If you love the idea of reduce, re-use and recycle, then charity shops might be for you. Elisabeth Hobbes tells us why she haunts them!
Nine times out of ten when someone compliments me on an outfit and asks where it's from, the answer
isn’t the name of a high street store. It’s most likely to be ‘Sue Ryder’ or ‘East Cheshire Hospice’ because I am a full on charity shopaholic.
If you’ve never stepped over the threshold of a British Heart Foundation or Scope shop, let me see if I can tempt you.
Like most people I know I’m on a budget, so being able to refresh my wardrobe for next to nothing is a huge advantage. It goes without saying that you won’t be paying full price for anything and you can pick up some outstanding bargains if you have the time to look.
My latest favourite find is a Top Man woolly jumper for £6, and I’ve worn my £2.99 red skirt so often it’s getting threadbare. For the last four years I’ve treated myself to a high street store winter coat and paid no more than £13 for any of them. As a teacher and mum of two kids I often find myself trying to put together a fancy dress outfit for some random reason and if I can do that as cheaply as possible all the better.
It isn’t just clothes and accessories I turn to the charity shop for. Books are a no-brainer. My kids are avid readers too so the ability to buy a fortnight’s worth of holiday reading for the whole family for a few pounds is great. I know a lot of authors hate the secondhand trade because people buy our work without us getting the royalties (and that’s a debate for another time) but I’ve discovered some great authors I might not have tried at full price and gone on to buy their other works as new. I don’t mind the thought of someone picking up my book second hand if the person benefitting is a good cause.
The thrill of the chase
The prospect of a day shopping usually fills me with dread but charity shops are different because you genuinely never know what you’ll come across and it’s more like a day out. Some of my best finds include a genuine 1960s Frank Usher cocktail dress for £15, a Radley handbag for £12 and a 1950s television for £10.
Don’t go in expecting to find the exact piece you were after that you saw in a particular shop (I have spent hours looking for the sequinned dress I tried on and rejected in H&M just in case but no luck). Unless the fairies that visited your crib as a baby made very precise wishes you’re unlikely to find it.
Go in with an idea of the sort of thing you’d like and you will probably do better. Get to know your size in different high street stores because they’re all different and you’ll save a lot of time in the changing room. I know that the size 10 from Top Shop won’t fit me but that the size 8 from Autograph will. I don’t even attempt a size 12 from Warehouse because who needs that sort of humiliation.
Charity shops are a great way to Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. I’m increasingly conscious of how much I throw way and am trying to raise my kids to do the same. If charity shopping keeps something out of
landfill for a few years it’s worth it.
This applies to household objects as much as clothes, books and toys. If you’re trying to kit out a house, charity shops can be a great source. I’m lucky to live close to two charity warehouses, one that covers four floors of an old mill. My house is a mess of Ikea pieces and old sideboards, bookcases, ornaments and crockery picked up for next to nothing over the years. We finally caved in and bought a second TV for £30 so the kids can watch endless Pokemon episodes without me wanting to go full on Oedipus on my own eyeballs.
If you have the sort of friends and relations who like quirky, old things then charity shops can throw up some great gifts. My proudest moment was the year our Secret Santa theme was Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and I presented my father in law with a vintage croquet set on a wooden, wheeled trolley that I’d picked up for a tenner. Beat that Boots 3 for 2!
This probably should have been higher up the list. These are charity shops. They are usually run by volunteers, and exist with the sole purpose of raising money for a wide variety of causes that are often woefully underfunded. How you feel about the cause might dictate which shops you choose to spend in. I have my own preferences, and my own route through town as a result. If I’m exploring somewhere new I make a beeline for the local cause shops because for some reason they seem to have better selections of vintage or retro.
Don’t haggle. They aren’t antique shops and most of them price fairly (and often lower than they could) so if you see a vase for £15 that you’d like but you only have £10 ask them to keep it and go to the cashpoint. Another ‘do’ is to take cash rather than put £1.25 here and there on card.
Once you’ve discovered the joy of charity shopping pay it forward. When you’ve grown bored of something, don’t send it to the tip or bin it (or stick it on Ebay to make a profit). Fill a few bags and take them to your local charity shop. Often the bigger ones collect bags door-to-door).
Let someone else have fun finding what might be their perfect buy and keep the wonderful charity shop circle of life going round and round.
Elisabeth Hobbes' historical romance, Beguiled by the Forbidden Kight, is available for pre-order now. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter.
Do you like fossicking about charity shops? What's your best find? We'd love to hear from you here or on social media using the hashtag #whywelove.