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Investing in quality

The Nordstrom Half-Yearly Sale starts tomorrow! Who's going shopping?

Not me, unfortunately. But over the years, particularly while I earned an income, I learned to appreciate this sale. I can look into my closet today and point out clothes that I bought ten years ago -- clothes that are classic and well-made -- and while they seemed expensive at the time, the actual CPW (cost per wearing) is a steal.


I also have clothing that I purchased fifteen years ago from resale shops that I still wear. Remember these wool roll-neck J. Crew sweaters that were so popular in the 90's? They probably cost around $70 back then, waaay out of my non-profit salary range. So in 1994 when I found one at the Buffalo Exchange for $8 I was pretty happy. I still love that sweater, it's in excellent condition, and I wear it all the time (and now recognize that $70 would have been a bargain considering the CPW). What I don't have in my closet are all of the clothes I've purchased from Target over the years. All of those cute, trendy clothes that didn't fit quite right but were so cheap that I couldn't not buy them. Within a year they had shrunk and faded. Bad investment.

Until I got married, I didn't really need to invest in big-ticket items. I lived in rentals with roommates, furnished with futons and garage sale furniture. But when I met my husband, I was 28 and he was 43, and he had had a long professional career and lived very differently. He owned a house and a nice car and didn't hesitate to invest in new, quality clothing and furniture. Talk about culture shock! I found this kind of mindset both disturbing and thrilling. At the time I was uncomfortable with the amount of money spent on stuff, but I have learned to appreciate -- over the years -- how well these 'investments' have lasted.

So now when we do buy something big, I ask myself, "Will this last for the next 30 years? Or a lifetime?" If the answer is yes and we have the money, then it's a no-brainer. The scant few times a year I shop for clothes for myself (mostly from the sale rack at a local boutique) I look for quality-made classics, because I know they can stand up over many years (and if you know me, you know I am a long ways from trendy). I also find that if I spend a bit more on clothes and shoes I tend to take better care of them, and then they last even longer. If I had more time and inclination, I'd be shopping resale stores for myself -- not just my kids. I know from my past that you can find excellent quality stuff for bargain basement prices if you're willing to buy used and do a little digging. Now I await the monster Catlin Gabel Rummage Sale here in Portland to score some fab buys.

The lure of cheap products is strong -- they are everywhere! But so many of them are disposable. What do you do with a cracked, chipped, broken melamine laminate table from IKEA? You probably can't fix it, and no one will want it. Garbage. (But I still selectively love IKEA.) I try to stay out of Target completely now because the lure to buy is so strong, but I've thrown away too much money at that place! Occasionally you get an anomaly -- like the Old Navy long-sleeved tee purchased seven years ago and washed at least 300 times, which shows no sign of falling apart. I think that's dumb luck.

Investing in quality is a mindset. We are an instant-gratification society, and when you can run out and buy a house full of furniture for cheap, then that's pretty powerful. Harder is saving up to buy something that will last for generations. (Or spending many weekends searching resale shops for the perfect vintage table, which has already lasted generations!) But it's worth it, both environmentally and fiscally, don't you think?


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