Gone Man, Solid Gone

There’s this frozen instant in time when almost everything in the house is gone, sucked away. What exists afterward depends on what we were doing where it was happening, and inches apparently matter.

The cast iron pans that Russ was restoring in a lye bath outside were safe and orchids from the back deck survived, but the smoker beside them didn’t because it was too heavy and risky to move before it bent when the house fell. Two sterling silver Revere bowls in an upstairs closet were charred and misshapen. There was no apparent trace of whole categories of possessions, perhaps they were unrecognizable in the rubble. A miniature stained glass church I bought in an after Christmas clearance sale survived, perfectly preserved by a form fitting Styrofoam box that showed no signs of heat damage. It was stored near the part of the house that was apparently the hottest and it was among the least sentimental of those things it was stored with. The fire investigator told me there would be some things that would survive, but they wouldn’t be the things I wanted. He knew.

I have a firm grip on the importance of people and the comparative lack of importance of stuff, so getting through this with grace is at least in my ballpark. But still, I loved my stuff and I feel an affinity with Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” when she finds out she has suddenly gone from unimaginably wealthy to bankrupt. She whines with a pouty face “It’s not the money, it’s the Stuuuuf”. I had good stuff. I’ve been collecting it for a long time, waiting for a good price, getting the stuff that is well made, the stuff that is built to last… under normal conditions that is.

Just before the fire, one of those great truisms showed up on my Facebook feed. It said “You can’t control what happens to you, just how you respond to it.” I hope to take that to heart.

One of the things about our thrifting experiment, sometimes in the second hand places you can find that solid stuff built well and made sturdy, that stuff I admire and respect. Our little experiment will be very time intensive, but given that money and time are both limited resources, it seems that splitting them up and using balanced amounts of each is the most likely way to rebuild well on a budget.

We have decided on rules for our thrifty rebuild. We want to get as much as we can from thrift and estate sales, but there are some things that we want to purchase new.

We have a list of things that we will buy new. We may buy other things new as well. For instance, the mixer I had nor the mixer I wanted was on the second hand prohibited list, but we didn’t find one in the time frame we wanted. Here is our list of things that we will buy new, not second hand.

Mattresses

Upholstered Furniture (unless we think re-upholstering is practical)

Any other difficult-to-clean thing that could have animal dander, mites or bedbugs

Plastic Food Storage Containers (Chemicals can bond and we don’t know how they might have been used)

Plastic or Wood Food Utensils (same)

Undergarments

Shoes

The list is based on cleanliness and the ability to transfer anything harmful. There’s also a bit of the personal ick factor. Undergarments could be cleaned, I just don’t want any second hand. Fungicide can be applied to shoes, I just don’t want to use or trust it. The list may grow or have exceptions, but they will remain based on known ability to transfer harm or what ever we personally find unappealing.

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.

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

Morning Bombs in Marietta and the Economy

When I was in high school, my grandmother took me to Israel for Christmas. It was the experience of a lifetime in so many ways. One way is that it was the first time that I ever heard bombs. We were taking a tour near Gaza and I said, with no idea that I was right, “Hey, what do you think that is, bombs?”. The bombs were in the distance and there was never any danger to us, but I was visiting in a country where safety was never taken for granted, and, on a different level, I was never able to take that for granted again, either. Bombs that I could hear were a a very real risk to somebody out there along the horizon. Later when I lived on a military base, there were bombing ranges and the windows rattled fairly frequently. I do know what real bombs actually sound like. So, when I say that Saturday morning I was awakened by the thought that I heard bombs, the idea wasn’t pulled from thin air, I had experience to lend validity to my interpretation of the noise. I ran downstairs to turn on the television and see if the news had anything to report. The most threatening report I could find was one on the Weather Channel about severe thunderstorms.

In those few minutes while I was satisfying myself that the risk was natural as opposed to man made, I was thinking through my immediate emergency plan. I have had cause to create several such plans over the years. For hurricanes when I lived on the gulf coast the plan was to leave as soon I was confident that the risk was headed my way, preferably before the evacuation order crowds the evacuation routes. I would take an overnight bag and as many sentimental irreplaceables as can reasonably be taken. If there is an unstoppable fire in my house, the plan is to toss as many valuables out the window as I can before there is a risk to my health, with a preference toward the sentimental irreplaceables and to GET OUT before I am personally in danger. If there were bombs going off here in Marietta, sentimental irreplaceables were not on the list. The list was more survivalist. Weapons, tools, money and camping gear. Not everything that would fit in the car, but everything that I could reasonably gather in the 15 or so minutes I would allow myself to pack.

Since 9-11 there are many more civilians in the US who understand what I felt the day I experienced war within earshot, some on a much more personal, life threatening or life changing level than I. Empathy for those people or for people who have never known anything but war sometimes helps us to cope with our own trials. This is where I see the link to the economy because widespread fear related to our economic times is such an example. We may say that we feel shell shocked, but at the end of the day we know that the metaphor we use is, in fact, a reality for some. There have always been stories of people who live with war and have an unstoppable will to thrive as well as stories of people who seem to have everything to live for and no will to live. Today we are much more likely to know that person rather than simply to have heard about them.

Like my emergency plans for natural and political disaster, I have plans for financial disaster. The the natural and political disaster plans have had no big changes or revelations over the years. The plan that was good for a given situation 20 years ago is still pretty good now. For my financial plans there have been fundamental changes. I feel a bit betrayed because the rules we live by have been broken. All my hard work to make responsible financial decisions only means that I don’t qualify for assistance, only for a piece of the tax burden that will remain after all is said and done. We say that financial institutions are too large to be allowed to fail while encouraging them to buy each other, creating still larger institutions. Each party blames the other and seems to think the situation can be understood in the context of a zero sum game. The people who behaved responsibly while others were caught up in the demise of our economy are seeing a retirement that looks markedly different than the one they prepared for responsibly over a lifetime. All of the hyperbole, blame game and partisanship aside, we are truly rewarding bad behaviour and preserving the institutions that foster the pursuit a quick buck at the cost of tomorrow, at the cost of our children’s future.

What is my financial plan now? Well, until I figure that out, hugs help, and I try very hard to remember that if I smile it is harder for people to see the circles underneath my eyes…and I am thankful that the thunder on the horizon was nothing more.