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February 6, 2011 / ilegirl

Reuse and reconciliation

I know a woman who owns a house in Oakland which was built in 1920.  The first time I visited her there several years ago, she was halfway through a project to strip years of paint from door mouldings – a strenuous task.  As we discussed the challenges of house hunting, she told me that she had given her real estate agent instructions to only screen houses which were built before she was born.  She ended up with a darling vintage house, one with a front parlor, a tiny but lovely butler’s pantry, and pretty, solid woodwork.

Her philosophy: she wanted to buy a used house, and she wanted one with some history.

My husband and I undertook a similar quest just about 12 years ago.  We were determined to find something with potential for curb appeal and a bit of history.  While he was open to the idea of new construction, I have to say that I was definitely not.  Along the way, we discovered we gravitated toward specific architectural styles:  craftsman, which was out of our budget, and New England cottage.  We ended up with a cute Cape Cod on a cul-de-sac, one which had been in the same family since it was built in 1950.  Sure, it’s not ancient but a family was raised in the house, and someone buried their toy soldiers in the backyard, and our neighbor next door tells us stories about the family who once lived here.

Years later, as we continue to improve and add love to this house, I can look back and feel good about having followed through on a personal philosophy: to buy used.  It serves an overall intent to leave as small of a footprint on the environment as possible.  Even though we don’t have children, it seems kind of harsh to use up finite resources as if they are endless.  And it felt wasteful for me to insist on something newly-built simply for my own convenience, when there are plenty of fine little properties in need of owners who will provide TLC.

I was thinking about this last night, as I posted about the outfit I wore to dinner and realized a significant proportion was thrifted:  the same thing holds true for garments.  Buying new stuff is often attractive, and I’ll certainly do it.  But there are lots of fine old things which are a bargain, need a home, and fit my style quite nicely.  Sometimes they require alterations, but then again so does a lot of ready-to-wear.  The differences are that with RTW I’ve already invested a fair bit of money before the custom tailoring is started, and I often come home after a purchase feeling pretty suckered by the fashion industry where with thrifting I’ve found the gold nugget by panning for it myself.  The latter feels a whole lot better to me.

Now that the minispring has arrived, the winter weather will typically become less intense and gradually we’ll see the heat return.  Just as it feels like yesterday when I stored the warm weather clothes, it will feel like tomorrow when I unpack them and shake them out for spring use.  I’ll need to augment the wardrobe with a few good pieces, and will do so with judicious combination of new and used items.  I’ll need to purge too, and in that process I’ll be feeding a key source of new treasures by donating to worthy local causes.

I guess my point is that for me it’s important to take reuse into consideration, and incorporate this into my daily life.  And I’m thrilled to have literally achieved this as a part of my lifestyle.


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