I Used to Hate Thrifting — Until It Brought My Mom and Me Together in a Surprising Way

published Mar 19, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Interior Of Charity Shop Or Thrift Store Selling Used And Sustainable Clothing And Household Goods
Credit: Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

“Your treasure is waiting,” my mom would whisper into my ear early most Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Her favorite thrift store opened at 10 a.m., so we had to eat breakfast and clean up by 9:30 a.m. to make it in time to meet Tia Delia — my mom’s only sister in the U.S. — there. They needed several hours to satiate their appetite for thrifting, so starting with a full stomach was necessary. 

I found thrifting “uncool” throughout my childhood and early teens — contrary to my cousin Carolina, who was always the first in and out the car. When she’d visit from Mexico every month along with Tia Betty and Abuelita, it would turn into a family affair — something sacred just us mujeres (women) could share. Abuelita, with her love for estate sales and flea markets, gave the thrifting genes to her three daughters. It was inevitable that I’d eventually develop the same penchant for secondhand shopping

Credit: Natalia Vela

It wasn’t until I was 17 and laid my eyes on a vintage wooden cabinet with glass doors that my mom found on one of our outings that I finally appreciated the outings. I couldn’t believe thrift stores carried such treasures — mainly because I never put in the effort the other women in my family did to hunt down gems. Usually I’d sit in the back of the store reading a book, while my mom did the shopping for us both. But this stunning piece of furniture made me a believer. My mom eventually passed it on to me, with the condition that it stays in the family. It now proudly displays my favorite books. 

In the years since, I’ve found countless treasures on our excursions. I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted a white gold ring with a snowflake-shaped cluster of diamonds. My mom bought it for me as a graduation gift, and made me swear I’d also hold onto it as a family heirloom. It was then that my abuelita confessed that a diamond ring she had gifted me when I was younger was thrifted by her older sister, who later gave it to her. Now that thrifting was “cool” in my eyes, she felt comfortable telling me. We chuckled at her previous lie that it had been new when it made its way onto her finger.

Credit: Natalia Vela

Each of my favorite items I’ve thrifted are associated with a similar memory, surrounded by women I love. I found my most cherished jacket, made of stunning gold leather, on a day Tia Delia took me out to help soothe a broken heart. I’ll always remember the wisdom she imparted on me then: “True love can feel tender at times, but it will never hurt.” 

The botanical art pieces hanging on my wall link us all together — we each took home a pair from a set of 12. The day we found them, we were still trying to get my grandma through her grief after my abuelito died. It was the first time we’d seen her smile in the five months since he’d passed. I’ve been collecting botanical art from thrift stores since.

Credit: Natalia Vela

When I need a statement piece for an outfit, I rummage through my mom’s antique clutch collection and recall the laughing and arguing we did the day we found each one. Our relationship has always been complicated, but thrifting has been essential in helping us navigate it. Thrifting gives all the women in my family common ground despite our differences in style, ideas, and age. It has forced us to get to know each other more intimately through quality time together, and I’ve learned some of my biggest lessons during these hours sorting through racks and shelves.

Credit: Natalia Vela

Through thrifting, the women in my family taught me to confidently express myself. Experimenting with eclectic pieces helped me develop my personal style, and taught me how to make my home and any outfit my own. Thrifting together gave me a strong sense of empowerment that I’m reminded of each time I sort through endless racks of clothing and shelves of trinkets. These women taught me not to follow trends, but to be myself.

“Your treasure is waiting,” rings my mom on Sunday morning. I don’t tell her that my treasure is them — that my biggest will always be her.