I’m tired of buying crap.
No, that’s not it. I’m tired of buying crap and then later complaining that the crap I bought is crap.
Yeah, that’s more like it.
In an effort to curb this recurring problem, Natalie and I made trip to Community Forklift just outside of DC in Edmonston, Maryland. It is a huge warehouse filled with recycled building materials, used appliances, and just all sorts of cool stuff. You can find anything in a place like this – from vintage washing machines to vanity light fixtures to barely used (read: brand new) cherry cabinets.
The prices can vary (the people running this place are no dummies). They know the hip used piece they have – say the alter from some hundred year old DC church, or a set of vintage grade school lockers – is one of a kind, filled with style and story and unlike anything us yuppies could ever hope to buy retail, and they price accordingly. But they are also stocked with millions of odds and ends for unbelievable bargains. Buckets of cabinet drawer pulls for a dollar a piece; paint can remnants for 25 cents; lightly used appliances – like ovens and washers – for 50 bucks at most.
For some reason, in places like these Natalie and I simply freeze up and somehow fail to buy the things we know we wanted, in ways we never would at some big box store. I think part of the problem is that we go in with this aimless attitude – ready to check it out but without any real plan of why we’re there. We do the same thing at farmers’ markets. It’s bizarre and frustrating.
The thing is, I’d never go to Home Depot or Giant without a game plan (no offense Home Depot or Giant – I still love you both and shop your stores often). Yet I head to these hole-in-the-wall places without a clue of what I even hope to find. And I bring children. And then my ADD kicks in or my coffee starts running low or Loren loses interest or Ruthie gets hungry and I start thinking “we gotta get out of here fast.” And we go home empty handed.
And then we spend ten times more for items of lesser quality and character at the big box store a week later.
Yet, when it comes to children’s clothing, you will not find bigger advocates for buying used. Natalie spends many a lunch break perusing the baby clothes consignment shops of Bethesda. I’d estimate that 75% of Loren’s clothes (if not more) were previously owned, and I envy this kid’s wardrobe. He rocks Mini Boden like I’m Ted Debiosi. He wears jeans that retail for what I would expect to pay for my own when I’m splurging on a new pair – and yet we bought his for less than ten bucks used.
[Note: Nothing I am about to say is new to the world of home decor or renovation (or baby clothes for that matter). Newsflash: people that know what they are doing often buy used goods at a fraction of the price as new and do all the other things Natalie and I are now challenging ourselves to do. In short: we know we didn't invent this. But it's helpful to talk it out, and we need to try it...for real this time.]
[Also Noted: This isn't meant to be a preachy post about buying used and recycling and all that. People smarter and better than me can and do make those arguments. The point I'm trying to make is that Natalie and I have been wasting a lot of money buying new crap, when we could (and should) have been taking our time looking for better quality items and saving money in the process.]
During our trip yesterday we ran across this awesome sink:
Huge, heavy, cast iron, and in need of a little care. It took us a minute, but we finally realized that we actually have this same sink in the Hytte at Camp Davis. Seriously:
Community Forklift was selling it for several hundred bucks. We got ours for free – it was my grandparent’s old sink. It was in much the same shape as the one we came across in the warehouse when we first took possession of ours. But the point is that we know that this sink will last forever and has the potential to look great, because in both cases it already has. And yet we would typically balk at something like this only to later buy something of far inferior quality with much less character for just as much money, if not more.
This sink is the perfect, realistic example of what we can find if we’re patient in our search and then willing to pull the trigger on the good stuff when we find it. It was a wake-up call.
So we’re giving ourselves a little challenge – a compact if you will (and we’re doing it in lawyer speak):
Jimmy and Natalie, in the course of owning and maintaining multiple dwellings, and with the understanding that said owners hope to maintain a level of style and charm that is of both high quality standard and unique to their own personal tastes; and
-Accepting the reality that neither Natalie nor Jimmy are independently wealthy; and
-In the due course of furnishing, renovating and decorating said dwellings, and in the due course of upholding a competent level of upkeep in said dwellings, it is the predictable expectation that certain consumer needs (and wants) will arise:
HENCEFORTH it shall be proclaimed that:
-Natalie and Jimmy will shop FIRST where retailers offer used or recycled goods that either:
a) Meet our standards of quality, style and personal tastes; or
b) Can meet our standards of quality, style and personal tastes with a little TLC;
-And, where in the event Jimmy and Natalie cannot find certain consumer goods by purchase from said used retailers, the principals may wait until a time undefined, where they might then again renew their search for said items by said retailers, until such search may be exhausted by reasonable doubt;
-At which point, only then can Jimmy and Natalie resort to shopping for the common crap that has forthwith brought them to this level fed-up-ed-ness.
So, that’s what we’re thinking anyway.
This isn’t revolutionary. We’re just tired of acting surprised when the crap we buy is actually crap. We’re especially tired of this now, after having spent a few more hours in a place filled with what looks like crap, but is in fact a veritable gold mine of home building and home decorating treasures.
The reasons for this change of heart are many. Like the baby clothes mentioned above, we’ve long since recognized the potential value in buying used or simply enjoying hand-me-downs. We’ve also begun realizing that we’d rather save up and buy one nice item that might last a lifetime (say, an amazing braising pot), than buy several cheaper versions that over-time always need replacing and end up costing more anyway. It’s also not just that these things we’re finding are better quality, but they tend to be more interesting overall, and bring us more joy than the easy, still-in-it’s-package counterpart.
Personally, I’m also just now fully understanding the motivation behind some of my mother’s “craziness” – especially when it comes to maintaining the house. Mom keeps an impeccable household. It’s tidy, it’s spotless, and you won’t find an ounce of clutter. This is how I remember it from childhood as well. And yet she raised five kids and also housed an in-home daycare. We joke that it’s “crazy” because who does that? The woman used to mop the walls! But I get it now. She didn’t keep the house so perfect despite the packs of wild children running about. She did it because of those kids.
Because you might not always be able to control the chaos that is children, but you might be able to bring order to the space they’re in. As a stay-at-home-dad for the last year and a half, especially one living in a small apartment, I understand. You spend a lot of time in your home and it doesn’t take much for it to become another point of stress, which is something you already have in spades.
So now, when I look around, I want to know that I actually care about the items surrounding me. I want to know that we picked them deliberately, that they didn’t just end up where they are by accident, through chaos or momentum, and that they aren’t disposable. In order to achieve this, we need to finally get serious about taking our time and finding just the right piece, and not simply rushing to fill the void (I can go months without a nightstand, life will go on).
That’s the plan anyway. I have kids. I now know a lot about the futility of plans. We’re off to Camp Davis this weekend to begin getting things back in order following the big storms last month. We have a lot of work to do. While we were in Minnesota we were notified that, on top of everything else, our water-heater had sprung a leak and flooded the cellar. Camp will be the big test.