What better way to sing the praises of charity shops than to have recently completed a round of the ones that we have in St Andrews? With this article in mind, I spent the first part of yesterday doing just that. I started on South Street with Oxfam and Cancer Research UK, then moved to Bell Street for Barnardo’s and British Heart Foundation, then to Greyfriars Garden for Sense and Save The Children, then Logies Lane for Sue Ryder Care, and finally Church Street for Salvation Army. My grand total of purchases consisted of only one book, which is quite restrained behaviour from me (in case you’re interested, it was Charles Clover’s “The End Of The Line”). If I ever find myself exploring an urban area at my leisure during trading hours, especially one that I have never previously visited, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be sucked through the doors of at least one charity shop. But why?
Most obviously, charity shops bring in crucial money for the philanthropic bodies that own them. Thankfully, despite our capitalist society, there still seems to be a decent-sized expectation that we should help those who are much less fortunate than ourselves. We students, and many others, are financially limited in what we can do, even though we are not without the luxury of a roof over our heads; therefore, buying stock from charity shops and/or letting them have some of our own still counts as valuable assistance, especially when the additive effect of thousands of participants is considered. As per an old entry on my bucket list, I felt extremely satisfied when I gave away my first bag of unwanted items to a charity shop on 08/04/2015. More recently, my parents established contact with a local woman who takes the old clothes of nearby families directly to the homeless, and so we have started contributing in this way too. The Adamoulas household’s insignificant loss is another group’s vital gain.
As proud as I feel of myself for giving back to society, this is not the main reason why I first fell in love with charity shops. The importance of being a good citizen only entered my way of thinking to the fullest extent after turning into an adult, but knowing the joy that comes with discovering a good bargain first hit me before I even became a teenager. In our younger years, we were all dragged around the stores by one or both of our parents — it’s just a fact of life that has to be dealt with at the time. When I was out with my mother like this, her love of charity shops meant that we went into a lot of them for her to do some browsing. Books were acquired more frequently than anything else, but she didn’t always buy for herself — occasionally I would end up benefiting too.
As time went by, I realised that charity shops were bountiful reserves just waiting to be tapped. Given that my mother is also responsible for my love of reading, I too make a beeline for the bookshelves when I enter these places. Prices in charity shops vary by organisation, in that the same book might be £0.99 in Barnardo’s and £2.99 in Oxfam, so shopping around is not an entirely bad idea. That said, even the highest charity shop prices will be much lower than those in proper bookstores such as Waterstones and online retailers such as Amazon, so the decision-making process depends on just how miserly you are. I’m at the upper end of this scale, so finding Philip Hoare’s “Leviathan” in a charity shop for £0.50 only a few weeks after refusing to buy it in the Natural History Museum for £10.99 was nothing short of superb; getting Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” for £0.25 on a separate occasion is another prominent memory (I’ve just reminded myself that I actually need to read these books instead of merely hoarding them). It doesn’t end at books though, as one of my favourite T-shirts was bought from a charity shop for only £1 — beat that, Primark!
Best of all, there are few everyday items that would never turn up in a charity shop, so the excitement of not knowing what treasures lie within is strong. I’ve even found the odd wedding dress inside — if you’re a woman who would go for a second-hand bridal garment in order to save money, I will marry you (well, maybe after a few years of successful dating). Seriously though, charity shops rock, and not one of them is unworthy. Bear that last point in mind the next time you choose to become a stock donor.