I was like every other dope fiend, mistaking sobriety for personal strength, when I walked back into my den of iniquity and tempted fate by activating all my bad habit triggers at once.
My addiction was not to a chemical substance, but rather, to buying nice clothes and reliable gear at deep discount. With apologies to the Clash: I fought consumerism, and consumerism won.
This year, inspired by the Happy Philosopher, I’d decided to go cold turkey on buying new clothing.
I have enough clothing by any measure. Full closets, dress clothes, shoes, athletic and casual wear. All accumulated at proudly frugal prices over decades, all built to last from quality manufacturers. Except for underwear, socks, and the t-shirts I wear under my scrubs, all my clothes in the past two years have been purchased used.
I thought I’d sated the beast. I’d hit the December 2017 Garage Sale at our local REI. My only relapse to date was for a 1950s themed fund raiser for the local elementary school, when my wife and I purchased matching black berets paired with existing clothes to dress as Beats. Matching berets: $15.18 via Amazon Prime. Wife’s happiness with our costumes: priceless.
Then came last week’s visit to my parents, who happen to live near the world’s most awesome thrift store.
If you are a thrift or vintage store lover, you can make precise assessments about the quality of a store’s contents like a jewelry thief casing a joint before a potential heist.
This was a place whose donation base is a wealthy community in southern California (high quality donations, nice dress shirts) with a health-conscious population (lots of active wear), staffed by older volunteers (priced to move), away from main street (only those in the know can find this gem hidden in a residential suburban neighborhood).
There were even more enticements to appeal to me. The city has a decent-sized gay community, which means dress shirts that are cutting edge fashionable regularly make it onto the racks – it’s like having a personal queer eye for this straight guy, but at a steep discount.
My wife buys half her clothes for the year on our biannual visits. She generally detests the inefficiency of shopping, but sometimes speed is the best anesthetic.
She appreciates that a high concentration of nice articles of clothing, in a single convenient location, at ridiculous prices, and within her comfort zone of fashion (recent enough for us) lets her get the pain over with quickly. She even derives some pleasure from telling friends about the amazing deals she scores (on our penultimate visit, at my urging, she bought a lightly used Coach bag for $30; we found it listed for $400 online).
All this context to say: I was destined to fail from the start.
Within ten minutes of entering, I’d found two virtually new Patagonia short sleeve button down shirts for $4 a piece. They travel well, require no ironing, and I would later see them listed at anywhere from $59-$69 each online.
Add to that a virtually new pair of Teva sandals in my size for $13 (I use these for sea kayaking along rocky shores, and they wear out annually) and I was a quivering mass of consumer jelly.
Am I happy with my purchases? Yes.
Will they serve me well and last a long time if cared for properly? Absolutely.
But I couldn’t maintain the discipline, and that hurts.
As a Tuesday morning quarterback, I see that my mistake was going to the thrift store at all. Going forward, I’ll know the only way to succeed is to avoid my triggers completely.