a smidge too long to make the pie, and the blueberries rotted. My four-year-old heart was broken. Years later, the memory came back to me in painful detail, and then a mind-picture came, in sharp focus: my childhood round-topped Amana refrigerator was like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and, when I opened its door, there was Jesus at the back of the fridge. And He was handing me jar after jar after jar of fresh, ripe, blueberries.

Think there might be a lesson in there somewhere, Mary?

I always think I can afford two dollars and ten minutes, and build myself a bulwark against running out. This belief is nuts at best, idolatrous at worst, and no one will call me on it because it seems cute. So I'm writing this to challenge myself. Because God is my sufficiency, and has always, always, always gotten me just what I need, just when I needed it, when I let Him, when I don't outrun Him with anxiety-ridden premature purchases.

Recently Marvin and I had to furnish a little house we then listed on AirBnB. I was able to outfit the whole place, including appliances, all the furniture, rugs, bedding and NEW drapes, for $1,200. I kept track. And it all came together after months of finding nothing, until, just as the floors were finished and the paint was drying, and at the penultimate minute, everything we needed just showed up, on the cheap, in the same stores that had had nothing we could use the month before. See below.

Tacoma dining roomTacoma bedroomTacoma living room

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Proverbs 3:5,6

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