Stories behind things: Why I'm in love with second hand shopping
I’m totally in love with second hand things. I love charity shops, antique shops, clothes swaps, jumble sales, car boots sales, even a pop up stall at the end of somebody’s drive would turn my head as I passed. I love that in London, it is acceptable to leave unwanted items outside your own home, free for people to browse and take as they pass by. When we moved house in the Summer, I got rid of a whole box of kitchen items this way – mugs, chop sticks, egg cups, a dish rack. I didn’t need them anymore, but somebody else did – and the beauty of this method was that I didn’t have to cart it all the way down Camden Road on the 253 to the nearest Mind shop.
I’m a magpie on the high street when I spot charity shop after charity shop. “Do you mind if we have a quick look in here?” I will say, unsure what I’m actually looking for.
I will never get bored of browsing book titles in second hand shops. It makes me think of infinite possibilities – all those words, all those stories, just waiting to be picked up and read. I love to think of all these treasured books being passed on from one person to the next, each one a baton of adventure or fantasy or heartbreak or first loves, and how everybody’s interpretation of it will be slightly different to the next. They’re also impossibly cheap. Yesterday I purchased four paperbacks for £1 from the local Salvation Army.
Charity shops represent all that is good in the world. They rely on good people getting rid of unwanted items and bringing them here into this menagerie of magic, instead of cluttering up their attic or going into landfill. The shops are always run by lovely people; retired old ladies looking for a way to spend their time, sweet middle aged men with a few spare hours on their hands, and people who are there to add a few more skills to their CV. Charity shops give all these people a chance and a place and a purpose. And YOU can feel good whenever you buy something too – a worthwhile cause benefits from the money raised, old items are given a new lease of life and you’ve avoided buying something horribly disposable and brand new from somewhere else.
I love the stories behind second hand things. I love rummaging through rails of dresses and coats and jumpers and tops, feeling the fabrics and the noting the details on everything. I like to wonder about who brought them here, where they wore them and what momentous things might have happened when they did. Did these clothes get someone a job? Have they travelled? Been to parties? Were they there when the owner met the love of their life? Or, rather, were these items hardly worn at all? Did they sit unloved in a cupboard for months or years, always overlooked, always snubbed for a more glamorous choice? Either way, it’s exciting times for them now that they’re here. Who knows what great things might lie ahead for them now. Roll up! Roll up! And take these clothes on a new adventure!
We scoured the antique shops in Hull just after we moved into our new house, looking for a table or a sideboard or an old chair. We wanted something with history and a story to tell, something that we wouldn’t find in the Next catalogue. We found some amazing places, real treasure troves, filled with antique fireplaces and a suitcases, book cases loaded with medicine bottles and Tiffany lamps and shop signs and Hornsea pottery. We walked through rooms piled high with old theatre seats and bedside tables and chests of drawers and filing cabinets. It was a sight to behold! If this furniture could talk, imagine the tales they would tell.
In the end, the treasure we took home included an oak sideboard, lovingly restored with William Morris paper on the top and in the drawers; a row of vintage theatre seats (because, why not?); a set of high school science lab stools (complete with the odd compass gouge and biro drawings) and my favourite thing of all – a dining table made out of old scaffold boards and the base of an antique corn crusher, used by the iron-mongering family Bamford and Sons in the late 1800s. We were looking for stories, but we didn’t expect to find anything as magnificent as this! (Cheaper than anything you’d find in Next too…)
Don’t get me wrong – new things have their place and value too. We bought a new bed and mattress from Dreams and of course it’s delicious and lovely. But there’s something so magical about things with a past - not to mention the amazing contribution you are making to the planet when you reuse and recycle. The world may be big, but it’s filling up fast and we’re only going to add to that if we keep replacing our old stuff with new stuff. Where is it all meant to go?
If you’re not convinced, at least think about it next time you’re passing your local antique shop, or Oxfam or British Heart Foundation furniture store. You might just find the book or the dress or the bedside table you’ve been searching for, and have some pennies to spare too. Buying second hand is the cheaper, kinder, greener, more satisfying choice – and all those wonderful stories…you get all those for free.