Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yankee Thrift

My Mom's favorite 'old adage' was attributed to good old 'Yankee thrift'. She'd always say, "Use up, wear out, make do, do without." Oh, I hated to hear that after awhile. My folks lived by that rule of thumb, so there wasn't a huge turn over of furnishings in our house, and clothing was passed around between cousins. I was lucky there, because the only girl cousins I had were a younger one who lived near us, and an older one who lived on Shelter Island. Audrey's things were passed to me, and no one but me, was the wiser.

One of Mom's sisters was a professional seamstress, and she could remake anything to fit to a 't'. I believe that in all my years of school dances, there was only one new semi-formal bought. The rest of them were 'renewed' by Aunt Sis. Sleeves were removed or necklines changed, and with a tuck here or a hem there, I was Cinderella.

As I became an adult, married and started a family, I learned the art of 'thriftiness' too. I was more or less 'forced' to, by tight finances in our early years.
After awhile, the budget loosened up a little, but by that time, it was a way of life for me. The son was the one with the new clothes, being the only boy, and we passed those on to two nephews. Our four girls were the recipients of many lovely things which we could not have afforded to purchase for them. My favorites were the smocked Polly Flinders dresses. This is not to say that we never bought new clothing for them. We did, of course, but the best things in their wardrobes came from someone else, and I was grateful.

It was wiser to buy new appliances than having used ones, as they'd give us less trouble, and they came with a warranty. Our furniture, though, except for our mattress sets, was handed down from relatives: Mom and Dad's Castro convertible couch, Aunt Sis' maple table and buffet cabinet, even my narrow antique bed was slept in by each of my children, and remains in my possession today.

I'm not sure whether recycling was in-grained in me or if it is in-born, but we are still doing the same thing today. We buy much more than we ever did, because we are able to, but we also tend to like 'old' things, rather than new and modern furnishings. The matching end tables were new, but they came from a thrift shop and cost me a total of $70 for the pair. (I spotted one in one part of the store, and the other way over on the other end!) The matching green ceramic lamps that sit on those tables were bought at a different time in the same store, and were $8 each. I found the almost new shades for them at a yard sale for $3 each. You can't beat that. All of our living room chairs were passed on from my daughter when she moved, our dining table, which is an antique square, drop leaf pine one, is a find from a thrift shop. I watched that table as it sat in the store for months. I longed for it, but I wouldn't pay the price. Visit after visit, the price would drop, but not enough for me. I kept hearing the words of my aunt from days of old. "If it's meant to be yours, it'll still be here the next time you come." Finally it was at a point that I would pay full price, but I took a chance and questioned if there was any negotiation on it. Surprisingly there was, and I bought it for about half of what the original price was months before!

Our dining chairs are various styles from various places: bow back antique ones which don't match each other except in color and shape, 4 white, sturdy ones that we use for extras which came FREE at the end of someone's yard sale. We've got two lovely, strong, Italian made arm chairs from yet another thrift shop, and 4 Windsor chairs that were given to us by a friend. Our porch table and chairs came from my brother's house when he passed away, and though I'm not crazy about the chairs and benches that came with it, they do serve the purpose. I'm a little too sentimental to get rid of the set, and it would be a shame to break up the pieces.

Suffice it to say that we have a mixed assortment here, but we don't mind, and are always being complimented about the way things work together and the coziness of our place. One of my friends once told me that if you choose what you like, it will always work. I'm not sure how much water that actually holds, but we do just that. Whatever... our purpose is to use what's available that we like and is comfortable. There's no way that I'd ever put '60's modern in our house, whether it was useable, free or otherwise. It's just not 'us'. But...if it was all we had, we'd 'make do' until we could do something different.

I like the challenge of refinishing, renewing, repurposing and recycling. It's fun and it's usually less expensive. Of course, if one buys antique furniture it wouldn't be terribly economical, but otherwise, for the most part, I'd say that used furniture, so long as it's comfortable and clean and sturdy, is a great use of your money, especially if you have children (or grandchildren) with sticky hands and sippy cups!

As much as I hated Mom's old motto, I find myself living by it these days, or at least, pieces of it. I don't necessarily 'wear out', but items are passed along so that someone else might wear out, rather than tossing them out. Sometimes it pays to listen to your Mom.