Could “Thrift Story” Get You to Part With Beloved, But Never Used, Things?

thrift story

For me, it’s a tie-dyed “Hoagiefest 2011” tee I haven’t worn since… probably 2011.

But I’m willing to bet you own at least one, too—that shirt you have a staring contest with every time you move to a different apartment before sighing and dutifully boxing it up, then schlepping it to your new place, where it will remain buried deep in a drawer until your next move.

Boston area public radio producer Lydia Emmanouilidou is as guilty of that as anyone. “I walk into my room every day, and there are a million things that I don’t want, necessarily, or need … but I’m holding on to for that sentimental value,” she says.

A longtime thrifter, she’s also found herself wondering where the stuff that ends up at secondhand shops comes from. After all, it’s nearly impossible not to have your curiosity piqued when a Goodwill tee has a name scrawled on its tag, or is emblazoned with the name of some tiny intramural sports team from three states away. So she’s had an idea since high school: could attaching a backstory to those items help us silly, sentimental fools part with some of the things we’ve been unable to get rid of for so long? And could those clues make them more enticing to thrifters everywhere?

Along with fellow radio producers Amulya Shankar And Tristan Cimini, Emmanouilidou will put that idea into practice with Thrift Story, which will debut at Aeronaut Neighborhood Nights Allston on Wednesday, September 20. At this offbeat secondhand market, people will be able to peruse previously loved goods that have their history listed on a notecard—the idea being that by letting people share a little along with their things, they’ll finally be able to say goodbye. The trio has been collecting clothing, trinkets—and stories—at drop-offs over the last few weeks.

All of the items will be available for a flat $5 fee, and all of the proceeds from those sales will go to Harvey relief efforts. And while they’re asking people not to put names on their cards, you can follow #ThriftStory on Twitter or Instagram to see where your item ends up.

Emmanouilidou says that one of the interesting things about the stuff that’s been dropped off so far is that many hard-to-part-with things aren’t attached with happy thoughts, but sad ones.

“I’m finding that, surprisingly, a lot of people are giving up things that have painful memories attached to them, which is interesting because you’d think people wouldn’t want to hold onto things like that,” she says. At first, it seems somewhat counterintuitive, cherishing those sorrowful things that belonged to an ex or former friend for months—years, in some cases. “But then I think about the things I’ve held onto, and I feel like I’ve done the same,” she adds.

(And not everything is painful, of course; for example, a nurse dropped off a big stuffed animal with googly eyes that was given to her by one of her first patients.)

Since Emmanouilidou, Shankar and Cimini are audio producers and this event is happening in collaboration with the PRX Podcast Garage, Thrift Story will have an audio component, too. People who have dropped off or are purchasing goods are invited to share their story aloud, and it will later live online. It’s an experiment—Emmanouilidou doesn’t know what folks will be willing to say when there’s a microphone in front of them—but she’s excited to find out.

Because one surprising and interesting thing about the project thus far, she says, is how open people have been in sharing “lovely little tidbits” of their personal lives.

“Some stuff that people have donated aren’t things I would necessarily use or wear, but I almost want to buy them because of the stories—which almost defeats the purpose of the entire thing,” she laughs.

If you’re ready to part with your well-loved items, there are Thrift Story drop-offs this weekend in Boston and Brookline, and there will likely be a final drop-off at Aeronaut’s Neighborhood Night on Wednesday, September 13. 

Find more info about Thrift Story at thriftstory.org.

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