small change toward a rich life

Shopping for happiness

With the entire country in dire financial turmoil this week, I’ve been fighting my own great depression with the quintessential American pastime: shopping!

Well, sort of. I didn’t go on any kind of wild spree, nor was I shopping just for shopping’s sake; we’ve had a few months to grow our home-improvement fund since our last big remodeling outlay, and so I made a list of the next steps I want to take. It’s a longish list that includes some cleaning and organizing, some remodeling and landscaping, and some things to purchase or replace. Most of the shopping (like pricing attic insulation, or careful selection of litter box scoops) makes for less-than-fascinating blog fodder, but I’ll share a couple of exceptions.

Last Saturday I made a trip down to what might be Seattle’s best little shopping secret: the Pacific Coast Feather outlet store. You almost have to hear about it through word of mouth, as it’s not even mentioned on Pacific Coast’s own web site, much less advertised anywhere else. It’s a factory outlet in the original sense of the term: there’s just one, right next to the factory, and it holds mostly overstocks and discontinued items, occasionally seconds. (You may not know — I didn’t for a long time — but most ‘outlet stores’ in malls carry predominantly items specially made for those outlets, of cheaper materials and manufacture than regular merchandise from the same company.)

The PCF outlet is a bare-bones shopping experience, just a warehouse with some industrial tables, bins, and shelving piled with feathery bedding. Available stock varies: sheet and pillowcase options can be sparse; you’ll have the best luck with pillows and comforters. I expected to get a basic white down comforter but was happy to find a chambray stripe instead. I also picked up two of my favorite pillows, the ones with a feather core surrounded with down on all sides. Then I had to resist the urge to add a feather bed to my haul. Bargains can be a slippery slope! But I’m consciously keeping a tight rein on unplanned purchases.

Next up was replacing our dishes. We have some plastic Ikea kid dishes, some Ikea stoneware that Jak picked out before we were living together, and a twelve-place stoneware set that his mom gave us a few years ago. I’ve lived with them so far for reasons of frugality, but the frustrations include:

  • the table settings don’t fit our lifestyle: we have way too many large plates and never enough bowls;
  • the large plates of the better set are ginormous (12.5″ diameter) and don’t fit in standard cabinets or the dishwasher …
  • … nor do they help with portion control!
  • various pieces of both are scratched, chipped, or broken and missing altogether;
  • the better set doesn’t include any serving pieces, and is impossible to match;
  • and while I can imagine many less attractive options, these aren’t my preferred style.

I’ve never really shopped for good dishes before, so I was appalled to discover that ordinary stoneware typically runs $10 to $12 per bowl or plate! We’re not talking fine china here, yeesh. I wasn’t ready to drop $400 on new dishes, so I kept looking for a cheaper option.

Outlet store? I remembered there was a Mikasa at a nearby outlet mall (for loose values of ‘nearby’ — actually about 30 miles away). But when I looked it up, I discovered that Mikasa had closed all its retail stores and gone web-only. Thank goodness I didn’t just drive out there.

I’ll spare you the rest of the dead ends and just skip to the finale: I did eventually find two real bargains that fit our needs. For cheap daily dishes I ended up in Corelle’s online clearance section, where I bought 8 bowls ($1.19) and 8 ‘luncheon’ plates ($1.49). Corelle isn’t my idea of ‘stylish’ but it’s nicer than plastic, lightweight, easy to clean, and virtually indestructible — a good choice for the kids and our informal lunches and snacks.

I had nearly despaired of getting a nice dinnerware set I both liked and could afford before I finally found the clearance section at Pfaltzgraff. They have a surprisingly large selection of discontinued patterns, both sets and open stock, for as little as $2 and $3 apiece.

I found a style from last year that Jak and I both liked, and selected ten each of the bowls, small plates, and dinner plates, plus six mugs, two serving bowls, one serving tray, and a coordinating decorative bowl and urn. (We can only seat eight, but I got extra plates and bowls in case of future breakage; with a discontinued pattern I assume replacements will be hard to come by.) Total price: $126. Then, icing on the cake: my usual online coupon search got me an extra $25 off; after tax and shipping (dishes are heavy!) the grand total was $134.

I confess that the decorative bowl and urn were impulse purchases not on the original shopping list, but I judged them to be well worth the extra $16 or so. We sorely need some decoration around our house; I’ve just been too focused on the functional basics to go looking for any.

And while yes, I know that shopping is not a cure for depression — either mine or the economy’s — sometimes new things do make me happy, especially when they directly improve my daily environment. I love snuggling up in bed with the new comforter and fluffy pillows. I expect the Pfaltzgraff, when it arrives, to make cooking and serving dinner more enjoyable and cleaning up afterward less of a frustration. Heck, I’m even a little bit pleased to have a better litter scoop!

I’m glad (and a little amazed) that we have enough money right now that we can selectively upgrade for attractiveness and better functionality. It’s a nice feeling.

(Photo by pillowhead designs.)


6 responses

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  1. GreyDuck says

    Ooooo… new pillows… I do need some of those, but that’s a long trip just to improve my sleeping experience. *grin*

  2. karawynn says

    Jak and I have discussed taking a weekend trip to Portland this fall. Maybe I could bring you pillows. :)

  3. Stacy says

    I got Corelle plates in 1997, as I moved into my first college apartment-with-kitchen. Nuclear bombs would not ding the things; they’re still around and unkillable.

  4. contrariwise says

    I’ve has 4 different sets of dishes while I’ve been married because my kids have been hard on them. (I should have gotten Corelle to start with – smacks head with hand).

    Meals are served on mismatched plates. I consider it shabby chic.

  5. girl from EU says

    We did something similar last week. For € 120 we bought a bunch of new stuff at Ikea – bed pillows, cushions for the sofa, 4 new plates for everyday use + new cutlery and some more. It wasn’t as glam as buying new shoes but we improved our life in a simple way :)

  6. Dana says

    I have a matched set of dishes, but I’m eh about them. They’re solid white, which is OK, but the plates are a bit heavy for my taste and the dinner plates are really BIG. Replacing them with stuff a bit more wieldly is on the agenda, although not right this minute.

    Clearance sites are good, and if you’re in a city with a lot of thrift shops, sometimes they work out well. Occasionally a person trades up for nicer dishes and donates their entire old set to Goodwill or something like that. I’ve seen complete sets there before, or enough individual pieces in the same pattern to make a complete set, and slightly cheaper than the clearance sites you have listed here.

    It really all depends on people’s tastes and what’s available locally, though. Saving money’s good in any case. :)

    And I totally hear ya about wanting something to look at that isn’t broke-and-shabby chic. I’m having those same feelings about my bed right now. ‘Course, not only are all my sheets mismatched and my blankets the castoffs of like five other people, I’m on a mismatched *bed*. The mattress is a full size that a neighbor was giving away as she was moving out; the boxspring is a queen size that I found shortly after it’d been left outside behind my apartment building. It’s surprisingly comfy but I can’t wait til I can be on a proper bed again.

    And there’s nothing on my walls yet, to speak of. Harrumph.

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