The Call of the Cheap
by Anneli Rufus
When our ancestors wanted something, from Neanderthal man on down they fought for it.
They went out and braved the wilderness, wielding clubs and stakes, half-naked under an unforgiving sun. They stabbed. They smashed. They beat brains out. They got junk under their fingernails and contracted intestinal parasites.
And while our beetling-browed forebears might welcome a labor-saving gift of an SUV or a gold card - Yabba-dabba-doo! - it's nice to think that they got something out of that arduous hunting and gathering process.
Ours is one of the most acquisitive cultures on earth. We want it; we buy it, tout de suite. And we no longer even have to get off our ever-expanding duffs to do so.
But we relinquish the sheer pleasure of acquisition, the call of the wild, when we get stuff the easy way.
Recapture that primal frisson without running right out and beating something over the head. The thrill is closer than you think - in no more fearsome a wilderness than your nearest thrift store.
"I spend hours letting my eyes roam over hundreds of pieces of broken, worthless junk," says Seattle attorney Deborah Martin, who has furnished her home and clothed her three kids with thrift-store finds - proudly.
"When I finally spy something worth touching, I pick it up with anticipation. Many times I put it down again: it was nothing. But when it proves to be a real treasure - a 1950s kitchen collectible, a real Japanese fishing float, a 1930s vase, or a piece of 1960s Scandinavian pottery," she feels nothing short of "indescribable joy."
"I thrift-shop for the love of the hunt, the thrill of the catch. It's not the monetary value that gives me the thrill; it's the mere fact that I found it. That it was there, waiting to be discovered, and I discovered it."
In thrift stores, where you never know what will turn up, or when, the spirit of rivalry in the air is downright bracing, just as when our ancestors vied with one another to see who could bag the biggest mastodon or, later, discover the best continent.
But the thrill of victory - and low prices - aren't a thrift store's only rewards. The languorous search and discovery, Martin says, lessens stress.
"There is something calming and meditative about meandering through junk in search of treasure. I can lose myself in it." During family crises and other tough stints, "It's my escape, like flyfishing or movie-going or basket-weaving. Pure therapy."
There's more in that Salvation Army store than meets the eye. There might just be enlightenment - or at least some cool deals on old ashtrays.
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