Tag Archives: charity shops

Don’t give me tat!

Having spent numerous afternoons sorting through donations in a charity shop as a child, I was always amazed by the things people would give ranging from high quality goods to pure junk.

Last summer I was sifting through items to be sent to refugees in Calais, France along with some other volunteers. Many useful things such as clothing, camping kit, practical shoes and non-perishable food were generously donated by the public but on the odd occasion I’d stumble across what can only be described as  ludicrously impractical.

The collection had taken place in a relatively affluent part of London so good quality donations were to be expected. But designer Hugo Boss suits? Dinner dresses and stiletto heels? For refugees who have fled terror and war currently living in squalid conditions? Utterly unbelievable.

Perhaps if the clothing had been donated as part of a resettlement project, providing refugees with smart suits for job interviews for example, then this would make sense. But these items were stupidly inappropriate.


The donors were clearly having a spring clean and wanted to contribute their unwanted wares to a ‘worthy’ cause, but their ‘charitable’ deeds were completely misguided. And herein lies the problem; Rather than acting primarily out of a genuine desire to help those in need, they were spurred on by a range of questionable motives; namely to appease their conscience, ‘legitimise’ their affluence and ultimately, make themselves feel better.

This also extends the other way, to those individuals who donate absolute tat which belong in one place- the bin. Soiled trousers, torn tops and weather beaten, worn- out shoes; surely if it is not good enough for you, why should it be for someone else?

I truly believe this is what happens when we operate from wrong motives – a sort of disembodied faux compassion. When we fail to fully see people as they should be, as fellow human beings, to be afforded the same dignity we would expect in turn.

There are other circumstances where this could apply such as donating unwanted food to a local food bank. Let’s be honest, how many times have you been tempted to give those unwanted tins, lurking in the kitchen cupboard since time immemorial, to your local food bank? Surely somebody would want that unidentified tinned fruit / vegetables, random pulse or such like, which even you haven’t gotten round to eating despite those bare cupboard / broke days. In all honesty, we would sooner find something else to eat, so why do we insist on giving food that we ourselves would not want? (This piece sums it up perfectly – excuse the naughty language.)


Another related bug bear of mine, is the assumption homeless people will want things – food specifically- without considering their preferences. Its the equivalent of giving a homeless person who is vegetarian – due to deeply held personal beliefs – a ham sandwich and insisting they eat and be grateful. Just because they are homeless, we assume beggars shouldn’t be choosers. And although there is a modicum of truth entailed in this statement, (if you are desperately in need, you will pretty much take what you are given), irrespective of a person’s status – homeless, refugee, food bank user or someone whose simply fallen on hard times (which most of us have or will at some point) our response should be the same; We see the person, respond to their needs, respecting their being, preferences and desires, and where possible accommodate these accordingly.

May I hasten to add that I am not saying acquiesce to ridiculous requests; a Byron burger when perhaps you can only afford Burger King or a posh sandwich from Selfridges food hall when a similar sandwich from M&S or Tesco will suffice. (Disclaimer: If you can afford to and want to then absolutely respond with radical generosity. But I suspect most people who are in need would be content with a fairly standard version of the said item.)

Nor do I want discourage genuine acts of kindness – even if the outcome is slightly questionable! We may not always be in a position to give people what they want – whether it is due to time, finances or other constraints, but hopefully operating from a place of true compassion and common sense will minimise potential faux pas aka stilettos and Hugo Boss suits.

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Wedding series: 5 ways to save money during peak wedding season!

 Wedding season is well under way and I am excited! But if like me you have a mammoth number of weddings to attend this year then you might be thinking of a few ways you can make your money go further-without compromising on generosity, gift giving and looking good!

1. Go second hand- I know, I know I sound like a broken record but there are some beautiful dresses to be found at a bargain rate in charity shops or on E-Bay. Here is one of the dresses I have picked up for under £10, which would easily retail at at least four times the price. Similarly you can find some amazing accessories, shoes and other items-you just have to look.

In blue

Win: This is one of the dresses I bought for a bargain price!

2.Swap / borrow clothes from friends whose style you admire (and are hopefully the same size!). This goes for shoes, bags and jewellery too. Or better still, recycle or shop in your own wardrobe. Same dress, a different pair of shoes, accessories and make up will give it a completely different look every time. And don’t worry about whether you’re seen twice in the same outfit (oh the joys of Facebook) it is not a big deal!  

3. Go Dutch on wedding gifts if they are pricey! For expensive gifts, why not go halves with another friend? A while ago, I left it until the last minute to buy a wedding gift for a friend even though the wedding gift list had been open for several weeks. All the affordable things were gone, but still committed to buying the happy couple something they actually wanted, a friend and I decided to go halves on one of the items- which was much more affordable.

4.Make a weekend of it– If it’s out of town and you happen to be going with a group of friends, travel down together  making the most of group discounts or car pool. Similarly if it’s too far from home for a day trip,  book a hotel room sharing with a few friends and again look for discounts. If there is a sizeable group seeking accommodation you might be able to negotiate a deal for multiple bookings-especially if it’s not peak season and it’s not in a popular location. You may as well kill two birds with one stone and turn it into a mini break, as well as being part of the wedding celebration- result.

Save money: Put it away month by month and watch it grow.

Save money: Put it away month by month and watch it grow.

5. Put your money away! Most people will give you sufficient notice if they are getting married- 3, 6 months or even a year’s notice. By setting aside £20- 30 a month, which you probably would not miss or are likely to spend on unimportant stuff- over six months that is at least £120-180. If you can afford to put aside more do so- for example- imagine putting £50-100 each month? Over 6 months that’s between £300-600 which is more than sufficient for attending multiple weddings (unless you’re going overseas).

What money saving ideas would you recommend for the serial wedding attendee? Love to hear from you.

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets…Hortense Julienne

Earlier this year I visited one of the most amazing women I know and the very definition of a thrifty Afropolitan! Hortense Julienne was born in Cameroon, West Africa; raised in France and is currently living in London. By day she is an event’s organiser but by night (and on weekends) she is a food blogger, activist and chef extraordinaire.

The hostess with the mostest.

The hostess with the mostest.

This particular time of year is very significant for Hortense; less than three years ago she embarked upon a Daniel Fast for Lent; (A vegan based diet on the fast conducted by the prophet Daniel in the Bible.)

Hortense decided to start an online food diary (blog) to document this journey whilst also using it as an opportunity to promote the virtues of vegan cuisine  combating the stubborn stereotypes that it is often boring, bland and tasteless. Little did she know what God had in store for her on this 40 day journey.

Fast forward three years on and Hortense is now a prolific food blogger with several websites dedicated to her love of food and has had her work featured in the Times Newspaper, New African Woman Magazine, Premier Christian Radio and most recently the Voice Newspaper.

I went to visit Hortense at home and was blown away by her hospitality and all round thriftiness. I have known her for a while now and never cease to be amazed by her resourcefulness and the effortlessly stylish way with which she does it (must be that French Je ne sais quoi!). This visit didn’t disappoint. Hortense made lunch which consisted of several courses- all beautifully presented and tasting every bit as good as it looked:

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.


Say cheese: Hortense's very own homemade cheese!

Say cheese: Hortense’s very own homemade cheese!


Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits

Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits.

And her thriftiness is not just reserved to cooking, this approach also comes to home décor too. Just look at this tea light candle holder (further below) which she made from a piece of wood taken from an old bed, covered in foil.

Similarly, in the past, Hortense has been known to recycle old greetings cards and bits of material, transforming them into lovely pieces of art which adorn the walls of her flat.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

And if that’s not enough, she is also a big fan of charity shop hunting and showed me some of the amazing spoils she has found – which I will share for another post!

One of the most recent and exciting developments in Hortense’s journey to date has been the creation of her first booklet called the ‘Bank Cook’. The recipe book utilises ingredients from food bank packages- transforming them into sumptuous, nutritious meals offering both variety and dignity to food bank users. Hortense’s passion for food justice issues- namely seeing people on very low incomes eat well- is nothing short of inspirational and extends far beyond creating cute recipes; when she is not busy events organising, taking over the culinary world or using her thrifty ways to transform her home, Hortense volunteers at her local homeless shelter and has done so for almost 10 years.


So what motivates her to do what she does? Hortense cites her Christian faith as a huge motivating force and unsurprisingly her favourite Bible passage is Proverbs 31- a Godly woman who is both resourceful and enterprising.

Five minutes of wisdom with Ms Julienne:

On general thriftiness:  “I like create to stuff from things people will happily throw away.”

On Food Banks: “Foodbank users are a section of society that the media often bash around- seeing all the cooks on TV I have not seen any reference to people on low incomes/ food bank users. God inspired me to do it.”

On her favourite shop: “My number one shop is charity shops. You can find the most original pieces and you can find designer pieces for less than £10. Tip: Don’t just go to one, go to a few and see what is out there.”

On her home: “My house is full of recycled items – I just love how things can be transformed.”

On being ‘skint’: “If you are skint all the time- don’t be afraid to use charity shops. If you are embarrassed then don’t tell anyone. You can find original pieces-  you just need to learn how to put them together.”

On enterprise: “You have your own path- just go for it as long as you don’t put your rent money in it!”

On getting creative in the kitchen: “Just try and be creative- if it turns out good then great but if it doesn’t then you don’t have to do it again.”

To find out more about Ms Julienne’s work visit:

  • TheBankCook.com to download the Foodbank recipe booklet
  • All-Vegan.Blogspot.co.uk to view the exciting range of animal free  dishes
  • HortenseJulienne.com for all future developments of this rising star.
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Thrifty turns 30!

I turned thirty last weekend and had an amazing time celebrating with family and friends who organised a surprise party for me; I have never felt so supremely grateful and overwhelmed with love. And in true thrifty afropolitan style, I actually wore a bargain of a dress on the day which I will share with you at some point!

Birthday balloons!
I decided to take the Friday off of my birthday weekend in order to relax and run a few errands. I didn’t intend to visit my local charity shop but thought it would be worthwhile popping in just in case. Half an hour later I emerged with some fantastic spoils and spent £30 on seven quality items which I think would easily retail at five times the price!
Some of my favourite items are:

This jumper from Fat Face which I bought for under a fiver. I love the nautical stripes of navy blue and grey as well as the button detail on the shoulder. It also has a cashmere wool mix which gives it that extra soft, luxurious feeling.

final dress

This dress which was a steal at under £10. I didn’t love the look of it on the hanger but once I put it on, it fit perfectly and looked great too! I love the satin material and the pearly pink colour which suits my skin tone to a tee. I can’t wait to wear it out on a special occasion!

I love charity shops for reasons I have previously espoused- but particularly find it a refreshing anecdote to the monotony of the high street. I also love the sense of adventure and element of surprise which comes from charity shop hunting; (I know I need to get a life) and the fact the proceeds go to a great cause makes it even sweeter!

Thrifty tip: I live in a residential area with a high street nearby which predominantly consists of supermarkets and takeaways. This is the only charity shop/ shop which sells clothing for about 20 minutes. The area is a mixture of wealthy and working class people however there is a significant ‘hidden’ middle class demographic. This means that there is a) little competition from other charity shops keeping the prices low b) more often than not good quality items on sale. Why not try visiting an unlikely area which has this combination to see what bargains you can find?

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5 ways to get rid of unwanted quality clothing and ‘do good’ in the process

As summer draws to a close and autumn makes it annual appearance many of will be changing our wardrobes to follow suit. In fact you might even go that one step further and use it as an opportunity to have that much needed clear out.  If you are looking to get rid of some of your clothes which are still in good condition, here are five ways you could do so and help others in the process:

  1. Consider hosting a clothes swapping event with a group of friends or attend one of the numerous clothes swap events popping up across the shop. Check out websites like swishing.com, http://www.mrsbears.co.uk  or your local community events noticeboard.
  2. Donate them to your local  charity shop- They are EVERYWHERE from your more well know charities such as Cancer Research and Trinity Hospice to your smaller, locally based charities.
  3. Donate your clothes to  a charity of your choice– this is great if there is a specific cause you are passionate about but there is no high street presence. Check out   clothesforcharity.org.uk  
  4. Bag them up and take them to a local H & M store- For every bag you donate of unwanted clothes you get £5 off purchases over £30. Clothes are sold on as secondhand goods in other parts of the world or recycled.
  5. Send them ‘back home’ – I use this term loosely but as an Afropolitan with roots in West Africa there are a few places I could send them to. (Disclaimer: not everyone in Africa is living in abject poverty and is ‘in need’ contrary to media representation!) Good quality items could go to relatives, to other people locally or could be sold on as secondhand goods.  Lots of my friends with roots across the world (Latin America, West Indies and Asia) do similar things. Its such a great way to bless someone and be resourceful at the same time.
Find me a new home! says my boots

“Find me a new home!” says my boots

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‘I’m coming out’: confessions of a charity shop lover

I decided to write this blog because I am on a journey to live simply and resourcefully. The mantra I aim to live by is to ‘live simply so others can simply live’. My love of charity shops and reduced foods is a constant source of shame, embarrassment and laughter to my nearest and dearest which is just fine by me! In particular I wanted to talk about these things from the perspective of being a British born woman of Black (specifically West African) descent.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my mum and Grandma about my most recent purchase from a local charity shop. Both agreed that they loved the dress I bought and how fortunate I was to have come across such good quality for little cost. However in almost the same breath both immediately said ‘Don’t tell everyone where you go it from even if they ask you. You will be judged by it believe me. People will look at you through that lens and will look down on you for it.’

Now I have no intention of going round with a megaphone advertising where my dress came from, however their views challenged me and dare I say, are not uncommon within some parts of the ‘Black’ community (Disclaimer: this is not to say my relatives constitute the ‘Black’ community or whether there is such a thing as the ‘Black community’ is another discussion altogether).

I have had numerous conversations with close family and friends who have expressed similar opinions mainly of African and Caribbean heritage; shopping at charity shops equates to poverty, hardship and deprivation. Further still I am inclined to think this might be a generational issue with those from an older generation less likely to favour second-hand goods, out of choice, because of the stigma associated with itWhereas for relatively younger generations (not talking teens) the stigma is not so great; depending on what social circles you find yourself in- ‘vintage’ is quite the thing!

I remember as a child hearing one of my ‘aunties’ (aka one of my mum’s friend of Caribbean descent) that you must be careful about purchasing second-hand clothes because they might belong to dead people and their spirits might somehow be ‘attached’ to them. This put me off going to charity shops for YEARS because I was afraid of some sort of spiritual transference.

The truth is you don’t know where the clothes come from. You just have to hope for the best and trust that it comes from the ‘right source’ whatever that is. Things from charity shops might have once belonged to people who have passed on, but equally it might be from ordinary living folk like you and I who no longer need these items. How often have you bought something brand new and decided a few months later you don’t like or need it (and its too late to take back)? Or how often have you gone through phases and decided certain clothes no longer suit the look your going for? On occasion you may even find that items in charity shops are actually brand new surplus stock from major retailers; basically you just never know!

5 reasons why I love charity shops…

I love the idea of:

  • Making ‘ethical’ purchases i.e. knowing a good proportion of the money will go directly to a worthy cause
  • Being environmentally friendly– buying quality items second-hand means that I am less likely to buy easily disposable cheap clothing
  • Buying quality items for a fraction of the original price
  • Exploring and delving through these treasures to find a ‘hidden’ gem
  • Buying ‘unique’ items- charity shops is a great antidote to the latest high street trends

Stigma and superstition finally overcome, I am happy to ‘come out of the closet’ and confess I really like charity shops and am not ashamed of it!

Do you love charity shops if so why? If not why not? What has been your best buy from a charity shop? Why do think there is a stigma with charity shopping with some particular groups? Would love to hear from you!

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