The Buried Treasure I Call Home

“It’s a bit messy,” I warn my guests. They approach 4M, a door plastered with signs that read “No smoking,” “Shoe-free zone,” and “Doorbell broken, knock hard!”

Taking off their shoes, my guests glance to the left and their jaws drop. The room is silent; you can hear a yarmulke-clip drop. Our living room is the perfect place to play I Spy; there’s a baby carriage, a bicycle, office supplies, outdated video cassettes, pots, pans, and the notorious pile of laundry, oh my! When my mother is home, she inevitably asks, “Wanna help fold socks? We put our guests to work here!” Most guests muster a forced grin, but some have actually helped fold socks; those are the ones who get on my family’s good list.

As the tour continues past the mess, I can’t help but feel embarrassed by my unconventional family.

“Why is your apartment so cluttered?” The answer lies in the Aqueduct Flea Market. Surviving on a thrifty budget, my mother has discovered the glory of the flea market find. She has become a compulsive shopper, buying both necessities and luxury items wholesale. But embracing consumerism ­doesn’t mean forgetting her humbler roots. Never really having much growing up, my mother takes joy in being able to provide more for her children and those around her.

My mother is a loud and ­vivacious person who puts her compulsions to good use. She purchases clothing for poor families, donates books to hospitals, and makes gift baskets for postal workers. As a baby, I was bundled up in a carriage and wheeled through the market, listening to my mother lecturing on the value of fiscal sanity and the virtue of charity. When I was a toddler, my mother even pushed me to engage merchants in colorful conversations about their products and pasts. These experiences resonate within me when I take on charitable pursuits and model what I hope to provide for others.

In the market, I learned to appreciate unexpected treasures. Early on, I collected old watch pieces and other undesirables for art projects. One time, I happened upon a neglected watch and, with a little shine and some new batteries, brought it back to life. In this marketplace of hidden gems, I learned to value unexpected beauty.

Growing up as a frequent flea market-explorer, meandering through wafting smells of gyros and roasted corn, and voices of eager sellers shouting, “Five dollah, right here today!” I learned to find bargains with the few dollars I was given.

I fondly remember back-to-school shopping trips where we bought clothing for the whole family at the cost that one of us would spend on ­retail. I never bought into the designer trends that absorbed my friends because I saw how much further my dollar could go at the flea market. This has the added benefit that I never commit the fashion faux pas of matching a peer, since all my clothes are flea market originals.

Thanks to the market, my family constantly fights over living space and walking room in our three-bedroom apartment. Regardless of this, the market has provided me with valuable experiences. I can proudly say that I once bought seven pairs of pants for $15. I have also learned to be confident in my choices, even when they are unconventional. I have seen the joy on children’s faces after I distributed 100 new pairs of shoes.

My apartment may be hard to navigate and my family has a pretty eccentric taste for interior decorating, but under all the clutter is a buried treasure I call home.

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