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Merry Thriftmas

My Grandmother was an antique dealer. The ultimate Second-Hand Sally, every thrift store was her favorite and every garage sale merited a visit. She had passions (dolls, toothpick holders, jewelry) but nothing was truly safe from the trunk of my Grandparent’s car. And let me tell you, seventies vintage Gran Tarinos have nice big trunks.

Grandma bought a lot and sold even more. Every item in her home (and I mean every item) had a price tag on it. With as much inventory as she had, she might have been mistaken for a hoarder. But nothing stuck around long. In my Grandmother’s opinion, everything worth buying was worth collecting; and everything worth collecting was worth selling. Grandma’s curios, packed to overflowing, were layovers not final destinations.

My Grandmother rocking her Bicentennial jumpsuit. Is your Grandma as cool as mine? I doubt it.

The very best part, though, about belonging to my particular Grandma was being on her gift list. Every Christmas, each family member received their own oversized box – the same box year after year. Ribbons were reused as well. The contents of the Christmas box were far less predictable. One year, I got entire Barbie rock band. Another year, I received a seven piece coordinating polyester leisure suit. I was eleven. Without a doubt, my Grandmother gave the greatest Christmas gifts of all time.

Many people, overwhelmed by consumer pressure, have forgone holiday gift giving altogether. That works for them, but it really doesn’t work for me. I love the holidays and giving is a joy to me. Even after scaling back, my naughty or nice list still has thirty names on it. Intellectually, I’ve come to terms with that. The problem is figuring out how to do it without a) breaking the bank and b) filling the world up with more crap.

This necessity led me to Merry Thriftmas. Merry Thriftmas is a movement geared toward changing the way I approach holiday giving. It centers on thoughtfulness, creativity, cost control and environmental responsibility. Thanks to my Grandmother, I grew up understanding that the most cherished treasures often come wrapped in old sewing patterns and smelling a bit like wet basement. That’s a lesson worth passing on, if you ask me.

As I prepare for Merry Thriftmas 2012, I hope to chronicle my adventures here on the blog. I’m starting early, since the only way to find a good present at the last-minute is to throw money around like a mad person. There’s bound to be a fair bit of stalking the local charity shops and some misguided attempts at crafting. Blessed with far more optimism than talent: I’m a whole lot more Lucille Ball than Martha Stewart.

Want to join me?


I’m a big proponent of working with what you have. Did you buy a house with 1970s Harvest Gold appliances? I recommend a nice, autumnal paint palette. Sure, you could paint your appliances white and attempt to achieve the cottage chic kitchen of your dreams – but it’s going to be a huge pain in the butt and it’s probably going to look like crap. Painting furniture, in fact, is something that I’ve given up on altogether. Appliances can just screw right off.

In formulating my Thriftmas plans, I’m trying to apply the same philosophy. Anyone who has ever crafted knows how quickly the price of an item can skyrocket once you start buying equipment and materials. I can’t be doing that, especially this year.

The question I’ve been asking myself is – what do I have a lot of?

Right now the answer to that question is broken glass (there was a storm – it was a whole big thing). So, I guess I could make… Sand? Probably be murder on the food processor. Stained glass? Except I don’t have the equipment or skill. Mosaics? Maybe. I’ve got some jewelry-fu, so if I could get it into reasonably sized pieces there’s some potential there.

Here are the ideas I’m currently contemplating:

  • Etched glass pendant, something along the lines of this
  • Glass painting – final form to be determined
  • Making a clear glass mosaic over a thrift store print

I’m open to other ideas.

As an aside, Harvest Gold is back! I could not be more pleased.

I snapped up a very retro glass and tile cutter pliers at an estate sale this afternoon in preparation. It was a dollar.

I also snagged another cheap bulletin board at the shiny new Goodwill by my office. It can be difficult, however, to craft with cats around the house.

Crappy Homemade Gifts™

About a decade ago, I learned to knit. I did so mostly because I was flat broke and could only afford to knit scarves for Christmas presents. They were big bulky things knit on tremendous size 15 needles, but I gave them with embarrassed pride. One or two of them even got worn.

The following Christmas, I knit again. Anxious to give wanted, useful gifts – I attempted wash cloths. To liven things up a bit, I coordinated with a friend and fellow crafter to create knit wash cloths and embroidered dish cloth packages. They were cute. Fun was had. Crappy Homemade Gifts™ was born.

Since then, I have attempted dozens of Crappy Homemade Gifts™ with varying degrees of success. Knitting, bundt cake, home cooked TV dinners, and ginormous plates of Christmas cookies. I’ve also made jam, infused vodkas, peppermint schnapps and handmade jewelry. I’d like to say they were all well received – wrapped in adorableness and deeply appreciated – but I would be lying. For one, my raspberry jelly – despite being lovingly made with homegrown raspberries – was hard as a rock. And the homemade schnapps were really just bad. I relabeled them “Garden Waste Schnapps” and soldiered on.

So, as I approach the 2012 giving season, I have started to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.

The first three indisputable truths about homemade gifts:

  • If what you are giving someone is not something that they would like, it’s a bad gift whether or not it is homemade.
  • If you are unsure of what a person would like, it’s best to error on the side of useful. A slightly unwelcome bottle of vanilla will eventually end up in cookies. A slightly unwelcome knickknack ends up at the Goodwill.
  • Before giving something away, try it.

With the above goals in mind, I’m reworking my Merry Thriftmas philosophy this year. For the most part, I hope to make my gifts and / or cobble them together through thrift store finds. However, I’m opening up the idea of making crafts to sell on Etsy to raise some money for gifts the finicky on my list. You can’t really give a 15-year-old boy homemade anything. Also, I’m starting early. Way, way early.

Image representing Etsy as depicted in CrunchBase

My Etsy Shop




MN Artist

Minnesota Artists


JMS Boggio

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