Thrifted: a love story

I’ve had a long love affair with thrift stores. It started by my mother’s side, before I ever stepped foot in a kindergarten classroom. I held her hand as we walked through the arch into our local thrift shop in San Juan Capistrano. It was in a small strip mall, a long and low mission style building with a rusty orange roof sloping overhead. I knew the store by the smell – that musty smell that hit you right as you opened the doors. There were rows of clothes alongside the walls, and circular racks through the middle, perfect for disappearing into the folds of long dresses and blouses. I would watch feet for a while, think of pouncing on an ankle, then think better of it. Eventually I would emerge and scan the room for Mommy. She always had treasure to show me when I found her. “Oooh, look at this, Sarah,” she’d say, holding up the item for my inspection. It was a feather boa, a draping shawl, a hot pink flowy dress, a plastic pearl necklace. “Wouldn’t it be perfect for your dress up box?” It was always perfect for my dress up box. The lady at the counter would give me a wink when she handed it to me in a plastic bag.

This love of treasure hunting at thrift stores only grew as I became older. Not only did it have a practical purpose, serving me well when funds were tight in college, but it also brought me great joy as a hobby. I’d treat myself to a trip to Goodwill after I had finished the house cleaning. I’d steal away while my husband was taking care of our baby to  peruse the racks at Salvation Army. We moved a lot in our sixteen years of marriage, and each new town brought an opportunity to discover a local thrift store, different treasures to be discovered.

When I talked with my mom on the phone, often several states away and usually across an ocean, we swapped stories of our latest scores. “I found a dress with all the original tags still on it!” she bragged. “I found jeans with a five dollar bill folded in the back pocket!” I countered. And when she came to visit in person, one of our favorite pastimes was to hit the nearest thrift store. “How ’bout this?” she held up a blouse for my inspection. “It’s from the GAP!” “Cute! Hey Mom, didn’t you say you were looking for a white cardigan? What about this one?”

Recently, I discovered the sweetest little thrift shop. “Honest Thrift Studio” the sign said. The painted bicycle on the roof caught my eye. I made a U-turn on a whim and pulled into a tiny parking lot. I found the door surrounded by potted plants of all sizes. When I walked in, I knew I had found something special. It wasn’t just the owner behind the counter, smiling under her brown bangs, or her large dog lounging on a green couch opposite her. The whole shop was a well curated display. Vintage and whimsical items side by side. Books stacked by color. Treasures hanging from the ceiling, and costume jewelry spilling out of glass bowls. Succulent plants growing out of all sorts of artful containers. Throw pillows, doilies, and blankets draped over an old trunk. Carefully chosen clothing on the side wall. Price tags handwritten and looped to each item with string. Clearly, this wasn’t your average thrift store. Everything was too lovingly curated and expertly displayed.

A few months ago, Jessica – the owner of the Honest Thrift Studio – threw a garage sale event in her store and parking lot. I packed the kids into the car and arrived nice and early. There were already plenty of customers milling about. My boys busied themselves in a bin of toys, and I headed towards a table full of clothes. I spotted my friend Brittany browsing nearby, her curly brown hair unmistakable.

“Brittany! I didn’t know you shopped here!” I reached around her shoulders in a side hug.

“Totally! This place is the best! She has the cutest stuff!”

We rummaged through neighboring piles of clothes, setting some aside, digging ever deeper. After several minutes, and a few stops to check in on my boys, Brittany turned to me and held up a maxi dress. “Check this out! It’s so bright and colorful! Just like you!” She held it up against me for my inspection.

For half a beat I was too taken with her comment to notice the details of the dress. I was touched that she had been thinking of me, and it made my heart smile to know she thought of me as bright and colorful.

I bought the dress. It’s a purple, turquoise, and yellow number that brushes the tips of my toes. And every time I wear it, I remember how lovely it is to feel known.


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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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