Thursday, April 8, 2010

New to Me

I love used things. Objects that were previously owned by someone else delight me. I grew up on a steady diet of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," so I do feel a sense of environmentalist pride when I buy something used. It's nice to know that I'm keeping, say, a perfectly good laundry basket out of a landfill somewhere, reducing the demand for new laundry baskets to be produced, and, hey, all right! Ninety-nine cents for a laundry basket!
But as I wander through resale shops and thrift stores, the thing that gets me most is the story. Or, rather, what I imagine the story to be. How did these things end up where they are, donated to be resold? Was the practically-new orange sweater dress a case of buyer's regret? Did those boots never really fit quite right, or did someone just get sick of the sight of them after years and years?

I'm always painfully curious about the former owners of the wedding dresses that always hang alongside the other thrift-store formal wear. I imagine that the bride wasn't sentimentally attached to her gown. Or else she was, but is no longer attached (sentimentally or otherwise) to the groom.

Whenever I wear something that I bought at Goodwill, I wonder if I, or rather it, will be recognized. Years ago, my mother donated a jacket that she later saw on a stranger walking down the street. She and I both had "Second Hand Rose" stuck in our heads for a week.

My mother gets my passion for used things, and we regularly hit up thrift stores together. But I can see Rob not really being able to wrap his head around my excitement over looking through other people's rejected stuff. Of course, my passion for "used" didn't really affect him until we started looking at houses.

So much of the construction in the areas we were looking to move to was new construction. Lots of townhouses and condos, springing up where previously there was nothing. Evergreens and dirt replaced with "Eastside Excellence."

We looked at several new new homes, and my feeling about every single one was that it was fine, "but I really like the idea of living somewhere people have lived before us, you know?"

Rob didn't know. He doesn't share my nostalgia for other people's lives. Still, he admits to getting a warm, fuzzy vibe from our current place, even four months later.

I felt the love instantly when I walked in the door. And when I look around now and quiet my mind, I still feel it. Maybe I feel it because, unlike the wedding dresses at the Goodwill, our house has a story that I sort of know. According to our agent, this house was the former owner's first home when she moved to the area, and she was very happy to be purchasing a home and moving into it on her own. I can feel that this house has been loved.

Or maybe the love-vibe I experience is just me projecting. Because when we bought the house, I felt so lucky to have found such a nice, well-cared-for place that we could actually kind of afford.

Whether or not my imagination has a story to hang on to, I continue to love used (or secondhand, or nearly new, or pre-owned, or whatever) things in large part because they're just cheaper than new things. Sometimes a lot cheaper. At a used book store, for the price of one new hardback book, I can often get three...and two paperbacks besides.
And as I settle down to read them, I can't help but wonder about the person (woman?) who read them before I did.

My most recent batch of pre-owned titles came with some thorough notes.
And a surprise quiz!
And lines to memorize!
Owning pre-owned things makes me feel like I'm part of another person's life story, without really being a part of it at all.