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Monday, February 21, 2005

The Pains and Joys of Thrifting

Note: Amy our bear is not part of today's purchases.

Staying in North America has made me a thrift shopper. Names like Out of the Closet (Bay Area, Calif.), Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village (Canada) and those of smaller stores like Wee Cycled and Previously Loved (Toronto) will always stir up in me some interest, curiosity and the anticipation of picking up a great item at an almost indecently low price. There's currently no such culture of thrifting in my home country Singapore, though the Salvation Army stores have been around for many years. Internet thrifting on e-bay and craigslist have found their way there, but are still very much in their infancy, and have yet to build up a substantial base of buyers and sellers to make it an exciting and worthwhile investment of time and hope. I remember vaguely a few second-hand (or as we also call it back home, "karang guni"--meaning "knick knacks") stores which had but a transient existence.

I love thrift stores for more than just their low prices (even though I think my husband should be properly thankful that I do like them). The dresses I like can hardly be found anywhere else with such quality (e.g. good home-made or vintage designer) and in such great variety. Don't let me give you the idea, though, that I am an incorrigible, inveterate shopper. I visit these stores but several times a year, and today was one of them: with 50% off prices that typically range from $1.99 to $7.99 at Value Village (about 20 minutes walk from our place) just for today, this was an opportunity not to be missed. This was the real sale one waits for, not like the Sears type which advertises a "this weekend only" sale just about every other weekend.

As expected, we walked past several satisfied-looking shoppers carrying their big and bulging Value Village plastic bags on our way there. When we arrived at about 11.15am, the whole store was thronging with people pushing carts filled at least to half capacity, waiting in long lines at the checkout counter, and browsing though aisles of clothes, toys, books, homeware, furniture and more with the meticulousness and singlemindedness of archaelogists digging for treasure. We joined in. I knew what I was looking for: large dresses to accommodate my growing baby and small dresses for our little one on the way. Before long, I had gathered a heap of possibilities to be further selected by the process of elimination. Not long after, my husband came up to me showing off his find of six lovely Made-in-England stoneware dessert plates which fit perfectly into a round tin with quaint prints on it--just the thing we could have used only two to three days ago when we invited some friends over for meals. Still rather pleased with his find, and it being obvious that I was far from finished with my treasure-hunting, Loy left me again to browse in other departments.

The next time he appeared, I had even more clothes hanging from my left arm, and this time his face betrayed some of the pains of a husband being made to stay too long in a crowded store. Undaunted, and giving him a sympathetic smile, I unloaded some of shortlisted clothes onto him. I had also hoped that that would make him feel a little more useful. Maybe that would give him the impression that there really wasn't much time wasted; he was performing an important and obviously much-valued service. The optimistic fantasies that a female mind in a store is sometimes capable of...

Another half an hour must have passed before I finally sat him down and made my final decisions as to what I would buy. Loy was visibly relieved when that decision-making process was over and the heap reduced by half. Next on my list was baby clothes, and off we went to the children's department. There, Loy seemed happier, or less grumpy, and patiently helped me pick out several of the cutest, sweetest-looking dresses, rompers, blouses and sleepers. We even found a Winnie-the-Pooh cot lining for only $4.99 (and that's before the 50% discount). After quickly making sure that I had not missed out any excellent buy, I was quite ready to ease Loy of the burden he was carrying and make our way to the cashier. Due to the long lines, though, it would be another half an hour before we would be able to leave the store.

While Loy was still very patiently waiting in line, I took the opportunity to as politely as possible elbow my way through the crowds to the one other department that might be worth looking at--books, specifically, cookbooks. The effort was not wasted. I found three volumes worthy of our slowly growing collection: The Teddy Bear Cookbook (London, 1986), The Microwave Cookbook (General Electric Co., 1998) for our newly acquired microwave, and the most unique of them all, Two in the Kitchen (Washington, 1974). When I returned with these finds, Loy seemed pleased too for he's also got the cook in him, with a similar penchant for interesting cookbooks. We now amused ourselves as best we could, first by estimating the total damages of this liberal shopping trip, and then with observing the people around us--a motley crowd, to say the least, ranging from young Chinese couples with their babies to elderly women with their neatly folded clothes in their carts, to whites, blacks, Latinos, and Indians either alone, or, more often than not, with friends and family. We also caught sight--with just a little annoyance--of a young boy stomping on a pile of hangers with his parents looking nonchalently on. Maybe they were just grateful that they were already near the front of the line. We noted a newborn baby sleeping soundly in a cart right behind us and struck up a little conversation with his dad.

Our turn at the cashier's finally arrived, and I was expecting a figure in the neighbourhood of $75. Loy--less adept at such estimations, and perhaps as a measure of his goodwill (I'm teasing, but not being sarcastic; he really was most obliging and sweet-natured) this whole time--said he hoped that it would be less than the $200 that he had withdrawn from the ATM earlier that morning. The total amount? A mere $37.59, 15% tax included. Now, that is something of a vindication for the wife responsible for making her husband suffer the pains of a longer than usual* shopping trip when he could have been happily blogging away in the comforts of home. And wait till I present him with the crispy honey drumsticks from the recipe found in one of the cookbooks...

*We reached home at about 1:15pm after stopping by a grocery store owned by Koreans.


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