There was a while when I used to work in a charity shop as a volunteer on Saturdays. I would be out the back, in the sorting room. My “sorting” usually went “One for me, one for the shop. One for me, one for the shop.” I used to leave every night with two bin bags of stuff- it was a bit of a drain on my pocket as I didn’t even used to get mates rates!
I have always loved charity shops- identifying them as a young teen as a way of getting better and more bang for my paper delivery buck. (I was the WORST paper girl in the world, I would do my whole route half asleep on my bike, and then have to go back after school to retrieve and swap them all around until everyone got the right one.) But it gave me about £2.70 each week and even as a 14 year old I would delight in people’s expressions as I gloated “Oh, these Lee jeans? £1!”
I like to think of myself as a charity shop connoisseur. I have honed my art over the last 2 decades, I know the London shops like the back of my hand, and am gathering a charity shop map of the UK in my subconscious as we dabble in charity shop tourism!
Have a list
What are you looking for? It can be intimidating wandering into a massive room crammed with stuff. Have a list of 5 items that you always scan for, and then you can be in and out super quick. Mine include: good shoes that fit, vintage tea cups, wooden toys, cheap lace and embroidery, dominoes, scrabble and Lexicon! With that list I can be in and out in 4 minutes flat, making charity shopping something I can do while I wait for the next bus.
Keep it regular
It does take a certain amount of commitment this charity shopping lifestlye malarkey. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Sometimes you can even get to know the volunteers and bust out the old cheeky “Anything out the back?” question!
Play the long game
Forget instant gratification -you have to be in it for the long haul. Have a list and be prepared for it to take weeks to find things on there. And have a little storage spot for things you need in the future. I have a giant suitcase of gifts that I have found and can pull out when the person’s birthday rocks up. January is THE BEST time for charity shopping new stuff, as everyone gives their unwanted pressies away. Buy them up, store them, and give them away!
I try to have a No Polyester rule. It tends to hold people’s sweat and catches on my dry fingers, so I avoid it. And if I find some 100% wool going for a song I nearly always buy it. 100% wool is always a winner both for warmth and also crafting (once felted in a hot wash) and hard to buy economically from anywhere. However, I hate to be grim but do SCOUR for signs of moths. It is possible to bring them into your home with a vintage wool purchase- but you can usually spot them. Figure out the quality fabrics and classic items you want to fill your wardrobe with, and always scan for them.
Hokey kokey rule
If you are going to get buying from charity shops, also get giving. I kind of have a loose “one in, one out rule” when it comes to clothes. Otherwise I would be buried under a mound of 100% wool. Freely give and freely receive! (Totally mashing up drunk wedding songs and scripture references here, this is how I roll.)
The lay of the land
The fact is, if you charity shop in posh parts of town you will have to accept higher prices- but you WILL find better labels and better quality stuff. If you like a good rummage and would rather take your chances on finding a dusty gem on a groaning shelf then head out of town and hit up those £1 rails. There is some kind of rule about charity shops paying less on certain streets, so very often if you are wondering where to start just search some of the big name charity shops and you will almost certainly find a run of loads of them. Charity shops don’t like to be lonely.
Be philosophical about your dosh
Your first few forays into charity shops COULD surprise you. You will inevitably find clothes that could be cheaper in Primarni. Sometimes it can be baffling. Don’t dwell on it. Think about the huge amount of goodness these charity shops are doing, by selling on these clothes. I kind of think they almost have a responsibility to get what they can from the things we donate. I pretty much count every penny I spend as a donation, rather then a bout of consumption. (Although, I have been known to have a proper grumble about it sometimes, so I understand, I do. I do.)
One of the big hitters on the high street is the British Heart Foundation. I especially love their Hammersmith shop- nestled towards the end of a huge string of charity shops on the high street. In the last few years three precious family members have experienced serious, in one case fatal, heart conditions. Every time I buy something from their charity shops I think about the British Heart Foundation’s huge and ambitious fight against heart disease.
On 1st February 2013 they are hosting a “Rock Up in Red” day – a chance for individuals, workplaces, youth groups, schools etc to raise cash for a future filled with healthy hearts. It is a simple idea- get everyone wearing this most racy and bold of colours for one day and get small donation from each person – but is could make a massive difference in people’s lives. Hey, why not make your first delve into charity shopping a search for some lush red garments for Rock Up in Red? You can download a fundraising pack and get loads of help with planning all their website. And blog your fancy red outfit!
Thanks, now come on, reveal all- what are your charity shopping tips?
PS If you love charity shops you will probably enjoy this round up of the UK’s BEST charity shops from some thrifty bloggers!