Book Review: White elephants : on yard sales, relationships, and finding what was missing by Katie Haegele
This is my kind of book. Katie Haegele shares her finds over a period of three years worth of rummage sales, thrift stores, and yard sales. For anyone who feels like they could spend an entire day at Thrift Town or in the Goodwill Bins– this is the book for you, too. Haegele and I may have different thrift tastes (I lean toward clothes and she leans toward furniture and home decor and nicknacks), and we may live in different second-hand price zones (I live in San Francisco where yard sales don’t exist and thrift store pants cost $9, and she lives in Philedelphia where you can get stuff for 25 cents), but, um, let’s just say that I found it really satisfying to read about her finds.
But don’t be thinking that this book is just the print version of a haul video. The story of it all is prefaced by the sad death of her father, and thrifting/rummaging/yard sale-ing is one of the ways that she and her mom and her sister get closer to each other in the aftermath. You also get interesting insights about the sales, the people who go to them, and more. It’s totally good!
1. They’re a cheap way to acquire high-quality clothing “basics” that would otherwise be out of my budget (Hey there Genetic Denim pants that I got “like new” for $8.99 and 7 peacoat that I got for $4.99)
2. “Retail Therapy” is a great way to kill my boredom (especially in the winter when sitting in the park with a book is less than a picnic)
3. They’re often a fantastic place to discover weird old clothing pieces in bright colors and cuts that are now hard to find– it’s both a treasure hunt and a great way to find new styles and concepts to obsess over!
4. Thrifting is an excellent “fuck you” to sweat shop labor and advertising and malls and ridiculous markups on ubiquitous stuff (though I realize that some thrift stores are super corporate and problematic in their own ways, too. In parallel, I also realize that wanting the stuff from these industries (see #1) is also laden with its own set of baggage and will maybe be discussed later in this blog).
But at some point I realized that I had gotten kind of addicted. I live across the street from a thrift store and I was going there multiple times per week. I’d gotten familiar with the items on the rack, even though there was decent turnover in the store. If I was even in the same neighborhood as one of the “Big 3” (named above), I felt myself pulled toward them– not because I needed anything, but because I felt obligated to check to see if there was a deal that I might be missing. Hours that could have been spent reading or writing or being artistic were spent sliding hangers along racks in search of something, anything. I found myself buying clothes that sure, I liked well enough– but the purchase was more about getting a “deal” on some expensive brand or rare thing- than it was about buying something awesome that was going to broaden my style or be the missing link to some style concept that I’d been curating.
Granted, I’d recently been promoted to a higher paying job at work (when this whole “problem” started). Previously I’d had to budget really, really tightly; the raise meant that dropping $10 at a thrift store a few times a week had very little impact on my bank account. In fact, it wasn’t even noticeable. I guess some newly-promoted people buy cars and electronics. I thrift and buy dental insurance. The obsession started with simply needing more professional clothes. But once I got enough of them, everything that you just read about began to happen.
So I decided to take a one-month break from thrifting. The imposed moratorium ended today. Did it work?
One of the reasons why it was so effective was because school started shortly after the ban began– I had stuff to do. LOTS of stuff to do. I also started really thinking about the amount of stuff that I have (both furnishing my house and hung and folded up in my dresser and closet) and got kind of overwhelmed. But you’ll notice that I wrote “mostly” instead of “yes” above. See, I still occasionally went to thrift stores (though I did avoid the one that is my main trigger). And I did buy one item: a pair of dark blue made in usa skinny jeans that were half-off for around $4. And when I got them home, they were a little too big. Perfectly decent, but not dream pants. They’ll make decent shorts.
Flash back into the present, and I still don’t think I need any more clothes for a while. My pants drawer will barely close and outerwear is doubled up on hangers in the coat closet. The large milk crate that holds my shirts is stuffed so full that everything inside is wrinkled. I think I’ll take another month off thrifting. I’ll try to write about some alternatives on this blog, get myself more excited.
Because you see, I’m still addicted. Between writing these paragraphs, I was watching Thrift Haul videos on Youtube. And practically salivating.