Therapeutic Thrifting

Photography © by Paul Johnson

Every so often, I feel the driving need to go thrift shopping. I don’t just need to go, I “need” to go.

Most of the time, I’ll go and be happy I went. At other times, I’ll tell myself it’s a fanciful notion and try to ignore it, but that only lasts so long. The need is just too overwhelming.

I’ve been feeling that need for the past many days and so have begun wondering what brings it on. Why would anyone need to go thrift shopping? At the moment, I’m not lacking anything specific – not anything that I might find at a thrift shop, anyway. So, what’s up?

It came to me while I was puttering around the house over the weekend. There’s something about thrift shopping that’s therapeutic for me. It’s fun and gratifying to come up with the bargain, or to run across a one-of-a-kind item that nobody, nobody else in the whole world owns. Saving money is a bonus, too. Still, that’s not it. Not completely, at least.

As I was pondering this, I realized that the times when I most need to thrift shop are the times when I’m trying to work something out – like making a big decision, processing changes or disappointments, or remedy a tough situation.

Sorting through the racks and shelves is like sorting through all the details and options, one by one. Nice color. Not for me. Interesting object, but not very useful. Comfortable, but… oops, there’s a moth hole. Cool piece of furniture, but too much effort to refurbish. Perfect! But, argh, it doesn’t fit. And so on.

Moving from one end of the store to the other, going through the merchandise section by section, is like going through whatever is stuck in my craw aspect by aspect while determining what looks like a plausible solution and what’s just more useless banter swirling in my head.

This is no minor endeavor – neither the figuring out nor the thrift shopping. Both take meticulousness and persistence. Once in a while, I’ll want to look for one specific item, like a vase or lamp shade (clothes are never, ever that easy). Then the men folk might come along, as long as I promise to make it quick. Usually, though, this is process takes several hours and sometimes pulls me from one thrift shop to another. So, when I’m in one of those I-need-to-thrift-shop moods, I warn the guys ahead of time, lest they accuse me of entrapment.

Once, I noticed that our then 7-year-old, youngest son had disappeared. I scoured the place for him, to no avail. He wasn’t in the toy section, not in the bathroom, not by the books, not even waiting at the door. I started to panic. Then I heard it; that snurfley, slurpy sniffle that could belong to only one person. It was right behind me, coming from a round rack with sweaters on it. I pulled aside the garments. Lo and behold, there was little John, sitting in the middle of the crossbars, literally bored to tears! Poor guy.

The only way I could get him to come out was to promise him that he would never have to go thrift shopping with Mommy ever again. Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s gone with me – even on a quick trip – and the only way he’ll agree to that is if Dad goes, too, so the two of them can escape and take the car someplace more fun when he feels the round rack calling to him again.

It’s better that I go alone for other reasons, also.  As I’m pilfering through potential deals, my mind and soul are engaged in mulling, analyzing, piecing, and problem solving. I’m drifting in a solitary world, separated from the people around me, except for an occasional “excuse me” when our carts bump or I accidentally reach in front of someone. My conversational abilities are nil, save for smatters of head-talk that only God can understand. I’m in my own little space, and the physical shuffling of second-hand goods somehow helps the mental/emotional shuffling of the first-hand matters that weigh on my heart.

As I discover various treasures to take home, I coincidentally discover the treasures within me and begin to see my way clear.

We all achieve clarity in unique ways. Perhaps it’s exercise, manual labor, or a hobby. Maybe only time before the Eucharist will do. Regardless, there are two important elements: 1) stepping back from the world and 2) opening our minds and hearts to God’s wisdom. Whatever works for us, the most important part is to know when we need it and to follow up on that need. When we do, who knows what treasures we’ll find within.


Marge’s latest book, Strengthening Your Family, published by Our Sunday Visitor, was released November 1, 2011.

Visit Marge’s website: http://margefenelon.com/

Follow Marge on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/margaret.fenelon



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About the Author

Marge has been writing for a variety of both secular and Catholic publications for longer than she’d like to admit. She also spent some years as a public relations consultant. Now you’ll most often find her byline in National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. She’s a regular columnist for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald and various internet publications. She’s a regular guest on Sacred Heart Radio’s “Sonrise Morning Show” with Brian Patrick, and has appeared a number of times on “Catholic Connections” with Teresa Tomeo. She’s also appeared on “A Conversation with the Archbishop” with Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, Sirius Radio’s “Busted Halo Show” with Fr. Dave Dwyer, and Relevant Radio’s “Morning Air” with Sean Herriot, among others. Her list of book credits are quickly growing; her most recent being "Strengthening Your Family; A Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home" (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011). She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a Public Relations Emphasis, a Certificate in Spiritual Mentoring, and a Certificate in Marian Studies. She’s a member of the Catholic Press Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Mariological Society of America. Marge is a nationally-known speaker and has presented to audiences in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. With her husband, Mark, she assists in the faith formation of young married couples. They’re members of the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement and have four mostly-grown children, who, combined with a rocket of a dog named Daisy, configure the fun-loving and sometimes outrageous Fenelon Clan. The core of her spirituality is the pedagogy of Servant of God, Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), founder of the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement.

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