Sue Arnold: Shopping on the thrifty side of the high street

I take everything down to the charity shop. Half an hour later I return laden with other people's junk

Share
Related Topics

Two young men walked into the Oxfam shop at lunchtime last Tuesday, showed the manageress photo identity cards to prove they were registered electricians and explained that they were rewiring the next-door premises. Could they pop down to the basement and check the electrical cable that ran between the party wall? Of course, she said. Five minutes later they came back up, thanked her and disappeared. Twenty minutes later the manageress went downstairs and saw that the safe had been broken into and the morning's takings, more than £1,000 in cash, removed. She immediately raced to the shop next door and asked where the electricians were. What electricians, they said.

The extraordinary thing about that story is not that con men have absolutely no scruples about who they con. We know that. What I find hard to believe is that the Oxfam shop, which is small and laid out in such a way that you have to crawl about in your hands and knees getting entangled in belts and handbag as you hunt for bargains, takes more than £1,000 on a weekday morning. "What's so surprising about that?" said the friend to whom I was telling all this. "Everyone goes to charity shops these days because they're up to their limit on all their credit cards and can't afford to go anywhere else."

I suppose she's right. A front-page story in the newspaper recently said that millions of people were in debt; thousands of small businesses were going bankrupt and if the economy was to keep afloat, interest rates would probably go down. For once, surprisingly, I'm not in debt. I've just finished paying off my cripplingly expensive mortgage and feel a bit like Dr Manette felt when they released him from his cell in the Bastille, but the state of my bank balance has no bearing on a lifelong preference for buying things in charity shops rather than high street chains. It's the nearest I get to recycling in a London borough which takes no interest whatsoever in green issues. Here's how it works.

We have a clearout. I shove everything that I haven't seen anyone in the family wear for six months, everything that is under the bed in the spare room and behind the door in the playroom, unopened presents and unused gadgets into a bin bag and take it to the nearest charity shop. Half an hour later I return home laden with other people's junk bought for a song which I carefully stack under the bed in the spare room and behind the playroom door. New EU regulations have made it illegal for charity shops to accept dangerous things like hairdryers so now I leave them outside the front door in a box instead. They disappear in seconds. I've seen people upside down, feet in the air, scrabbling about at the bottom of the box for bargains. Someone once rang the bell to ask if I had the missing pot for the yoghurt maker.

Pavement acquisition is incredibly satisfying. I know people who drive round at night specifically looking for builders' skips to plunder. A friend said that the bed she and her husband have slept in for 20 years came from a skip in Mayfair. I am easy-going about hand-me-downs, but I draw the line at mattresses, even if they do come from Mayfair. My only problem with charity shops is that they don't sell furniture. Thanks to Arthur Negus, all the second-hand furniture shops I used to browse in have turned into antique shops - no more bargains. Until last Saturday.

The son who has moved into a new flat asked if I could buy him a second-hand sofa, so we headed for Portobello Market. Suddenly there it was on the pavement - a three-seater crimson velvet job, perfect. "How much?" I said. "For you 30 quid but you've got to take it now," said the geezer. "But we don't have a car," I said. "Wait here," he said and came back with a Sainsbury's supermarket trolley. "Hang on, I'm not..." I began. "Course you are," said the geezer. He'd tie it on safe as houses but it was a biggun so we'd best stick to the road and give proper hand signals. "Your lad can push, you can steer," he said. And so I did, to the delight of the passengers on the No 52 bus ahead of us. "Come on Mrs Schumacher, you can do it," they shouted. What price mother love?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all