How to shop in charity shops

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…

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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.

be methodical

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.

get touchy-feely

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

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.

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