• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Let me tell you about my week.

Someone gave us a bunch of green beans. Wonderful! We love green beans. I looked forward to canning them.

There was one problem, though – I’ve been canning so much that I had run out of canning jars. I had nothing left to use for the beans.

My husband was going to town (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, an hour’s drive away) to buy some clothes at one of our favorite thrift shops, St. Vincent de Paul. I asked him to look for canning jars.

He came back a few hours later with new (used) clothes but no jars. “They told me that there’s been a run on canning jars,” he said, “because everyone is now canning.”

OK, fine. But I still needed jars, at least three dozen.

My daughters and I went to Coeur d’Alene just yesterday to run some errands. Before leaving, I called literally every thrift store in town and asked if they had canning jars. Nope, not one. So I called a large grocery store and asked if they had canning jars. They had two dozen left for nearly $10 a dozen (ack!). So I logged onto Craig’s List for the area and typed in “canning jars.” Twenty-five entries came up, 12 of which were urgent pleas for canning jars and the rest were ads for “vintage” jars at exorbitant prices.

This was getting annoying.

In town I stopped at the largest of the grocery stores and inquired where they stocked their canning jars. The clerk pointed to Aisle 7, on the bottom left shelf … where there was an enormous gaping hole. Seriously, not one jar left.

Needing to pick up some items at St. V de P, off we went. There was a long line at the donations door, which surprised me. Inside, there were long lines at the cash registers, which surprised me even more. The store was packed, something I’ve never seen in all our years of shopping there. Inquiries into the remote possibility of canning jars were, of course, futile. (“We got three dozen in yesterday,” a woman told me, “and they were gone within five minutes.”)

Fine, whatever. We found the items we needed and stood in line at the cash register. The cashier told me they’ve been swamped all week.

The girls and I drove home, a little dazed. There appeared to be not one canning jar left for sale in all of Coeur d’Alene.

And a thrift store packed? Since when? The people who shopped there regularly were like us – families on modest incomes who had long ago discovered that clothing at thrift stores is cheap, high quality and fashionable. But now … well, now St. V de P had apparently been “discovered” by the mainstream population. Oh dear.

At first I was irritated. How dare people shop in MY thrift store and covet MY canning jars? How dare there be lines of people buying recycled clothes and household goods?

But then it dawned on me: at last some people were “getting it.” The thrift that my husband and I were forced to adopt 15 years ago when we started our home business was now being forced upon others, whether they liked it or not.

And people are rising to the occasion.

A couple weeks ago, I read an article that highlighted a newly frugal family. Prior spendthrifts, they now “walk most everywhere, they rarely eat out, they sometimes buy clothing at consignment shops, and they turn the lights off when they leave a room.”

I confess I gave a snort of contempt when I read this. They “sometimes” buy clothing at (comparatively high-priced) consignment shops? Gee, that’s big of them. What rookies. What greenhorns. Those of us who hold black belts in frugality, who haven’t paid more than $6 for sneakers since 1993, who have conniptions when our monthly electric bill is $50, tend to look with disdain at these newbies. Nearly all our household furnishings (that haven’t been hand-made) were bought in thrift stores. The last time we ate in a fancy restaurant was, uh … 2006. I think.

And yet … and yet, I bookmarked that article because it intrigued me. I like it when people find out what we discovered many years ago: that frugality is freeing. You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Your ego blooms as you realize you don’t care what people think of your possessions. You can give up the security of a deadening corporate job to embrace the financially insecure but never-boring life of working for yourself. Kinda neat, isn’t it?

Americans, resilient people that they are, are going to learn thrift the hard way in the next few years. It won’t always be fun or easy, of course. It’s terrifying to lose one’s job, medical benefits and paycheck. It’s heartbreaking to lose one’s home. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making light of Joe Plumber’s struggles in this economy.

But we Americans had to learn sometime. This road of prosperity couldn’t last forever, especially with the government spending three times more than it takes in, year after year, to support “prosperity” for those who didn’t believe in working for it themselves. Sometimes, in the long run, it’s good for us to have a rude wakeup call and rediscover the thrift that allowed our forebears to go through life without a crippling mortgage or overloaded debt. We’ve forgotten what it was like to live modestly. Now’s our chance to learn – sometimes the hard way, sometimes by choice, but to learn nonetheless.

So let me extend a hand of welcome to those who are new to frugality. It’s a lot of fun, folks. There’s tons of creativity to coming up with cheap solutions to a problem. Thrift stores are absolutely fabulous places to shop. You’ll make new friends who are either old hands at thrift, or are learning alongside you. And like it or not, you’ll be spending more time with your family and neighbors.

But keep your hands off my canning jars.


  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.