Riches to Rags


left-leaning wear

Urgency Day 66

500 Things Items 421-22: Two Men’s Shirts

  • History: Years ago, there was a Christmas when everyone gave Paul shirts from Eddie Bauer
  • Value: Many many years of reliable, wrinkle-free service
  • Parting Pain: Yes, a little, for the nice fabric
  • Un-possessing: They’ll probably go from “riches” to rags. It’s a theme.

One of the joys of my downsizing project has been discovering the merits of good old American thrift–

— and by American, I mean anyone-anywhere’s grandparents. My maternal grandmother was Powhatan-enough­­­, as we like to say. She could and did:

  • Sew, crochet and knit
  • Can, pickle and preserve
  • Clean fish and pick steamed blue crabs to a fare-thee-well
  • Start and run two successful small businesses
  • Squeeze a penny until it screamed

And, darn her, she didn’t live nearly long enough to teach me this stuff. Of all her skills, I’m working hardest on the penny-minding. I’ve been able to pick a blue crab clean for years, but at current market prices, doing this would negate many many of my pennies. Many.

Part of minding pennies is recognizing that we already have enough stuff. More than enough stuff. So when something wears out, we don’t necessarily replace it.  A few things, yes we do, but many things, there is simply no real need. I’ve written about several items that challenge need-to-replace expectations:

Exhibit A: My toaster broke and was not replaced. I continue to use the oven broiler.

Exhibit B: My blender was breaking; it could have been fixed, but I was unexpectedly given a new one– which I kept.

Now these examples may be a matter of personal tastes: I don’t mind broiling and I don’t mind gifts. But here is my take-away: I didn’t rush right out and replace either of these failing items. My family found another way to carry on toasting and blending.

Not personal enough for you, how about clothes? What if I suggested not shopping for clothes for around 2 years? And yes, “clothes” includes shoes.

It just got personal, right?

In the last approximately two years—a time span which includes the expected downsizing (Sam’s departure for college) and the un-expected downsizing (Paul’s departure from corporate America)—I have purchased 2 new scarves and a couple of tee shirts. That’s it. Didn’t buy a new frock for my niece’s wedding; haven’t even gone the dreaded-bra shopping. I’ve just made do. We’ve just made do, Paul and I, that is– Sam’s a growing boy.

And yet we’ve managed to look presentable each and every day, by wearing what we’ve already got in our closets.

Last week when Paul pointed out the holes in the elbows of the two dress shirts I’m downsizing today, I was actually sad. I love these shirts. I love the material– the nice crisp cotton broadcloth– and I love that they didn’t need ironing: Thank you Eddie Bauer wrinkle-resistant fabrics. But mostly, I love these shirts because they perfectly set off my sweetheart’s eyes. He has the nicest blue eyes.

He also has—and he will confirm this—enough shirts; these two won’t be replaced. How many is enough? Ask your grandmother. It’s almost certainly fewer than you already have.

But now, I do think it’s time for something new.

It’s time I learned to sew.


5 Responses to “Riches to Rags”

  1. melanie Says:

    Oh my GOSH! It’s a joy to forgo bra shopping. It is a curse to GO bra shopping. Forget waterboarding for Enemies of the State; make them go bra shopping! They will confess to anything rather than do that. I know I would.

    My youngest son taught me real freedom and real luxury is being able to say, “I have enough.” He has two pairs of jeans. I offered to get him a third. “Why? I have enough.” Love him. MY definition of real luxury is having 20 rolls of toilet paper at the ready. That’s what I call freedom from want.

  2. sthibeault Says:

    And I ADORE your 20 rolls of toilet paper. When the apocalypse happens, I’m heading to your house, Melanie.

  3. melanie Says:

    In any apocalypse, we all need two things: chocolate bars and toilet paper. I’ll save you a spot at my house.

  4. Donna Says:

    Many years ago Jim and I heard a story in the sermon at mass on Sunday. Father Culkin (God rest his soul) told of a man of really meager, really really meager means who owned two pairs of socks. When Father offered to give him an additional pair or two, the man turned him down saying, “Why would I need more socks? I wear one pair, while I’m washing out the other.” I’ve never forgotten this man and his socks and I think of him with special wonder when I’m putting away my socks in a drawer with several pair which rarely, if ever, get worn. Or when I hang up one of my many shirts/blouses/slacks — whatever — in the closet, I wonder how little I could make do with. I do purge my clothing from time to time, but I hang onto a lot that I really should pass on–to my shame, I think.

  5. sthibeault Says:

    Father Culkin… wow. Well, I also think of the story our mother tells of her Soviet-era tour guide on her and Go Go’s trip to Russia. She says the guy would rinse out his one shirt every night and was always neat and fresh for their morning bus departures. Also, I love the seasonal project of turning all your current clothes hangars the wrong way on the rod, and only turning them around when you actually wear the item. At the end of the season, you know precisely what you’ve worn and can be properly chagrined at what a small percentage of your clothes it actually is. (And by “you/your,” I mean “I/me/mine.”)

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