Thrift scores

Sometimes, I go to the thrift store, and there’s nothing there that’s on my list, and nothing that’s all that interesting to me.  In those cases, I usually don’t walk out with anything anymore, since I’m trying to simplify things around here.

But then sometimes, I stop by, and when I walk in and it’s like the stars have aligned and the heavens have opened and the most awesome stuff is right there and waiting (sadly, no auras or halos of light though).  And then, after a good browse, I walk out with one of these, because I was looking for a new knife:

And one of these for kombucha:

And one of these for tomatoes, which I have been wanting for quite awhile now:

Grand total?  $15.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good month for thrift things (more on that in my Independence Days update).  Once September and the start of school roll around my time’s going to be a good deal more limited, so I’m doing a bit of second-hand shopping now to pick up the things that I need and want.  I’ve wanted a few things to build up my work wardrobe, and managed to get some nice jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, and boots for only a few dollars each.  I’ve added a few bits and pieces to the kitchen as well, and found a few books that I’ve had my eye out for. It’s taken a bit of time, and a bit of money of course, but overall I’m pleased with my purchases, and looking forward to making room and clearing out the non-essentials to make way for these useful things.


Back-to-school thrifting

Today is a holiday in Canada, but the local thrift store was having a sale – 50 percent off on all items with certain colour tags.  It’s fairly rare that I head to the thrift stores now, but I headed out with my eye on picking up some new clothing for school and replacing some of the meh stuff I have kicking around.  I love thrift stores, and will sing their praises to pretty much anyone who will listen.  I do have some issues with the culture of consumption that allows thrift stores to flourish, but so long as they do, I’ll keep buying used.  For me, it feels much more frugal and environmentally responsible than any other shopping option.

That said, regular thrift store visits have gotten me into a bit of trouble.  These routine trips have enabled me to fill the apartment, which has necessitated this weekend’s purge.  Much of what I own was bought for pennies on the dollar – it would have cost a fortune to buy new, and a lot of the older stuff is better quality and more durable than newer goods.

One of my biggest problem areas (and one I’ll be tackling today) is clothing.  For a long while, my tendency was to buy what was cheap, so long as it fit okay-ish.  This was a bad idea.  It’s really, really easy to justify clothes that don’t fit so well when they’re a few dollars (or less).   This meant that I wound up with a bunch stuff that, while not unwearable, doesn’t fit or look all that great.  (In the interest of full disclosure, the height of “oops” for me is probably a pair of pink pants – the fact that they were only a dollar still doesn’t make this purchase anywhere close to okay.)

I’m trying to overcome this mindset and buy only what fits really well.  I haven’t bought any clothing at all this summer beyond a sweatshirt that I wear a lot.  But now, I’m on a bit of a mission now to replace some of the things that I’ve bought that I don’t really wear and to pick up a few new things for the start of the school year that are teaching-appropriate.  For what it’s worth, I’m aiming for at least a one to two ratio – for every one thing that comes in, at least two have to be donated.  While this does feel a bit wasteful, it seems even more wasteful to me to leave a bunch of stuff sitting in my closets and drawers that just isn’t being worn because I didn’t shop like a reasonable person.

Heading to the store, I knew what I wanted – my usual teaching style is a t-shirt layered with a sweater – preferably a long-ish cardigan – with a nice pair of jeans, so I focused on those things.  I tried everything on, and considered it carefully.  If I loved it, I could buy it.  If I didn’t – for any reason – it had to stay.  I tried on eight pairs of pants and came home with none.  I tried on 16 different tops, and came home with five – three t-shirts and two cardigans – all of which I love. They were also all half off, so all five items cost me $18.50.

I also seem to have discovered a little shopping tip (that is likely remarkably boring for everyone else).  I can’t usually find t-shirts that fit properly.  I have a long torso, and an average t-shirt tends to bare my stomach, which is really not the look I go for when I teach.  It turns out that the answer might just be maternity t-shirts.  The three t-shirts I bought today came from the maternity section – they’re cut long to accommodate a baby bump, and they seem to stay in place and hold their shape better.

But the really good part of today’s trip was the footwear.  I wasn’t looking that hard, but there, in with the men’s section, was a pair of what seem to be unworn L.L. Bean winter boots.  They weren’t on sale, but I was still happy to pay $17 for a pair of boots that I’d had my eye on for awhile and that should help keep my feet warm this winter.

Beyond that?  Well, I did indulge a little bit.  I bought a sturdy canvas tote bag – I have a few, but use them all the time – for $3.50.  And, for my whimsical bit of silly goofiness for the day, I found a ceramic cup that’s a reproduction of those paper cups that are ubiquitous in diners.  I have no idea why, but I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and it was lovey to satisfy the urge for $0.45.

Although I haven’t really bought clothes in well over a year now, it was nice to go out and consciously and carefully pick up a few things that I needed.  Everything is in good shape and reasonable quality, and it will work well with what I already have.  Plus, I’m looking forward to getting rid of some more things and freeing up additional space for more things that work with my needs and are what I actually want, rather than just what’s cheap.

Veggie powered

For nearly seven years now, I’ve been car-free.  I had a small economy car for two years while I was doing my master’s degree in the big city and commuting a long distance, at night, with very poor public transit options. But technically, the car belonged to my parents.  When I started my PhD in a new city two hours away, they asked for it back.  I was happy to oblige.  While it was fairly low-cost as cars go in terms of gas, maintenance, and insurance (and possibly even pollution, although I’m not completely sure on that), it was still an expense that I didn’t really need or want, and I liked the idea of being without a vehicle.

During the six years of my PhD, I had a bus pass.  It was included with my tuition fees, and was about $50 a semester.  For shorter trips, I walked and biked whenever I could, but by total fluke, I lived right on four bus routes that went to all of the main places that I was usually headed, and so I took the bus quite a lot.  Local public transit isn’t all that convenient due to wonky schedules and no late-night service at all, but it worked well enough for most of what I needed and wanted to do.  As a result, I got used to the bus pretty quickly, and never really looked back.

Then, with the completion of my degree, the bus passes stopped.  I still have to be on campus fairly regularly, and I do a number of other things, and so I once again needed to figure out how to get myself around the city.  I looked more closely at the bus, and found that bus passes are between $60 and $80 a month.  That amount certainly wouldn’t break the bank, but it’s still fairly high considering my income, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of paying for transit regularly.

So I decided I’d try getting to as many places as I needed to go under my own power.  I dusted off my running shoes, tuned up my bike, and started fueling myself for extra exercise – I like to joke now that I’m veggie powered, although I suspect that joke will be getting old very, very soon.

Honestly, it’s been great, and I keep asking myself why I didn’t do this sooner (short answer: the bus was rather convenient for many of the things I did regularly, and I was a bit lazy).  I get a lot more exercise and fresh air.  Walking to campus, for instance, is 45 minutes and biking is 20 to 25.  I listen to music or audio books as I go, which is pleasant.  I see and notice more of my neighbourhood than I ever have before.  I also get a lot more time to think, and have worked through some research and writing challenges while out and about.

It’s not a perfect solution.  Some days are too hot to bike, especially when I have meetings, and sometimes the weather is just too much, like with all the thunderstorms we’ve been having around here recently.  Sometimes I wind up on campus a sweaty gross mess when I underestimate the head and humidity.  Occasionally, people in vehicles simply don’t share the road all that well, or pay enough attention to what’s going on around them.  But by and large, it’s been a great thing to do, and I’d heartily encourage anyone who’s been thinking about making the shift to give it a try.  A bit more exercise, a bit more downtime, a bit more money in the wallet, and a bit less pollution – what’s not to love?


Every week, I go to the local farmers’ market.  Friday morning, bright and early-ish, I ride my bike over and load up with a selection of whatever’s available in a given week (I always come home with tomatoes, though – it’s practically a requirement).

I love my bike – I’ve been riding it for a decade now, and it’s held up well.  This summer, it’s become my main mode of transportation other than my feet.  But given the amount of food I buy for a the week, riding it to the market every week and then trying to haul everything home with me is a bit of a pain (and yes, the fact that I am a somewhat overzealous farmers’ market shopper is a facotr here, too).  Even with carry-bags and a basket strapped to the read, it’s difficult to make the bagels, eggs, tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, berries, apples, and whatever else comes home with me fit.  It’s even more difficult to make it fit without squashing something along the way.

A year ago, I bought one of these off kijiji with dreams of being one of those people who bikes around towing a trailer behind them and basically taking care of many of their needs without anything motorized (yes, I have somewhat odd dreams sometimes).

Since then, it’s been sitting in the front hall closet.  I haven’t used it once, much to my embarrassment, and there were even some cobwebs on it when I took it out, just to drive that point home a bit more.  I’m not really sure why, other than it seemed like a pain to deal with, I was concerned about leaving it unattended while I shopped, and I was a wee bit nervous about riding with it dragging along behind me.

This week, though, I decided it was time to get my act together and use the darn thing (and if I didn’t like it, I was going to get rid of it to clear out quite a few square feet of closet space).  I knew there was a lot I wanted to get at the market, and getting it home using my regular set-up would be impossible, so trying out the trailer seemed like the thing to do.

It was awesome.

I am so kicking myself for not trying it earlier.

It took no time at all to set up this morning, including inflating the completely flat tires.  It handled well, to the point where I barely noticed it was there on the way to the market.  And, as a side benefit, I also noticed that people driving cars gave me a huge berth compared to what I normally get while riding (likely because they thought I had a child with me).  When I got there, I locked up, shopped, loaded up, went back for a second round, and then hauled it home quickly and easily with no problems at all.

I feel like I’ve stumbled on the most awesome gadget ever.  I don’t have a car – and don’t particularly want one – and now it feels like I’m much more capable of picking up things that we need – big bags of onion, potatoes, and flour, for instance – and getting them home more easily than ever before (as someone who once carried home two 20 pound bags of rice at the same time after a good sale, this a very big deal indeed).  Plus, I get exercise, no additional cost, and no emissions when I ride, so what’s not to love?