Thrift Shop Chronicle: Wu Wei Way and the Coach Purse

Most of the year I have to wake up and get people places, be here and there and back there and then the other place at EXACT times or all hell could break loose.

Summer is different, summer is mine, my time is my own, and I genuinely don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do (except take the dog out).  I have spent the better part of this summer practicing wu wei – the zen art of not doing, and leaving nothing undone. 

I try to practice silence, to not write what doesn’t need to be written, and I find a generosity and grace in that disciplined pause, intentionally creating a place for thoughts and stories to grow roots.

Of course, I’m not sitting around here doing nothing.

I have cakes to bake, veterans to feed, a floor to sweep and  laundry to do over and over and over, but I only do it when I feel like it.

And yes, the dishes will get put away, when I’m ready. 

And yes I will go for a run, maybe for 2 miles, maybe for 10, I don’t know when I set out because I give myself freedom to choose and change my mind at any time, to go faster, to go slower, to find new paths.

Wu wei is so quiet that it roars,  keeping me awake, forcing me to ask myself hard questions about how I spend my energy, and cultivating  a gentle response to myself that I absolutely don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do, and doing nothing doesn’t mean I’m less of a person. This is hard to say, hard to think, and I'm not sure it's true.

One thing I don’t love to do is shop for clothes, and so I just really haven’t. My closet is simple: 4 pairs of assorted jeggings jeans from American Eagle (size 8),  one pink blazer from H&M that is 2 sizes too big, 8 tshirts from Target, 3 pairs of yoga pants and that blue shirt I wear way too much.  

This is enough for me.  It is. I’d rather spend my money in other ways, and I usually do.

This summer I asked a colleague if I could lecture in jeans and t-shirts “if I add cute heels” and she reminded me that’s what I’ve been basically wearing for a year.  She was right.

All the sudden I didn’t want to just show up in jeans, I wanted to wear skirts and dresses again and look like I was happy to be at work, but I’ve given all my stuff like that away over the past 2 years.

Time to shop, right? Nope.

 I waited. And I waited. And I didn’t go to the mall.

And I didn’t look at anything online or on TV shopping shows.

On Sunday, when I was ready and when the universe was ready for ME, I suddenly had to go visit a consignment shop that I’d never been to before, mostly because I don’t shop, much less consignment shop, but now we are going in circles, please keep up.

After meeting a student who gave me 2 lucky rocks – one from the Grand Canyon and one from the Pacific, 2 places I’ve never been – I absolutely had to go to that store, and when I saw a sign on the door that everything was 50% off, I ignored it because no way there are sales like that. No way.

Ten minutes later and I am ready to take home 6 suits. An hour later and I have 8 suits, 2 shirts and 3 pairs of super cute heels.

I’m looking through shirts when a woman asks what I think of a particular shirt.

It’s a good one for her, but it has these stripes and she has stripes on her skirt and if she ever work the shirt with that skirt she’d look crazy.

So I ask her, not with that skirt, right? And she laughs.

And we become friends, the kind of friend who says YES buy that! NO that does nothing for you! Try that with a different bra, maybe? And Ooh that’s way too OLD for you (my favorite). She never shops. I never shop. We are both stocking up on a ton of things, giddy like Christmas.

Two hours later the store is closing and I’m in the process of checking out and paying.

My new friend is in line behind me and asks the guy behind the counter if he would show her this cute purse hanging on the wall, and when he grabs it, we both swoon because it is a super cute baby Coach purse.

 I’m not big on status symbols, and neither is my new friend, but this purse was super cute AND a great label.

And it was $13.  She pondered it for a minute and I stopped her from that thinking thing and grabbed hands between mine and said, “It’s $6.50. For a Coach purse,” which was enough to make us both burst out in giddiness.

Just then he hands me my receipt.

My  total is $98.

This can’t be.

The three pairs of shoes, together, should be $100. 

Each suit should be $100.

  I’m dying here.  I really can’t take all this home and not spend $100, it feels unethical, like I’m not doing my part to support local businesses and fight global warming.


I ask my new friend to hand me the Coach purse, and her face falls like  child who has to hand over a baby kitten they had fallen in love with.

I buy the purse for her. I’m now someone who met a complete stranger and bought her a Coach purse. This is awesome, better than any Calvin Klein suit for $11.

 We hug and then I head out in the car, in the rain, readying myself to practice quiet again.