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MY WAY FOR LIVING GENTLY
By Carol Cooper Bustin
Living meagerly, knowing that it's a choice that, though temporarily necessary, need not last forever, can be an exciting and rewarding challenge. It provides the opportunity to develop empathy, gratitude and creativity.
That's what I originally felt during my student days with two children — sleeping on the kitchen floor, no car quickly available, no washer or dryer or laundromat nearby, and no extra money.
We'd borrow a car from friends 6 blocks away, shop for the month's groceries at the discount store in the suburbs, go to Cobourg, 70 miles away, to my parents' house to use their washer and dryer for 24 hours. Gratefully, I was on a diaper service; disposables were unthinkable at that time. The saving grace was my discovery of rummage sales. I became the queen of second hand. My children were well clothed as was I. At 25 cents per outfit, I could afford the generosity, that the truly poor might not, by buying clothes for other children in the student co-op in which we lived.
So enthusiastic was I that I convinced my parents and my aunt and uncle to join me at the Toronto Symphony Bazaar. We arrived an hour before the doors were to open only to join the ranks of the other die-hards. We had a magical day, armed with a list of sizes and preferences. We had a strategy: one went directly to children's clothing, another to women's and another to men's . We divided in order to conquer. Into our shopping carts we piled all the possibles, then, after an hour, we met to sort, resort, distribute and determine our next plan of attack. For a few dollars, we were able to clothe the entire family.
What fun we had over a family potluck supper in our little student apartment- each person modeling new wardrobes. We were even able to buy a beautifully tailored suit of exquisite material that fit my 90-year-old grandpa who was a former tailor. The lift that "expensive" suit gave him may have kept him going for awhile longer.
What needs to be said is that this was in the early 70s when wearing second hand meant you were poor, not chic, not a conservationist, not sensible nor creative: POOR. Moneywise, I guess we were, but we had other riches.
Garage sales were not an everyday happening then either. People didn't have as much to get rid of as today, and selling your things, rather than donating them to a charity, also meant you were poor.
Through it all, I became hooked on second hand and proud of my finds. I was astonished that I could clothe my family for less than when I had previously sewn our clothes, even less than the cost of thread and patterns, let alone the fabric.
Second-hand shopping proved to be fun even entertaining and provided great opportunities for creativity. To be successful one has to be open-minded and flexible. And it's a bonus to be able to recognize quality and style.
It's long past the time when I needed to shop second hand, but, oh, how much richer I am for continuing.
Once when teaching money management to my grade-six class, I happened to be wearing an attractive, up-to-date sweater, which still bore the original price tag when I purchased it from a thrift shop. It had been priced in a major sporting goods store at $96. Coincidentally, the grade-five teacher was wearing her brand-new, and identical sweater. Of course, the class noticed this as did the two of us.
I asked her where she'd bought hers. Indeed, she'd paid $96 for hers and was mighty jealous when I told her mine had cost but $5. To hit home the point, I gave each student a pretend one hundred dollars to spend as they pleased and asked them to consider the two purchases. When they realized the $91 savings gave them much more buying power, they were convinced.
I shop second hand not just to save money. While traveling, it has given me rare insights into the local populations who donate their goods. In one place, I was able to purchase exquisite East Indian clothes made of richly beaded silks. They may now be destined to become parts of quilts or vests or whatever, but the workmanship in them will continue to be appreciated in its new incarnation. One location may be particularly good as a source of blue jeans, another has specials regularly on furniture, and elsewhere one can buy pocketbooks by the bagful.
In the past few years, swap sheds or recycle depots have been opened to the public as an intermediate step before objects are discarded at waste transfer stations and dumps. One person's trash truly does become another's treasure. The village in which we spend part of the year has such a swap shed. It is not only an economic but also a social institution. At any local gathering, it's not long before people are swapping swap-shed stories.
Not only has second-hand use enabled me to more gently use the Earth's resources, but it has enriched my life. I live more abundantly, am more generous and humble and able to express myself creatively. To all the people who do my first-hand shopping for me, thank you for supporting the economy, and for being so unselfish in your giving.
Carol Cooper Bustin divides her year between the mountains of British Columbia and the eastern lake district of Ontario.
My Way For Living Gently by Carol Cooper Bustin ©2007, All Rights Reserved.
I have recently added many of my lifetime collection of photographs and art works to an on-line shop where you can purchase notecards, posters, and greeting cards, etc. of my best images.