It's a Mann's World: A charitable addiction

Olly Mann

As a self-confessed lover of bargains, our columnist Olly Mann discovers he no longer has space for a good deal…

On almost any high street, my first port of call is the charity shop. It’s not that I’m strapped for cash, or feel an overwhelming duty to support starving puppies. It’s essentially because I’m nosey.

I relish rummaging racks of CDs because it’s just more interesting than browsing new music in HMV—more akin to poking around your neighbour’s kitchen to see what spices they’ve got in their larder. I enjoy rifling through the moth-eaten suits, speculating about their previous owner, and what led to his fatal coronary (Too many carbs? That stain looks like Bolognese...). And of course, I love a bargain.

I’ve unearthed some great deals over the years. Every issue of Supercook from the 1970s, bound in imitation leather: a fiver. Some Italian leather brogues, shiny and rouge, which I still wear to every job interview: £7.50. A signed copy of Quentin Crisp’s autobiography: 70p. It has a dedication, to Janice. Apparently Crisp provided his memoir as a Christmas present, believing she would treasure it forever. Presumably, Janice really wanted perfume.

charity shop addictio

Other chaps whose regular stomping grounds, are the pub, the bookies and the chippie, must feel more buyer’s remorse than me, with my mild Oxfam addiction. But more and more I’ve begun to consider my charity shop predilection as unhelpful: I’m buying up junk I simply don’t need. 

These thoughts began to crystallise in January, when I went to the sale at Lakeland (another obsession of mine. Have you seen their microfibre scourer pads? They’re epic), and discovered the vacuum-storage bags were half-price. Or at least, the ones emblazoned with the Union Jack were half-price. My first thought was, How did such a product come to be produced in the colours of our national flag?

Storage bags are destined to be stuffed under a bed or crammed into a garage, out of public sight, gathering dust for decades—truly, a bizarre vehicle by which to communicate one’s patriotism. My second thought was, What an absolute steal! Anyone buying boring old plain storage bags for twice the price must be an utter idiot!

Let’s leave it to the Yanks to wave the red, white and blue from their front-porch flagpoles; I’m getting myself a load of Union Jack vacuum bags and shoving them in my shed, for Queen and Country.

Except then I realised there was no point me having bought a bunch of storage bags and not actually storing anything in them. So, I had a spontaneous
spring clean (or whatever you call a spring clean that happens mid- winter).

First, I sorted my closet, filling one of my patriotic purchases with “fat clothes” (from when I had a 40-inch waist), and another with “thin clothes” (from when I had a 34-inch waist), none of which fit me now (I’ve averaged out at 36 inches, the product of denying myself both bread and exercise).



"What a steal! I’m getting myself a load of Union Jack vacuum bags and shoving them in my shed, for Queen and Country"



Then I ventured into my son’s room—he’s just turned one—and chucked some old toys into the bag, and about a hundred baby outfits he’s outgrown.

Straddling my Dyson, I attached the nozzle and deployed the trigger. My word. I’d never experimented with vacuum storage before and can report that it is, unquestionably, the most fun I’ve had doing any household task.

It’s simultaneously constructive and destructive, combining both the smug satisfaction you feel having sorted your functionless homewares with the exhilarating pleasure of consigning inanimate objects to a world without oxygen. (I must advise those of a sensitive disposition, however, not to look on as they suck the air from a bag full of teddies. The tragic eyes of Piglet, glimmering as I crushed him to death, will haunt me forever).

As I lugged these delightfully compact, yet surprisingly heavy, packages of discarded bric-a-brac up the ladder to my loft, I was confronted by a terrible truth: I had no space left to dump them.

Every piece of attic floor space was covered with stuff, much of it from charity shops: soup-stained recipe books; Christmas jumpers so tasteless you wouldn’t wear them to a stag do; fondue sets. I could have “doubled-up”, tossing my filled vacuum bags atop this pyre of crap, forming a second level of detritus—but I was a little worried my ceiling would collapse under the weight.

So it was that I found myself crossing the Rubicon: from charity shop connoisseur to charity shop donor. It feels weird to give back to my local shop products I was initially so pleased to have purchased there, though I’m glad to be generating more cash for charity.

I no longer enjoy looking around the shop as much as I used to, knowing my house is at full capacity and really, however delightful that weird 1960s footstool is, I simply don’t need it.


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