How Minimalism Transformed my Thrifting Habit

Guest blog by Allison Stewart Bishins
Allison is a recent transplant to the PNW, mom of two, community event organizer, and self-taught jewelry designer of Happy Fox Studio. Her background in urban design, federal climate change policy, marketing and bartending makes her uniquely opinionated on many relevant topics (and some irrelevant ones, too.)


For much of my adult life, I was an avid “thrifter.” I’d buy almost any vintage Pyrex or Glasbake (even though I don’t use it much) and rhinestone jewelry (though I wear it rarely). I just loved the idea of old things. Which is intensely ironic, because I absolutely hated antique shopping with my mom when I was a kid. It was so boring! But as a penny-pinching adult, who once kept track of every penny she spent for an entire year because she saw that Thomas Jefferson had done it, thrifting was a necessity and a joy. I mostly shopped for home goods, but I loved to browse the clothes, especially vintage dresses.

Then I had kids. Thrifting was great because when my 10-month-old suddenly grew out of all her long sleeve shirts at precisely the same time, I could go to the store and buy six “new” ones without breaking the budget. Then someone suggested that I read the book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. I must admit that I thought, or maybe still think, Marie Kondo is a bit bonkers. As a single woman, so much of her advice seems ridiculous for a parent, like taking everything out of your purse every night and reloading it in the morning! But pulling every item together from one category, like CDs or books, and touching each one absolutely changed the way we thought about our belongings, what we needed to keep and what genuinely brought us joy instead of stress and clutter. So, I embarked on my first round of “Kon-mari-ing” and donated 50 percent of my clothes and 8 large trash bags of “stuff” from around the house. We also packed up a third of the remaining kids toys so that they could be swapped out periodically. Eventually, I let go of about 60 books I was never going to read, 10 pairs of shoes that didn’t fit after I gave birth, 25 purses, dozens of jewelry items, and so much more. It’s become a regular cleanse now, and every time we donate, we feel a bit lighter, a bit roomier.

We recently watched the documentary The Minimalists, which gave us another push to minimize even more. You probably wouldn’t look at my house and guess we were trying to minimize, but it really has changed our daily flow and given us a sense of space we didn’t have. I’d love to get rid of even more! And we’re working on it. I recently decided I want the basement to be so sparse that the kids can ride bikes down there – and now they can!

We also decided, after watching a devastating fast fashion documentary, The True Cost, that for one year we would not buy any new clothes, unless they were fair trade and organic. With a few exceptions, like a pair of shoes because I haven’t figured that one out yet, and a few versatile tops for me when we planned a last-minute trip to China. But refraining from buying new clothes for a year forced me to shop for (gasp!) clothing at the thrift store. I’ve gotten some great, high-quality deals and blue jeans that actually fit well.

Gone are the days when I come home from the thrift store with massive amounts of home goods that I had no place for. Now, I spend time looking for good quality children’s books, clothes for my kids, a few elusive pieces for my kitchen, like a Le Creuset dutch oven and a pink glass cake plate, and a fun summertime dress or two. I still love to thrift, but I spend a lot more time browsing, touching, and trying on than I used to. For me, the biggest takeaway from the minimizing and switching to ethical fashion is that I don’t feel guilty when I buy something I love, whether it’s thrifted or new. Having a new perspective on what I need and what will make me happy makes it so much easier to say yes, or no, to that rhinestone necklace.

When you do go thrifting, here are some of my favorite places to thrift in Tacoma, and what I’ve found each to specialize in.

Life Center Thrift Store – 6331 6th Avenue, Tacoma
Look for super cheap clothes (there’s one type of clothing that’s half off each day of the week) and occasionally good quality toys. They have $.25 and $1 racks where I’ve found that magical pair of live-in jeans!

Bargain World – 4502 N Pearl Street, Tacoma
We basically only shop here on Saturdays, when everything is half off. They have fun kitchen items (including Pyrex) and the best decent quality, inexpensive kids’ clothes. They also have some fun vintage dresses.

Goodwill – 5401 6th Avenue/3121 S 38th Street/1415 E 72nd Street/8025 S Hosmer Street, Tacoma
We buy a lot of our kids’ clothes here, but it is getting more and more expensive. Sometimes they have good quality ride-on toys and they often have a dense selection of young kids’ chapter books. I prefer the one on 6th Avenue. A $.99 rack is available on a day to day basis, but the biggest savings come on double tag days (Sunday and Monday) and holidays when the entire inventory of donated items is often half-price.

Blue, Goodwill Boutique – 2520 N Proctor St., Tacoma
Is the pricier higher end pull outs from the run of the mill donation collection. With a smaller stock of name brand items, you save both time and money.

Tacoma Thrift – 2612 6th Avenue, Tacoma
This is a great place if you want a more curated selection of home goods and clothing. The prices are higher than Goodwill but you don’t have to sort through a million things, and the owner has a great eye for vintage kitchen goods.

Urban Squirrel – 747 Broadway, Tacoma
Similar to Tacoma Thrift, this is a more curated selection of home goods and vintage, with reasonable prices.

Value Village – 6802 19th Street, University Place
Good quality books (though they are more expensive than other stores), good Pyrex, glassware and jewelry. This is one of the more expensive stores, with hard to find sale items. It seems like they group together the color that’s 50% off, if you feel like digging around.

St Vincent de Paul – 4009 S 56th Street, Tacoma
This is my least favorite Tacoma-area store, but the kids’ clothes are all one price, which is easy, and they sometimes have unusual vintage home goods. Not to mention the outdoor yard, overflowing with furniture and other items for next-to-nothing prices.