"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas 2009, Thrift Store Edition

Any woman knows, the biggest item on December's to-do list, most years, is going to be Christmas.

I was supposed to be out of town this year - far, far out of town. 5,000 miles out of town, in a different country. Reluctantly, I admit that one of the main attractions of traveling for Christmas is avoiding the whole gift-giving conundrum. My Mexican relatives don't give Christmas gifts, or they only give small ones for the children. They do celebrate Christmas - in a pretty big way, in fact. For weeks beforehand, there are posadas to attend, neighborhood gatherings, fiestas, dances, and parties of all descriptions. The festivities culminate in midnight mass on Christmas eve, followed by a very late (or very early) fancy dinner.

But they don't do presents, which is a relief. Now, since we are not, in fact, going to Mexico for Christmas (sad face), I have to figure out what the heck I'm going to do for gifts. If I had been more industrious earlier in the year, I would have wonderful preserves to give - jams, jellies, jars of cajeta, perhaps, maybe jerky or dried berries. But I was rather lazy this year and pretty much just chucked everything in the freezer instead of doing much canning. I could scrounge up some nice jam to give a few people, but by and large, my pantry is not the solution to my problem.

So where do I turn when I have many gifts to get and few dollars to do it with? Why, the thrift stores, of course! Actually, my family members will tell you, I turn to the thrift stores all the time. Thrift stores supply my family with fully 80% of their clothing (everything but underwear) and most of our furniture, books, and knick-knacks, too. I know every thrift store in town, and which one to go to for which purposes.

Thrift stores each have their own personality, you know, which could easily be it's own post, if not an entire book, but just quickly:

Value Village used to be great, but lately has been stocking the shelves with the cheapest of chinese goods, apparently in a bid to be the lower-rent Target. Still a good place to go for lightly-used clothes, and great for books, but not cheap, as far as thrift stores go. You won't find the real funky stuff here - don't bother to hit Value Village for vintage, for example.

Goodwill is the mainstay and the old standby of thrift stores. Often they are huge warehouses, and you can pretty much walk into one those big Goodwills with an agenda and fill it - something you can't do in most thrift stores. Prices are decent, but getting higher. Also, Goodwill is a true community organization, providing literacy and job training to people of all stripes for many decades now. Shopping there is a community service.

The Salvation Army and Saint Vincent de Paul are the low-end thrift shops in most towns. The stuff is likely to be harder used, but the prices are rock bottom. Also, and I'm not sure why, these places are where you will find the really old stuff, the stuff that came out of somebody's attic after fifty years, the crazy, funky junk that you just can't believe. If you are a serious collector, these are the thrift stores to hit. And of course, these shops support hardworking charitable organizations. Food banks, missions, and hospitals.

In any town there will be small thrift shops that support local organizations and churches, and these places are often quite wonderful. I'm sorry that the names of the ones I know here in town are not coming to me now (I could give you cross streets). These are places staffed by old blue haired ladies and often have the most terrific and surprising inventories. Prices vary widely.

I hit the salvation army thrift shop looking for Christmas tins. All of the tins in the above photo were had for 25 cents each. I plan to fill them with candy, cookies, and fruitcakes and give them as presents. The kids can help me make the goodies and get into the christmas spirit. I just need to find some recipes for dairy and gluten free goodies. These little vintage cookbooks (below) won't help me with that, but I couldn't pass them up. I love these things.