My car is in for it’s annual service and MOT and I’ve been killing time since 9 o’clock this morning; it’s now midday.  The first hour was spent in the local library using one of their PCs and now I’m back here again to write this.  What have I been doing inbetween?  Trawling the charity shops of Tonbridge.  If you’re read my Biog post then you will be aware how much I love all things secondhand and Tonbridge is the ideal place to be stranded as, not including the two furniture warehouses and the Oxfam bookshop, the town has 12 charity shops.  No……wait a minute……it has 13 charity shops, which means I have missed one.  Oh poop!

My approach to charity shopping falls into 2 categories: to go in with a mental shopping list or to simply browse on the off chance of finding something I want; sometimes I’ll be daring and combine the two.  Whatever approach I’m adopting I find it essential to visit regularly as there is always a fast turnover of stock, with new donations coming in daily.

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Today my mission (apart from whiling away an hour or two whilst waiting for my car) was twofold: part one was to find a pair of trainers and swimming trunks for my 13 year old son, and swimming costumes for my two daughters.  It’s always more tricky finding things for boys, especially when they reach their teens so I wasn’t surprised to find none of what I needed for my son, however I was disappointed not to find any swimwear for the girls in any of the 12 shops I visited.  Hmph – I bet you the shop I missed had exactly what I was looking for!  Not forgetting that I buy virtually nothing from ‘real’ shops, I will keep looking, extending  my search to include bootfairs and Freegle, confident that what I need is out there somewhere waiting to be re-homed and kept out of landfill.

The second part of today’s assault mission was to rigorously avoid the ladies’ clothing and footwear sections (there’s simply no more room in my wardrobe), and instead to target the bed linen and haberdashery.  In particular I was on the lookout for retro patterned sheets, woollen blankets, zips and……..buttons.

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My advice is always to ask whether a charity shop has any buttons as they are rarely on display: of the 12 I visited today, only two had a basket of buttons on their shelves, three said they didn’t have any, and the remaining seven had tins which were kept under the counter.  If I hadn’t asked then I would never have known what treasures they had to offer (by the way, if you’re ever looking for knitting needles, Health and Safety regulations mean that a charity shop is not allowed to have them on display and so they will also be kept under the counter or in a back room).  As you rifle through the buttons, ask about pricing: pricing policies vary and can range from a fixed sum per button (often 10p depending on size) or simply an unspecified donation.  It also varies according to the volunteer behind the till – even though the price might be fixed per button I’ve been charged mere pence for a huge haul simply because the person who served me thought the buttons were worthless.

I love rummaging through a button box and no matter how many times I rake through I will always find one I’ve overlooked: even if I empty the tin and inspect each button individually I guarantee I will somehow miss something interesting.  It’s fascinating to imagine the history associated with the buttons – what garments they adorned, who wore them and what stories they could tell if they could speak.  I admire the workmanship in the older buttons and think they possess so much more character that their modern counterparts.  My favourite buttons however are Mother of Pearl: I began liking them at around 10 years old when I would come across them at jumble sales and have been seeking them out ever since.

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I have far too many buttons (yes, it is possible) which is why I’m more than happy to share the secrets of the Tonbridge charity shops with you, though that still doesn’t seem to prevent me from buying more; some I buy to use, others I buy to keep, but I will only every buy ones I like.

Today turned out to be a good day for me as my car passed it’s MOT and I struck lucky with my thrift shopping.  Today’s haul was 1 woollen blanket, 25 reels of thread, a large bag of assorted buttons and one buckle.  My outlay (excluding the MOT and service) was a mere £10.55.  I had as much fun searching for it all as I will do owning them and the really satisfying thing is that I will be upcycling instead of consigning to landfill, and the money spent goes to charity.

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