I am reminded of why I have so much stuff. 

Today I went with my mother-in-law to the segundas (second hand stores) in La Paz (the city nearest to where we live and the city where Emilio was born.) The segundas are filled with junk from American thrift stores that didn’t get sold. They are mostly filled with dirty, discarded stuffed animals and mass produced styleless furniture. Often the prices are too high and there’s nothing worth buying. But there are some magic days when the shopping fever happens. This was one of those days. The photo above depicts the items I bought today, minus a vintage industrial chair of plywood and metal, and two large bolts of jersey fabric (gray and white stripe, and faded midnight blue). (The chair will become my dining table chair, and the fabric will be used for tops and dresses that I will make for my upcoming  clothing line: seis doce.)

The shopping fever can happen at a retail store. But it’s that much more exhilarating when it happens while thrifting. Searching for treasure is a real sport. It takes the ability to both hunt and gather at the same time. It’s both a left brain and a right brain activity. The left brain works in a linear, focused way, analyzing details, such as a label to date the piece in question. The right brain works in a holistic way, sussing out the entire store, allowing the treasures to stand out and announce themselves. And then comes asking for the price, considering the purchase, and then finally, the big bargain. I am not quite in my element enough to do a hard bargain here yet. But when I lived in China, I was at a professional level. It was the most fun way to practice my Chinese. After the initial back and forth--my counteroffer was usually at least half of what was first asked--I would add a special dramatic flair. I suddenly claimed I didn’t want the item in question and would walk off, entering other shops, and only returning if the shop lady ran after me. And she always did. But here, in Baja, the shop owners don’t seem to care as much as if they sell their wares. The bargaining is casual, offhanded. I don’t have the style down. But Lucas, who is a thrift store maven, (his skill is so acute he can sense where the thrift stores are in a town he has never before been to) has a few techniques that skip the haggle all together. When he has an item that he knows has value, he waits for the segunda clerk to be busy with other customers, especially ones that are already haggling over every peso. Then he holds up his object, and asks casually “cuanto cuesta?.” The clerk is so busy and annoyed with his customer, s/he doesn’t have time or energy to really study the object and give it a price that matches its value. The price s/he gives is lower than it should be, because his/her price reflects the lowest common denominator of an item from that particular category. Another one of Lucas’ techniques is after he has picked out a few items he’s interested in buying, he adds a few extra items he doesn’t really want, and asks for the price for the whole collection. After he gets the overall price, he states that he doesn't have enough money, and asks for the cost of each item, and then piece by piece, takes away the items he didn’t want and gets the other items based on the lowered overall price.

If these techniques make us sound thrifty, it’s because we are. We live mostly hand to mouth, so buying thrift store treasures is a little burst of pleasure we can only sometimes afford to have. I have always loved shopping, and when I lived in New York, the call to shopping came to me more often than was wholesome. I even developed a habit I call shopping bulimia, where I would buy clothes just for the thrill of it, but then return them later. When we were camping on our land, we didn’t buy much, so shopping became looking for rocks and shells and bones. We created quite a collection which I placed in a circle around the circle of trees. And now, I really enjoy living a life where shopping is an occasional treat--it’s both an occasion and a treat. I like having long periods of not buying anything except for the basics and food, and then the taste of a little splurge is that much sweeter. Also, a splurge at a second hand store is not harmful, wasteful, or costly, so it feels that much better. I love thinking that the object had a previous owner, or several previous owners. The item is being passed around for future use. It’s a useful reminder that all things and beings in this world are impermanent. An object has its time with you, and then it has its time with someone else.

There is nothing/no one that reminds me of the impermanence of things more than Emilio. He has his boisterous way with his toys--his friends hide their best toy before he comes over, fearing he might destroy it. If a toy can be smashed or dismantled, it will be. I used to be attached to Emilio keeping his toys in pristine condition, especially because most of his toys are the beloved toys of our childhoods (Fisher Price toys made of plastic, wood, and metal from the 1970’s found at Segundas in Mexico) I hope that this idea of impermanence will lead to me getting rid of more of my stuff.  In fact, I think bringing new things into the house should necessitate my getting rid of some things. This will be my resolution for the week: to get rid of at least nine things.

Zoë DearbornComment