Learning to Love Charity Shop Shopping

charity shop books

When I was a kid, I hated charity shops. My Mum was brilliant in them – she had a real instinct for finding hidden treasures in the unlikeliest of places – and would always emerge victorious with a perfect pair of jeans or a cashmere cardi. She and a friend would take whole days to visit other towns nearby and trawl their shops for a change. But I didn’t to inherit her skill, and I wasn’t prepared to work at it. I’d get bored quickly, and could never be bothered rifling through the racks of musty smelling garments on the off chance that I might find something useful.

More recently, I’ve had a change of heart. I still don’t buy clothes in charity shops (mainly because, as you’ll have guessed from my post on fashion earlier in the week, I don’t really buy clothes at all…) but if I’m looking for books or toys, they are the first place I go.

Harpenden is pretty poor for shopping. If you’ve got a lot of money to spend on a swanky outfit, or you want to stock up on scented candles and ‘Keep Calm’ coffee mugs, it’s perfect. But if you want something to read your only option is a couple of shelves in WH Smiths, and if you want a new toy for your three year old you have to go to St Albans.

Unless you’re prepared to do a bit of digging.

I’ve been clearing out the house over the last few weeks and hauling a lot of bags of old stuff to the charity shops on the High Street. DorkySon has very cannily caught on that if he comes too I can usually be persuaded to hand over my loose change and let him choose something from one of the toy baskets. We appear to be operating a one-bag-out-one-truck-in policy at present, and over the last couple of weeks DorkySon has landed quite a haul – a rally car, forklift truck, combine harvester and Lego Duplo quad bike – for a total of two quid.

The joy of getting so much for so little is that if he gets a toy home and stays completely in love with it, as he has with the forklift, I really feel like we’ve got a bargain. And if he gets something home but doesn’t end up playing with it as often, I don’t resent it because it was only fifty pence. There isn’t the same pressure to get a lot of use from it, as there is when you buy something new and expensive.

My other weakness at the moment is books. I have grumbled often about the fact most of our books are in storage and we miss them terribly. Both of us were lucky enough to get a good stack of reading material from friends and family at Christmas time, but we’ve worked our way through them all already.

The stock in Smiths tends to be recent bestsellers, which are fine, but both our tastes stretch a little wider than that so I have taken to scouring the shelves in the Oxfam bookshop. As with the toys, it’s much easier to take a chance on a something – to try a new author or new genre – when you’re only paying a couple of quid instead of a tenner.

I’m trying to catch up on all the classics that I should have read but haven’t – I bought Huckleberry Finn and The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas for myself yesterday. I struggle a bit choosing books for DorkyDad and have, on occasion, got it quite wrong. But I’m hoping that at least one of the last three I got him – an Annie Proulx novel, The Kite Runner, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – scratches his literary itch for a week or two.

I am fast learning that the way to approach charity shops is with an open mind. If you go looking for a specific item you will likely come away disappointed. But if you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone to try something new, and you take along an enthusiastic three year old for company, there are bargains aplenty to be had.

Me and My Shadow

24 responses

  1. Oh, I love charity shops and have bought tons of stuff over the last few years. I do get a bit of ‘jumble sale madness’ when confronted with lots of really cheap clothes, that look like new and fit perfectly. So have been known to go over the top a bit sometimes. They are going to be a good resource for books as people start to clear out their books as they have gone over to Kindles. I have a Kindle, and surprisingly I love it, but I would never get rid of my special books. Am reading From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple at the moment. It is excellent, I’m sure you’d like it if you haven’t already read it!

    • I don’t think that’s being snobby! Some of them are a bit grim… but others are better. I like the Oxfam Book & Music ones because they don’t smell like the clothes ones sometimes do! xx

  2. My sister was fab at “op shopping” as we called it in Oz, but she was handy with a needle and thread and had an eye for fashion. I get some fab books too. PS: the Kite Runner is a great book.

  3. I love a charity shop now although admittedly as a kid I would walk away as my mum went into one and pretend I wasn’t with her haha! I love buying books in charity shops our local one does 3 children’s books for 25p and anywhere from 10p to £3 for the rest of their books 🙂

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  5. When I do a tidy up – clean out, it’s always a visit to the charity shop after wards, and they really are the best places to pick up children’s toys. There’s a charity shop on my local high street that specialises in children’s clothes and toys – fabulous for a bargain.

    • Sounds ace! They can be great for toys – especially if you’re going on holiday or something and you need a stock of small cheap ones for the aeroplane!

  6. Moving around so much in my 20’s and 30’s I spent a lot of time taking stuff to charity shops until I learned to just stop collecting stuff…! And growing up we had so little money that I either wore hand-me-downs from various cousins or we went to charity shops. When I was at university a fantastic chain started up (or maybe it was already started but it arrived in my uni town while I was there) called Ragstock. It was a charity shop chain and like most charity shops they collected in second hand clothes and had some very inexpensive new basics (t shirts, etc) and the ‘charity’ aspect was that they sold them on really cheaply. As university students we loved it!

    And now, I don’t go in them often enough. Probably because when I go to town I have a list of specifics and as you say it isn’t a place to go for a specific thing, but if I were going to just browse I think charity shops can be quite interesting. Especially for things like books. And especially in a town that doesn’t stock anything more than bestsellers! You’ve got a magical mystery every time you go book shopping now! I kind of like that.

    • Oh you need to give me lessons on how to stop collecting stuff. I am not massively materialistic but I find it really hard to get rid of books and persona, bits and pieces like cards and letters.

  7. I go right for kitchenwares, myself! Wonderul old baking tins, platters and serving bowls and linens. All things I use all the time on Cocoa & Lavender… But I go for a day and do them all a once! Otherwise I would go crazy. For me, shopping time is set aside for foodstuffs!

    • That sounds like the way to do it – set aside a day and do a lot at once! I bet you get some brilliant cookware. I will have to start browsing those shelves too…

  8. I have been desperately trying to ‘get’ charity shops for some time now. I really want to flick my hair and say “oh this thing, I found it at the charity shop” but I rarely find anything. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • You should have a wee nosey at Lulastic’s blog – she has some great posts with tips for finding the good stuff. There is also a blog (can’t remember the name) that posts reviews of different towns based on their charity shops – where you should go if you are specifically looking for one thing or another.

  9. It’s true – there is a lot of dross in charity shops! But it is possible to find some real gems in amongst the dross, especially if you are persistent. And Oxfam bookshops can be absolute treasure troves!

  10. I love the Harpenden charity shops – far better stuff than when I was shopping in Shepherds Bush!

    Am currently trying to clear out – trouble is that I’m also looking for materials for a craft project so have a similar one bag out, a few things back in problem going on…

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