You Can Always Wash Your Hands

In the weeks leading up to moving, I’ve been packing very slowly, because I knew if I didn’t break the work down into baby steps, it would never get done. I have the unfortunate tendency of working in short bursts of inspiration and then leaving things untouched for weeks, so I started early to allow myself plenty of time to finish at a comfortable pace. It didn’t help that I decided to also go through my stuff as I packed it, so as to kill two birds with one stone and end up moving less in the end (because everyone knows moving sucks!).

If you saw inside of my apartment though, you’d probably ask what I’m even going through in the first place. Due to homelessness, I’ve lost nearly everything I own several times in my life, and my possessions are tellingly sparse. Most of my furniture was free, collected as I found each piece sitting out by the curb, brought it inside, and cleaned it up. Other pieces were handed down to me by friends (my favorite velvet yellow armchair was a castoff from my friend Christina) or kind strangers (a folding card table and kitchen chairs). The only piece I actually purchased was a king-size mattress set from a thrift store called Y.O.T.O. that delivers for an extra fee (super rare for a thrift store). At the time, it was the only feasible way for me to get a bed, as I didn’t have a vehicle or anyone to help me move it. 

Bed sweet bed.

The idea that the majority of my furniture came from the trash may be off-putting to the average person, but let me start by saying I’m not a dumpster diver. I’ve never intentionally climbed into a dumpster and dug around looking for stuff, not that there’s anything wrong with doing so, or that I wouldn’t if I spotted something good enough. But all my finds were pure happenstance, spotted either next to a dumpster or sitting on top, with very little digging involved.

Why is there so much perfectly good stuff just chilling out by the curb, you ask? Well, for the unaware, Springfield is a college town and I live fairly close to MSU campusfar enough away that my apartment isn’t full of students, but most of the surrounding complexes areandd when they move out at the end of the school year, most would rather leave their furniture behind than try to move it back home, if they even have room for it. Once they ditch it, that’s where people like me come in.

A common sight in my neighborhood.

I attribute my affinity for scavenging in equal parts to my upbringing and personality. When I was a kid, my dad owned a flea market called Scenic Hill–a sprawling, flat brick building on Scenic Avenue where my siblings and I spent long hours doing homework, watching VHS on a tiny TV in the office, helping clean (I still remember pushing the dreaded dust mop down the aisles), and playing PC games and Super Nintendo in a back-corner booth. It eventually went under and was torn down to make way for a Family Video, but for a couple years, it was a second home in which I was literally surrounded by junk. 

While I resented having to help out with my dad’s business, I never really saw the junk as junk, which is what I meant by personalitysomething in me is attracted to old, used, unwanted stuff. It’s intriguing to me, interesting, with a history and a soul to which new just couldn’t compete. To me, having new stuff feels like wearing a brand new pair of shoes–the whole time you’re so afraid of getting them dirty or scuffed that you can’t be yourself in them. You can’t jump in puddles or wander off the path when the urge strikes. Also, your feet probably hurt because they aren’t broken in yet. But junk? Junk is comfy and safe. Junk is also relatively cheap, so to a poor kid like myself it was accessiblebecause if you do mess it up, well, there’s no harm done. Not monetarily anyway.

My favorite shoes are also the most beat-up.

I love the uniqueness of the used, the idea that no one else around has the exact same thing as me. I love the random chance, that I never know exactly what I’ll find until the moment I find it. It’s nothing like a store, with bright lights and everything neatly categorized and labeled and easy to find; it’s a cluttered mess, a hodgepodge, and I love picking through it for the possibility of a good find, like a raven in search of a sparkle. I love the chase, the thrill of the hunt, and probably always will. I don’t know whether to call it a hobby or a lifestyle, but I estimate 95% of my wardrobe and books are thrifted, and some of my favorite finds came from flea markets. Most recently I bought a bike, which me and my boyfriend are currently in the process of painting. Okay, so it’s mostly him painting, but still. 😛

This is kind of a tangent, but I actually have a theory as to why I enjoy thrifting so much. For those familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, I’m an INTP, and I figure I find junk intriguing because my Intuition goes crazy trying to analyze the object’s origins (obviously I can never know for sure, so my intuition is never “bored”), past, uses, and whether or not I can incorporate it into my life. Thinking enjoys the challenge of trying to piece together say, a complete wardrobe exclusively from random finds, and a strange part of me takes pride in this, as it obviously requires time, patience, and strategy to pay off, kind of like chess. 

All my clotheses.

In my dad’s case, he was able to make a literal payoff from it. After the flea market failed, he opened a furniture store, which he filled with purchases from thrift stores. He would move them in a huge fifteen-passenger van, clean up, and resell them at a higher price to make a profita process I was often involved with.

My dad has many faults which I won’t get into here, but I can’t deny the fact that he’s the true definition of an entrepreneur. I didn’t appreciate this then, but now that I’m a full-time corporate slave, I definitely respect it. He’s the one who taught me not to be afraid of hard work or getting my hands a little dirty. Whenever I balked or squealed at having to touch anything I considered gross (the list was long), my dad would quip, “You can always wash your hands.” It’s a mantra that still plays in my head sometimes, whether I’m scrubbing shit-specked toilets at work, killing my own spiders, or pulling a dented coffee table from a dumpster, and it’s a lesson I’m eternally grateful for. ~

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