On Thrifting: Wedded to Possibility


We recently attended our annual music festival and I was reminded of the spirit that Mr. Poppycakes and I share in both thrift-store visits and music festivals.  It a sense of being open to discovery. Our festival, the Nelsonville Music Festival, runs concurrent shows on three stages from morning to deep into after midnight for three straight days. You do what you can to read up on the bands, but there will be nothing to really prepare you for what you might miss or what you might stumble upon by just being well, open.  

This year, the discovery of Shovels and Rope was as thrilling as finding Woody Pines last year and leaving smitten with them. But there was too, the indescribably life-affirming, technicolor joy of watching the Flying Clouds of South Carolina play. Nothing could have prepared me for the energy and talent that that band brought to my life and a memory, conga line and all, that is in the slideshow shuffle of images destined for the end-of-life filmstrip. I will smile, a little happier that I lived, because of seeing that show. 

I am often asked for advice about shopping at thrift stores by people who want to thrift or have found "thrifting" to be frustrating, claiming that "I've tried it once or twice and never found anything good."  When I decide to hit the thrift stores I approach it in a couple of ways.

1. I go because I need a basic: jeans, a black sweater, a simple t-shirt, a tank top.  Or even to see if a fun dress or skirt might inspire me to assemble something around it for some event. Or maybe I am beginning the hunt for a wooden ladder (I am) or a bookcase, some piece of furniture or a tool, something specific that I hope to find on the cheap.  

2. I go to feed my eyes some eclectic eye-candy. I don't know what I'll find, if I'll need it or even want to take it home, but I will be happy to have seen the thing.  Recently, I went in with this spirit and dragged myself out the door after finding the following:

I think you might be able to imagine how Mr. Poppycakes would respond to this $395. "French Provencial" couch with salmon velvet upholstery.  

This cabinet opened to a set of drawers, each handpainted with dandelion spores, stars and moons, cats and trees. 

Or this incredibly detailed, gorgeously-embroidered vintage nightgown that I nearly bought to sell on my etsy site: The Zelda Room, but thought to leave some pretty for someone else. Like a good near-hoarder, I filled my camera with images and left the goods for the next shopper.

My favorite thrift store poem is Someone Else Happy by Eliot Khalil Wilson-- the poem itself is not available online but the link will take you to his book which is FILLED with only great poems. 


American Life in Poetry: Column 304


After my mother died, one of the most difficult tasks for my sister and me was to take the clothes she’d made for herself to a thrift shop. In this poem, Frannie Lindsay, a Massachusetts poet, remembers a similar experience. 

The Thrift Shop Dresses 

I slid the white louvers shut so I could stand in your closet
a little while among the throng of flowered dresses
you hadn’t worn in years, and touch the creases
on each of their sleeves that smelled of forgiveness
and even though you would still be alive a few more days
I knew they were ready to let themselves be
packed into liquor store boxes simply
because you had asked that of them,
and dropped at the door of the Salvation Army
without having noticed me
wrapping my arms around so many at once
that one slipped a big padded shoulder off of its hanger
as if to return the embrace.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine.