Monday, January 12, 2009

Second Time Around

Darlene Ryan is the author of the memoir, A Mother’s Adoption Journey, as well as three young adult novels: Rules for Life, Saving Grace and Responsible. Her fourth novel for teens, Five Minutes More, will be published early in 2009.

Like Izzy and Lisa in my first young adult novel, Rules For Life, I like thrift stores, second hand shops and consignment stores. For me it’s not just about saving money, although I am, well, cheap. Prowling around a used clothing or furniture store is like going on a treasure hunt. I never know what I’m going to find. “Do you really wear the things you buy in there?” someone once asked me. “Other people have worn it.” Uh huh. I wear what I buy. I use what I buy. Which brings me to my first rule.

1. If it can’t be washed, don’t buy it.
Anything that can’t go in my washing machine or my basement sink with lots of hot water and soap stays at the store. I’ve broken that rule twice. Once for my black, faux fur jacket. Once for a pair of grey, wool pants. In the case of the jacket I broke my own rule because the price was so good and I wanted it so much. I dropped the jacket at the dry cleaner on the way home from the store. As for the pants, they seemed to be brand new, they were my size, they were three dollars, and I needed a pair of dress pants in a hurry. Again, they got dropped at the cleaners on the way home.

2. Check everything.
Look over every seam for tears, every hem, cuff and collar for wear. Make sure the zipper works. Check for pills and holes in the fabric. It’s nice if a shirt or sweater has all its buttons but not essential. Buttons can be replaced very inexpensively. I bought a shirt once just to get the flower buttons to put on something else.

3. Carry a measuring tape.
Not every thrift store has changing rooms and sometimes you may not want to try something on before you’ve washed it. Plus a size 10 by one manufacturer may not be the same as a size 10 by another. (This is especially annoying with respect to children’s clothes.) Measure your best fitting pieces of clothing—pants, skirt, shirt—and use those measurements as a guide when you’re shopping.

4. Know your dirt.
It would be nice if everyone made sure what they sent to a second hand or thrift shop was freshly washed. And most people do. But sometimes you’ll find just what you want is a little grubby. Take a close look at the dirt. Is it just dirt? Not something greasy, not a stain? Plain old dirt will come out in the laundry. Anything else I don’t take a chance on unless the price is very, very low. I do know several thrifters who use everything from spray stain removers, to dish washer detergent, to an old fashioned scrub brush and a bar of yellow laundry soap with at least some success.

5. Give back.
Think about your local Salvation Army store, Goodwill, church or charity next time you have a pile of things you’re not using. Please make sure everything is clean. Clothing should be gently worn. That means those yoga pants with the baggy knees and the paint stains go in the garbage, but the green sweater you never wore because it makes you look like your liver is failing might look great on someone else. Like me.


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