Confessions of a Thrifty Shopper.
I 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.
in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy
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Thanks for reading!