Sentimental Thrifting: Kicking Shame to the Curb

Thrift store shopping is all the rage. Clothing and household goods get a second life, proceeds from purchases usually benefit a non-profit, and for those who can’t afford new clothes for themselves or their family, they’re a boon.They’re also an excellent place to shop for Halloween.

In the year leading up to my father’s death, most of our purchases came from a thrift store. After Dad died and Mom had three young girls to raise, our clothes and shoes came from the local St. Vincent de Paul. We enjoyed going there and the kind treatment by the woman who volunteered for the store.

We didn’t own a car, and within a few weeks of our dad dying, mom loaded us girls with arms of his clothing, and we walked to the store to donate them. I’ll never forget the pain of that day. When we walked in the door, she asked us how our dad was.  I couldn’t possibly say ‘he died’ so instead I said “he’s fine” and fled to the back of the store as the tears welled up yet again. I turned ten a few months later.

In my early teens, I was more aware of the scarcity around us. That’s when the shame set in. We lived in affluent Millbrae, but on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. Girls would ask if my dress was new and I never knew how to respond. It wasn’t new of course, just new to me. I felt trapped between telling the truth and my personal shame. The last time I shopped at that local thrift, I went in to find a pair of overalls. They were all the rage in the day, so I hoped to find a pair of my own.

When I walked out of the store, a school bus drove by and I imagined everyone on that bus looking at me with judgment. I jumped back into the shop, my heart pounding and waited for the bus to pass.

I was in college before I mustered the courage to enter a thrift store again. I found several treasures for a few dollars, and brought them home to decorate my room. The problem, though, was that smell.  It’s a mix of stale fabrics, moth balls and the collective journey of donated items.  It’s also the smell of loss and shame and grief.

It’s wonderful to have worked through so much of those feelings as I continue a path of healing. I’m able to embrace the thrift store experience once again. Not only is it trendy to recycle fashion, it’s practical, economical and green. Items get a second life.

So, with that in mind, I’ve been haunting local thrift stores in search of the perfect find. Once I get past the smell, those thrift stores no longer haunt me.

No-Candy Countdown:

Throughout October, I’m keeping track of the candy I **don’t** eat.I’m feeling great, losing weight and enjoying the sense of control I’ve gained over my extra-curricular eating.I’m rewarding myself with a happy face stamp. It’s fun and a way to stay self-aware.


Under-the-sea Costume Update:

I had all kinds of fun last Friday, and again over the weekend. I planned out the rest of the details for my costume, draping and pinning as I went along. I ran out of safety pins, so had a few ‘tender’ moments getting the dress on and off. I picked up a bag of pins on Sunday.

under the sea draping collage

Thrift store finds: Purple dress, two sections of fabric and a pair of unique earrings

I cut the smaller of the two pieces of fabric in half, then draped it over the shoulder of the dress to create a short-sleeved top. I’m using the longer length of fabric for a cape. I found a unique pair of earrings for two dollars. I removed the earring and used the rest as faux fasteners for the cape.

Mike’s getting into the spirit of  dressing up this year and he’s having fun. We went back to Savers and bought a pant suit, soon to be converted into his cape. The dark green and swirly pattern are perfect. The thrift store pricing fit the bill too. Don’t worry, it will be manly when I’m done with it, with zero trace of this suit.

under the sea cape material

Thrift store finds: Green and Gold chiffon pantsuit

Pumpkins on Parade:

Will of Marking Our Territory had the following to say about this year’s crop:

Halloween beats out all but two holiday for parties? I’m seriously impressed. (Side note: the 3/4 pumpkin in the lower left corner is my favorite – it’s got character)

Will has wonderful character so he should know.

three quarters pumpkin

3/4 Pumpkin

Please keep sharing your ideas for pumpkin dress up.

32 thoughts on “Sentimental Thrifting: Kicking Shame to the Curb

  1. That was a sobering read – but I rejoice at your overcoming and your healing and your ability to proudly be you and to offer so much love and support to everyone else in the world. Your huge, warm heart was partly honed on those young painful experiences you know!

    I’m with you on the smell – I remember it well from my childhood and still cannot be near it! My forays into second hand shops are punctuated by frequent breaks – stepping outside to breathe the [for me] better option of car fumes!

    The costumes look so amazing – you obviously have an exceptional talent in this particular area of creativity………… as one of those who don’t I am so excited about seeing the finished products. 🙂 xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pauline, your words are always a gift. Thank you for that, today and always. It’s true that we are a product of our experiences. I know that I’m extraordinarily aware of those around me that struggle. I’ve made sure my boys recognize the privilege we do have and that they remain compassionate to all beings.

      I guess that smell is universal. It’s quite distinct as well, as are car fumes. 😉 I like the smell of gasoline from the pump, but not the back end of the fuel burn. But, it’s the escape you’re after. I understand it well.

      I’m having a great time with the costumes and can’t wait to get sewing. I had a client Sunday and today and I have appointments tomorrow all day too. It will be mid-week before I can jump in. Can’t wait.



  2. That was so sad. I could just see you ducking back inside the store. When I was in middle school, my Mom and I got arrested for shoplifting at a grocery store (for eating candy from a bin-long story) and it was right near the school I was about to start attending. I was convinced that people saw me in handcuffs and was worried about it for the whole first year at school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Betsy, thanks for commenting and for sharing your own story. I can’t believe they handcuffed a young teenager for eating candy from a bin…with her mother no less. What a terrible experience for you. Those early years can be such a challenge, emotionally. We sure don’t need that kind of drama on top of it all.


  3. Heavens hon, I can only say that it’s pure joy to know you’ve come thru such sadness yet still become the beautiful woman you are. I don’t think we are shaped by the good things and bad things in our lives, but how we react to them. A person of lesser spirit could become jaded and never recover. Then, sadly too, there’s plenty of people with lot’s of good things in their lives who’re horrid. Go figure. Alys, your spirit shines so bright and warm, it attracts goodness to your life and in turn, us to you. The spirit of a person can permeate time and distance and be an influence on others even when you can’t be together. I can feel your warm spirit even when we are miles apart. I feel the same about my dad.

    I’m excited to see all your thrifty finds starting to take shape, amazing ! Your renaissance man is a good sport to see the magic in a woman’s pant suit 😀 No doubt what turns out will be Capital A for Awesome.

    I’m so far behind on Wills posts, I bet his puppy is full grown by now. Fun turn on the pumpkin transformation 😀 Even 3/4 pumpkin deserves it’s day in the sun xoxoxox K

    Liked by 3 people

    • My heart swells. Thank you,dear one, for those special thoughts and words. Holding you close, today and always.

      You are so right. We’ve both had our adversity, haven’t we, but we get up, show up, move on and try to do our best. It would be a sad day indeed, to become jaded and cynical and to miss out on life. Then I might not have met you and I can’t even begin to contemplate that. You enrich my world every day.

      He is a good sport and I’m grateful for it. The fabric is just perfect.

      Will always keeps me smiling. He gets the best shots of Penney and Eko and wonderful Friday videos, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My dad died earlier this year and helping deal with his belongings and taking them to a charity shop has been very difficult. My sister lost her husband some years ago and, having donated all his clothes, she just couldn’t bring herself to take dad’s stuff along now. Fortunately, my partner has cheerfully helped out and delivered shoes to the Salvation Army shoe bank and bags of clothes to the local charity shop. Mum is still sorting through stuff, but at least we feel that what we have given away is going to get good use… and that is a bit comforting. And if we all feel like this as adults, I can only begin to understand your pain as a child.


    • I’m very sorry for your loss, and for your sister’s double loss as well. To lose a husband before a father, must mean that he was quite young. Life is not always kind.

      I’m pleased to hear that your partner could step in. In my profession, I too have taken the belongs of a deceased spouse to a charity store, but it’s nothing like taking things that are personal. Best of luck to your mom as she continues to travel this new journey. She’s lucky to have you.

      I’m lucky to share in your kind words. xoxo


  5. In a way, it is one thing that is good about a recession, there is less shame about thrifting and being careful with money. When my OH and his siblings were children, all their clothes were from thrift shops or hand-me-downs (they didn’t have much money). There is a thrift shop I regularly visit and I get very nice clothes for myself and my son (sometimes designer clothes, still with their labels on, for only a few euros). In turn, when there are clothes I no longer wear (eg this year I have gone down by 3 dress sizes) I always donate them to the Red Cross here. It’s all a circle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope we can all get to a place where there is no shaming, period. Shopping second hand was a pleasure until it was held up to me as a deficit. I’ve come back around and it feels good. My sister and I sometimes go together. She’s picked up some amazing suits for work for a song. I bought some children’s books for our Little Free Library, and sometimes just enjoy the vintage vibe.

      I like that idea of the circle. It makes good sense in so many ways.

      Congratulations on losing three dress sizes. My goodness that’s an accomplishment. Good for you.

      Thanks for commenting. It means a lot to me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think it suits a consumerist society to have shame about buying “second hand” (I know back when Ireland had an economic boom, people would save bags from expensive shops, and if they bought something in a “cheap” shop, they would hide it in the “classier” bag). I think it’s not just a money issue either, I mean it’s more environmentally responsible to re-use clothes that are in perfect condition, rather than dumping them.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That is really interesting. Trendy bags with second hand clothes. It’s very telling, isn’t it, our need to fit in or feel okay. It’s sad really.

          There are a myriad good reasons to shop second hand: it’s better for the environment, the money often benefits various charities, it’s more economical and maybe you prefer styles that are no longer easy to find. Less manufacturing waste, fewer slave wage jobs. So many good reasons. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for contributing to the conversation.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. That 3/4 pumpkin is my fav so far!!
    and your costume is going to be so beautiful. So talented you are!
    It made me sad to read of your shame, especially so soon after losing your father.
    My “hippy” friends and I used to go to thrift shops a lot … but it’s much easier when you have a choice!


    • I know my early experiences shaped how I feel about thrift stores, which is why it is so important to me to continue to frequent them. I’ve deposited van loads of belongings at various shops on behalf of my organizing clients. I encourage donating, recycling and only trashing as a very last resort.

      Thanks, LB. xox


      • Sorry – what I mean is I have had huge bills for my car etc so there is no spare cash after food and bills till I get back on track financially. I will look around the charity shops for Christmas presents (got some nice stuff for my daughter last year) but in my original comment I was thinking of clothes for myself, which will just have to wait.


  7. Smell always has a big effect on our emotions and connects us with things both good and bad. I have never felt it shameful to go to charity shops as we call them here – rather I would think someone quite prudent or looking to dress differently or more creatively to the mainstream. Your costume is looking good. Halloween is not quite so big an event over here although the shops would like to make more of it as they are beginning to sell lots of decorations just like Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right. A smell can take me back to a time in seconds. It’s quite powerful.

      I agree with you that thrift/charity shopping makes good sense. I’m working my way back to that joy of discovery of finding that perfect something in a second-hand store.

      Yes, I’m afraid consumerism is alive and well and most retailers are happy to part you with your money. It’s come so far afield from what it once was: decorating with what you had from the harvest, including pumpkins, hay and barrels of apples.


  8. Loved your story of thrift stores – certainly thought-provoking, as it is surely how many people still feel these days who have to shop there. We didn’t have stores as such when I was young, but “jumble sales” in our community, where everyone in the village donated clothes etc and there was a big sale in the village hall a couple of times a year. I got a beautiful dress there that I wore to a cousin’s wedding. When someone commented on my dress I let the cat out of the bag (I was still very young) and the room went quiet. I could have died!


  9. Thats a sad story Alys, and i can imagine feeling that way as a kid too… I sure did. But i think that stigma is gone now, i don’t know. Lots of people shop there and brag about their bargain finds. Love the smily face stamp. That is something i should do every day of my life. hahah Costume is looking amazing. You’ve been a very busy bee!


    • Diane, I agree. For the most part, people look at thrift store shopping in a much different way.

      It’s never too late to get a calendar and a stamp for our kitchen counter. It’s amazing how this calendar and the blog have kept me accountable this month.

      Yes…busy month, but having lots of fun. Do you do anything special for Halloween?


  10. Oh Alys, you stirred up quite a pot full with this post. I think we humans have been shaming each other since the beginning of time and I’m ready to see it end. I had never heard of a thrift shop until I met my last husband. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea of used clothing. Now I like to think that there can be a balance where somethings can be new and others used. The idea of recycling is so appealing though that I drop off stuff every few weeks and picked up pants to work around the house in last month when I finally found some that fit.
    I’m anxious to see how the costume will look on your good sport of a husband.
    I love reading all the comments here. Everyone is so insightful and kind. Things are changing. 🙂


    • I’m fascinated by that perspective, Marlene. We all grow up with attitudes about money, possessions, poverty and wealth and they all play a role in this. Like you, I enjoy passing things on. I also do the same for many of my organizing clients. It makes good sense purchasing what you can used. It’s just always been loaded for me.

      The comments on this thread are wonderful, including yours.


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