I can say savant, right? That’s not an insult? I’m never sure. There are so many groups lobbying for so many things. I know the obvious things NOT to say but some are more subtle. So if it’s offensive, let me know, it’s not intentional.
Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I hate thrift stores. I hate the smell of them, the feel of them, the lighting and the dust. They smell like a mixture of Febreeze, sadness, and something else I can never quite put my finger on but that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my anxiety flare like burning-hot hives.
It is not good times.
Unfortunately, one of the things you do when you’re frugal is suck it up and take your kids to the thrift store to buy more jeans because they refuse to stop growing. (I know, buckle in, I’m talking about the kids. Madness!) While their shirts are a mix of thrift store and not-thrift-store their jeans are almost 100% thrifted because they’re JEANS. I know how to tell a good pair of distressed flares from the straight leg light denim that has been on the rack since 1993. I’ve made it a point to keep up with kid style enough that my kids aren’t going to school in things that will make them look like idiots.
It’s almost like I spent my childhood getting made fun of for my bad fashion choices (among several thousand other things) and am making sure my children don’t fall into that trap. Of course, if I had an income that allowed me to shop at Justice it’s not like I would be happy because have you SEEN the things they sell there? I’m not putting my kids in neon unless God comes down from heaven to tell me it’s really okay. Unless it’s a swimsuit. I could be okay with a neon swimsuit. (Mostly because I’d be able to easily pick them out when we go to the beach in summer. Safety first, for sure.)
Tonight was a rare occasion where Mr. Brickie and I took the kids with us. Tomorrow is pajama day for one of the kids’ spirit days and she wanted a new pair and I was like, “If they have it at the thrift store, that’s cool.” She found the most obnoxious black satin with neon (I know, it’s everywhere) leopard spots pajama top and some kind of weird purple polyester harem pants with embroidery that sort of match in that “don’t match on purpose” way. It looked kind of awful apart but when she got it home and tried it on it looked pretty cute. The best part is she found the pants herself. I would like for them to all be experienced thrifters when they grow up because you can get great stuff there.
Back to my expertise. Even though I’ve avoided thrift stores, my eye for fashion (I’m not even kidding. I actually am good at this stuff. I don’t know why.) lets me get through the entire jeans rack in about five minutes. I’ll buy every pair of jeans that meet the three required criteria:
- The right size. One of my girls is a 6x or a 7 depending on the jeans. The other one is a 7 or an 8 depending on the jeans. I will buy everything that’s a 6x/7 or 7 or 7/8 or 8. I do not make the kids try them on because it’s a thrift store and they’re $2 a pair.
- The right style. My kids like bootcut and flare jeans. I don’t slip skinny jeans or straight legs into the pile. They won’t wear them. Only regular denim through indigo are acceptable. No black jeans and no light jeans. I don’t like them. (Your needs may vary, I don’t know if black denim is cool in a different town/state/county I’m just doing what’s right for me. I’m not judging anyone else’s jeans choices.) Embellishments are okay if they are hearts or peace signs. Flowers need to be double-checked with the kids because they have a really complicated system for deciding if flowers are cool or awful. I haven’t cracked it and by the time I do I’m sure all flowers will be horribly uncool.
- The right condition. I’m checking waist, button, zipper, knees, and the butt-seam for signs of wear, overuse, or staining. They have to look like they’re in like-new or “meant to look a little distressed” condition.
I will break the rules for a couple things. My 9yo has this THING for camo. She will go around chanting “Army Strong!” whenever she even sees camo. Don’t ask me, because I don’t have an answer for it. I picked up a pair of camo cargo pants for her tonight and she was delighted. I also picked up a pair of black pants that were kind of like cargo pants but a little softer. It was like yoga pants and cargo pants had a baby or something. The kids loved them.
While I am taking the jeans chore seriously the girls go pick out some shirts for me to go through. My 9yo – who really is developing a strong personal style – picked out this t-shirt :
She just thought it was the funniest thing.
I had to agree. Mostly I was impressed she got the joke so fast. It took Mr. Brickie a hot minute and he’s no slouch in the brain department. Maybe it’s a sense of humor thing rather than a “fast thinking” thing. Who knows.
The 4yo is running around like a total jerk because she’s going through a phase (I call it the, “This is why parents use leashes” phase) and we kept making sure she stayed by us but it was exhausting and annoying and we were finally done picking things out and she looked at me and said, “We can’t go. I need three things before we go. It has to be three because I want them.”
I debated selling her but then thought about it and figured the other girls had gotten stuff so why not her? It’s a thrift store, right? Why be overly picky. Also, I was tired and didn’t feel like arguing. So I told her, “You can have two things.” She was okay with that and picked out two really cute tshirts.
Then she said, “Now we need my two pants.”
I looked at her and said, “None pants.” (It’s an inside joke with a friend. Normally I speak to the kids in full sentences that are at least mostly grammatically correct.) She started to quiver her bottom lip and I said, “None pants and none crying or none shirts.” Because the older girls don’t run around wild and they would stay by Mr. Brickie and if she started a meltdown because she didn’t get pants at 4yo you can be sure I would just take her to the car to scream because man, you have to be kidding me. That little girl has about 50 pairs of pants. There was no way I was getting her any more. Plus, the whole, “Wherever we go, you’re getting me something” thing has run its course and I’m over it. It’s one thing to haggle me for shirts, fine, I can accept that and even be proud she started with three to get happily to two. But pants you don’t need? Oh no. Not even at the thrift store.
She reconsidered her quivering lip and flipped right back into being fine and asking to take her shirts to the cashier. I was not surprised.
We managed to get out spending $35. At the thrift store. There were about 8 pairs of pants/jeans, 8 t-shirts, and pajama bottoms and a top. So even though I don’t like dropping more than $20 at a second-hand store, when the per-piece average comes out to $2.50 I can’t complain. Especially since everything was in great condition.
It’s all in the washing machine now so we can get the smell off. I really can’t stand thrift store smell. Even nice vintage shops have it. I don’t know what it is. I could sit in an attic full of books for the rest of my life inhaling that scent but clothing? Gross.
The last step is to let them try everything on tomorrow after school so they can divide up the pants by who they fit better. The pants that fit both of them they just know to share. The shirts are communal property except for a few that are “special” to each kid. I’m all about everyone sharing but I also think it’s important to let each kid have things that they don’t have to share because, well, I don’t know exactly but I feel like it’s the right thing to do for them to be adults that can both give and not give when appropriate.
Sometimes I think it’s weird that I love hand-me downs from friends but I hate second-hand shops. Maybe when I know where the clothing came from it’s less weird or maybe it’s just the general fluorescent-lights and dusty-shelves malaise of the thrift shop that make me sad and anxious. If I didn’t keep finding such cute stuff at these places I would happily leave them behind, but I’m just too frugal and would rather be skeeved out for a half hour and get great deals on awesome clothes than spend 10x as much for the same shirt at the mall.
Thank goodness my kids “get” that vintage is cool. Thank goodness they aren’t old enough or their school doesn’t care enough for them to get made fun of for wearing second-hand clothing. Or maybe just thank-goodness I know how to pick things that are cute and good quality and don’t get them things from the thrift-store that LOOK like they came from a thrift-store. Whatever it is, let me tell you, I am thankful all day long even if it rains.
I’ll also keep doing it as long as we find cute stuff no matter how much money we make. I might hate it but it’s just too practical to say no to.
A couple days ago I got almost a full set of dishes at a different thrift store with a friend for less than ten dollars. That includes the four cup teapot that we actually need because my kids are super-into tea right now. (Lipton with a splash of milk because you know I wish I was British.) Tonight at dinner my daughter looked up from her teacup and said,
“You know mommy…I think tea is really my jam right now.”
“Honey,” I said,”Tea is a lifelong jam. It never has to go away.”
She smiled, sighed, and said, “Oh good. I want it to be one of my forever jams.”
Whatever you say, sweetheart.