Friday, 24 July 2009

Come Back Sally Ann

I discovered last week that my favourite local charity shop had closed 'indefinitely for refurbishment'. I hadn't visited for a couple of weeks, and knew nothing about it. I was gutted to arrive there half an hour after they closed. They had shut up early on their last day, after having a sale. Gah!

I hope the refurbishment is not some plan to tart it up in a Mary Portas stylee. Did you watch 'Mary, Queen of Charity Shops'? I rather like Mary Portas, although I imagine she would be pretty scary in real life.
(Mary and the reluctant shop volunteers)
But her take on charity shops made me think a lot about the whole thing. If you didn't see it, she transformed a charity shop into a much more upmarket offering, in order to attract customers who wouldn't normally shop there. She doubled the shop's weekly takings, although they had to invest a lot of money in that scary 'refurbishment'.

My first reaction was that she had no idea of her customers. I've shopped in charity shops for years, ever since I was a teenager. I never needed anyone to tell me that vintage was cool. I always knew it was, even when it was just called secondhand. 'I don't want upmarket!' I shouted at the TV.
I don't mind chipped china or one-eyed dolls, and I'll buy odd buttons or an old dress that's coming apart, because I like the fabric, and I'll think of some way of using it. And I expect a lot of you think the same.

But the downside is that we're looking for bargains. 'Look what I got for 50p!' we exclaim joyfully. Well 50p isn't going to do much for a charity that has to pay the overheads on a shop.

This is where Scary Mary's new view of charity shopping started to make sense. She calculated that after overheads, they were making a pitiful amount of money per volunteer. It's all very well to enjoy our rather amateurish, jumbly charity shops, but if the purpose of them is to make money for charity, then anything that improves the bottom line should be welcomed. Shouldn't it? Um...

Mary's first move was to try to get better donations. Her horror at some of the rubbish that gets given to charity shops got me wondering. I must admit, I have donated non-saleable clothes to charity shops. I wouldn't donate anything dirty or broken, but when it comes to clothes, I assume that anything that won't go in the shop can still be sold for rags. Surely that's better than putting them in the bin to go to landfill? I am not aware of any other way of recycling clothes locally. (Obviously I give good clothes too!) It also saves me having to pre-judge what they will think is saleable.

I was more shocked by the people she interviewed who didn't give all their old clothes to charity shops. Do they really just throw them away? Well, she put a stop to that, and went out and got great donations from people in their workplaces. This seemed like a really great idea. Another improvement was to get the shop volunteers to realise how much some of the donations were worth. I think this is really important. I must admit there are some charity shops where I would never donate anything valuable, simply because they would be quite likely to sell a vintage Chanel suit or an antique Wedgwood vase for 50p a time.

Of course, this is where I start to feel uncomfortable. If I bought a lovely antique vase for 50p, I'd be delighted. Oh dear, I seem to be a hypocrite. How did that happen?

The trouble is, much as I applaud any effort to make more money for charity, I feel regretful about losing the old-fashioned charity shop. I like them. I like their randomness. I like the excitement of finding a treasure that others may have overlooked. I love the hilarity of seeing some god-awful monstrosity that was once considered ornamental. I even quite enjoy being served by a doddery old lady, who needs some help counting the change. I like the fact that they are out of step with the modern, homogenised high street.

I suppose this is just nostalgia. Charity shops have to change like everything else. I try not to be the sort of old codger who has an unwarranted belief in 'the good old days'. And yet...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Losing it

Have you ever lost an object and searched for hours, only to find it in the most obvious place, right under your nose? 'Hidden in plain sight', I call it, and the fact that I have a catchphrase for it, just shows how often it happens. Well, as you may know, I lost my mojo a while ago and just couldn't get it back. Soul-searching, bargain-hunting, pleasure-seeking - whatever I tried, I was looking in the wrong place. What I should have done is to look hard under the clutter in front of me.

I was feeling overwhelmed with stuff. You see, the problem with buying all these great bits and pieces from car boot sales and the like is that you have to find somewhere to put it all. In my mojo-less depression of the last few months I kept buying stuff, but had completely stopped making anything with it, or selling it. In a small house like ours, the build-up is fast. A box of vintage china has to stay in the hall, a box of old dolls lives in the bedroom, a bag of fabric on the landing, a dolls' house shelf - well, just in the way, frankly. I have plans for all these things, but it just wasn't happening.

My workroom was the most cluttered. I had rearranged it in April, but never really finished it. I hadn't found a place for everything and had just piled clutter on top of clutter. There was a small gap that I could just squeeze through to sit in my chair. I could reach my computer keyboard and mouse, but every inch of my two (!) desks was covered with stuff. Papers, books, bits and bobs, unfinished or unstarted projects of all kinds - somewhere at the bottom there was a fossilised packet of Polos and the footprint of a woolly mammoth. I had let it overwhelm me. I couldn't even start to put things away, as there was nowhere to put it.

Mr Kitsch came to my rescue. I had told him rather feebly that I needed more storage in my workroom, but I couldn't work out how I was going to do it. Normally Mr K. leaves the planning and rearranging of rooms to me. He'll provide the muscle when needed, but I'm the instigator and he joins in reluctantly. But I was feeling depressed and hopeless and didn't know where to start. Mr Kitsch took over. "We just have to accept it's a big project," he said, "like Megastructures." That was the key. He loves those 'Megastructures' TV programmes, about building giant dams, tunnels or bridges. As soon as he thought about it as a Megastructures project, he was away.

It was a big project. We had to take everything out of the room, so that we could move out two heavy chests of drawers and replace them with larger storage shelves. It was like unpacking the Tardis, with a couple of Mary Poppins' bags thrown in for good measure, as more and more stuff came out of the room and filled up the rest of the house. It took three days and two trips to Ikea to get the bulk of it back in place. I still haven't managed to get absolutely everything sorted, but I now have a work room I can work in.

Better than that, I have a workroom that is calmer and less overwhelming. It's helping to clear some of the clutter from my mind, and I feel ready to complete some of those unfinished projects. I think I may have found my mojo...