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How to charity shop – six tips!

There was a while when I used to work in a charity shop as a volunteer on Saturdays. I would be out the back, in the sorting room. My “sorting” usually went “One for me, one for the shop. One for me, one for the shop.” I used to leave every night with two bin bags of stuff- it was a bit of a drain on my pocket as I didn’t even used to get mates rates!

I have always loved charity shops- identifying them as a young teen as a way of getting better and more bang for my paper delivery buck. (I was the WORST paper girl in the world, I would do my whole route half asleep on my bike, and then have to go back after school to retrieve and swap them all around until everyone got the right one.) But it gave me about £2.70 each week and even as a 14 year old I would delight in people’s expressions as I gloated “Oh, these Lee jeans? £1!”

I like to think of myself as a charity shop connoisseur. I have honed my art over the last 2 decades, I know the London shops like the back of my hand, and am gathering a charity shop map of the UK in my subconscious as we dabble in charity shop tourism!

Here are my top 6 pointers!Six Tips for Charity Shopping

Have a list

What are you looking for? It can be intimidating wandering into a massive room crammed with stuff. Have a list of 5 items that you always scan for, and then you can be in and out super quick. Mine include: good shoes that fit, vintage tea cups, wooden toys, cheap lace and embroidery,  dominoes, scrabble and Lexicon! With that list I can be in and out in 4 minutes flat, making charity shopping something I can do while I wait for the next bus.

Keep it regular

It does take a certain amount of commitment this charity shopping lifestlye malarkey. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Sometimes you can even get to know the volunteers and bust out the old cheeky “Anything out the back?” question!

Play the long game

Forget instant gratification -you have to be in it for the long haul. Have a list and be prepared for it to take weeks to find things on there. And have a little storage spot for things you need in the future. I have a giant suitcase of gifts that I have found and can pull out when the person’s birthday rocks up. January is THE BEST time for charity shopping new stuff, as everyone gives their unwanted pressies away. Buy them up, store them, and give them away!

Fabric tests 

I try to have a No Polyester rule. It tends to hold people’s sweat and catches on my dry fingers, so I avoid it. And if I find some 100% wool going for a song I nearly always buy it. 100% wool is always a winner both for warmth and also crafting (once felted in a hot wash) and hard to buy economically from anywhere. However, I hate to be grim but do SCOUR for signs of moths. It is possible to bring them into your home with a vintage wool purchase- but you can usually spot them. Figure out the quality fabrics  and classic items you want to fill your wardrobe with, and always scan for them.

Hokey kokey rule

If you are going to get buying from charity shops, also get giving. I kind of have a loose “one in, one out rule” when it comes to clothes. Otherwise I would be buried under a mound of 100% wool. Freely give and freely receive! (Totally mashing up  drunk wedding songs and scripture references here, this is how I roll.)

The lay of the land

The fact is, if you charity shop in posh parts of town you will have to accept higher prices- but you WILL find better labels and better quality stuff. If you like a good rummage and would rather take your chances on finding a dusty gem on a groaning shelf then head out of town and hit up those £1 rails. There is some kind of rule about charity shops paying less on certain streets, so very often if you are wondering where to start just search some of the big name charity shops and you will almost certainly find a run of loads of them. Charity shops don’t like to be lonely.

Be philosophical about your dosh

Your first few forays into charity shops COULD surprise you. You will inevitably find clothes that could be cheaper in Primarni. Sometimes it can be baffling. Don’t dwell on it. Think about the huge amount of goodness these charity shops are doing, by selling on these clothes. I kind of think they almost have a responsibility to get what they can from the things we donate. I pretty much count every penny I spend as a donation, rather then a bout of consumption. (Although, I have been known to have a proper grumble about it sometimes, so I understand, I do. I do.)

Rock Up in Red British Heart Foundation

Wearing my latest secondhand finds including my only red top in honour of Rock Up In Red. It is a bit dull, but jollied up with this awesome vintage scarf. And also a little chance to show off my 5 month bump which popped out a bit more this week- so much more actually that Tim had the audacity to Poke.My.Bellybutton. *throws up* (I’m phobic of bellybutton touching and he has known that for 7 years. Outrageous.)

One of the big hitters on the high street is the British Heart Foundation. I especially love their Hammersmith shop- nestled towards the end of a huge string of charity shops on the high street. In the last few years three precious family members have experienced serious, in one case fatal, heart conditions. Every time I buy something from their charity shops I think about the British Heart Foundation’s huge and ambitious fight against heart disease.

On 1st February 2013 they are hosting a “Rock Up in Red” day – a chance for individuals, workplaces, youth groups, schools etc to raise cash for a future filled with healthy hearts. It is a simple idea- get everyone wearing this most racy and bold of colours for one day and get small donation from each person – but is could make a massive difference in people’s lives. Hey, why not make your first delve into charity shopping a search for some lush red garments for Rock Up in Red?  You can download a fundraising pack and get loads of help with planning all their website. And blog your fancy red outfit!

Thanks, now come on, reveal all- what are your charity shopping tips?

PS If you love charity shops you will probably enjoy this round up of the UK’s BEST charity shops from some thrifty bloggers!

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Car Boot Bargains – hustle or hope?

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Let’s go carbooting naked in the rain…

We weren’t actually naked but we were very much in the rain, and this nineties one hit wonder was this morning’s theme tune. Ramona and I had a couple of hours to kill so excitedly sought out the legendary Rotherhithe Car Boot sale. Alas,  I was astonished to find that South Londoners are seriously lightweight carbooters – instead of 200 stalls there were FIVE!!!!! But with a similar number of punters. You can imagine the carnage. It was like opening five tiny Primarks during lunch break at a girls school with Justin Beiber cutting the ribbons wearing nothing but Krispy Kremes.

Us punters were desperate -shivers, I didn’t catch two buses here to go home empty handed- and many of the sellers were milking it. Fortunately I managed to nab three large Ikea frames for £7 (and you know I always snap up large frames for teatowel repurposing) and two of them even made it home unbroken! And I also found these glorious little tiles, three for 50p. They are hand screen printed from Jersey Potteries. What a riot of Seventies dazzle.

I am stoked I didn’t fall into the trap of buying stuff at a clear mark up and as I traipsed home I got thinking about the dynamics of carbooting. Obviously the best price for something is one which you are both happy with. But what can you do to not be taken for a complete chump? The last time I went to Rotherhithe I went with a bunch of people and one couple fell in love with a tea set, but it didn’t seem worth the £10 the seller wanted. So they got one of our other friends to inquire a little bit later and the seller asked for half that. The friend bought it (he fell in love with it too) (haha, just kidding, he bought it for them, obvs) so they got their tea set without anyone getting hustled too badly.

I tend to point nonchalently at something as I ask the price, if it is more than I’m happy to pay I ask them to knock a third off – usually with a cheeky remark (a friend read a book once which told her that if you make someone laugh as you bargain with them then they will more likely meet you.) I don’t really haggle beyond that, just throw my price at them and hope for the best!

I also try to make a point of greeting the sellers and having a nice chat with them, not only does it make the haggling a little less awkward, I also remember what it is like sitting behind your junk while people treat you like a vending machine. The banter is one of the coolest things about a car boot. Although, got to admit, I do sometimes let this slip when faced with boxes of manky treaures and a sign saying EVERYTHING 50P- it is easy to forget oneself when one is diving through piles of junk hyperventilating.

Do you enjoy a good haggle? Have any tips for getting the best bargains at boot sales? Feel like sharing all your secret squirrel bargain hunter tips and tricks here eh?

And don’t forget to check out all the other magical Magpies over at Liz’s Magpie Monday.

The weekend that we found Ramona’s Christmas pressie on the street

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Well, we NAILED this surprise heatwave. Swam in the sea at Whitstable, swam in the ponds at Hampstead Heath and swam in the river in Cambridge. The water was ffffffffreezing but once in, amazing, and Ramona completely loves splashing in cold water.

Score of the weekend was found on a corner in Hampstead – a mini house (dolls house/ tiny superhero base; whatevs) complete with all the trimmings. A tiny computer! A tiny shower! A tiny rocking horse! It is so cute and while Ramona mostly enjoys sucking the woolly heads of the tiny people I am having a fantastic time rearranging the furniture and deciding on the decor. (Haaahaha. It would be funny if it wasn’t TRUE. *Ashamed*) It is gonna be the wildest looking dolls house anyone has ever seen. (Yeah, yeah, I know we should do our actual house first. Meh.)

We will give it to Ramona for Christmas. Hello, she’ll be one, she won’t know that you aren’t meant to play with your Christmas pressies 3 months beforehand. And then we might take it away for a bit next year and give it to her for her second Christmas. And maybe with a revamp, again for her third. Ha.

People think we are lucky to find as much cool stuff as we do. But, I’m telling you, it does take some work. (And a back garden where you can dump all the stupid things you drag home.)

Here are my top finding tips:

As you walk or cycle along, scan the end of driveways by bins. People always leave stuff there.

Cross the road to look in skips. People chuck good stuff out all the time.

If you are in a posh area and see that it is rubbish collection day, take an extra special wander and gander.

Don’t be afraid of dirtiness. If it looks and smells okay it probably is okay and most things with a little clean will be more hygenic than lots of items you already own.

Imagine a quick makeover. That nasty pine chair could look GREAT with a coat of grey and a bit of a shabby-chic bash around the edges.

See things afresh. Could you use the knobs from that broken drawer? Would that window make a cool picture frame?

And, finally, remember that dignity is overrated. Most of the people that see you digging around in that skip will be jealous when they see the corroded biscuit tin you pull out of it. HA! Take THAT suckers!!

Shakeaway: breast milk to go

Once when Ramona was around 2 months I was walking along our road carrying her in the sling.  Some boys spotted me from their perch up in a block of flats and started hurling down meanness, although all I could really make out was the word “BREASTFEEDING!!!” screamed in a kind of offensive way. (The fact that this is a diss is worth a whole politics-of breastfeeding-rant in itself.) I was utterly mortified! “They must think I am breastfeeding her while I am walking along!” I put my head down and blushed to match my hair, feeling like my little freckly 9 year old self who got bullied in the playground. Then when I got to the end of the road I almost stopped in my tracks; what a bloody good idea. Of course I could breastfeed her in the sling!

The next time I was walking along and Ramona began her hungry headbutting I unhooked my bra and shuffled her around a bit;  she latched on immediately. That day a whole new sphere of stress free parenting opened up.

No more panick stations as I try and find a suitable place to feed her- with her nursing in the sling we can be wandering around the supermarket, a Parisian flea market or an  art gallery and no one is none the wiser. Well. Apart from the growling.

No more missing the train because I had to get a feed in before leaving the house. She just snacks on the walk up.

I feel it has helped build her security as she knows the instant she has a need it will be met, wherever we are – no crying involved. I love that science shows that meeting baby’s need quickly is vital to their development and nurtures things like their empathy cells. (Read more about that in my fave parenting book- it is the shizzle.)

If I ever want her to start a nap quickly (say because I have a meeting that it would be handy for her to sleep through) I just feed her off to sleep in the sling on the way. It often sends her to sleep within moments.

Around the three  month mark Ramona got way too distracted by goings on to breastfeed in public.Then she’d get all hungry and mad. However feeding in the sling helps her feel still involved somehow, avoiding what felt like miniture nursing strikes.

Perhaps best for those early days though was for the occasions when Ramona was incolsolable. They didn’t happen much but sometimes she wouldn’t feed or sleep even though I knew she was hungry and tired. As soon as I learnt to double them up she would settle really quickly. It was as if she needed movement to feed, or perhaps she wanted to feed upright.

I only wish I could have discovered it sooner.

So to those lads on the estate I will be forever indebted, for Ramona’s food on the hoof has made my life as a mother a lot easier. So much easier I would rank it in my top five mothering activities (I know, I’m a total expert after nine whole months.) I should really make those badasses some breast milk ice cream as a grateful treat.

In case your baby wants shakeaways…TIPS:

Feeding in a mei tai, ring sling or wrap is simple. Just tie it so their mouth is about level, although you may have to use your hand to hold either their head or your breast in place as they feed.

Where easy clothes, a low sccop or v-neck so you aren’t trying to yank up your top between your tummies.

Practice at home so you can get the hang of it.

Flick the end of the wrap over the top if you feel you have too much on show.

Beware of strangers coming in for a peek of your baby’s smile only to get that smile, dripping with milk, AND an eyeful of squirting nipple.