Therapeutic Thrifting


Every so often, I feel the driving need to go thrift shopping. I don’t just “need” to go, I need to go. Most of the time, I’ll go and be happy I went. At other times, I’ll tell myself it’s a fanciful notion and try to ignore it, but that only lasts so long. The need is just too overwhelming.

I’ve been feeling that need for the past several days and so have begun wondering what brings it on. Why would anyone need to go thrift shopping? At the moment, I’m not lacking anything specific – not anything that I might find at a thrift shop, anyway. So, what’s up?

It came to me while I was puttering around the house over the weekend. There’s something about thrift shopping that’s therapeutic for me. It’s fun and gratifying to come up with “the” bargain, or to run across a one-of-a-kind item that nobody, nobody else in the whole world owns. Saving money is a bonus, too. Still, that’s not it. Not completely, at least.

As I was pondering this, I realized that the times when I most need to thrift shop are the times when I’m trying to work something out, like making a big decision, processing changes or disappointments, or remedy a tough situation. Sorting through the racks and shelves is like sorting through all the details and options, one by one. Nice color. Not for me. Interesting object, but not very useful. Comfortable, but…oops, there’s a moth whole. Cool piece of furniture, but too much effort to refurbish. Perfect! But, argh, it doesn’t fit. And so on. Moving from one end of the store to the other, going through the merchandise section by section, is like going through whatever is stuck in my craw aspect by aspect while determining what looks like a plausible solution and what’s just more useless banter swirling in my head.

This is no minor endeavor – neither the figuring out nor the thrift shopping. Both take meticulousness and persistence. Once in a while, I’ll want to look for one specific item, like a vase or lamp shade (clothes are never, ever that easy). Then the men folk might come along, as long as I promise to make it quick. Usually, though, this process takes several hours and sometimes pulls me from one thrift shop to another. So, when I’m in one of those I-need-to-thrift-shop moods, I warn the guys ahead of time, lest they accuse me of entrapment.

Once, I noticed that our then 7-year-old youngest son had disappeared. I scoured the place for him, to no avail. He wasn’t in the toy section, not in the bathroom, not by the books, not even waiting at the door. I started to panic. Then I heard it; that snurfley, slurpy sniffle that could belong to only one person. It was right behind me, coming from a round rack with sweaters on it. I pulled aside the garments. Lo and behold, there was little John, sitting in the middle of the crossbars, literally bored to tears! Poor guy. The only way I could get him to come out was to promise him that he would never have to go thrift shopping with Mommy ever again. Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s gone with me – even on a quick trip – and the only way he’ll agree to that is if Dad goes, too, so the two of them can escape and take the car someplace more fun when he feels the round rack calling to him again.

It’s better that I go alone for other reasons, also.  As I’m pilfering through potential deals, my mind and soul are engaged in mulling, analyzing, piecing, and problem solving. I’m drifting in a solitary world, separated from the people around me, except for an occasional “Excuse me” when our carts bump or I accidentally reach in front of someone. My conversational abilities are nil, save for smatters of head-talk that only God can understand. I’m in my own little space, and the physical shuffling of second-hand goods somehow helps the mental/emotional shuffling of the first-hand matters that weigh on my heart. As I discover various treasures to take home, I coincidentally discover the treasures within me and begin to see my way clear.

We all achieve clarity in unique ways. Perhaps it’s exercise, manual labor, or a hobby. Maybe only time before the Eucharist will do. Regardless, there are two important elements: 1) stepping back from the world and 2) opening our minds and hearts to God’s wisdom. Whatever works for us, the most important part is to know when we need it and to follow up on that need. When we do, who knows what treasures we’ll find within.


About Author

Marge is a CatholicLane columnist.

  • noelfitz

    Marge, meany thanks for this article, reading it I am reminded of “live simply so that others can simply live”. Is this due originally to Gandhi, Mother Teresa or to someone else?

    • Mary Kochan

      I’m trying to live simply, but there ain’t nothin’ simple about it!

  • Ten points for you, Noel! The quote comes from Mother Teresa.

  • I have bought everything from videotapes and clothing to a new computer at the thrift store. I do find it therapeutic and I guess I’m not alone! I periodically run a trapline of all the thrift stores in town, looking for something indispensable. It’s a great hobby for someone on a limited income.

  • wgsullivan

    I manage a small Catholic Social Services thrift store. When you say therapeutic, you say more than you may realize.
    Our profits go to those in need of assistance. It is therapeutic to help those in need find a bargain. We also see it therapeutic for those in need to give when they donate items they hate to see trashed or wasted. The diocese Catholic Social Services describes it as “giving squared”.

  • “Giving squared.” I like that! Thanks for your service to those in need.

  • Just got back from a thrift junket. I found 4 way-cool pilsener style beer glasses with some German beer brand engraved on them. Now what would I have done without those? 🙂

  • Oh, man. If jealousy weren’t a sin…