Embracing Charity Shopping

By Lucia · 6 minute read

Decluttering is all the rage at the mo. Whether it be Marie Kondo with her books and Netflix series, The Minimalists with their documentary and podcast or Gretchen Rubin with her book and mantra of “Outer Order, Inner Calm”, people are waking up to the fact that we are drowning in a sea of compulsive consumerism. We need to do something before there’s no room left in our houses for us!

I remember how happy I felt the day I tackled my mountain of clothes. I had just finished reading Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and, as if by magic, a charity donation bag had plopped onto the doormat the day before. I managed to cobble together two bags’ worth of clothes for collection day! I’ve had a box for unwanted items in the hall ready to donate on my next trip into town ever since. But have you ever thought about what happens next?

I started thinking about this one day last year when I went to donate a bag of pre-loved items and was politely turned away. The door to the back room was ajar and I could see that it was absolutely full! They needed time to process everything and the shop floor was already well-stocked. One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but if nobody is browsing the charity shops, how is the treasure going to be discovered?

This afternoon I visited another of my locals and asked the obvious question: do they receive more stock than they typically sell? The assistant’s wide-eyed response of “oh yes, definitely!” would suggest that the balance is WAY out of kilter. I then asked whether the unsold clothes end up in landfill. Luckily, this was a charity shop belonging to a large chain with well thought-out systems in place. First they offer clothes to other charity shops, and if they have no luck there they send them abroad to people in need. But I wonder how many independent charity shops have access to this sort of infrastructure?

My enthusiastic Kondoing (yes, people are using MK’s name as a verb now!) has left me with several gaps in my wardrobe, especially in the summer department. But so far this year, aside from some undies and a pair of shoes*, I have done all my clothes shopping in charity shops. I have been complimented so many times on the purchases I have made and always proudly announce where I found them! But I have often been faced with surprised exclamations and comments such as:

  • Oh I never find anything I want in a charity shop.
  • Isn’t searching through the chaotic racks time consuming?
  • They never have my size!

If this sounds like you, here are my top tips for shopping in a charity shop:

  • Know your needs: Be organized and keep a list in your phone of gaps in your wardrobe so you know which section to head for. It is also useful to think ahead – might your favourite pair of jeans be coming to the end of their lifespan? If so, put them on the list as well to help avoid an emergency trip to Primark!
  • Don’t make a special trip: Pop into a charity shop when you’re passing – this will help curb the disappointment if you come out empty-handed. In fact, go in with low expectations and your mood can only improve!
  • Size first, then design: The main difference between high street and second-hand shops is that instead of a rack of one item in multiple sizes, there’s usually only one of each item. To avoid the frustration of spotting something you like and then discovering it won’t fit, scan the tops of the hangers first to make sure you’re in the right place for your size. Only then should you look at the garments themselves. (Most charity shops sort by size, but if your locals don’t, be bold and suggest they make a change. Point out that it may help them do more business!)
  • Keep your eyes peeled: I am very lucky to have four excellent charity shops a short walk away from home but perhaps you’re not so lucky. Unfortunately charity shops are rarely found in large shopping centres, so look out for them elsewhere. Does someone you visit regularly have one near them? Is there one near your work, or somewhere you visit less often? There’s a chance you could even have been passing them by without noticing!

If I haven’t quite convinced you yet, consider these extra nuggets:

  • Your money will be going to a good cause instead of just feeding the beast that is fast fashion – this is especially good news if you are someone who’d like to be donating money to charity but aren’t currently in the position to make regular donations.
  • Buying pre-loved clothes avoids any issues of shrinkage in a first wash or stretching after a few wears. After reading about Kate Middleton wearing outfits more than once (and I’ll admit I can’t remember if this was my observation or the journalist’s), the idea of celebs only ever wearing brand new clothes fills me with pity – they’ll never know the homey feeling of comfy clothes and well-loved shoes that fit your every kink and curve!
  • If you imagine a charity shop to be full of tatty, worn-out clothes, then think again – have you ever bought something new, got it home and realised further down the line that you’ll never wear it after all but the returns period has expired? Not all charity shop clothes are pre-loved – I often find unworn items with labels still attached!
  • Have you ever heard of the Sunk Cost Fallacy? It is the phenomenon that the more money you spend on an item, the harder it is to part with. If you change your mind about a second-hand purchase, it is comforting to know that you haven’t spent too much, and that the money has at least gone to a good cause. It’s also good news as there’s no limit to when you can take it back the shop! OK, you won’t get your money back, but it will hopefully result in the shop raising even more money from the garment.
  • I used to hate the feeling of visiting high street shops with a set idea in my head of what I wanted, only to be faced with items that weren’t quite right. With charity shop browsing, you may find you are able to look at items more creatively and find the courage to arm yourself with a needle and thread post-purchase!
  • Buying second-hand saves energy and resources: the more we buy from charity shops the less demand there will be for new clothes to be made. A second-hand purchase will also make the most of the garment’s environmental footprint.
  • Keeping our charity shops in business gives us a perfect place to donate items, rather than sending them straight to landfill

We recently celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and the top I wore for the party was from a charity shop. Of course I made sure everybody knew it! We had family visiting from abroad for the occasion and when I saw my sister at the end of her stay, I complimented her on her top. She exclaimed with delight “guess where it’s from? The charity shop opposite Granny’s house – I bought it yesterday!” I was very proud of her!

I had a lot to say on this subject, so well done for making it to the end. Your reward is a little gallery of some of my favourite purchases this year! Go on, give it a go – who knows what treasures you will find?!

*P.S. The shoes were a dire situation – I’ve had a succession of Fred Perry trainers and I always managed to wear through one toe. This time I bought myself a curved needle, checked YouTube for a tutorial and patched it up, making them last 4 months and 2 days longer! But there comes a point when you just have to admit defeat…

I replaced them with some TOMS so that I could at least know that my money was going to a good cause (see my Plastic Free July post for more on THAT story!). I intend to send my old shoes to Nike for their Reuse-a shoe programme.

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