Really Useful-Buy Nothing New

Ten Top Tips for Charity Shop Shopping

I am a huge fan of charity shop shopping as a brilliant way to find what you need/want without contributing to the demand for cheap consumer goods. It has the added benefits of saving stuff from landfill, and raising money for good causes, so basically it’s a win-win.
I wasn’t always such a fan though.

I have no doubt that there are some people reading this who were bought up in a family of thrifters, and for whom scouring charity shops or thrift stores is second nature.
There might however be a few, who are like I was a few of years ago: I would occasionally wander into the odd charity shop, maybe browse the bric-a-brac, and have a vague flick through a clothes rail or two, before leaving empty-handed. I was always slightly jealous of people when they told me they had found their ‘new’ jumper/jeans/skirt in a charity shop. I could never really find anything I liked, but it turns out I just wasn’t really looking properly.

Fast forward 3 years, and our year of buying nothing new has turned me into a huge charity shop fan! All my clothes are now sourced there, as well as lots of the kid’s toys and clothes, and bits for the house too. I have never sat down and added it all up, but we must have saved a small fortune over three years, and so much of the stuff is in great condition.

Stocking fillers I bought for the boys a couple of years ago, all from local charity shops

Stocking fillers I bought for the boys a couple of years ago, all from local charity shops

Here are my top tips for the best of charity shop shopping:

Charity Schop Shopping-P

Get to know your local charity shops
If you’re not used to frequenting charity shops then you might be vaguely aware that there are ‘some’ in your local town, but you probably don’t know all of them.
Go for a wander, and really start to look for them. Or if you are new to a town, use Charity Retail Associations website to search for all the charity shops near you.
I live in a small market town, and we have at least 8 charity shops. Some people complain about them taking over the High St, but I’m very happy with this! I have developed a little route around town that will take in all of them and it’s my favourite type of shopping!

Not all charity shops are created equal
You will find that the quality and type of goods will vary from shop to shop.
Some charity shops almost look like ‘new’ shops now-clothes are sorted by colour; everything is laid out very neatly, the lighting is bright, and it all looks very lovely.
There are however still ‘old fashioned’ charity shops out there where everything is a bit of a jumble, but I love these-things tend to be a bit cheaper, and you get to have a good old rummage!
And you will also find that some shops specialise in just one thing, eg clothes, or electrical items. Get to know your local ones, and which one’s suit your style.

Location, location, location
I have never actually tested this out, but there is a theory out there, that charity shops in more upmarket places, will have better quality stuff, and are more likely to have high fashion brands in them.
It makes sense, and I keep meaning to take a day trip to Bath or Marlborough to check it out!
Be aware though that charity shops are now pretty clued up as to what brands are worth what, and the prices will reflect that.

Make a list, check it twice
During My Make Do and Mend Year, we made a list of the things that we needed, and I carried this around with me to consult when I did my little charity shop rounds. It helped me to remember that I was on the look out for size 5 wellies, or a whisk for the kitchen, and helped me be more targeted when I was browsing.

I needed a silicone whisk recently for soap making, and was so excited when I found this one!

I needed a silicone whisk recently for soap making, and was so excited when I found this one!

Go frequently
Don’t just go once! Keep visiting regularly as the stock turns over pretty quickly, and if they don’t have what you need one week, they might in a week or two’s time.

Time your visits
Again, this is an untested theory, but some people recommend going on a Monday or Tuesday, as lots of people will have been clearing out their wardrobes/cupboards over the weekend, so there will be lots of new stock at the beginning of the week.

Have an open mind
I once nearly walked away from a coat because I didn’t like the buttons. It took longer than it should have done for me to register that I could actually change the buttons really easily! I bought it, and rummaged in my button collection for some suitable ones, and now I LOVE it, and everyone always comments on it.

Coat buttons4
If something fits well, but you don’t like the colour, it can be dyed. And if you can sew, then many things can be altered or re-fashioned to suit.

Think outside the box
Cast your eye over the menswear section for snuggly jumpers and cardis. Men’s shirts are a great source of quite a lot of fabric for sewing projects, as are sheets and duvets. Jeans are super versatile (here are some jean’s upcycling ideas), and even ties can be upcycled in all kinds of imaginative ways.
Look at things with your upcycler’s specs on: all kinds of things can be repurposed into something you need-check out all these ideas for old tennis rackets!

The sniff test..!
Some charity shops will have a particular smell to them, and this can pervade the clothes.
Check the labels to see if things can be chucked in the washing machine, and if they can then this should get rid of most whiffs.
Bicarb is a great de-odoriser (soak items in bicarb and water overnight), and a top tip from a theatre wardrobe mistress that is in the Back to Basics book, is that neat vodka sprayed onto smelly areas will remove the smell.



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  • Reply Beth (Madame B) January 21, 2016 at 9:57 am

    The tip about wealthy areas is true – I’ve found some amazing stuff in North Oxford and some of the posher areas of London. But yes, be prepared to pay a bit more for designer stuff. Also, I would advise looking out for little round holes in potential purchases – clothes moths are tricky critters to get rid of once you’ve got them! If it’s just one or two little holes (easily mended) you can still buy it, just make sure you wrap the garment in plastic and put it in the freezer for a week to kill off any larvae, then wash as you normally would.

    • Reply Jen January 26, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      That’s a great tip Beth, thankyou!

  • Reply Workshopshed January 21, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Some charity shops can now be found on EBay, I bought the body of my Topsy Turvy clock from Woking Hospice

    • Reply Jen January 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Oooh, never occurred to me look on eBay for charity shops-thankyou!

  • Reply Kathryn Houldcroft January 20, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Great tips – I didn’t realise the one about searching on a Monday or Tuesday. Definitely ditto exploring charity shops in ‘posher’ places. Here’s my guide to Bath: Although I’m going to have to add some smarter vintage charity shops to that, such as the new Dorothy House on Bridge St. Funnily enough went to Devizes today and picked up some good label bargains (Laura Ashley, Kaliko). I sort of lament the decline of the ‘jumble sale’ style shops I knew from my student days though. And some charity clothing is now more pricey than High Street stores (although there are a myriad reasons why second-hand is better). Great post.

    • Reply Jen January 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      There’s still one like that in Westbury Kathryn!
      Love your city guide 🙂

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