by Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano, LuxEco Living Editorial Assistant
Joyful and triumphant. That’s what you can be during the holidays — instead of broke, exhausted and homicidal, when you incorporate thrift gifting — Resplendent Repurposing — into your holiday shopping strategy. It just may turn your December holiday as green as St. Patrick’s Day.
I have to admit that I sort of get off on the mad rush of the ChristmaHanaKwanzaaka season, the gauntlet run through shoppers doing the zombie shuffle, the newspaper stuffed with ads, the decorations, the commercials, the cookies. But some of us would sooner have a root canal than hit the mall.
If visions of Serroquel dance in your head when you contemplate the holiday season, this article’s for you. Let me introduce you to a greener approach that saves time, money, stress — and the Earth.
First, get used to the idea of year-round giftspotting. When you see something that would be perfect for Uncle Pete, you jump on it — preferably, when that item is on clearance. Then you stash it away for the next gift-giving obli-casion. (I keep my stash in a plastic tub designated as The Gift Bin. How many times have you carefully stashed something, only to forget where the stash is?) When the time comes, you simply retrieve it, wrap it, give it. Done! No driving around the mall wasting gas, jousting for the last parking space in outer Siberia, only to wait another half-hour while an SUV mom straps the ADD toddler triplets into their car seats. No more waiting in long, long lines or trying to push your way through crowds thick as molasses wishing you had a cattle prod. No settling for an “okay” gift as you collapse in a heap, rubbing your feet and cursing like Comedy Central after midnight. Perhaps best of all, no January regret as you contemplate that bloated Visa bill, crying over your morning cup of Joe, Irished up with a little Jack Daniels as you begin that downhill slide into alcoholism.
I’ll give you an example of how year-’round thrift gifting helped me save money and maintain my fragile grip on sanity. I have a friend who is anti-materialist and thus, very hard to buy for. She was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta. At the Pasadena City College Flea Market one April, I spotted a cool little vintage cowboy-hat ceramic ashtray emblazoned with: “Souvenir of Medicine Hat, Alberta.” (Now, what are the odds?) for $5.00. I stashed it away for her November birthday. She was so pleased that I’d found her something personal that couldn’t have been found at any mall.
Frequent thrift store trolling can net you exciting finds like that. At Goodwill in Van Nuys one day, I found a number of intriguing wooden items that I suspect were estate-sale leftovers. Among these was a music box with a movement by the renowned Swiss company Thorens (who now makes high-end audio components). It had a glass front covering a beautiful, intricately detailed tableau which included rifle-carrying soldiers (!) and the Star of David. It became a Hanukkah gift for a couple we know who collect Judaikitsch — only this wasn’t kitsch. The couple did some research and later told me that the graphic on the music box was actually a commemoration of the founding of the State of Israel, and the song it played, the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. (At press time, there was one on eBay for $75.00.) My price: $5.99.
A different Hanukkah, a different music box. This one does qualify as kitsch: A little piano, on which were draped four smiling cats wearing yarmulkes. The tune was Hava Nagilah. I found it at an Out of The Closet Thrift store in Tarzana. I bought it (for $4.99) before I ever knew this couple, then realized it was perfect for them.
Did I mention they also had four cats?
On my last trip to one of my favorite Goodwills, I found a set of tin folk-art soldiers (total price: $4.00) — a perfect gift for…well, for now, I’m keeping them. Not only were they given a second life, having been donated and thus kept out of a landfill, they were also made from recycled batteries! Another recent trip there netted a cool bag made of recycled juice boxes by Half The Sky Designs, a group of women in the Philippines, and sold by Re-bagz. How do I know? The tag — still attached — said so. Rebagz is a company that pairs “smart style with sustainability.” Not only that — Rebagz makes sure that all of its products are made under fair-labor conditions. From the Rebagz site, I found out that this very bag was featured on Ugly Betty — and that it’s original price was $90.00. My price: $5.99. So: Two great-looking gifts, loaded with style, recycled in a thrift store (and priced as such) made from recycled materials. That’s a LuxEco Resplendent Repurposing thrift gift triple header!
But it’s not just tchotchkes or accessories out there. Some of my useful finds include: A Brookstone shower radio, originally priced at $99.00, $1.00 to me. A red Cuisinart bagel-slice toaster (that matched my red Cuisinart coffeemaker!), original price $60-80.00, $8.00 to me. On any given day you can find clock radios, DVD players, audio components, bread machines, blenders, bathroom scales, microwave ovens, refrigerators, big-screen TVs, coffeemakers, electric can openers, food processors, electronic kids’ toys and more. Reputable thrift stores such as Goodwill and National Council of Jewish Women Thrift test these items before they put them out, and let you return them (with receipt) should they not work when you get them home. (Not all thrift stores have this policy. It’s best to ask before you buy).
Yeah, I know. Sometimes your relationship depends on buying the latest blinking black box or overpriced Paris Hilton pooch purse. Resplendent Repurposing thrift gifting for the holidays can depend on how playful or open-minded the recipients may be. A dedicated fashionista with Vogue ideas probably won’t be pleased with something quirky. But keep in mind that even at Goodwill thrift stores I’ve found brand-new designer clothing with the tags still on.
This Xmas, I’m gifting one of my nieces a pair of practically new Kitson sneakers in her size that I know she can’t afford on a college kid’s income (Kitson’s shoes run around $100). I suspect she’ll love them. (How? One of the ways I bonded with my teenage nieces was by taking them thrift shopping. I got to know them and got a sense of their personal style. But more on that another time.) Even though I’m hurting for cash right now, I could still afford them at Out of the Closet on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. They cost me $6.99.
So this gift-buying orgy season, try to remember that there’s much more than just the stupid, boring mall out there. There are thrift stores (Second Life Centers, remember?), swap meets, yard and estate sales, church rummage sales (these are often amazing, by the way), and even events where an entire town turns out to raise money for something. The town of Foresthill in Northern California, for instance, holds an annual town-wide garage sale to raise money for their volunteer fire department (where I snagged a thick, luxurious bathrobe for just $5.00). You can find events like these listed in the newspaper, the PennySaver, online and on your local telephone poles. Keep an eye out and an open mind. I hate to quote old Apple ads, but Think Differently. Eco-Santa and his Little Green Elves will thank you. (So will Eco-nukkah Harry and The Great Kwanzaa Recycler.)