Before I retired this year, my closets were overflowing with business clothes. Living in a four-season climate meant business wear appropriate for a range of outdoor temperatures from -35 degrees C to +35 degrees C, (or roughly -30 to 90 degrees F), and because my office’s heating/cooling didn’t always work well, and because my work involved a lot of driving and visiting sites, clothes for each season were actually needed.
Shortly after my last day of work, I purged the closets. I bagged up the vast majority of my business clothes, keeping a few to wear to nice restaurants, weddings, funerals, and whenever else I might need something that wasn’t denim, khaki, fleece, or a t-shirt. As I was loading them into the car, BD (who was helping) said “Are they going back to where they came from?”
Well, yes. At least for a good number of them. Because even before retirement, I was a thrift-store shopper, and quite a lot of these clothes had come from my favourite thrift store, Value Village. Or from consignment shops, which I also love. Partly because there is something about department stores that makes me physically uncomfortable – whether it’s the lighting, the crowded rows, the cavernous spaces – I’m not sure. But I’ve never liked them, even as a kid. But mostly because I believe strongly in the idea of not buying new, and re-using good things.
I probably am lucky that my Value Village is in a university town; I suspect the quality of clothes I can find may be better than average. I’ve done best with tailored pieces, skirts and jackets and coats. But over the years I’ve found as well the lovely multi-coloured Indian jacket in the picture (I kept it, it goes well with jeans), several summer dresses, and all the shorts I own. Plus my gardening jeans, my favourite sweatshirt, and a collection of heavy shirts I wear in the fall and winter.
From consignment stores have come another lovely, hand-made quilted jacket (which also goes well with jeans, so it stayed too), the absolutely beautiful colour-blocked, lined, wool dress I wore to my father’s funeral this year, my long trench coat, and the dress I can crunch into a ball, shove in a suitcase, and it comes out unwrinkled at the other end even after three weeks of bouncing around in the back of a Land Rover in Uganda. I’ve had that one ten years, had it shortened to knee-length a couple of years back to look a bit more current, and am constantly being complimented on it.
These stores are the first place I go for kitchenware as well. Not that we need much, but my arthritic hands do occasionally drop things, and even with a cork floor in the kitchen not everything bounces. I seem to go through wine glasses the fastest, and half my coffee mugs have had the handles glued back on. The cats occasionally add to the breakages, too; they’ve been known to send glasses, mugs, and side plates flying while playing chase.
As long as the mugs or plates or bowls are in some shade or mix of green, blue and brown they blend with everything else we own, and wine glasses are clear. I’d like to think we could get by with just a couple of everything, washing them every time, but we entertain quite a bit, casual dinners, brunches…so I do need more than a set for BD and a set for me. (I did, however, donate our ‘banquet set’ for twenty to an environmental club at the university that was looking for reusable dinnerware. We’ve given up on formal meals for twenty. Mind you, I’d only paid $100 for the whole thing – dinner plates, side plates, bowls, two sets of glasses, mugs, and cutlery, in the first place, twenty-odd years ago. It wasn’t fine china, but it wasn’t plastic, either.)
Everything we purge that is worth re-using goes to a thrift store, Value Village or Goodwill or the like, unless it meets the needs of a post on our local Freecycle or my flea-market vendor friend wants it. I like the sense of being part of a larger, re-using community; I give what I don’t need away, I buy for a very few dollars the very few things I do need. There are exceptions: footwear, our wind-and-waterproof outdoor hiking clothes, needed locally in the winter and for several of our past trips to very cold places. These are specialized items, though, not everyday needs, and they last a long long time.
September is approaching, and with it colder mornings and evenings….and when I looked at my favourite red sweatshirt last, I realized the neck and cuffs are fraying. I will fix it (I don’t sew well, but I can manage some basic repairs), but it might be getting past wearing out to a movie or a casual meal. My other one was originally given to BD the first Christmas we were going out, by my sister, who didn’t yet know he doesn’t like things that pull over his head. That was in 1978. I’m still wearing it, but only around the house and out hiking. If I really think I need another one, my first stop will be a thrift store. It might take me a visit or two, but I’ll find one that I like, and fits, and another good piece of clothing will be reused.