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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Squeam Factor and Thrift Shopping

A tip of my hat to Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette for the term "squeam factor." Squeam as in squeamish. As I recall, Amy recounted a conversation with a neighbor. Spying the neighbor tossing out an apple with a single bite, Amy intervened with a rescue recipe: a single baked apple! The neighbor recoiled with an "Ewwww. I couldn't keep that germy apple!"

I thought of this scenario when I was procrastinating by reading frugality blogs. There was a list of "What not to buy at Thrift Stores." This included various things that I have bought--and will continue to buy--at thrift stores.

One was bedding. If you have a taste for 200 thread count combed cotton sheets as I do, you pretty much have to go the thrift store route. The high thread count mania has led to the availability of (to me) slimy sheets made of inferior cotton. See Cheryl Mendelson's great book Home Comforts if you don't believe me. In fact, thrifting also enables me to buy bedding I would never buy owing to the expense: like an Yves Delorme sheet of exquisite quality cotton. I might even buy a replacement for $140.00 when this one wears out; it's that good. I get lots of great sheets and pillow cases for very little . . . because of the squeam factor.

Another was underwear. Oh Frugal Son, I hope this doesn't embarrass you. When Frugal Son was in 4th grade he declared that he wanted boxer shorts like the other boys were wearing. I rolled my eyes, but I always try to accommodate desires when possible so as not to raise twisted materialistic children. I first discovered that kids' boxer shorts were expensive! Then I discovered that boxers from the Gap and Old Navy went for all of $0.25 at thrifts. There was a huge selection because kids outgrow things quickly and . . . because of the squeam factor.

Some things that everyone wants are ridiculously expensive at thrift stores: corning ware, tupperware, pots and pans, all these have prices matching or even even exceeding the new cost. At least where I live. But items with a squeam factor attached are plentiful and ridiculously cheap. Honestly, all it takes is a trip though the washer and dryer to remove the squeam.

Even I sometimes succumb to the squeam factor. Just the other day, I ran into a thrift acquaintance. Nancy was ecstatically rummaging through a drawer that I had never noticed: bras $1.00. She had a huge load of bras with price tags still attached. She confided, "I get all my bras here because no one ever looks into this drawer." You go, girl! Good job.

So Readers: would you, could you, do you buy squeam items? What, for you, is acceptable? What is "beyond the pale?"


FB @ said...

My squeam factor is underwear. That's it. Maybe shoes. It depends... because we DO try on display shoes all the time that people have shoved their feet into, but shoes at a thrift store have been used and well worn... so..

Everything else is fair game after a couple of hot washes and cleaning. :)

Duchesse said...

I wouldn't buy a bra unless tags still on. They can look good but the support is gone. I bought all my kids' summer tees and swimsuits at Value Village- so much stock is new.

Squeam comes into play for me with underarm odor. If a garment has the slightest whiff, I will pass. I once bought an exquisite vintage dress in Dublin and could never get the funky underarm smell out.

Sheets for me- have never found anything really crisp enough but when my sons need stuff for their first apt., they will check it out.

Organe A-Peel is my favourite laundry weapon for making anything fresh, as my family seems pretty good at generating its own squeam!

Duchesse said...

Sorry, that should be Orange A-Peel.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Probably draw the line at a toothbrush. :P

Seriously, most things can be washed well enough to get rid of any squeam factor.

Chance said...

As a public health person, I believe in the power of hot water and maybe bleach to disinfect. My only concern is with really used shoes because I worry about althlete's foot and toenail fungus so I wouldn't buy running shoes in the thrift store.

But the shoes I buy in thrift stores are girly work shoes, and so they have to pass as new, and often are brand new, for cheap. It's a good thing. No worries there.

Bras with the tags on for a buck are one of the greatest bargains in thrift stores. I have cleaned up in that department. No problem there.

Ditto for sheets, no problem, I wash them on the hot cycle and love my high thread count all cotton sheets. Once I got one that I was almost positive came from a high end hotel that closed down, and I worried a little about bedbugs, as we were having a hotel outbreak of them that was in all the papers. I hauled out the canning pot and simmmered the sheet in hot water for an hour, a guaranteed bedbug egg killer, then washed. Ahhhh, sheer luxury.

I have a couple of emotional, not rational squeams. I won't buy anything that smells bad of BO, even if I think I can get it out. A whiff's okay, since I only buy natural fibers, but detectable from six inches away, no. Never.

Ladies underpants, even though I know a hot water wash would take care of cooties, it is just...a barrier for me. Underwear is cheap. That said, it is anatomy actually, I wouldn't hesitate to buy the boy boxers and give them a good wash. You know what I'm sayin'.

Sheets with stains of any kind, even removable ones, no. Again, just an emotional squeam.

Most people nowadays wash their stuff before sending them to the store, but it goes without saying that everything should be washed before wearing -- crabs, body lice, and other cooties can't survive a hot water and soap wash, and you never know, so I never take the chance of wearing without washing, even stuff with tags on.

Funny about Money said...

Beds. I wouldn't buy a bed in a thrift store: too hard to get the cooties out.

One reason I don't shop in thrift stores is that I bought a pair of pretty, formerly very expensive dry-clean-only silk pants at Buffalo Exchange the first and last time I shopped there. Only after I got them home did I find the crusty, dried-on menstrual stain in the crotch. Ick! That pretty much extended the squeam factor to EVERYTHING thrift-storish.

Frugal Scholar said...

@FB--I confess I get shoes all the time.
@Duchesse--Yes--the secret is that a lot is new. My Goodwill is supposed to remove the tags, but some slip by them. Looked up your washing secret--I will get some next trip to Canada!
@Cubicle--I don't think I've ever seen a toothbrush at a thrift, so you are safe.
@Chance--The expert has spoken! Thanks.
@Funny-Yuck. Give it another try. I'm a newbie at Buff, but they've gone over my stuff with a fine-tooth comb.