The Cult of the Clearance Rack (or, if you can’t have the thing you love, love the thing you’re with)

Rory on a rug hunt at the store I had to leave in cheapskate

I bought a rug Saturday night.

After two hours scrolling through the endless selection on, I reached the point where sleep could no longer be denied. It was almost midnight, and “fall back” means nothing to small children. So I picked one.

I’d like to believe that I ordered my favorite. But it’s very likely that I made my choice because the phrase “Only 1 left!” was screaming primal survival of the fittest messages to my brain.

As we trudged up the stairs to bed, I recounted my home decor conquest to Pat. He was not impressed.

“But,” I said weakly, my bargain buzz effectively harshed, “It was on sale and then I got another 12% off and I had store credit and there was free shipping!”

“Money is money,” he said. Obviously spoken by someone who hates T.J. Maxx.

If you know me in real life, or through even a few entries in this blog, you know that I’m a bargain hunter. Target, HomeGoods and thrift stores are my friends. The clearance racks in any of the aforementioned places are my best friends. Not quite what I was looking for? Close enough. Slightly damaged? Bring it on. I’m proud of my bargain hunting ways. I’d like to believe that I’ve clothed my family and made our house a home at a fraction of the MSRP.

But I’m starting to suspect I am also totally messed in the head.

It hit me tonight in the condiments aisle of Target. I was looking for jelly for our daily PB&J fix. With no brand loyalty to consider, my eyes immediately went to the sale placards hanging from the shelves. You can imagine my confusion when I saw this:

I stood there for a minute, blinking my eyes to make sure my contacts were not playing tricks on me. Was this a hoax? An experiment? Was someone standing on the other side of the shelves, waiting for me to select one of the “0% off” preserves and quiz me about my motivation? Was it Pat, trying to prove how crazy I really had become? Was it an elaborate prank by the Target staff? Or were they all high?

A French-speaking couple stopped at the display. Though I couldn’t understand most of their conversation, I distinctly heard something about “zero,” and their tone confirmed that I was not going crazy. I finally picked up a tiny jar blackberry preserves behind a sign “2 for $6.” Yes, that sale placard made my choice for me.

So I’m a little sale obsessed. I come by it honestly. My mother raised us on the mantra “Never buy full price.” Of course, the dangerous B-side to that mantra is “But it was on sale!” which can be used to justify all sorts of unnecessary purchases. My mom loves a deal. I don’t know how many conversations she’s started with “You should have seen this jacket I just got. It was originally $120, but it was marked down to $40, and then I had a coupon for another 20% off, so I got it for only $32!” Never mind that it’s the second yellow wool peacoat in her closet.

This is the same woman who pointed out to a grocery store cashier that she did not get the correct percentage off a loaf of bread, and, for credibility, told her, “I’m a math teacher.”

She’s not. She’s an English teacher. (Don’t worry, she hasn’t neglected her English teacher responsibilities. In addition to leaving me polite voicemail messages about errors she finds on this blog, she has also gone into a carpet store to suggest that they may want to remove an apostrophe from their storefront sign.) But there’s no doubt that the math of a good deal is her passion.

Her tombstone will read, “I got it 70% off!”

My phone is full of photos of all the great deals I’d like to take
advantage of, like this mirrored jewelry armoire, only $149.99!

Liking a bargain is not a bad thing. But I do want to reassess my motivation. Am I buying things I really like? Am I buying things I actually need? And do I need to reevaluate my definition of “need”?

There’s a new vintage furniture place in town that I’m obsessed with. It’s cozy and carefully curated, and I want to buy every elegant bookshelf and rustic bench in the place. For the quality, the prices are very reasonable. But of course I have yet to buy anything, because I’m stuck in cheap.

Last week, I was talking to the owner, a quintessential Southern woman, about the different items I need for my house. She offered to stop by so she could get a feel for my style and make some recommendations.

“That would be great. But…”

I struggled to find a genteel (after ten years in the South, I couldn’t catch a case of gentility in a Gone With the Wind themed amusement park) way to tell her to not waste her time on me, because despite the fabulous selection and personal attention she offered, I’d probably end up in the 10 Items or Less line at Target clutching a cheap pressboard nightstand with a chipped leg and a missing pull.

“I tend to buy, uh, pretty inexpensive stuff.”

She seemed to get the message, but wasn’t ready to give up on me quite yet.

“You should buy what you love,” she said. “Even if it’s slowly, just one piece at a time.”

What do you think about that? I’m conflicted.

Do I love the rug I bought on Overstock? Well, maybe not as much as the mouth-wateringly vibrant $2,000 Persian rugs I looked at last week before apologizing profusely to the salesperson for spending his time showing them to me even though I would never in a hundred years pay that much and then running out of the store in shame. But it should do the trick.

And can I love an end table on the clearance rack at Target? Yes, I actually think I can. And often do. But the store owner’s point was well-taken. We may have empty spaces in this house for a while. And I may just have to stick it out with some ugly fixtures until we actually have the money to replace them. And who knows? Maybe if we wait long enough, those fixtures will come back into style.

Regardless, I want my house to be a place of love. So I’m going to try to take her advice and buy things I love. And more importantly, maybe if I take a break from this constant bargain-hunting, I’ll be able to spend more time focussing on the people I love, too.