Thrifting for a Day

One never knows what the day will bring when setting out in search of treasure. Many people look at fishing as a similar venture. My father was an extraordinary fisherman. People who went at it with less seriousness saw him as lucky, but I knew better. He had put in the time and effort to take luck out of the equation. When he was young he kept meticulous notebooks recording places time, weather, water quality, bait/lures and other things, and for the rest of his life he did mental editing. He knew when, where, with which tools and under what conditions the fish would bite. Like the younger brother who was described in “A River Runs Through It” my father on the other end of a fishing rod was an artist. He got there with practice, attention and perseverance.

In thrifting it’s the careful attention and plodding perseverance that are most useful. I’d like to think my good results can somehow be attributed to skill, and it is important to know your stuff, but a lot of it is just putting in the time. Some stores will have habits and knowing them is useful. But, they don’t always stick to their own habits, and they are dependent on sometimes unpredictable things, so going back again and again is the only way. It also works in their interest to make sure you have to set foot in the door, to be in impulse purchase mode, to find out if they have the thing you really want. We who love to thrift are particularly susceptible to impulse purchases. That’s how some of us become hoarders, and how others of us end up donating our purchases back to the place where we bought them to be resold again.

Wednesday, I made a big loop. It was about 15 stores, a tank of gas, a whole day and two meals out. So, maybe $300.00, nine hours and 100 or so miles were what it took to bring in my treasures of the day.

Here are some highlights.

Handmade Oak Craftsman floor lamp, needed a harp and a finial. Retails at $435 The harp and final requires a trip to a lamp store for a sturdy harp and a finial worthy of its lamp. That was an extra 2 hours and $20.00 cost added to acquisition. I gave the lamp to Russ for his Valentine’s present.

9 shortbread molds, sometimes I’ll go months without finding any of these at a price I’m willing to pay. These had sold prices on Ebay from $9-200. The more expensive ones had papers, and I’ve been throwing out my papers because I plan to use these in a bakery offering on Etsy. The larger one is still in the dishwasher. $120

A stainless steel double boiler style steamer for personal use. $15

A large heavy duty restaurant sifter well made $10

A Paula Deen ceramic tube pan retails for $40.

A handmade lazy Susan that the maker still sells for $70 needed a bit of steel wool and some new oil, or $5 more dollars and 30 min.

An assortment of vintage goodies that I will sell in my Etsy store or one of my booths. $150.00

So, I had a very good day. I built my household, my Etsy business and my local business, The gain was around $500, but there’s always a but. Only around $150 is in salable merchandise and there will be percentages as well as overhead (like booth rent) taken from that. Most of today’s finds will go toward the “How much of our household can we replace through thrifting” part of the equation. We got a really nice floor lamp that retails for about 4 times what we would have paid if we were buying a new household item and it was the showcase item of the day. I’m very happy with it and Russ is too. However, it is important to note that a large part of my gain comes from attributing retail value to that lamp, rather than valuing it at what I could ask for it if I were to sell it second hand. Much of my gain for the day is in having something nicer in my home than I could otherwise afford to buy.

Another big part of my success lies in the fact that I had several goals. That allows me to find more things that fit. If you’re looking for 20 different kinds of things it is more likely that you’ll find one of them when you go out.

Photos of some things will follow, but it’s time to publish, my technology is not playing nice today and I have appointments to keep.

Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.

Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

Gift Giving, The Lesson of the Aprons

By Karen

I write this as we move into what is, for many of us, the biggest gift giving season of the year. Some of us are approaching the season in “business as usual” mode, some are looking at gifts and consumption in a new minimalist light, while still others are economizing based on need to do so. But, all of us want the gifts that we give to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Everything I’ve done lately is marked by sentimentality and a sense of family. I’ve done a lot of looking back as Russ and I have been working to open our Six Degrees Store on Etsy. We’ve entirely rearranged the house, turning one bedroom into a studio, moving many things to the attic and making all of our spaces more artisan friendly. One thing I came across while turning my home upside down was a stack of my great grandmother’s aprons. We called her Grandma Pill. She wore an apron every day, all day. It was part of her uniform and she wasn’t dressed until she had it on.

When I was a child, I taught myself to sew making clothes for my dolls. One day my grandmother, we called her Mimi, got out the pattern to make her some new aprons for Grandma Pill. I decided that it was time to graduate to making gifts and I asked if I could sew Grandma Pill’s new aprons. Mimi granted my request, handed me the pattern and showed me some available fabric to choose from. The pattern was made of newspaper. It had evolved over time as Grandma Pill tweaked it now and then and it had been traced time and again as each new original became worn. It was plain, with just a little shape and one or two pockets.

I wanted my gift to be special. I pulled out some of the fancy patterns that I had my eye on out from underneath the large oak buffet and suggested that I might make one of them. Mimi said “Well, you can make one of those if you want to, but if you’re making an apron for mother, you need to use this pattern because this is what she wants.” I was disappointed. I was still in Barbie doll land and Barbie is a fashion doll. Plain was not really what a little girl who was hoping to make something special really wanted to think about, but Mimi had a very certain tone in her voice and I wanted to make the apron, so I did what she told me to. I made a plain, ordinary everyday apron, at least I conformed to one as plain and ordinary as I could force my child’s yearning heart to handle, and it was exactly what Grandma Pill wanted. She was delighted. I didn’t learn any significant new sewing skills that day when I moved beyond doll clothes, but I did learn a lot about gift giving.

Etsy@Six Degrees

We recently opened our Etsy.com store and it’s been a long time coming. Opening the “store” seemed a perfect idea. I’ve been collecting fine craft and sewing supplies for many years, but I had stopped using them a few years back. My empty nester house was filled like a craft store, closets and shelves overflowing. It seemed a perfect fit in our recent stint of unemployment. We had extra time and extra stuff and arts in crafts are in my blood, a family tradition. As long as we used only personal supplies that we already had, the risk would be time alone. We could make lemonade from our lemons. I guess we are not the only people to decide that crafting might be the solution. This week there was an audio spoof on The Onion, “80% of the Nation now selling handmade jewelry“. Though there is currently no jewelry in our collection, there’s nothing quite like seeing yourself parodied just as you are getting into something you’ve been working on pretty hard for a while, but in today’s age everything is spoofed and you’d better be able to see the humor, so I write this for others who may be considering doing something similar.

There were several challenges in opening our new store, large and small, and the jury is still out on our attempt to make lemonade. Here’s are some examples of small: A serger is the machine that makes the overlock stitch you see on store bought clothes (especially stretchy ones). A serger comes with these nice bent tweezers that are very useful. They look like a dentists tool and they help you to thread the needles because fingers don’t fit very well between the knives that trim the fabric and the needles that pierce it. The problem is that these handy tweezers are useful for everything under the sun and actually keeping them in the serger tool door where they belong is a challenge that I am not always up to. I should have several pairs and keep them placed at strategic places around the house. Oh, and there’s the baby doll crib I’m working on. I need to use ribbon. I have a box with literally hundreds of spools of ribbon, but do I have the right color? The idea that there would be no risk but time, well that sounded good in theory.

And the example of large? Well, that same Babylock serger that I bought when sergers were new to the home market was an experiment. It wasn’t just a threading problem, it stopped working altogether, just when I had a lot of Halloween stock underway and not much time to complete it. So here I am, in a rush and the sewing machine repair man is telling me that they didn’t know how to cast the metal when my machine was made. They used pot metal and if the machine sits for long periods of time it often ceases to function. I’m thinking “They knew how to cast engine blocks long before that, the knowledge wasn’t transferable?” Regardless of why they did it badly, they did, and I am the beneficiary of that unfortunate fact. The cost of the replacement part and service to install it was close to the cost of a new machine, so they stopped making the part. I had taken my Babylock to a non Babylock dealer and I did that for a very specific reason. I had come out on the wrong end of a repair in the past and didn’t want to support the dealer who had made me pay for their mistake. Still, this was information that needed confirmation. I swallowed, went to the local Babylock dealer and asked. The representative said “Sounds right” before moving into sales mode. The machine that would give the best value/cost trade off if my business takes off is a third higher than what I originally paid. I’m thinking of the no lose, no financial cost, only time investment decision that I made when I decided to start, and that was several unexpected costs ago. The decision to buy some type of serger seems pretty clear, at the same time, it doesn’t. When I get ready to buy, I remember that the machine I want comes from a dealer that I don’t want. The Etsy store has not progressed to the point where we know that we will make it a business rather than a hobby. I need the serger for most of the things I want to sew, but the decision to buy gets stuck in my throat. Now I’m looking at Christmas, I’m even looking at it late and still I can’t follow through to make the purchase. It’s more than the risk of spending a large sum of money when you started off with a no risk game plan. It’s deciding to give that money to a business that didn’t treat you well last time you gave them a couple of thousand dollars.

There is the up side though. We really are having a blast imagineering. Creative pursuits are by far the most energizing (and agonizing). We are having fun collaborating, asking each other for second opinions. We get so excited when we make a sale. We’ll be beside ourselves if we ever make a profit and turn it into a going business. You’d think that we were 5 years old and really had made lemonade, selling it on the corner. And, we watch a lot. We are in a fledgling stage and trying to decide which of our talents to pursue. Kids in a candy store. We watch the Etsy Store page to see what people are looking at and try to decide which projects to prioritize. There is a whole community to the Etsy.com organization. People put together collections and interact in various ways. It’s an adventure and a journey and all those things that dreams are made up of. One of the reasons the idea has such appeal is the real dream. If it were to really take off it would be wonderful to build it into the idea that I wrote about in this story.

We invite you to join us! Tell us what you like. Tell us what you’d like to see.

SixDegrees