Thrift is my Middle Name
I don’t have a middle name but if I did, I reckon Thrift could be it. It’s something I’m pretty good at. I think it comes from my family. My father’s side in particular. The farmers. Life on the land leads to a certain amount of prudence in the face of abundance, and restraint in the face of lack. It’s just how it goes.
Take my dad, Peter Reid, as an example. In addition to his role as Chief Water Waste Warden during droughts, he’s an incredible maker/fixer/thrifter. Once when I was around 10 I decided I wanted to make my own paper. No sooner had I mentioned it, Pete headed down to the shed and whipped me up a paper press made out of scrap bits of tin with holes punched in them. It wasn’t quite right and I remember feeling incredibly conflicted – I was so grateful he’d made it but so disappointed it didn’t work. I didn’t know how to tell him so I pretended it was perfect. He probably knew it wasn’t, because anyone who knows me knows I’m a dreadful pretender.
As a child, my family’s thriftiness was a point of embarrassment in my interactions with the world outside our farm.”
I’d be reluctantly wearing Dunlop Volley sandshoes whilst other kids bounced into school with their feet enclosed in brand new Reebok Pumps. My parents refused to waste money on fancy shoes until my feet stopped growing, which finally happened when I was 16. I was given a pair of RM Williams riding boots for my 16th birthday. The gift felt incredibly special and valuable. I still have them now – they’re old and worn and cracked but I can’t throw them out.
Embracing my in-built thriftiness in my teenage years was a bit tricky because I was trying to be cool like the Reebok Pump kids. At the same time, it was quietly enlightening. Because, well, op shops! A part of me was embarrassed, but deep down I was in love. I always told myself I’d grow out of the second-hand clothes thing. When I got a real job and earned real money, that would be when it’d end. I’d get fancy. It’s debatable as to whether I have a real job yet, but my op-shopping has certainly continued. I like to think, though, that I’ve become a bit more discerning in my old age – I’ve ruled out polyester.
Op-shopping began because I didn’t have money to buy nice clothes and my parents wouldn’t indulge in silly things like fashion (smart people), but has evolved to become an important part of my world view. Why buy cheap clothes that cost lives when I can buy second hand clothes for a fraction of the price, and give them a new life? It’s a relatively easy, and powerful, choice. Plus, I have a mortal fear of looking like I’ve been entirely dressed by mainstream high street brands. 30-year-old hand knitted op-shop jumpers, jeans and half-dead work boots make this relatively impossible.
When I stopped being a teenager and began to settle into being myself, my thriftiness flourished. It’s now an incredibly nourishing creative stimulus. How can I make something with what I’ve already got? How can I use this thing twice? Can I find what I need on the street, instead of buying something new? I love making little challenges for myself – one of my favourites is dreaming up grand meals based on the scanty remains of our kitchen pantry and a few random vegetables in the bottom of the fridge. For some strange reason, the slap-dash, mix ‘n match meals always taste better than the carefully considered ones…
Then there’s the garden. If gardens are a physical expression of the hand of their gardener, then perhaps you can guess what mine looks like? It’s not particularly shiny, that’s for sure. It’s a random collection of bits and pieces scavenged from the back lanes of Marrickville. I’ve a collection of 1960’s concrete pots, old plant stands, a bunch of old concrete gnomes, benches made of timber sleepers and bricks and chairs, again, from the back lane. Once, in a delirium only a trip to IKEA can induce, I bought a bright yellow plastic chair for the garden. It didn’t last very long. It was too new. Too shiny. It had no story. I love that my garden has evolved from a bare courtyard into a wild and abundant space, not as a result of money, but of creativity and thrift.
There is, however, one obstacle to my frugality: plants. Whilst many in my backyard are from cuttings gifted and shared, some are also the result of over-excitement during a nursery visit.”
I can always seem to justify one more plant purchase (particularly if it’s something I don’t already have), and there’s always just enough room to squeeze another in. Yep, I’m thrifty, even with space.
To me, thrift isn’t just about money. It’s about a bunch of things. Like stories. An old kitchen table bearing the marks and energy of 100 years of meals feels way more valuable to me than a brand new on-trend table, designed to be obsolete in just a few years. The same goes for plants. I could spend heaps of money buying advanced plants to make an instant garden, or I could mostly grow things from cuttings and seeds shared by others. The shared plants, as well as costing zero, have a story that can’t be bought.
Like telling the people who tell us we need more/newer/bigger things to f*%k off. I’m not into consuming new things because someone tells me I need to. In fact, I think it’s a shitty and incredibly dangerous idea. Thrift is a great way of sticking my finger up at the whole consume, consume, consume business.
Like laziness (perhaps I should be kinder to myself and call it efficiency?). I’m not into doing things I don’t absolutely need to do. If I can avoid having to go to the shops to buy food, and in the process develop a new recipe, I will. If I can compost my vegetable scraps rather than have to go and buy compost for my garden, why wouldn’t I? If I can make a pot out of an old saucepan found in the back lane instead of buying one, that’s what I’ll do.
Like observation. Good scavenging requires alertness. I am always looking, not always purposefully, at the world around me. Seeing, noticing, enjoying and pondering. And, whilst I’m looking around, sometimes I see the most amazing things thrown out on the street – like gorgeous old brass watering cans, vintage white metal framed chairs, handwoven woollen floor rugs and more. I love looking and, very regularly, my observational skills are rewarded with gifts. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure and all that.
Like creativity. Much of my adult life has involved living with not much money. Rather than feeling constrained by this in regards to making a garden or a home beautiful, I reckon it’s a brilliant creative challenge. Creating something from scavenged, found, re-purposed materials/plants/things is a wonderful thing. It means I need to think laterally, use materials in new/unexpected ways, and most importantly, develop and evolve my own sense of beauty rather than outsourcing it to others in exchange for dollars.
My parents, in their economy, didn’t give me a middle name. For a while I wanted it to be Rosemary, but I reckon Thrift will do just fine.