The worst thing about being a writer is obviously the fact that you will never have enough money, but that’s okay because the same is true of most pursuits; such is the nature of humankind. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about buying yourself little luxuries — a punnet of raspberries, for example — because of something to do with creativity. Special Agent Dale Cooper likewise instructs, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”
I would like to give myself a present every day and a luxurious present at that, but my discretionary budget is £200 for the month, and that has to cover train fares, my gym membership, a haircut, all kinds of social obligations, an anniversary present for my husband, and things like socks and underwear and shampoo. All of my warm socks have holes in them! So, no, Dale Cooper, I can’t buy myself a cup of coffee every day because even the cheapest coffee — filter at Pret for 99p — is £28 for the month. THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COFFEE IN THE BUDGET. That is why I got a job at a place with free hot drinks.
Now enter charity shops, which meet a multitude of writerly needs. You get to clothe yourself, preferably in garments you would not under ordinary circumstances be able to afford. You get to give something back to the community, which under ordinary circumstances you would not be doing because you have sequestered yourself — selfishly — up in some room, wasting resources while making art that no one cares about. You get to paw through other people’s shit in search of inspiration and ideas, which under ordinary circumstances would get you arrested. And you get to fight creative burnout through daydreaming, if you are not first completely overwhelmed by all of the stuff. How not to be overwhelmed? Please read the following.
Ten Top Tips for Charity Shopping!
1. Labels first. Do not buy anything that came from Target, Walmart, Primark, Asda and the like. H&M is at your discretion. The reason? That clothing is shit and if you must have it, you might as well buy it new. I recently found a Primark sweater selling for £4 used at a charity shop, but new at Primark it cost £5. You are not getting a deal on those clothes and they are not going to hold up in the wash. I would, however, make an exception for anything truly odd or tacky. I got a purple t-shirt with Christmas puddings on it for £2. That seemed reasonable.
2. Textiles second. When shopping for second-hand clothes, natural fibers are the best fibers for comfort and durability. Wool, linen, and silk are expensive to buy new, but when bought second-hand, bargains can be had!
Silk blouse from East? £4.99!
3. Do not go in with a list. If you are charity shopping to save money, buy what’s good and cheap when it’s available in anticipation of some future need. If you are looking for something in particular, you will probably settle for something awful that you will never actually wear. Example: last year I was cold, so I thought I would go find a nice thick midi-skirt, but stock was thin and I bought a horrible corduroy thing that looks bad with my boots and makes me feel frumpy. I would have been better off spending slightly more money on something else entirely.
4. Be boring. Go in with a set of parameters. It’s easier to sort the wheat from the chaff if you only ever wear neutral colors or velvet. Plus, though it is exceedingly unlikely that you will ever become famous, wouldn’t it be nice to have an established look à la GRRM or Donna Tartt?
Black velvet if you please. Louche + neutral + slightly hideous = perfect.
5. Keep an eye out for the sumptuous, the ridiculous, and the bizarre. You can wear it yourself or you can put a character in it. Half of charity shopping is shopping for inspiration, bishes!
It was a good day for velvet.
6. Windows, mannequins, and in-store displays. This is where they put the good stuff.
7. Get friendly with the staff and find out when they restock, or if you are not a friendly person, go often and notice when restocking has occurred. I am not friendly, but I’ve deduced that Monday afternoons are the best time to go charity shopping in my area. But sometimes I go on a Thursday or Friday because by that point I am fed up with this world.
8. Combine charity shopping with a walk if at all possible. If half of charity shopping is shopping for inspiration, then don’t forget to include people-watching and eavesdropping.
9. And don’t forget housewares!
Populate your fiction with curious objects.
10. It is clearly preferable for all sorts of reasons to go to actual shops and paw through racks and piles of things yourself. However, if you live in the UK and if this is not possible, Oxfam has an online shop as well. It’s pricier than Sue Ryder, The British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Cats Protection, etc., but it is still sew good. Unbelievably good. It is actually the best. And they have a fairly liberal returns policy.
Impediments to charity shopping might include a university nearby. I used to live in a town where there were only two charity shops and both were picked to pieces by students. I almost never found anything good to wear there, but I did acquire some folk art!
One of my favorite pieces. By Clifford? 1981.
So visit your local charity shops, writers! Even if they’re dirty or weird or dark, you can always find something, even if that something boils down to walking away from your work for an hour or two, so you can return to it with clearer thoughts.