The Nerd’s Guide to Thrifting, Part I: Trying to keep a broad perspective.

Sweater: Tradlands Modern Fisher in Sienna, Shoes: Sperry TopSiders (thrifted), Glasses: Eye Buy Direct ‘Quill’ in Tortoise, Jeans: Adriano Goldschmied (gift from a friend)

Part one of this series deals with an error that I have committed time after time, and it takes real effort to avoid it. But if you take the time to train yourself, you’ll be able to avoid so much money spent on items that just weren’t ultimately as great as they seemed before you brought them home!

Try to maintain a broad perspective.

Especially when you’re not at thrift stores known for their high quality, it’s very easy to find one mediocre piece amongst the dull and low-quality options and accidentally only see it in comparison to its sadder compatriots. This is analogous to the idea proposed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman called ‘narrow framing,’ which is the tendency for investors to be too myopic when they consider specific investments, forgetting to keep a broader perspective of their entire portfolio in mind. (It’s also just a general cognitive quirk that we are really good about comparing things that are right in front of us, to the exclusion of the rest of the world! This once-adaptive human ability is now much more difficult to manage in such a complicated modern environment, resulting in systematic errors, or ‘biases.’)

I made this mistake for years, oddly not discovering my error until I moved from New Mexico to Seattle. Largely due to this kind of error, it was really hard to see that I rarely ended up loving anything I bought at thrift stores there because they just didn’t have much retail that was my style in the city (more on this issue in Part III).

How to deal with it:

  • Imagine how your closet looks at home, and then imagine hanging up the new piece alongside your other carefully-selected favorites. If it dulls in comparison, put it back and get outta there!
  • Imagine you’re at the mall or shopping online for something new. Does the item in question compare to what you might’ve found new in a store filled with lovely options and all manner of sizes to provide the perfect fit? Or is it just the best thing you’ve found on that particular thrifting adventure, and won’t ultimately hold a candle to what you actually own?
  • Along the same lines as the last point, try to guard against ‘thrift store good’ versus ‘bought new good’ mental categories. All the items in your closet should be on the same level in terms of joy, quality, versatility, fit, or whatever categories you value. Unless you’re there to buy some clothes to get paint on while you finally paint over that 70s-olive-green bathroom, you should train yourself to always compare every new purchase with what you already own, regardless of where it came from or how good of a deal it was. This is analogous to the cognitive error we make with money where we religiously clip coupons for .50 cents off a $3 loaf of bread, but won’t drive across town for $100 off a $20k new car purchase from a different dealership running a sale on the same car.

Our tendency to reference the wrong items for comparisons–the clothes around us in the thrift store, or the large $20k pricetag–creates mental categories that turn out to be totally arbitrary. The $100 doesn’t know where or how or why it was saved, it’s just $100 still sitting in your bank account. Likewise, that ‘thrift store good’ skirt ultimately may just be a mediocre skirt hanging in your closet, unworn.

So, give it a try and see if you can up your thrifting game with a few simple mental checks that will hopefully increase your successes, and hugely cut down on those infuriating ‘what was I thinking?!’ episodes!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s