It is a rare weekend when i am not to be found snuffling around my local charity shops. I like to think that i am genetically predisposed to love them. My mother’s family is of that particular thrifty brand of english who not only save but iron used paper bags and my father has been known to make a two-hour detour
to visit a particularly good antiques centre.
To me charity shopping is the perfect guilt-free experience, promising treasure and goodly works in one neat, satisfying package. I am thrilled to have any excuse to visit remote and unfashionable parts of the uk and (sad but true) travel armed with google maps showing the location of charity shops in particular areas.
Here are my tips for how to navigate a charity shop and come out clutching prize finds.
Do an initial scan
Approach the first minute or so as you would do a jumble sale, after all charity shops are by their very nature stocked with one-offs. Once that piece of fulham pottery has been snaffled up by someone else it is well and truly off the market. Competitive barging is very poor form but do make a quick sweep of the rails and shelves to make sure you’re not about to miss out on a gem.
Sometimes true treasures lurk at the bottom of rather bleak-looking baskets of polyester sheets. It is worth having a proper rummage. If you have charity shops near your house drop in regularly, even if you haven’t come across anything glorious for months – you never know when someone is going to clear out great aunt agatha’s attic. If you are a true charity shop aficionado, you can turn your frequent visits into elaborate games of spot the difference.
I could probably give you a run-down of the current stock of three of four of my favourite shops and instantly know what’s new. Lots of charity shops seem to replenish their shelves on a thursday in preparation for the weekend ahead so if you have a long weekend in the diary go on a friday, not a saturday.
If you are looking for fabric or clothes first scan for pattern and then have a feel of them. Proper cotton or silk feels instantly nicer to the touch than synthetic fibres. If you are buying clothes always check for staining or holes, and go over all the seams to see if fabric has pulled or frayed.
If something is stained don’t kid yourself that it’s going to come up good as new, you need to be happy to have it in the condition it is in. That said, it’s quite amazing what stain removers can do – look for oxygen-based ones.
Storage is always a good idea
You will very rarely have buyer’s remorse if you purchase things that instantly have a use. kitchen storage is particularly useful – you really can’t go wrong with a ground glass jar. Pretty vintage tins have become increasingly collectable, so are well worth picking up if they are relatively cheap.
Always check for rusting around the lid as this can mean that opening and closing said tins is incredibly frustrating. It’s also important to have a good sniff inside, however odd this might appear. If there is a lurking smell this is unlikely to ever fully leave. Lovely leather luggage is covetable but do watch out for weight.
Suitcases were a great deal less aerodynamic back in the day so you might find yourself trying to haul one on top of your wardrobe and fearing for your life.
Be strict with yourself if you tend to hoard
It’s worth having set collections that you add to. Perhaps you have a penchant for wedgwood jasperware or colourful knitting needles? if this is too prescriptive why not amass objects of a certain colour to be displayed together. You could collect white and cream pottery, or a plethora of turquoise objects.
Embrace accessories for entertaining
Always snap up a 1970s drinks trolley if given the chance. Similarly, decanters and pretty champagne glasses are always a good idea.
Old decanters can be devilish to clean but lakeland sells mysterious ‘magic balls’ for cleaning awkward vases and bottles which are excellent.
I also feel strongly that everyone should have a tea set! English afternoon tea is not the same with mugs.
Don’t be constrained by ‘good taste’
Only a few years ago lettuceware and staffordshire dogs were seen as irretrievably naff. Now they prance merrily upon mantelpieces up and down the nation. Buy what you love, not according to the latest fad.