I am back at home now and yesterday on the way home from West Wales while we were on our lunch stop I dragged my family around the charity shops of Machynlleth. Every city we go to I drag them around charity shops: Edinburgh, Plymouth, and Aberystwyth to name just three. They are used to it now. They are very tolerant.
I had to take a trip to the local public conveniences shortly after our lunch stop in Machynlleth and while there I pondered: why am I so obsessed with charity shops?
I think the answer is partly genetic, partly historical and partly nostalgia.
My family are a family of charity shop lovers. We are bargain hunters. We don’t go to ‘normal’ shops very often (unless there is a sale on). However, cheap we like but we’d rather find something of value second hand that something cheaply made selling at a low price. We favour Severn Hospice over George at Asda.
I’d say that about half of my clothes are second hand. I own some lovely items from Coast, Jigsaw, Mexx, Boden and White Stuff. Most of them pre-owned.I am sure my friends think I have lots of clothes (I do). I’m sure they think I am frivolous with my money (I am, but only in Oxfam).
My mum, sister and I meet regularly to mooch around the local charity shops. So I blame them for the genetic and historic reasons for my love of charity shops. I remember going around charity shops and factory shops as a child (being dragged around to some extent). Then I remember going through a period of rebellion against charity shops from the age of about 14 to 18, believing that charity clothes were ‘cuffy‘. Later, while living in Exeter during my degree years, I re-discovered my love of second hand, when I discovered the most amazing vintage / second-hand clothes shop called The Real McCoy (and it is still there). Shopping by myself, I’d visit that shop to feel the fabrics, try on the ball gowns, and image myself in the vintage 1960s and 1970s dresses.
Next came a few years living in Oxford and Oxford town center is weirdly devoid of charity shops. Moving to Shrewsbury was a blessing in this respect, there are lots of charity shops here and I love them all. It felt like coming home.
The final reason for my love of charity shops I think comes from my craving for nostalgia and my love of the past. I think I am secretly looking to get that feeling of nostalgia, or the uncanny as Freud would call it, that we get from finding an object that reminds us of something or somewhere else (in time or space). I love to find objects that remind me of my past. I enjoy that warm, comforting feeling of recognition (such as I had from finding the ‘rock concert‘ in New Quay). A year ago I found an ornament in Oxfam in Shrewsbury that we had had in the house when I was a child. I bought it, even though it is really quite unattractive. I had to have it. I had no need for it. But the feeling of nostalgia that seeing it had engendered in me was something I wanted to keep.
I like to browse the children’s books to find old Beanos, Blue Peter annuals or The Bash Street Kids annuals that I owned for that same reason. Looking through the pages of these books takes me straight back to my childhood. Watch out, Proust is about to rear his head again.
And here he is. I’m sure he’d be a big fan of charity shops had they had them in 19th-century France (perhaps they did).