Sarah Lazarovic had me at chapter one of A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy (Penguin, $20). “I don’t think I wanted more than your average kid. It’s just that the average kid coming of age in the late twentieth century had opportunity to gaze upon so much shiny, pretty stuff... And it’s the stuff that our memory holds fast to for the rest of our lives...I remember the red Converse high-tops, the eyelet flower girl dress. And I try to forget the bedazzled hot-pink dress suit (but the shoulder pads live on in my nightmares).”

Growing up, Lazarovic admits to wanting many things. As a young adult, she realizes that “everything was too cheap and too copious and too thoughtless”.  The quirky little book, born from her effort to reconcile beauty and thrift, packs enough practical advice to make you rethink a lot of stuff.

Once upon a time, we used to use things until they fell apart, when we fixed them or repurposed them before reaching the sad conclusion that there is no more life left in an item. Then it became something that was looked down upon. The well-to-do didn’t need to save things. They could buy new, bigger and better.

My mother talked about the severe rationing during the war and how they considered themselves lucky if they got a bolt of lattha (a thick, heavy cloth) that would be turned into pajamas for the brothers and petticoats for the sisters. Sugar was a luxury and a story about my aunt became part of family lore. One of my uncles took her to watch a play and treated her to coffee after the performance. At the table was a sugar dispenser with sugar cubes. She put so many in her coffee that in embarrassment, he hissed, “Why don’t you just pack the whole lot and take it home?” She emptied the cubes into a napkin, folded it into a neat bundle, placed it in her handbag and sat back with a cherubic smile.

I guess lessons percolate down, because I find it hard to throw things and try to find a new home for furniture or appliances we are replacing. Thrifting is now also a thing and there are workshops in community centres where volunteers fix small appliances.

Dr Vicki Bismilla describes the downtown Toronto street her daughter, a doctor, lives in as “one of the most loving little streets I’ve ever experienced. It’s like Sesame Street – after 5 pm all the dozen or so kids play outside watched over by their young parents home from work.”

Isn’t that the most lovely mental image? And all the young professional women on this street exchange their kids’ gently used clothing. With the festive season upon us – Dussehra, Diwali, Christmas – shopping tends to go into overdrive.  Don’t hold back on the celebrations, but maybe recalibrate a little? Look for lasting value and enjoy the benefits for years to come!

Happy Dussehra! Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Diwali! Happy Halloween!


Desi News