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Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010 04:40 pm

Hunters and Gatherers

"Garage sale!"

My mom would shout into the back seat of our yellow 1982 chevy cavalier. She always said it like she'd just spotted someone famous skulking the streets of our suburb. No matter where we were headed, she'd pull over immediately to take a look.

We'd venture into someone's garage, driveway or backyard to appraise their earthly possessions: cracked dinnerware featuring mushrooms, owls or "Precious Moments" characters, tattered stuffed animals missing most of their distinguishing features, mysterious ceramic figures or dusty faux-floral arrangements that had out-lived their owners' decorating agenda.

Other days, we'd jump in the infamous yellow car and venture to the thrift stores. My favorite, Value World, was unfortunately located in a rather sketchy part of town, right next to a shack that sold (at different times) fried chicken, fish and car insurance. Value World days were the best thing ever, at least for a nerdy kid with a big imagination and an obsession with princesses.

Because we were fairly poor (only my dad worked until I was in mid-elementary school) and we moved around a lot (I lived in six different states before my seventh birthday), Mom was really into thrifting. Though I appreciated the school clothes and paperback books, what I was really interested in were the dusty, tattered 1980s prom dresses. Mom let us buy as many "dress-up clothes" as we wanted, since they were usually incredibly cheap. Soon our basement storage containers burst at the seams with cast-off sequins and taffeta.

Though I no longer think I'm a princess, I'm still a huge fan of thrift shopping. These days, my purchases trend more toward vintage pencil skirts than prom dresses. But through thick and thin, thrifting has always been my go-to method of relaxation. I like to lose myself among the racks, thumbing through endless awful blazers to find one amazing piece.

Could I buy the same items on e-Bay and avoid the whole dirty floor and cigarette smoke/must smell? Sure. But it's not about the purchase. It's about the hunt.

Thrifting is my favorite hobby because it's green. It allows you to participate in the reuse and recycling of items that would otherwise be thrown away or sit in someone's attic. Another reason it's great is because many stores' proceeds go to charities, like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Volunteers of America. Your purchase can help feed the homeless or provide job placement services. Awesome!


When I moved to Springfield last August, the first thing I did was check out the thrift stores. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are so many places in town. Here's where I've gone so far:

Goodwill (2531 North Dirksen Parkway): I went to this store the day after moving in. Though their jacket selection is pretty sparse, they have a large collection of skirts. Where I really scored here was in the book section. I found first edition "Sweet Valley High" novels at a quarter apiece. WIN! I still can't believe I gave away my original collection in the tenth grade. Watch out for pins and needles, though. I almost stabbed myself in the side when I tried on a dress that still had a rusty pin attached.

Salvation Army (1762 Wabash Avenue): I have yet to find anything non-costumey here. My roommate found a tie for her Halloween ensemble, but I've not had any luck. This store does have some decent furniture, if you need that. Personally, I prefer Craigslist for furniture, as it betters your chances of getting something less than two decades old. This store often has hilarious mugs and knickknacks, which is reason enough to go. I once saw a country-looking sign (you know the kind, faded blue ribbon with hearts and a couple of vaguely Amish-looking children or ducks?) that said "back door guests are best!" Gross.

Goodwill (2001 Wabash Avenue): I'm putting two Goodwills on this list because they are vastly different. I've had astonishingly good thrifting here, lately. I found two leather jackets, numerous skirts and a couple of office-appropriate dresses. (My new goal in life is to always come to work looking like Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men.") This store also has a good "off the rack section" (never-worn excess stock from retailers). I got a great new dress (with tags) for $17 last week.

Best Value Thrift Center (1333 Wabash Avenue): I was highly unimpressed with this store both times I visited. It seems to be more random and pricey household objects (very garage sale in nature with all kinds of pointless glass angel statuettes and 80s coffee tables) and lots of mom jeans and seasonal sweaters. It seems to be mostly clothes for older women, with very little variety or older pieces. I'd avoid unless you need Tinkerbell scrubs or a towel rack painted with country geese.

I'm excited to go to more stores, as there are some I haven't visited yet (at least according to Google Maps.)

I could on all day about the tips/tricks to thrifting, but I'll leave you with these five basic rules:

1.) If you're not crafty, don't buy something you'll need to hem/fit/sew a button to. You'll never get around to doing it, trust me.

2.) Cheap dress pants are the tackiest-looking thing on the planet. That thin black fabric will make you look like a high school freshman at an end-of-the-year sports banquet. Don't buy dress pants unless you're at a quality vintage store.

3.) You don't need another pair of cheap black heels. No, you really don't.

4.) Don't buy it just because it's cheap. A bad sweater is a bad sweater, even if it's $2.00.

5.) Avoid black and white fabrics, as they tend to fade over time. Don't get anything made of that early-2000s Old Navy "polar fleece," either. It will look pill-y and gross after one good washing, if it doesn't already.

Happy Hunting! Tell me about some of your best finds in the comments.

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