The Art Of The Thrift In Pandemic Times

When people ask me what I miss most about the Before Times, it’s movie theatres, thrifting, and human touch. In that exact order. Now that it’s been more than a year since I last set foot in a movie theatre – I thank my lucky stars every day that I had the foresight to take myself to a double feature of the bovine masterpiece First Cow and the forgettably mediocre Hope Gap the weekend before the first lockdown – I crave the distraction-less blanket of darkness and smooth brain effect that only a Sunday matinee surrounded by seniors offers me. And while I can still smell the popcorn, hear the ice sloshing around in giant sodas, and feel my thighs peeling off the leather seat in the middle of a July heatwave, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there’s just no substitute for going to the movies. As for human touch…well, let’s just not go there. I have, however, found a substitute for thrifting: Online! Estate! Auctions!

I’m always on the lookout for haunted objects, novelty mugs, original merch from The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and Kate Bush vinyl, so I am often found looking through other people’s unwanted junk at thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales. The pandemic, however, has largely made that impossible. I realize this is a small, privileged gripe in comparison to the hardship and collective grief of the past several months, but as the cold weather set in last fall, I lamented not being able to shop for oversized sweaters circa the 1980s at Value Village. My desire to find weird pottery hand-painted by someone’s spinster aunt was at an all-time high. What can I say? I simply need kitsch to live.

Now, I am no stranger to Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and eBay. I can scroll for hours. Last year, I found several pieces of balcony furniture that I’m still happy with. My friends have even asked me to source items for them, which I take on with a vigour that I wish I applied to literally anything else in my life. That being said, you do have to go in knowing what you’re looking for, which is the antithesis of thrifting. The whole point of thrifting is NOT knowing what you’re looking for. Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there should be no stakes in thrifting.

Anyway, a few months ago, I was deep into my nightly dissociation ritual of combing through the internet when I saw a targeted ad for an estate sale (the algorithm works!). It was in-person by appointment only and, reader, I was tempted. I really wanted to go! I wanted to touch some expensive furs in a musty closet and spend 10 minutes talking myself out of buying a cool but ultimately functionless rotary phone. But that seemed frivolous at best, and irresponsible at worst.

Then it hit me: there must be VIRTUAL estate sales! And there are. Duh, of course there are. I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered it before, but I think the universe knew I was nearing the end of my umpteenth Real Housewives of New York City rewatch and I would soon need something else to numb my senses into the wee hours. This is when MaxSold came into my life.

MaxSold is an online auction website, a midcentury modern haven, a safe place for collectors, and an absolute dream for anyone needing a thrift fix. If you’re serious about buying, you can search for estate sales by location. If you just want to LOOK AT STUFF (hello, it’s me), you can jump around to most major cities in North America. There are plenty of new auctions every day and hundreds of treasures just waiting to be unearthed. And that’s the best part; that’s really why thrifting is such a thrill. You never know what you’re going to find. Sometimes it’s a ceramic red poodle and other times it’s a collectable Kraft Dinner phone from at least three decades ago. We love it all!

While I miss the tactile experience of thrifting in person, online estate auctions recreate that sense of discovery for me. There’s something new (well, old) waiting just beyond the next click. There’s something new every day. And during the pandemic, fresh experiences have been replaced with monotony. I feel grateful that I get to write that, but I also feel tired of the tedium.

So I bid! I bid small amounts on tacky figurines and costume jewellery. I bid on art deco lamps and vintage stationery. I’ve actually never won a single auction, but who cares! For a brief part of my day, I am living wild and free, throwing toonies at a wicker handbag until someone wants it more than I do (and someone always does). Remember that thing about no stakes? Online estate auctions are about as no stakes as it comes. And it feels good.

I hope to one day return to thrifting in the wild. And by the wild, I mean the Aberfoyle Antique Market in Guelph. As far away as it feels, my heart needs to believe I will once again sift through a box of silk scarves while drinking a tart lemonade. Until then, I invite you to log on for a virtual browse. Just promise you won’t outbid me, okay?

Tags: shopping thrift, thrift shopping, thrift store, thrift stores, thrifting, top story, topstory

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    • Mark Salter
    • May 10, 2021

    Wonderful article.

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