Buying stuff you don’t need just because it’s cheap

Country Roads

Sixty years ago, in the days before sanitary landfills and weekly trash pick-up, my father regularly took the family’s rubbish to the county dump. My brothers and I loved to go along, but sometimes found Dad less than enthusiastic about taking us.

The problem, I realize now, is that his sons were scavengers and would find items at the dump we wanted to take back home. A discarded toy truck may simply need a new wheel. A toy airplane salvaged from the dump may only need a good cleaning. Or some loose wheels might help us build a downhill racer.

As an adult, I can now appreciate Dad’s frustration with our scavenging habits. It should come as no surprise, however, that his six kids are all savvy shoppers, a trait reinforced by our mother who can stretch a dollar farther than anyone I know.

I thought about this last weekend when my wife and I visited a relatively new store in Des Moines.

First, a bit of background:

I grew up in hand-me-downs. Until I outgrew my older cousin, Marlyn, much of my wardrobe was Marlyn’s old wardrobe. My eighth-grade graduation suit was purchased from a “second-hand” store and I wore it proudly (but struggled with the itchy wool.)

I enjoyed household auctions and rummage sales until I realized I was buying stuff I didn’t need just because it was cheap.

Then I married a thrift store enthusiast. Julie loves thrift stores. While I don’t accompany her on every thrift store shopping expedition, I have gone along often enough to understand the value of the practice.

Now to last weekend’s shopping experience. When Jackie Norris, the new president of Goodwill Industries of Central Iowa, spoke to my Rotary Club a couple of weeks ago, she promoted the organization’s new Outlet Store on SE 14th Street in Des Moines.

Items that don’t sell on a timely basis at Goodwill’s regular thrift stores are moved to the Outlet Store where they are piled on large tables and sold for 99-cents a pound. A few items are sold at specific, marked prices but the large majority of the merchandise is sold for a simple 99-cents per pound.

The concept intrigued me so on a recent Saturday afternoon we drove to the Outlet Store to see for ourselves.

Inside the large one-story building I saw some two-dozen huge tables heaped full of merchandise ranging from clothing to games to toys to purses to kitchenware to books to… well, just about everything you would expect to find at a Goodwill Store. Some higher end items were priced and displayed separately. Dozens of shoppers (many entire families) were digging through the tables looking for bargains.

The children of one large family touched my heart. One-by-one the children shouted, “Look what I found, Mommy!” or “Hey, Dad, look at this!” They showed their parents a toy they had found among the merchandise piled high on a table.

Later, I saw the family going through the check-out, each child excited with their bargain toy. That scene took me back 60-some years to my brothers’ and our new found treasures at the county dump.

Just like the boys at the county dump 60 years ago, I am a fan of recycling. Thrift stores like those operated by Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul Society and other non-profits recycle merchandise while helping others.

At the Outlet Store Julie found a variety of toys, games and puzzles for the grandchildren. At the check-out she pushed her shopping cart onto an electric scale which determined that she had $10 worth of merchandise. A few hours later, after a good cleaning, the brand-name toys looked like new.

As we left, Julie observed that she was able to get to only a half dozen tables. She wants to go back and dig through the rest of the tables looking for clothing for the grandkids. Julie will have fun digging but I’ll be happy staying at home.

Without some self-discipline I buy stuff I don’t need just because it’s cheap.