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Care package companies: the breakdown

I am a girl who loves to send a care package (love to receive them, too!). Nothing excites me quite like picking out a bunch of “I hope this makes you smile!” items, packing them up, and mailing them to someone I love. Except, of course, for the actual packing and mailing part. See, I love to CONCEPTUALIZE care packages, and buy things for them, but I’m less into the logistical aspects. And, sometimes, I just can’t seem to get it done at all.

So, I started to poke around to see if someone else was doing it for me. I envisioned a company making up and sending out care packages that could be customized, little gifts that would let my family or friends know I was thinking of them, without my ever having to do so much as find my packing tape. And there are a number of these companies, so I thought I’d build a list (because if there’s something I love as much as a care package, it’s a list) for my own reference, and for your information. This is what I found:

Carepackages.com: Focused on packages for college students, including specialty packages for holidays and themed packages like “healthy options” and “graduation.” Packages range in price from $20-$85 (and a few non-college student centered options are included) plus S&H.; Most packages seem to consist largely of name brand junk food.

GourmetGiftBaskets.com: The care package section of the site features various food-based care packages for intended recipients including college students, service members, and children away at camp. Packages range from $34.99-$59.99, plus S&H.; Focus of most is on junk/snack food, though the children’s options also include games, toys, and art materials. The rest of the site, however, includes gift baskets for every imaginable intended recipient, from “mini-baskets” for under $25 through huge executive gift hampers for up to $250.

Care4Troops: Though the focus is on care packages for service members, there are also options for college students and friends and family members. Packages start at $28 and go up, and there are options to design your own packages. Items available include candy, snack foods, and small toys/gifts. S&H; is included in package prices.

Care package

Ultimate Party Animal Package from Custom Care Packages, $37.79

Custom Care Packages: This Utah-based company focuses on care packages for students, military members, and missionaries, as well as a few corporate offerings. Packages range from $15.49-$62.66, plus S&H;, with various add-on options also available. The usual candy and snack options are included, as are a variety of homemade baked goods. A “party animal” package also includes party fixings like streamers, a mini pinata, balloons, and a mini disco ball.

Care package
Get Well Sooner Care Package from Hip Kits, $49.97-$59.97

Hip Kits: Hip Kits is another company focused on care packages for college students. Packages are available for holidays, exams, or “just because.” Prices range from $19.97-$73.97, plus S&H;, with most packages available in two sizes and at two price points. Again, the packages are largely junk food-based, but other options are also available, including a healthy snack options package, a “pampering” package, and a “now what??” graduation survival package.

Beyond Bookmarks: Affiliated with Hip Kits, Beyond Bookmarks offers the same types of packages, but also has offerings for kids at camp, service members, and corporate recipients.

Care Package Cafe: Once again, focused on college student care packages, mostly of the junk food variety. Prices range from $39.95-$49.95, plus S&H.; They do offer two “healthy snack” options.

Care package
Mommy’s Hospital Overnight Bag Care Package from Minimus, $39.95

Minimus: Minimus has the most extensive offerings I found. They offer packages, called kits, in categories as broadly ranging as Baby & Family, Camp & Outdoors, Romance, Office & Work, and “The Bachelor Guy.” Prices are extremely wide-ranging, from a few dollars for basic shaving/toiletry kits to several hundred dollars for train cases full of fancy toiletries. It seems you can find almost anything here. Some of my favorites include the Office Survival Kit (how great as a congratulations present for someone with a new job!) and the Al Naturale Mom-To-Be Kit (maybe as a gift for a pregnant lady about to go into labor?). They also offer an impressively wide variety of military-specific kits and really cool looking care-package-of-the-month clubs for college students and service members.

Care package
Movie Break Package from Semper Finest, $46

Semper Finest: Semper Finest is intended for sending care packages to Marines and other members of the military serving overseas, and also has options for overseas service members to send care packages to their families at home. Packages range from $30-$67, plus S&H;, and can also be customized. Offerings are not all food based, with packages including a “Just for Girls” self-care package for deployed women and the heartbreaking “You’re a Dad!” package for men whose children are born while they are overseas.

Package To Go: Package to Go is another site focused on care packages for college students. Packages are available on themes or “just because,” and most are snack/junk food. Prices range from $35.50-$69.50 and include USPS Priority Mail shipping.

Show Ya Care: Show Ya Care offers packages for college students, campers, and service members, as well as “baby and home” and “just because” packages and seasonal offerings. Prices range from $38-$49.99 and include shipping. Most of the packages are the same type of junk/snack food offerings found elsewhere, but also include small toys, games, and other items.

Sealed with a Kiss (SWAK): SWAK focuses on packages for kids at summer camp. They offer ready-made packages from $25-$62, or customers can build their own for $35-$100. Shipping starts at $11.95/package. Most packages are NOT food based, but rather include toys, games, kids’ beauty products, art supplies, etc.

My Care Package: My Care Package offers packages for campers, college students, and wedding guests. Packages range from $51-$69 for campers, with other offering priced not listed on the site. The packages shown on the site are not food based, but rather include toys, art supplies, etc.

Care package
Detox-O-Box from Box-O-Box, $49.99

Box-O-Box: Billing itself as “the world’s greatest care package,” Box-O-Box focuses on college student packages. Themes include “Movie Night,” “Pamper Yourself,” and “Detox-O-Box,” and seasonal boxes are also available. Prices range from $39.99-$59.99 plus S&H; and are largely food-focused, though they do include other things as well.

Camp Pacs: Camp Pacs focuses on packages for campers, with options ranging from $35-$50, plus S&H.; There are also smaller, $10 packages available for your child’s bunkmate(s) and/or counselor(s). Each care package is customized by age, gender, favorite colors, and likes and dislikes of the camper. There is also an option to create your own package.

The Wrinkled Egg: This one gets my award for most innovative company name! The Wrinkled Egg offers both pre-built and fully customizable packages for students and campers ranging from $35-$100, plus S&H;, as well as the option to build your own package. The camp packages are full of toys, games, and supplies rather than snacks.

Care package
Old MacDonald Welcome Wagon from All About Gifts & Baskets, $105

All About Gifts & Baskets: This site offers snack-based care packages for college students and service members, ranging in price from $25-$75 (plus S&H;), and also has a few less common options, including pet gift baskets ($40-$65), housewarming gift baskets ($39-$112), and tons of new baby gift basket options ($30-$195).

Care Package XPress: This is a service intended for campers or college students, featuring mostly snack-based packages. Packages range from $36.95-$46.95, plus S&H.; One thing I noticed that was interesting was the offer of a gluten-free and kosher package.

Giddy Gift Box: Giddy Gift Box offers care packages for students, campers, and soldiers, as well as general boxes for men, women, kids, and families. Prices range from $9.99-$49.99, plus S&H;, with the option to design your own package or add to existing ones. Most packages are snack-based, but the site does offer a few non-snack options.

Baskets by Rita: Baskets by Rita offers mostly care packages for professionals and guests, including a Bar Exam Care Package and a Tax Relief Gift Basket. Most are snack-based, but the caliber of the snacks is a bit higher than the college student-focused services. Prices range from $30-$69, plus S&H.;

Kosher Care Packages: This company offers kosher options for all the typical care package types, including students, campers, and corporate recipients. They also do gift baskets for holidays and events and allow custom packages. Prices range from $25-$150 plus S&H.; Some packages are available only in the US, others only in Israel.

Care package
Korean Japchae – Sweet Potato Noodle Dinner Kit from Destination Dinners, $35

Destination Dinners: These aren’t typical care packages–Destination Dinners send packages called “Recipe Kits” of instructions, shopping lists, and pre-measured spices and specialty ingredients to help you create meals from around the world, with offerings as diverse as Korean bulgogi, Lebanese kibbeh bil-saneeyeh, and Creole-style jambalaya from New Orleans. The kits cost $30 each (plus S&H;) and make enough for 6-8 adults. They also offer “Dinner Party Kits,” which combine the recipe kits with flatware, table settings, and/or cooking utensils. These range from $40-$75, plus S&H.;

Pleasant Surprises: Pleasant Surprises offers gift baskets more than care packages, but really, what’s the difference? They have baskets for all manner of intended recipient, with prices ranging from $34.95-$169.95, plus S&H.; The baskets feature a lot of slightly higher-end food items, as well as mugs, tea pots, and other small gifts.

Cherry Moon Farms: A general gift site, Cherry Moon Farms has an extensive collection of gift basket/care packages for all types of recipients. Prices range from $19.99-$129.99, plus S&H;, and include higher end snack foods, fruits, cheeses, coffee and tea, and spa products.

Care package
Bath & Body Invigoration Basket from Gift Tree, $29.95

Gift Tree: Gift Tree is another gift site with a large number of basket offerings. Baskets range from $19.95-$899.95, and are intended for both personal and corporate gifting. Two that appealed to me were the Bath & Body Invigoration Basket, featuring Burt’s Bees products and the Sweet Nostalgia candy basket, packaged in a retro lunch box.

1-800-Baskets: This is the gift basket arm of 1-800-FLOWERS, and they have a wide variety of baskets available in prices ranging from $19.99-$229.99. There are a lot of typical offerings–fruit, cheese baskets, etc, but also a few interesting things, including the New Baby Gift Pail Solution Station and the Award Winning Stubbs® Authentic Barbecue Gift Set.

Art of Appreciation: Art of Appreciation offers gift baskets for individuals and corporate giving, with a wide range of price points. There are baskets for children ($19.99-$69.99), teens ($19.99-$49.99), and adults ($19.99-$149.99). Gift baskets include the typical snacks, teas and coffees, etc.

Care package
Marathon Runner Gift Basket from Well Baskets, $79.99

Well Baskets: Well Baskets offers “healthy” gift baskets for recipients including children, college students, and various types of adult. They have international theme food baskets ($35-$95), baskets intended for cancer patients ($39.95-$165), and an extensive selection of vegetarian and vegan baskets ($15-$425). Some unique offerings I noticed were the baskets for marathon runners ($55-$175) and the memory enhancement basket, which features foods thought to contribute to memory.

Nikki’s Gift Baskets: Like the other gift basket sites, Nikki’s offers a variety of baskets, for many types of recipients and occasions. Prices range from $19.99-$94.99, plus S&H.; Many baskets are snack-based, others include baby clothes, bath supplies, etc.

 
Home Away From Home Care Package from Organic Stores, $49.98

Organic Stores: Organic stores offers a selection of gift baskets for babies, kids, pets, and adults (many of which are not made up of organic products, which seems strange). Prices range from $24.98-$137.79 (plus S&H;). Most of the offerings looked pretty typical, but I did like the Home Away From Home care package, featuring laundry supplies as well as as snacks, and the Family Game Night care package, which includes snacks and games.

Carepackage.org: A bit different than the others on this list, but I couldn’t leave it out. This site allows you to build a virtual care package for woman in need somewhere around the world. There are options to build individual or group packages, with contents including training health care workers, buying school supplies, and providing food assistance.

Curated subscription services–there’s something for everybody!

I love magazine subscriptions. In part, this is because I love magazines–my attention span is just about magazine article length and I like pretty pictures. The bigger reason, though, is that I love love love mail. And reoccurring mail is my very favorite. I’ve been a Columbia House used-to-be-Record Club subscriber at least a dozen times. I’ll sign up for a sample of just about anything. I just like it when something comes in the mail for me.

Turns out, I’m not alone. Lots of us love receiving mail, and when it’s good mail, something we picked out, or, even better, a surprise that was curated for us? (Curated, in this case, just meaning selected based on our likes/dislikes by some sort of authority.) We’re sold. That’s what drew me to the independent business sample boxes I’ve reviewed here before, and to Birchbox more recently. And I’m so enamored with Birchbox, I started nosing around for more things like it.

And I found far more than I’d expected I would. Turns out, these “curated subscription services,” wherein you receive periodic shipments of something that was either picked for you, or picked by you from options picked for you, are sorta the next big thing. They’re popping up everywhere, for all sorts of products, and they’re hot hot hot. I found dozens of them. And I did not find any sort of comprehensive list. So, I thought I’d try to fill that space and provide a list.

Please realize that I have NOT tried all of these, or even most of these, services. This list is not an endorsement; it’s simply an overview of what I found in this space. And it is, but necessity, a work in progress–most of these companies are new, and some will fail, and new ones will pop up. So please, if you see anything I omitted, or anything that is here that doesn’t, as you are reading this, exist anymore, let me know and I’ll update.

Now, for what I found:

(A note on pricing: many of these services have a price cut if you sign up for several months at once. For the sake of simplicity, the prices I am quoting are their highest prices, generally for a single month.)

birchbox

Beauty

This is the biggest category, by far. Tons of people are hopping on the Birchbox train. The ones I found are:

United States
Birchbox: 3-5 deluxe makeup/beauty samples each month, curated, $10 including S&H.; This is one I can vouch for–I’ve had a subscription for nearly a year, I love it, it’s more than worth the $10/month.

Julep Maven: 3-5 nail polishes and treatments each month, curated, $15 including S&H.;

Yellow Box Beauty: “Makeup of the Month Club,” curated full-sized makeup and beauty items, monthly, $34.95/month + $7.95 S&H.;

Beautyfix: 8 full-sized makeup/beauty products, selected by you from a group of options, sent quarterly. $49.95 including S&H.;

New Beauty Test Tube: deluxe makeup/beauty samples, some full sized, curated, sent quarterly. $29.95 + $8.95 S&H.; I’m going to try this one, so I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Smallflower Bath of the Month Club:curated bath products, sent monthly. $85/3 month subscription.

Added 9/21: GoGoGirlfriend: Similar to Birchbox, trial-sized beauty products sent monthly. $12.99/month for monthly boxes or $6.98/month for bi-monthly boxes.

Added 10/17/11: The Little Black Box: This is one of several monthly sample boxes for independent/handmade beauty products, as well as other things like candles and edibles. Boxes are $20/month including S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Out of the Box Sampler: Out of the Box sampler is another sampler of independent and handmade businesses. It is available for $22/month including S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Makeup Monthly: Makeup Monthly offers clubs for nails, makeup, or beauty care. The clubs are $20, $30, and $35/month respectively, including S&H;, and subscriptions are available for 3, 6, or 12 months.

Added 03/05/12: The Look Bag: The Look Bag is a Birchbox-esque sampler box offering 4-5 beauty samples in each monthly offering. It is curated by celebrity beautician Damone Roberts. The cost is $10/month, S&H; included.

Canada
Loose Button Luxe Box: 4-5 curated deluxe beauty samples, sent monthly. $12/month including S&H.;

Glymm: 4-5 curated deluxe beauty samples, sent monthly. $10/month including S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Sweet Delight Divalicious Sample Box: Sweet Delights Divalicious box focuses mostly on handmade/independent beauty products. Boxes are $26 Canadian including shipping to Canada or the US.

Australia
Little Red Box: deluxe beauty samples, sent monthly, not yet launched

Haute Box: deluxe beauty samples, send monthly, not yet launched

Added 10/17/11: The Lust Pack: The Lust Pack is a monthly 5-6 deluxe sample delivery. The cost is $14.95/month including S&H.;

UK
Glossybox: 5 curated high-end beauty miniatures, sent monthly. £10.00/month + £2.95 S&H.;

Bonbon: monthly artisan lip balm, £5.00/month, delivers throughout Europe. Not currently accepting new members.

Added 10/14/11: Amarya Beauty Box: For £10 per month, Amarya sends at least one full-sized product, along with multiple samples or trial sizes.

Added 10/14/11: Bourdoir Prive: Works just like Birchbox– £10/month including S&H; and they send 5-6 deluxe samples.

Added 10/17/11: Carmine: Another one in the Birchbox model, Carmine sends 5 “deluxe product miniatures” to subscribers each month. The price is £10/month plus £2.75 postage.

Added 10/14/11: FeelUnique Beauty Box: Offers a monthly subscription to 5 deluxe beauty samples for £9.95/month including S&H.;

babba box

Kids/Parenting

This seems to be the currently fastest-growing category. I’m intrigued by it, especially as a gift option.

United States
Citrus Lane: 4-5 curated baby products, tailored to baby’s age (newborn through 18 months), sent monthly. $25/month including S&H.;

Bluum: 4-5 deluxe baby-related product samples, sent monthly, $12/month including S&H.;

Little Passports: information about and “souvenirs” from a different country sent every month, geared towards kids. $11.95/month plus S&H.; I really, really love the idea of this one. If anybody out there does it, please drop me a message–I’d love to run a review.

Babba Box: curated monthly box with all supplies needed to do 3-4 projects with a 3-6 year old child. $29.99/month including S&H.; This is another one that really intrigues me, and I’d love to run a review if anybody has used it.

Added 10/11/11: KiwiCrate: much the same model as Babba Box, KiwiCrate is a monthly delivery of supplies for craft projects suited for a 3-6 year old child. It is $19.99/month including S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Tiny Tots Sample Boxes: These boxes focus on indie/handmade items for children. Each box has 15-20 samples. Boxes are $23 in the US, $33 in Canada, and $58 in other countries, including shipping.

Added 10/17/11: Fluff of the Month Club: Cloth diapers! For $22.50/month including S&H;, you receive a cloth diaper delivery. Subscriptions are available for 4, 6, or 9 months, and you choose the style and size of diaper you want.

Added 10/17/11: KraftyKid Craft Clubs: KraftyKid offers lots of different options, with basic clubs, deluxe clubs, and clubs for teachers. They have clubs available for 3-6 year old kids and 7-10 year old kids. Prices vary.

blissmo box

Green Products

Another large and growing market! I have to admit, this one is counterintuitive to me–what’s green about sending packaged products through the mail? Still, I’m intrigued.

Blissmobox: you choose between curated monthly collections of eco-friendly and organic products in several categories (this month had a beauty box, a tea and snacks box, and a romance/sex box, other months have had cleaning/laundry boxes, summer snack boxes, etc.) $19/month + $3 S&H.; This is another one I’m planning to try out, so watch for a review in the future.

Eco-Emi: curated green/natural product samples delivered monthly. $15/month including S&H.; Available outside the US for $30/month. Currently has a waiting list for new customers.

Goodebox: curated monthly samples of green beauty, health, and wellness products. $15/month including S&H.;

Uncover Me Naturals Soap of the Month Club: monthly delivery of six bars of natural soap. $25/month including S&H.;

Added 10/12/11: Conscious Box: a curated monthly collection of various environmentally conscious products, based on a monthly theme. Products include food and health and beauty offerings. $19/month including S&H.;

Added 10/20/11: Herbaria Soap of the Month Club: A smaller scale soap-of-the-month offering, Heraria sends 1 hand-crafted bar each month, for an $88 annual subscription cost.

graze box

Food

There are a ton of these–everything from the ubiquitous “Beer of the Month” to the more interesting “Bacon of the Month” or “Cheese of the Month.” For the sake of brevity, I’m only including the curated ones I found here.

United States
Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box: This is a cool concept. Each month, they deliver a food and music pairing–a limited edition 7″ vinyl two-track along with a downloadable digital mixtape, and the recipes and ideas for a dinner party to go along with the music, along with 1-2 premium specialty ingredients to make them. Not exactly up my alley, but fascinating. $25/month including S&H.; Not currently taking new orders.

Foodzie Tasting Box: curated monthly delivery of 6 gourmet food samples. $19.99/month including S&H.;

Lollihop:monthly box of 8 single-serving healthy snacks. $22.75/month including S&H.;

Healthy Surprise: monthly delivery of curated healthy vegan snacks. Prices vary by package size: $33/month + $5 S&H; for 5-10 snacks through $250/month including S&H; for 70-80 snacks.

PaleoPax: monthly curated selection of 5 paleo snacks. $20/month including S&H.;

Steepster Select: 3 2-3 oz pouches of curated premium loose leaf tea each month. $19/month including S&H.;

Craft Coffee: 3 12 oz bags of coffee, curated from different small roasters, each month, along with tasting notes. $24.99/month including S&H.;

Added 10/14/11: Black Box Dessert Club: High end desserts, varied based on your region, right to your door! This club is not cheap–a single month is $65-$85 depending on the box–but contains 6-8 full size artisan desserts.

Added 10/14/11: Foodiholic: For $39.99/month including S&H;, Foodiholic sends your choice of a ready-to-eat or ready-to-prepare food box. The first contains 4-6 new ready to eat items and some celebrity chef ideas for enhancing them, the second contains ingredients and recipes for a memorable meal. The selections are personalized to your diet and taste preferences.

Added 10/17/11: Adagio Tea of the Month Club: Adagio makes really good tea. Their tea of the month club, available in 6 or 12 month increments, and in flavored, herbal, black, decaf, and green & oolong varieties, sends two bags of loose tea (enough for approximately 80 cups) every other month. Prices are $39-$49 for six month and $69-$89 for twelve month subscriptions.

Added 10/17/11: Kettle Chips Chip of the Month Club: For $74.99 for a 3 month membership, Kettle Chips sends monthly deliveries of 5 4-oz bags of chips, including classics, hard-to-find flavors, and sneak peeks of unreleased flavors.

Added 10/17/11: Pasenella & Son, Vitners: Vino & Cookbook of the Month Club: This one is interesting–each month, they send a white wine, a red wine, tasting notes, and a cookbook. Price is $49.99/month, plus S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Citizen Bean: Every month, Citizen Bean sends a pound of sustainable small-batch roasted whole bean coffee, along with extras. The cost is $79.99 for three months, $129.99 for six, and $219.99 for a full year.

Added 10/17/11: Anchor Chip of the Month Club: Every month, Anchor sends regional, unusual potato chips. Subscriptions are available in 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 month increments of various sizes, starting at $13/month.

UK
Graze: Nutritionally balanced single-serving snack boxes, however many days/week you’d like. £3.49/box including S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: The Chocolate Tasting Club: The Chocolate Tasting Club charges £18.95/month including postage, for which you get a box of 32 hand-selected chocolates. The selections are different every month, and recipients can choose between Classic, Dark, Purist and Elements boxes.

Clothing/Accessories

United States
Jewelmint: Jewelmint is the big player in this space right now. For $29.99/month including S&H;, you pick a piece of jewelry each month from a collection curated to your taste by celebrity entrepreneur Kate Bosworth. This is club to which I subscribe and I am very happy with it so far.

Stylemint: Stylemint is from the same parent company and uses the same business model as Jewelmint, only it’s t-shirts, not jewelry. $29.99/month including S&H; gets you a t-shirt of your choice. The celebrities behind the style and curation are the Olsen twins.

Shoedazzle: Shoedazzle is another big player. It works the same way as the previous two programs, with the recipient making a monthly selection among a curated field of choices. This one is $39.99/month, though, and the selections are shoes and handbags. The celebrity name is Kim Kardashian. Shoes only up to size 11, though!

In the Mood Intimates Gift of the Month Clubs: Several monthly options, all curated, including Panty-of-the-Month, Camisole/Bustier-of-the-Month, and Bra-set-of-the-Month. Prices range from $18-$90/month.

MeUndies: Not-yet-launched subscription service for both men’s and women’s underwear.

Send the Trend: Similar to Jewelmint, only it includes non-jewelry accessories. Clients pick from among a curated set of options. $29.99/month including S&H.;

Threadless 12 Club: I kinda love this one. Every month, you get a handpicked t-shirt from Threadless! Think of the variety you could amass! $200/year for US participants; $250/year for international, including S&H.;

Added 10/14/11: Sole Society: Basically the same model as Shoedazzle, Sole Society charges $49.95/month including S&H; for your pick from a curated selection of shoes.

Added 10/17/11: Solmate Socks Sock of the Month Club: This one amuses me. Available for adults or kids, you get a pair of funky mismatched cotton socks each month. There are 3, 6, and 12 month memberships–the 3 month is $65 including S&H;, and kids’ socks are a pair-with-a-spare.

Added 10/20/11:Stitch Fix: Stitch Fix sends a shipment of clothes, based on your personal style quiz, and you keep and pay for those you like and send the rest back.

UK

StylistPick: Similar to Shoedazzle, a curated monthly selection of accessories and shoes, based on our style profile. You select what you want to have sent your way. £39.95/month including S&H.;

Canada
Panty by Post: monthly curated pair of deluxe panties. $18.50/month plus S&H;, international available.

Books and Magazines

Books are another area that has been doing of-the-month clubs for a long time, and there is no way I could list them all here. However, I’m going to mention a couple.

United States
Indiespensible: I absolutely love Powell’s Indiespensible book club. Every six-to-eight weeks, they sent a first edition of a new, independent book, along with some other “goodies,” typically thematically connected to the book in some way, or local to Portland. The cost is $39.99/shipment, including S&H;, and international shipping is available for $12 more.

Just the Right Book: Coming from another independent bookseller (yay!), R.J. Julia Bookseller in Madison, CT, Just the Right Book is a curated book club that has options for kids, teens, and adults. The selections are curated to individual tastes and get this–they guarantee you’ll like what they send! The service can be purchased on a monthly, every-other-month, or quarterly basis. Prices vary depending on specific program, but average about $24.99/month.

Stack America: This one I’m excited about. Every two months, you receive a curated collection of indie magazines. Lots of it is likely stuff you aren’t going to find in your Barnes & Noble. You get at least one magazine, plus extras, every two months. Subscriptions are annual and cost $75.99 in the US, with options for international shipping at higher rates.

Added 10/20/11: Chin Music Press Books Rx: Billing itself as “mail-order medicine for your mind,” this club sends a curated quarterly collection of independent literature and art, all chosen to fit a given theme. The cost is $40 for each shipment, including S&H; to the US and Canada.

International

Stack: Stack is the international version of Stack America. The basic service is the same, but the magazine choices and shipping options are international, and monthly or annual services are available. Prices vary depending on where you’re located.

For Men

The subscription model is traditionally more heavily marketed to women, but a whole lot of man-specific services are popping up. A few of them:

United States
Hiskit: Birchbox for dudes. 3-5 luxury samples, delivered monthly, $12/month including S&H.;

Manpacks: This one is about convenience, more than curation–men can sign up to get quarterly shipments of necessities they choose–shirts, socks, underwear, shaving cream, condoms, etc. Prices vary based on what’s in your pack.

GuyHaus: GuyHaus is the same basic model as Manpacks, except that it’s just for toiletries. Men pick what they want and how often they’d like to have it delivered. Prices vary depending on what the client picks.

Sababu: The Undershirt Club: Set to launch in December, Sababu Conscious Clothing sends two ethically made undershirts quarterly, for $20.

Trunk Club: Trunk Club is all about curation–they send a complete “trunk” of clothes, including 8-12 items. Prices vary depending on what is in the specific trunk. The subscriber keeps/pays for what he wants and sends the rest back.

Added 10/19/11: His Black Box: His Black Box offers a personalized selection of 5 travel sized products each month, based on a survey of age and tastes. The cost is $12/month including S&H.;

Canada
Added 10/14/11: Bread and Butter: Bread and Butter is a monthly men’s skincare subscription, based on a natural product and minimal packaging ethos. Kits are customized to the client and run $35-$49 Canadian each, with free shipping to the US and Canada.

UK
Added 10/14/11: Wibba: Wibba is a curated monthly delivery of “man stuff,” further described as “toys, gadgets, games, or gizmos.” It’s £14.95/month.

Germany
Mansbox: Though I can’t read the German site, I believe Mansbox is the German equivalent of Manpacks, offering a subscription service for undershirts, underwear, and socks.

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Art & Craft

I am more than a bit fascinated by the art-by-subscription model. I had no idea it existed, and there are several price points and options.

United States
Alula: sends limited edition original textile art quarterly. $300/year.

Papirmasse: monthly delivery of a limited edition print by an unknown artist. $5/month in the US and $10/month internationally.

Little Otsu: Another one by which I am super intrigued. For $15/quarter, you get two original “art books.” The books are gloriously illustrated mini-books about anything in the natural world. This would be such a fantastic collection to start.

Tota Press: A handmade letterpress card-of-the-month subscription! Each month brings two cards and costs $13 including S&H.; International subscription is available for an additional $2/month.

Sunrise Fiber Co. Yarn Club: Each month brings a skein of hand-dyed yarn (you pick the weight), a goodie of some sort, and a dessert recipe that ties in with the yarn colors. Subscriptions are available for 2, 4, or 6 months, at $22/month.

Added 10/14/11: Mercier Beaucoup: Mercier Beaucoup offers 3, 6, or 12 month stationary subscriptions, each month with 3 assorted handmade cards. The cost for the 3 month option is $36, plus $5 flat rate shipping.

Added 10/17/11: Three Irish Girls Pick of the Knitter Club: If you know a dedicated knitter, you probably know about the amazing yarn from Three Irish Girls. The Pick of the Knitter club offers your choice of weight and number of skeins each month, in either a solid or a handpainted colorway. Price depends on the weight you choose and subscriptions are available in three month intervals in the US, Canada, or internationally.

Added 10/17/11: Three Irish Girls Sock Yarnista Club: As the name suggests, this club is for sock yarn. Each month, members get a selected high-end sock yarn, a pattern, and possibly extras. Membership is available in 3, 6, and 12 month intervals, in the US and Canada and internationally. 3 month US membership runs $94.

Added 10/17/11: The Irish Girls Stash Menagerie Club: This is the 3IG variety club, sending a selected type of yarn each month, along with extras. Membership is available for 1, 2, or 3 skeins a month and in 3 or 6 month increments. A single skein 3-month membership is $72 in the US.

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Miscellany

I have to tell you, this is where my heart lives. The subscription programs for things that seem only very vaguely subscribe-able. this is the market I want to see grow and flourish. And I think these are a good start:

United States
Lost Crates: Couldn’t love this more if I tried. Lost Crates is a curated stationary subscription–each month brings a new crate of pens, pencils, paper, and associated etcetera. It’s $38/month including S&H.; This is one I’m trying, so stay tuned for a review later this fall.

Quarterly Co: This one baffles me. You choose a “cultural icon” and receive a quarterly box of physical objects curated by that person. I’m intrigued, however, by the tagline “each shipment tells a story.” Sadly, there are no current subscriptions open, or I’d try it. Subscriptions are $25/quarter.

Toys4Tails: Dog toy of the month club, curated based on your dog’s breed/size. Several subscription tiers are available, starting at $14.95/month.

Added 10/14/11: Good and Lovely: The business model for Good & Lovely is a period pampering pack. On your selected date each month, they send you a box of your selected variety of pads or tampons, as well as whatever extras you request (Midol, heating pads, wipes, etc) and a selection of soothing treats (chocolate, tea, bath products, etc.). The base price is $19.99/month, with more for add-ons.

Added 10/14/11: Feliz Box: Feliz Box is basically the same thing as Good & Lovely, but with less customization–you simply choose tampons or pads and they decide the rest. The cost is $14.99/month.

Added 10/14/11: Swuni: Similar to Good & Lovely and Feliz Box, Swuni is a monthly menstrual product delivery. However, you simply receive and pay for the product(s) you choose–no curation.

Added 10/14/11: Ohco: Like Swuni, Ohco is a monthly delivery of whatever you select. They do, however, include health and beauty samples with their shipments.

Added 10/14/11: Umba Box: The Umba Box is a monthly delivery of a surprise handmade item–accessories, home goods, jewelry, bath products, stationary, etc. It’s $26/month including S&H; and subscriptions are available for 3, 6, or 12 months.

Added 10/17/11: Z Box: The Z Box is a monthly collection of items sold on Zibbet. Two sizes are available–for $8.75 you get 8 samples, for $18 you get 15-18. Both prices include S&H.;

Added 10/17/11: Lighter of the Month Club: This one is odd and possibly brilliant. For $32.95/year ($8 more internationally), you get four stickers each month with which to customize Bic lighters.

UK
Not Another Bill: Probably the most clever of the programs I found, this subscription promises something in your mail each month that is NOT a bill. It could be just about anything, but it’ll be something that the curator, Ned, is surprised and excited by. The price is £15/month including S&H; in the UK, £18 in the rest of Europe, and £20 in the rest of the world, all including S&H.; Couldn’t resist this, so I’ll be reviewing when mine arrives.

Jangneus Design: This one is delightfully quirky. Each month will bring a colorful, Swedish-designed cleaning cloth–you pick your color scheme. Subscriptions within the UK are £25 for the year, including S&H.; International subscriptions may be available, they ask prospective international subscribers to contact them.

Added 10/17/11: Finally, I have to point out Global Giving Project of the Month Club. This is a truly great idea. You choose a monthly donation amount, and each month a charitable project is selected for your money. You receive an email each month telling you about the project. How great an idea is that?

In doing my research for this post, I was very indebted to:
Subscription Commerce (#SUBCOM) Matrix by Sean Percival
Boxing Up Social Commerce: Hot Opportunity? by Paul Marsden
Blissmo Launches Monthly “Blissmobox”: Delivering Curated Eco-friendly Products to Your Door! by Priti Ambani
What Will The Big Winners in Subscription Commerce Look Like? by robgo
Several articles at Springwise

Added 10/14/11: Subscription service startups are the hot new thing by Harrison Weber

Added 10/14/11: Directory of Subscription Commerce Clubs by Paul Marsden

bad girls cover

12 Books, 12 Months Book 4: Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave

My fourth book for 12 Books, 12 Months was supposed to be Young, White, and Miserable: Growing Up Female in the Fifties by Wini Breines. Unfortunately, when I went to begin this book, I couldn’t find it. Anywhere. It wasn’t on any bookshelf. It wasn’t in any of the dozen or so boxes of as-yet unpacked books stacked up in my office. I’m sad to say I don’t think it survived the move. I did a huge book purge before we left Austin, and it must have been purged.

I could have bought another copy, of course, but it seemed to me that it would be more in keeping with the intention of the 12 Books, 12 Months project to simply pick another book from the “to be read” pile that’s always growing under my bedside table. So I did. And the book I picked was Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, edited by Ellen Sussman.

As the title suggests, Bad Girls is a book of personal essays by female writers, all centered on the broadly defined topic of misbehavior. The best essay in it, and the reason I bought it, is Pam Houston’s heartbreaking and funny story about flirting with an attendee at her father’s funeral. There are, however, other high points. I was particularly impressed by Joyce Maynard’s defense of writing in her autobiography about her affair with J.D. Salinger. My black horse favorite of the essays, however, was Ann Hood’s “Lying,” which is all about making up stories about ourselves to tell to strangers, just because we can. That’s the kind of bad I can sink my teeth into–not really salacious, and not hurting anybody, but just…naughty.

That said, a lot of the book’s essays fell pretty flat to me, especially those from better-known authors. Erica Jong’s explanation of how the bad girl she’s always peddled in her fiction is…fiction? Left me with a big, “duh.” Mary Roach’s exploration of the power of confession didn’t really work for me either. That said, the essays are all quick, easy reads, and I bet it took less than two hours total for me to get through the whole book, so it’s not like you’ll be wasting a ton of time if you read it.

One last note, which I hadn’t even thought of until looking at the book’s page on Amazon, but is a good point: if you’re looking for “bad” to mean “sexy,” you’re in the wrong place. A few of the book’s essays deal with sexual themes, (including editor Ellen Sussmans’ “Consider the Slut,” which is pretty great), but most don’t. Misbehavior here is not always adult misbehavior (there are several stories about the authors’ childhoods) and the subject matter it not always titillating (see Jennifer Gilmore’s bulimia essay). The upshot, and I think the point, is that, especially for a woman, “bad” can mean almost anything.

What if No One’s Watching?

What’s worth the money (and what’s not)

There is a ton of talk right now about belt-tightening and money saving and the altar of frugality. I follow quite a few blogs on those subjects. They are full of tips, from cutting out unnecessary expenses to re-using to cash-only budgeting. That’s all good advice. I have nothing to add to it. And yet, I wanted to contribute something to the growing body of frugality knowledge. So, with that in mind, I give you my lists of what is worth extra money, and what is not.

Worth Extra Cash

Coffee: if you start your day with a cup or a pot, you depend on it. Things on which you depend to get you started should not suck. Life is too short to drink bad coffee. And yes, if it comes in a metal can already ground, it is bad coffee.

Eyebrow waxing: If you get your brows waxed, don’t cheap out on it. I did, once, getting them done for $5 or $8 at a cheap nail salon. It HURT, and I ended up looking like someone had punched me in the face. At my beautiful, wonderful Aveda salon, they charge me $20, but it barely hurts, it looks great, and I get a cup of tea.

Pet food: Don’t feed your pets cheap chow. Just don’t do it. It’s bad for them, and it will end up costing you more as they develop more health problems. Plus they’ll need more quantity to eat, since it’s mostly filler. Pay for the good, protein-rich, healthy stuff.

Direct flights: Flying is expensive. Flying is uncomfortable. Flying is a general pain in the ass. Direct flights are a much smaller pain than connections. If it’s possible to get one, I will pay more (though only to a point) for a direct flight. (What I will not do, however, is pay to check a bag, upgrade to a seat with 3″ more legroom, or eat nasty airplane snacks.)

Your own domain name: If you want to use your websites in any serious way, it’s really worth it to buy your own domain name(s). It isn’t expensive, and it makes you look way more professional. Plus, then nobody else can buy them and use them to host porn sites.

Nice soap: Anybody who reads WINOW for long knows I am a sucker for bath and body products. There is a reason for that, though. Showering is something we have to do every day (or I do, anyway). It’s a forced opportunity to take just a few minutes out to relax. Having nice products that make you feel good and smell good helps a whole lot with that. So it’s worth it to me to pay more for those products.

Cable and DVR: Cable is something that a lot of people suggest cutting out of your budget. I disagree. We use our cable, and our DVR, and I think we use it well. We watch what we enjoy, on our own time schedule. We don’t spend a lot of time staring at a TV with nothing we want to watch on it.

Tattoos: If someone is going to put permanent ink into your flesh, you don’t want a discount. Seriously, this one is a no-brainer. You want the expensive tattoo artist. And then you want to tip really, really well.

Laundry detergent: On a whim, I recently bought Mrs. Meyer’s Clean day lavender laundry detergent. It’s not cheap. However, given that the $14.99 64 oz jug will do something like 100 loads in my HE washer, it’s not exactly breaking the bank. And it’s SO nice–smells great, the clothes come out clean and soft, and environmentally friendly. My All Free days are over.

Underwear: For a long time, I’ve been a proponent of discount underwear. I just wore whatever was cheap at Ross. Then I happened upon a pair of Aerie panties. And now I am in love. They are made of thick, soft, cotton. They stay in place and don’t ride up my prodigious behind. And they hold their shape, don’t stretch out, and look cute. They aren’t super expensive (5/$25), but they are more than what I was wearing. Totally worth it for an ass that is comfortable all day.

OK To Cheap Out On

Books, movies, and CDs: Really, wise up and learn to use the library. If you have a decent branch, you will be able to get a large portion of what you want to read, watch, or listen to for free from them. Also, learn to use the RedBox in all its free code goodness.

Furniture: There is no reason I can see to buy new and expensive furniture. All that leads to is having to worry about what will happen to it. Our furniture is 75% hand-me-down or thrift store and 25% Target and Ikea, and it’s done just fine. You can even have a cute house with this type of furniture–just focus on “eclectic” as your decorating style, rather than anything too specific.

Air conditioning: People here pay out the nose to have their houses at icebox temperatures in the summer heat. It makes no sense to me. Sure, we use our AC, but we set it at 79 or 80 during the hottest part of the summer. Is our house perfectly chilled? No, but it has air movement and it’s not an oven. Gives us more incentive to be naked that way.

Baby clothes: Thrift stores are full of barely used kids’ clothes, especially in the smallest sizes. Often, they are new with tags on them. In my moral universe, those are prime gift material. I do not buy presents for friends having babies at regular stores, I buy them at the thrift store. And, should we have a kid in the near future, it’s going to be Goodwill model baby. There’s just no reason not to.

Multiple cars: Mark and I have been a one-car household the entire time we’ve been together. It’s really not that hard to do, with a little bit of flexibility and planning. And it saves us a lot of money–not just another car payment, but insurance and gas and maintenance. Plus we have to be more efficient with our car use this way, which is both an environmental and an economic good.

Landlines: Why do people still have landlines for their phones? Now that everybody has a cell phone, and most of us have a lot of minutes on that cell phone, what’s the purpose of a landline? We haven’t had one for years, and I’ve missed it exactly once (when stuck at home with a dead cell phone). I’ve been happy not to have it countless times, though, especially since I get no telemarketing calls now.

Glasses: I posted a while ago about the amazing cheap glasses I got from Zenni Optical. I am now kicking myself for having spent so many years paying $200 and more for glasses. Never again.

Mascara: At this point, I’ve tried just about every expensive brand of mascara there is, as well as a good many of the cheaper ones. I see no substantial differences. Next time I buy mascara, it’s going to be at Target.

Cleaning products: Lots of people will tell you that all you really need to clean is baking soda, vinegar, and Dr. Bronner’s. Add a toilet bowl cleaner and something for pet stains on the carpet, and I’m one of those people. There is no need for expensive cleaning products. They smell bad and hurt the planet and cost a lot.

Bras: I’ve worn cheap bras, and I’ve worn expensive bras, and the conclusion I have come to is that bras are uncomfortable no matter how much they cost, so may as well still with Target. If I splurge, it’s to buy Jockey. No Wacoal for these ta-tas.

Clearly, I know that my lists don’t apply to everyone. The real point is about knowing your priorities and spending in line with them. If you are anything like me, there are things you are currently spending extra money on that you aren’t getting any extra value from, and there are also things you are spending on and feeling guilty about when they really are worth it to you. So, it’s worth taking the time to think about your spending, cut the areas in which you aren’t seeing value, and stop feeling guilty about the things that really are worth it.

The power of smell

The power of smell

Since I wrote this post about my addiction to fancy bath stuff and perfume, I have had it in my head to write something about the smells I prefer and why. Obviously, since I make my own essential oil scented products, as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time picking out the smells I want from other people’s stuff, I have preferences. There are a set of smells I love and a set of smells I can’t stand, and some of it is probably just random taste, but a lot of it does have to do with the feelings that those smells invoke in me. I don’t know if I really believe in aromatherapy or not, but it seems undeniable to me that smells do have bearing on your feelings. Bad or overpowering smells are distracting and irritating, while subtle and pleasant smells are calming. Smells can make you nostalgic, obviously, but also tense and troubled. Smells can help you to relax or energize you. But not all smells work the same way for all people, so please don’t think of this as instruction or advice. This is just what works for me.

The power of smell

Smells I Love

Lavender: For me, lavender is probably the most overall useful and pleasant scenting agent. I use it everything from bath stuff to cleaning supplies, combine it with nearly everything, and it is almost never wrong. My laundry soap is lavender lemongrass, with a lavender dryer sachet; there is a lavender and sweet orange spray near my cat boxes; and if I am making bath products for myself, they are more likely to contain lavender than any other single smell. Lavender makes me feel calm and relaxed, and it also gives me the sensation of being clean and fresh (which is why I love it so much for laundry and cleaning).

My favorite lavender products: There are a ton to choose from, but the first two that come to mind are Aveda’s Balancing Infusion for Sensitive Skin (which contains lavender, patchouli, geranium, and rose oils) and EO’s Lavender and Sweet Orange Room Spray, which I believe is found at Whole Foods.

Orange: Like lavender, I find orange to be a versatile and almost univerally pleasant smell. It has to be a natural orange smell, though–the kind that smells like an actual orange, not like orange candy. Many people find citrus smells invigorating and energizing, but I don’t particularly (probably in large part due to the blends I choose). For me, orange, like lavender, invokes feelings of calm and cleanliness.

My favorite orange products: My own orange and clove bath stuff has to be up there, but I like other people’s orange products as well. One I’ve been enjoying lately is the Orange Sherbet Bubble Bath Dough from Red Leaf. It’s a nice warm orange scent with a little bit of vanilla in it that smells very natural and I find both cheerful and soothing.

Fig: Though it is slightly more esoteric than the first two scents I mentioned, I’m nuts about fig scented products. I love fig because it’s a natural, fruity smell that has some earthiness to it and isn’t too sweet. For me, it’s a very grounding, centered smell. In particular, I love bath products with a fig element.

My favorite fig products: The product that introduced me to my love of fig was Lush’s Figs & Leaves soap, which is made with actual figs as well as orange and ylang ylang and is my hands-down favorite thing from Lush. More recently, I have been crazy about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Carnal scent, which pairs fig with mandarin.

Rose: It took me a long time to warm up to rose, mostly because there is so much badly done rose stuff out there. Nicely scented rose products should smell like an actual rose, not your grandmother’s underwear drawer. There is a weird underlying power or talculm scent in some rose stuff that I just cannot get behind. Real rose, though, is a pure, beautiful scent, and not just a floral but also an earthy, almost spicy note. I like to wear it because it makes me feel not only feminine, but somehow more mature and confident.

My favorite rose products: Once again, BPAL does an amazing job with rose. Their The Rose perfume is probably the perfect pure rose scent. I love the blends with rose even more, though, particularly Catherine, which is rose, rosemary, and orange blossom; and Mata Hari, which is a five rose blend with jasmine, vanilla, fig, tonka bean, mahogany, and coffee.

Clove: The more I experiment with scents, the more I realize that I strongly prefer “warm” scents to “cool” ones. I like spicy, rich scents. And nothing adds spicy and rich to a combination faster than clove. I mix clove with nearly as many things as I do lavender (though I do not mix them together!). I love orange and clove, rose and clove, vanilla and clove…I could go on. The smell of clove makes me feel warm and safe and at home.

My favorite clove products: Once again, I am awfully fond of my own clove blends, but nothing I’ve made can hold a candle to Villainess’ Embargo. Embargo is a complicated scent, “Indonesian Patchouli spiked with imported spices – cloves, sandalwood, and cedarwood, and a drop of perfume – Tunisian jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, grape and Tahitian vanilla,” but mostly, to me, it smells like a warm library. BPAL’s Madrid is another great clove scent, mixing clove with red wine and mimosa.

So tell me, what smells do you love? Why? How do they make you feel? Do they invoke specific memories, or just general feelings? How important do you think they are in your life?

Thrift Blog Round Up

I have slowly been accumulating a list of blogs featuring thrifted finds and thrifing information and stories, but I’ve yet to find a real comprehensive list of these blogs anywhere, or a circle of them or anything, so I thought maybe I’d do anybody who was doing the same search I was a favor and put up a list of what I’ve found. This is by no means comprehensive, so if you have or read a blog I haven’t listed here, please leave a comment and I’ll add it!

  • Ann’s Treasure Box: this blog features Ann-Marie’s thrifted finds and homemade creations. She also sells her finds on the site.
  • Apron Thrift Girl: This blog is a great combo of thrifting, swapping, frugality thought and tips, crafty stuffy (l love her menu planning pages), and great design. Apron Thrift Girl is also the mastermind behind the $99 Thrift Challenge, which I think is pretty much the sweetest thing ever.
  • Confessions of an Apron Queen: You may already know this blog as the host of my favorite weekly blog event “Vintage Thingies Thursday.” Aside from VTT, though, it also features a great pin-up girl inspired blog design, an excellent recipe section, and an occasional drool-worthy antiquing photo journal. PLUS she gives away vintage aprons every week. For real.
  • freshvintage: Colleen’s blog features the great stuff she finds, mostly at garage and estate sales, outside Philadelphia. She clearly has both a good eye and the requisite good luck.
    lala-on-the-gogo is the personal blog of thrift webside goddess Lala (Thriftland: One Girl’s Adventures in Secondhand Shopping). You should check out both of them.
  • My Thrifting Finds is a newish blog featuring photographs of my online pal Tilia’s thrifted finds.
  • Thrift Candy: this blog features both blog owner Missa’s original thrifts and her favorite picks from Flickr’s 100% Thrifted and Nifty Thrift pools. She describes herself as a “kid in a candy store” and it comes through in her positive and fun (though stylistically very plain) blog.
  • The Thrift Shopper isn’t so much a blog as a thifting information page, review site, and community.
  • Thrifting in Oblivion is a how-to blog about thrifting in the Southwest US (particularly the New Orleans area). It features photographed trips to thrift stores and salvage yards, thrifting tips, etc.
  • Thrifty Goodness: a combo craft and thrifting blog.
  • Queen of Fifty Cents uses her blog mainly to chronicle her Saturday morning garage sale and estate sale adventures. They’re worth reading.

Thrifting while plus-sized: a primer

Anybody who has been reading this blog for any time at all knows that I am a voracious thrift shopper (in fact, I have a whole blog archive of thrift-related posts). However, something I may have been less-than-forthcoming with here recently is that I haven’t, for the last few years, thrifted much in the way of clothing for myself.

Why? Well, there is a simple reason and it’s one I’m not proud of: It just got too hard. Not only did finding clothes in my size in thrift stores take forever once I passed size 14, but sifting through rack after rack of clothes too small for me made me feel bad about myself. And though there was no moment at which I decided to stop trying to find clothes for myself at thrift stores, I slowly did stop trying. I still thrift shopped as much as ever, I just bought other things.

All of this would have been fine, of course, except that it didn’t translate into me not buying clothes. It translated, instead, into me buying new clothes. For the last couple of years, most of my clothes (and they are significant) have come from Ross, Target, and New York & Company. I’ve even ventured to Old Navy and the Gap more often than I’d like to admit.

I have kind of a moral problem with that. I’ve been buying clothes that were made under bad labor conditions of chemically treated fabrics, then sold for less than they would be worth under a real wage system. And I’ve been doing it, basically, out of laziness and inability to deal with my own body.

It needs to stop.

And now there is another impetus–finances. It’s been years since I’ve thrifted for solely financial reasons–I mostly do it for environmental reasons now, and because I enjoy it. However, yet another thing you know if you’ve been reading here long is that I am in debt. A not insignificant amount of debt. And I am committed to curbing my spending and paying that debt off in 2008. To do that, I simply can’t afford to buy new clothes. In the past, when I’ve had a hate-on for my wardrobe, I’ve thought nothing about finding a sale coupon for NY&Co.; and going to drop $200 or so there, or doing something similar at Ross. That can’t happen now. If I want “new” clothes, they have to be thrifted. Because it’s the right thing to do, and because I can’t afford anything else.

Betsy Smith, the Resale Queen, who makes her living buying things secondhand and reselling them on Ebay, theorized on one of her podcasts that women who are what she calls “chubby” hang on to their clothes until they are good and worn out, since they are likely to have had trouble finding them to begin with. Because of this, there is a dearth of quality plus-sized women’s clothes in thrift stores. Except, she adds, for clothes in “pre-gastric bypass” sizes, or very large sizes. Those you can sometimes find. This has been more or less my experience as well, and was part of why I stopped trying to thrift clothes for myself to begin with. I started feeling like it just wasn’t really possible. I found lots of things up to size 12, and a few size 24 or bigger, but not much in between.

Given the memory of this lack of clothing in my size, it was with apprehension that I set out this weekend to try to thrift myself up some new wardrobe pieces. After all, I am actually bigger now than I was when I stopped thrifting for clothes for myself. However, I felt both resigned to doing it and compelled to prove myself wrong and actually find some nice things that fit. So, I laid some ground rules before ever leaving the house:

1. Actually look. Don’t just skim the racks; take the time to look through them thoroughly. Rifling through them and pulling out things that look interesting for a few minutes at a time may have worked at a size 10, but it’s not going to do the job now.

2. Look only for myself. Do not get distracted by things I could buy for other people (for me, this is really key). No matter how great something is, if it won’t fit or work for me, it’s not of interest.

3. Giving up and going to buy new stuff isn’t an option. If you don’t thrift it, you can’t have it.

On Saturday, I made my first try. I spent three or more hours at my second-favorite local Goodwill. When this store first opened, I didn’t like it at all, but it has grown on me. It’s very large, and that helps. When I entered the store, I identified the sections that might have clothes I could use: sweaters, jeans, pants, skirts, dresses, knit shirts. I skipped the sleeveless shirts, capris, shorts, button-down shirts, and jackets, as those are things I don’t wear or won’t wear this time of year. The rest of the sections I took one by one, methodically making my way through the aisles. My initial goal was just to get as many things I could reasonably try on as possible into my cart.

Let me break here to say a word about what is reasonable to try on. This is, in my opinion, a very delicate balance. You don’t want to leave things that might work for you on the rack, but you also don’t want to frustrate yourself trying on tens of things that don’t fit. For me, what works is to set a size range. In general (and if you know anything about women’s sizing you know this is very general) I wear a 14 or an XL on the top and a 16 or an XL on the bottom. When I’m thrifting, I’ll try on anything for the top that is 14-18 or XL, as well as big-looking larges. On the bottom, I’ll try on 16-20 and XL, as well as the occasional 14 or big looking large. Dresses that aren’t cut close I will go down to large or 14. If something just looks like it will fit me, I’ll also throw it in the cart, as things can be shrunk or mismarked.

It took me about 3 hours to methodically go through the relevant sections in this large store. Yes, that’s a chunk of time. If you don’t enjoy thrifting, it’s a big chunk. But once you get into it, it can be very meditative, plus you always see occasional funny stuff. After going through each section, my cart was piled high with maybe 30ish things to try on.

Now on to the dressing room. There are rules here as well:

1. Not matter how great a deal something is; if it doesn’t fit you, it’s not worth it. There is no price small enough to be worth subjecting yourself to having yet another thing in your closet that doesn’t it. Same thing if it’s just not flattering.

2. Unless you are a person who both can sew and actively does, do not buy things that need adjustments or alterations. You’ll just end up with things that don’t fit. There are a few exceptions to this, as in pieces that are really high enough quality to take to a tailor, but generally, thrift clothes should be wearable as-is.

3. If you don’t like something, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, how great of shape its in, or what brand it is. There is no profit in having clothes you don’t like. And you don’t have to justify why you don’t like it–just not liking it is enough.

4. Even if the first 20 things you try on don’t fit you, the 21st might. You can’t stop trying things on until you’ve given everything in the cart a chance.

5. Yes, thrifted clothes can be overpriced. Just because something fits you doesn’t make it not stained/worn out/faded. The object here is to buy things you’ll actually feel good about wearing, so skip the crap.

Using these rules, it took me about 20 minutes to try on everything I found. At the end of the marathon in the dressing room, I came out with a great pair of Seven7 jeans (size 14–good thing I tried them on!), a heavy green cotton Gap turtleneck sweater, and a black and white print vintage-style dress (size large–once again, I am thankful for the breadth of my size range). Maybe 10% of what I tried on. But all great wardrobe pieces, and at a total cost of about $20.

On Sunday, I made my second attempt, this time at my very favorite Goodwill. I went in with the same rules, but discovered that I could cut my rack-surfing time down some by skipping past things I know I won’t want regardless of size, like faded jeans and very light colored pants or skirts (I just don’t do light colors on the bottom). It took me only about two hours to get through the relevant racks, and my cart was loaded with at least 30 items when I hit the dressing room.

This try-on session was slightly less productive, if only because nothing I put on the bottom fit worth a damn. However, I came home with five new shirts (two long-sleeved tee shirts, two tunic tops, and a sweater) and a dress, for about $30, so I consider the trip a success.

Over the course of the weekend, I developed a few more tips to would-be plus-sized second-hand shoppers:

1. Do not rely on the plus-sized section. If your store(s) are anything like mine, the selection here will be spotty and weird, and most of the good stuff will be scattered throughout the rest of the store. To make matters worse, my local stores have started to mix plus-sized and maternity clothes together, as if they are the same thing. Drives me bonkers, and I have written to them to complain about it.

2. Expect it to be difficult and time-consuming. There is just no way around it. If you are above a size 12, and especially if you are above a 14, the percentage of the stuff in the store that might fit you is probably as low as 2-3%, and it’s going to take a while to seek that out. Give yourself plenty of time. If being in a store that long irritates you, maybe try wearing headphones and listening to music or an audio book while you browse.

3. Be willing to try things on. This is maybe the most important thing. You have to be willing to try a wide range of things on to find the perfect piece or perfect few pieces.

Basically, like all thrifting, thrifting while plus-sized comes down to patience. It just requires a lot more patience than thrifting-while-size-8. For me, because of my current financial constraints, and because of how strongly I feel against mass produced clothing, it’s worth it. I am re-dedicating myself to building my wardrobe this way (with a few caveats, like shoes, which really are impossible to find in my size). But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be in any way easy, and I forsee coming home empty-handed as often as not.

So, one of the things I am going to be doing in my daily clothing reports is noting where I got the things I am wearing. My hope is that the percentage of my wardrobe that was not purchased new will increase, and reporting on it publicly will help keep me honest.

Happy thrifting!