Thrifting on Steroids

Everyone loves a bargain. There is something satisfying about getting a good deal. Or better yet, getting a good deal on something discarded and ugly and then upcycling it into something useful and beautiful. My friend, who upcycles quality used clothing into beautiful bags, was on a search for new sources of material. She discovered “the bins” and wanted to take an afternoon road trip there but she needed an accomplice to join her… that would be me. I did not have a clue what “the bins” were but I am always game for a new adventure, so why not? I should have been concerned when she told me she brought along plastic gloves and hand sanitizer for us. It turns out that “the bins” are like thrifting on steroids.

“The bins” is actually an outlet store for Goodwill. Yes, you heard that right. Now, even Goodwill has an outlet store. There are 16 Goodwill stores in the area, and they ship unsold merchandise to the Goodwill Outlet store (aka – “the bins”). The reason that it is called “the bins” is because all of these items are literally thrown into large rolling bins and brought out to the selling floor. Customers grab a shopping cart and sift through the bins, searching for hidden treasures. But, just like the princess that had to kiss a lot of toads to find her prince, you have to shovel through a lot of junk to find the treasures. It is not for the faint of heart.

Customers plow through the bins quickly in search of overlooked treasures.

But there is a twist to it. Every hour, customers are told to step back behind the yellow lines as they wheel the bins off of the warehouse floor and back into the storage room. A few minutes later, new bins are rolled out with different items. The items are covered in old blankets or sheets when they are wheeled out so that the waiting customers do not see the items ahead of time and all mob to the same bin. It kind of reminds me of a morgue as they roll out the new bins covered in blankets. (Sorry – it is the nurse in me. You look at life a little differently after spending your career in healthcare.) I was informed that the unsold items are then shipped to third world countries.

I took a little time away from the hunt to visit with the security guard. Yes, they need a security guard there. He told me that people will get in scuffles over some of the more prized bins. There is also quite a bit of theft. People will leave their cart by the door in preparation for a quick exit without paying. He said that they are typically stealing things that are easy to trade or sell for drugs. While stealing is never acceptable, there is something just inherently wrong about stealing from Goodwill. And a Goodwill outlet store no less.

The majority of people were there looking for good deals for themselves or items for creative projects. However, there were several young people, typically males, who stood against the wall with their phones. Some were even playing games while they waited for the next group of bins to emerge. This piqued my interest, so I asked the security guard what they were doing. He said they have either online, or resale stores and they hang out there all day waiting to search the bins for new merchandise that they can sell. They are fairly astute in knowing what they are looking for and can go through the bins quickly. They have carts with their names on them where they put their finds. If they are not sure of an item’s worth for resale, they will look it up on their phone. At the end of the day, they wheel their carts to the check-out stand to pay.

After a couple of hours my back ached, my feet were sore, and my friend had a shopping cart full of treasures to upcycle. We maneuvered our cart towards the checkout line. And guess what? You do not pay per item; you pay buy the pound. That means that the unopened glitter craft paper I found was practically free! And my friend got a whole cart load of well-chosen items for only $25.00.

It was such a fascinating afternoon. I walked away with a new knowledge and awareness of life. Isn’t that one of the great things about retirement? We get to take time during the week for new adventures.

Living Organically: Part II

I continue to seek out healthier, fresher, more organic choices in my everyday life. Not just with my diet, but also my home environment and how I manage stress. Last week I wrote about making more organic food choices. This week I have some suggestions on how to live more organically in our environment and how that affects the level of stress on our bodies (both physical and emotional).

Stress

Our modern world, with busy traffic, too many choices and constant connection through social media, leaves our nerves on edge. Of course, we have to live in our current world, and there are so many aspects of it that I appreciate. (Thank you, Alexa.) But it helps to step away from it frequently. It puts life back in perspective.

Everyone’s idea of how to decrease stress is different. For some it is reading, while others prefer yoga or a heart pumping workout at the gym. However, I think we can all agree that slowing down and being in nature are salves to the scars of modern living. Being outside, growing things, walking barefoot in the grass or sand. Just being out in nature is calming to our fractured lives. It doesn’t have to be driving an hour to go for a long hike, it can be as simple as taking a walk through your city park.

Cortisol is the hormone that is produced when we are under stress. It came in very handy for our ancestors who needed it for the “fight or flight” response when faced with acute threats, such as running from a tiger. Unfortunately, our modern way of living puts unnecessary, chronic stress on our minds and in response, we produce excessive amounts of cortisol. Among other things, cortisol raises our blood pressure, increases our pulse rate and triggers our bodies to release sugar. These are all responses that are helpful for the occasional “fight or flight” response but are unhealthy when we experience them over long periods of time. Chronic, underlying stress is like beating our body up with a bat internally.

We can counteract this stress by spending more time in nature. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, just 20 to 30 minutes immersed in a nature setting caused significant drops in the participant’s cortisol levels. After that time, additional stress-reduction benefit accrued more slowly. Hey, any of us can do 20-30 minutes outside, especially now that we are retired!

This is a picture of our city park in the spring. Doesn’t it help you relax just looking at it?

Environment

The environment we surround ourselves with inside of our homes can be relaxing or stressful to us. A cluttered, disorganized home leaves me with an underlying stress. While a clean, fresh home calms me. I am trying to reduce and reuse when possible and I am doing a few things to use less chemicals in my home. For example, I have been burning only soy candles. Antique Candle Co.® is a great online source for these. (And no, this is not a paid sponsorship, I just really like their products.) I am also trying to reduce my use of plastics, replacing them with things that can be reused over and over again.

Last week I tried my hand at making some of my own cleaning products with essential oils. I was surprised how simple it was to do. They smell fresh and are much less harmful to me and my environment. No more coughing and sputtering while I clean the shower. And I can reuse the containers instead of throwing them out or in the recycling bin when they are empty.

Another way we can live more organically is to upcycle things in our environment. Not only does this mean less junk in our landfills but it creates a more interesting and unique lifestyle. When you upcycle something, it is highly unlikely that anyone else will have the exact same thing. In a previous post, The Upcycled Life, I shared some items that I upcycled and have used for years.

Our tap water comes from a well, so it is high in minerals, which is good for you but doesn’t taste great. Instead of drinking so much bottled water or canned bubbly water, I have been creating my own flavored waters. It is simple to make and tastes refreshing. I just use a carafe and fill it with filtered tap water, add some herbs, fruit or vegetables and store it in the frig. My favorite combination right now is cucumber and lemon. I want to try strawberry and basil next. But the options are endless, so experiment a little.

The last word

I am not a purist when it comes to recycling, eating clean, or living sustainably. For instance, I still throw away empty cans when I am having guests over and am in too big of a hurry to clean them out for recycling. Some days I don’t even take a step outside to be in nature. And I still enjoy a slice of greasy pizza, it is just a rare treat instead of the go-to for a quick, easy dinner. Just keeping it real here. I am trying to take small steps, most days, to live a healthier, more organic lifestyle.

Living Organically

Cardiac disease, type II diabetes, irritable bowel, inflammatory disease, anxiety and some cancers. What do they all have in common? They are often a result of living in our modern world: food choices, stress and the environment we live in. By the time we are retired, we have lived long enough to expose ourselves to numerous toxins in our food and environment. I know that I have eaten way too many slices of greasy pizza and McDonald’s hamburgers in my lifetime. I don’t know about you, but as I get older, these types of foods do not settle as well with me. I feel sluggish when I eat them. So, I am seeking out healthier, fresher, more organic choices in my everyday life. Not just with my diet, but also my home environment and how I manage stress. We can’t change how we lived in the past, but we can make improvements now. Small changes add up.

At the beginning of 2024, I chose “the upcycled life” as my word(s) of the year (WOTY). I chose it, not just for the traditional sense, but also because the very essence of upcycling is creating something that is of higher quality and a better version than the original one. So, this year I am seeking out ways to create a higher quality of life and a better version of myself. Not only am I trying to eat more organically, but I want to live a healthier, more organic lifestyle.

A more organic diet

It is about eating fresh with less processed, sugary foods. I have come a long way from those years of eating salads with iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. Matter of fact, I have become the queen of salads. They are not necessarily low calorie, but they are fresh and packed with nutrients. I love poppy seed or ranch dressing, but they are loaded with unhealthy fats and calories. Now I use a simple olive oil dressing that I can throw together quickly. I have modified a few recipes to come up with my own version. I thought I would share it with you since I get asked for the recipe a lot.

Salad Dressing Recipe

2 Tbs. good quality olive oil

1 Tbs. white peach balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. honey

cracked black pepper

You can change this recipe in several ways.  A lot of times I will use regular balsamic vinegar and add 1 tsp. Dijon mustard.  Or use lemon juice instead of vinegar, which makes a great salad with fish.  Try using real maple syrup instead of honey.  I like to add fresh fruits, nuts and avocados to my salads, but the options are endless. Experiment and enjoy a healthy and delicious salad!

The Blue Zones

I am not a big believer in fad diets. They are not usually sustainable. The one diet that most physicians recommend and that has withstood the test of time is the Mediterranean diet. It focuses on eating mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and healthy fats that come from nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish. The recommended foods in this diet are high in antioxidants and help prevent inflammation and obesity. Bonus that it includes red wine in moderation. Three of the five Blue Zone areas eat similar to the Mediterranean diet.

The Blue Zones, first identified in 2000, are areas in the world that have a much lower incidence of our modern maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer. Consequently, people live healthier and much longer in these areas. The five Blue Zone communities are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Cost Rica; Icaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. While diet is a known common denominator among the Blue Zones, there are other characteristics that these areas have in common, such as a strong social network, a sense of purpose, and being physically active throughout their entire lives. There has been a plethora of research into these communities and their secrets to longevity. Their diet and lifestyle are a great example of living a long, heathy, organic life that we can learn from and incorporate into our own lives.

Eating local

Local farmer’s markets are a wonderful way to get fresh off the vine foods and they have the benefit of providing a delightful aesthetic experience. Walking along the rows of colorful vegetables while listening to someone strumming their guitar is a feast for the senses. Of course, the very best option for organic food is to forage from nature or eat from your own garden. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Mr. U grows a beautiful garden every year and I get to enjoy going out and picking fresh vegetables and colorful flowers from it. There isn’t anything better than stepping outside in the morning, still in your robe, to pick some bright red raspberries for breakfast. Or stepping out your door to gather a few vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh basil for dinner. I use the abundance of basil in the garden to make homemade pesto.

I am not a big believer in buying “organic” labeled food for a few reasons. First, Mr. U grew up on a farm, so I understand the significance of pest control. Also, I am not convinced that it isn’t just a marketing tactic for many of the foods that are labeled “organic.” (GMO foods and meat may be an exception.) Lastly, my little brother has a master’s degree in biochemistry, and he runs a lab in California that does research on pesticides and chemicals in our environment and foods. He assures me that the amount of chemicals in our fruits and vegetables is minuscule and that it would take much, much more than that to be harmful to us, even over our lifetime. So, I trust him, (even though he is my little bro that used to wear a colander on his head as a helmet), because he is super smart. I still wash my fruits and vegetables really well.

One of the key factors in healthy eating is portion control. As we all know, here in the good ole USA, we have lost our awareness of what a normal portion is. Oversize portions lead to oversize bodies. Once we get in the habit of eating a larger amount of food, we begin to think that is our normal and do not feel satisfied unless we have that amount. Hum…ask me how I know. So, I am working on portion control and being attune with my body and recognizing when it is full and satisfied.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Michael, Pollan

Stay tuned next week for ideas on how to create a more organic, healthy, and less stressful environment.

Retirement Life

If you had told me a few years ago, before I retired myself, that retirement life could be so busy that you don’t have enough time, I would have scoffed and mumbled under my breath, “right, you just don’t manage your time well.” Now that I am retired, I realize that the beauty of it is… I don’t have to manage my time well. Such as it has been these past couple weeks. When I started this blog, I committed to publish a post every week. I love to write. It helps me breathe. However, these past couple weeks have left me with little extra time to write a blog post. What could keep this retired person so busy? Well, quite a lot really.

Spring cleaning and decorating

The sunshine shows all of the dust and smudge prints that have accumulated over the long, dark winter, so it was time to do a little spring cleaning. Chores do not go away once you are retired, unless you hire out to have them done, which I have a hard time doing because, well…I am retired after all. Besides, it always feels good to take down the winter decorations and freshen the house up a bit for spring.

Grandkids

It is wonderful to have relaxed time to be a grandparent. When we were raising our own kids, it felt like I was always rushing or multitasking. Now I can enjoy uninterrupted time with my grands. I have been watching our new grandbaby for a few hours every week while my DIL returns to work. Precious time where I just focus on her.

My other granddaughter turned eight last week. We celebrated with a grandma nana date. I took her out for a high tea. We both dressed up and enjoyed tea with cream and sugar, little tea sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam. We learned a little bit about the history of high tea. Precious uninterrupted time together.

We have been able to attend several of my grandson’s wrestling matches, which can be all-day events. I am glad we have the time to do this – we missed too many when we spent the month of February in Florida. It is so fun to watch him enjoy and compete at the same sport his dad excelled at.

Travel

The weather has been sketchy at home and Scottsdale promised to be sunny and in the 80’s last week. We are retired, so why not make a quick trip down there to enjoy the sunshine? On a last-minute whim we packed up and made the short 2 1/2-hour flight. So glad we did. We have been hiking, riding bikes, enjoying the sunshine and pool all week. I spent a few hours in a bookstore, just nosing around the stacks without an agenda. This is a pretty cheap trip for us because we stayed at my son’s condo, since it was available for the week, and we used our free fly miles to travel back and forth. Our biggest expense was a car rental, which we got for a surprising $18.00/day.

“Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.”

Filling the Jars

So, there you have it. Life has been too chock full of fun stuff to write a real blog post this week. I had to settle for this quick recap of the last few weeks in the life of a retiree. I hope that you are able to NOT manage some of your time this week as well. It opens doors for the fun stuff.

The Upcycled Life

In keeping with my word(s) of the year, “the upcycled life.” I decided to share some of my favorite upcycled items I have created.  In my household decorating, I prefer a mix of new, upcycled and do it yourself (DIY) items.  When done well, it can be a perfect combination.  I think that the key is knowing your style.  Knowing what brings you pleasure to look at and makes you feel comfortable and at home.   If you only choose things that you love, they will typically work well together. 

I have made way too many decorating mistakes by picking something because it was the latest style, or I was in a hurry and did not want to look any further, or I was trying to save money and bought something I did not really love.  I can’t unsee that pink floral couch and loveseat that I bought years ago.  Ugh. The cover photo is a cabinet that we inherited over 30 years ago. I painted it white and sanded the edges afterwards to give it a distressed look, long before I even knew what chalk paint was. It has been my craft cabinet ever since. Mr. U added the dowel so I could hang rolls of ribbon on it. Unfortunately, I do not have before pics to show you.

Upcycling takes a discarded object that may end up in the landfill and gives it new life. It is a reinvention of sorts. It requires a vision and creativity to upcycle something and give it a second existence. But why upcycle and DIY when it so much easier and quicker to buy an item readymade?

  • It is typically less expensive. We all know that the cost of things has gone up exponentially, particularly in the past couple of years. A few cans of paint and sheets of sandpaper are a whole lot cheaper than buying a new piece of furniture.
  • It is satisfying to complete a project yourself. It is satisfying to know that you revived something that would go to the landfill or gave beauty to something that was an eyesore.
  • It builds confidence and independence. Maybe it goes back to the frontier days when people had to get creative and make do with what they had. Think of all the women that picked up a needle and thread to make beautiful, one-of-a-kind quilts out of old worn-out shirts and dresses.
  • It is more unique and can be tailored to your specific colors and style. Amazon and Walmart have made us into cookie cutter consumers. Shopping online with a simple click of a button lacks imagination and creativity. Don’t get me wrong. I love the convenience of online shopping and I do my share to feed the pig. But when you upcycle something, no one else is going to have the exact same thing. It puts your own unique stamp on it.
  • It is good for the environment. This one goes without saying. According to Environment America the average American throws out 4.9 pounds of trash per day. That is almost 1,800 pounds of material/year. Well above our body weight! Of course, a lot of this waste is organic material, but it still gives us pause to consider how we can help decrease this waste in our little corner of the world.
  • I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just feels cozier. More homey. It brings me joy to use and look at items I have upcycled. It contributes to my unique style. It can be something I thrifted or something I did myself. Either way, it just feels good and cozier to surround yourself with a few of these items.

How you upcycle may depend on what is available to you. Most people have unique opportunities for upcycling, based on where they live or people they know. We are very fortunate in that son #2 is part owner of a wood mill. He supplies us with left over wood ends that we use for projects, or as firewood. Every year we also get a couple bags of sawdust from his mill to put around our rose bushes to protect them the winter freeze. Mr. U has upcycled the wood ends in multiple ways.

Upcycling does not necessarily require remaking something, it can simply be reusing items in a new, creative, and different way. An old teapot becomes a planter. Tattered maps or sheet music can be framed, made into cards or used as wrapping paper. I have used the light tissue that old sewing patterns are stamped on as tissue for a gift basket instead of store bought. It makes a fun, unique way to wrap items, particularly if the gift is for someone else that sews. My sister-in-law gets old candles from the thrift store and melts them down. Then she pours them into cardboard egg cartons to use as fire starters. I think of Roadsidea as a form of upcycling. You are using objects from nature in new, creative ways. And don’t forget all of that leftover food sitting in your fridge that can be upcycled into a soup, salad or stir fry.

Thrifting as a form of upcycling

Thrifting (aka: buying something at a secondhand store) is a great way to reuse items that may eventually be discarded. When I see beautiful items that someone has thrifted and/or upcycled it stirs my creative juices. It is infectious, in a good way. We feed off of each other’s creativity. I am inspired every time I eat at Sorella’s restaurant. The young owner thrifted frames and gave them all a coat of bronze paint. Then she scoured secondhand and vintage shops for unique Italian pictures to put in them and they became the gallery wall that you see as soon as you enter the restaurant. She also thrifted mismatched pieces of china, serving dishes and glassware to use at the tables. Who says thrifting can’t be beautiful and elegant.

We are a throw away society. Just stop in at a secondhand store and you will find all kinds of treasures, waiting to be given new life. My good friend rummages through thrift shops for quality wool and leather clothes that she transforms into one-of-a-kind bags. She recently opened an Etsy shop, LoLo Upcycled, to sell her beautiful, unique bags. If you want some thrifting inspo, check out Liz Marie Galvan’s IG page or her recent book, Create Your Own Cozy. She has curated a lovely home with upcycled and thrifted items.

While I enjoy upcycling, I am not a purist. I do it when I see a fun and interesting project I want to try, or when I don’t want to spend the money on something new. It is a great creative outlet and is satisfying to see something transform by the work of your own hands. Have you upcycled anything lately?