“A bargain, a bargain…

..there’s nothing like a bargain;

Give me six for three, or four for the price of two…

There’s nothing takes your money like a bargain!”

Lyrics from “A Bargain” by Mr Boom, Scottish folk singer

I’ve been spending rather too much time (and money) in the local charity shops recently. Nothing new there as my friends will attest, but after buying another two unmissable bargain jackets on Monday I’m beginning to make myself feel a little sickened by my own excess.

And while this excessive spending is going on I’m also being dripfed information about better, more sustainable living. It’s coming at me from many angles and I’m hearing it loud and clear!

I like the two jackets, they are good buys and I’m sure I’ll wear them, but I far from need them and they’ll join a growing collection of lovely-bargain-secondhand-couldn’t-resist-won’t-see-the-like-again-fits-perfectly-only-£3.50-each jackets that I have hanging in my Danny’s, wardrobe.

And at the same time there’s a slowly expanding bin bag of clothes I’m getting ready to take to the aforementioned charity shops, in order to replenish their now dwindled stock. There’s obviously a nice cycle going on here but symbiotic though it is, on another level it’s not that healthy. And at the end of the day I’m not sure I’m ahead, except perhaps in jackets.

In the last couple of weeks alone and alongside secondhand clothes I have also – okay this is confession time – acquired:

collage of recent bargain purchases

  • One black urn/vase. £4. Laughter and mirth from friends who decide I’ve bought my own funeral urn. Turns out to be Wedgwood and rather nice. Smaller version on ebay for £88. Who’s laughing now?
  • Two ‘chalk’ pens in fluoro colours £1.60 each (yellow one matches the kitchen shelf of course), reduced in WHSmith and suitable for writing on…
  • One ornate white plaster picture frame with chalk board (slightly damaged) from Roman Road market. £10. Bargain? Maybe, but where’s it going to hang?
  • Six ‘silver’ (EPNS) table/serving spoons in a bundle from carboot sale. £3. I’ve actually needed some of these for over a year. Honest.
  • One small side plate featuring cross-channel ferries. 50p. Will work well with industrial machinery placemats and oil rig coasters I already have. Have re-arranged the crockery shelf to accommodate.
  • One pack of badges featuring cartoon eyes. 50p. Small. Good. Shall I wear on a jacket or leave in the packet?
  • One pair unworn black converse trainers for Elsa from carboot sale. £4. Result.
  • Set of six Terry Thomas DVDs £5 and secondhand book on farting £1, both for Father’s Day and from the carboot sale. That’s how cheap we are!

So you get the picture. Oh but wait, I’m withholding vital evidence from the trial, me Lud. On top of all this I actually bought a NEW item of clothing, which I hardly ever do. I blame this particular blip on my friend Rachel who MADE me go shopping with her! Having sat in a changing room for 2 hours to help her re-vamp her flagging wardrobe, I practically ran to Monki afterwards – my favourite/only high street shop destination of the moment, which has a bloomin’ sale on and so I bought a silver skirt, reduced to £12. It was the only one left/a bargain/perfect festival wear – take your pick, all applied at the time. 

silver skirt

Exhibit A

I really do like curating objects and clothes, and what I wear and what I collect is a reflection of me. And it matters to me. However when I’m once again trying to squeeze things into corners of the house and am putting things out in order to make space, then the value of these purchases becomes very questionable. Oh and just ask Alice what she thinks about my extensive ‘bargain wardobe’ in the mornings when I’m faffing about trying to decide what to wear. For the school run. Sigh.

I know that some people (though not many people I know) will be laughing into their Gucci handbags at my idea of excess, but it IS excessive to keep buying stuff I really don’t need just because it temporarily lightens my day and satisfies some other imaginary need.

If I compare my consumption with that of my Grandma it is as though we’re from completely different times, not just a couple of generations apart. It feels like an after effect of the Second World War. Maybe we, as a society, went on a shopping spree to celebrate and we just haven’t stopped buying since; buoyed up by ever-increasing (until now) relative amounts of disposable income.

And consumption and acquisition have become irrevocably linked to identity. Once our basic psychological needs are satisfied, we seek ‘higher’ forms of satisfaction, such as the desire to be identified as an individual; unique, different, better than those around us and it seems that we (I) often achieve this through spending money rather than other, more productive creative means. It’s probably an inevitable aspect of a capitalist society in which the primary concern is for individual wellbeing, not that of society and the earth itself. But it ain’t good.

And to get properly gloomy for a moment – while I’m here I may as well lay out my complete apocalyptic thesis of doom – while I believe that capitalism is a deeply flawed system that is slowly beginning to unravel, it’s going to take a lot longer before it completely fails. I don’t think we’ve learned much from the recent financial crises – nothing much has changed and I think we’ll have our hand forced before we take the drastic action required to save us from ourselves. The World is changing, irrevocably and I sincerely hope we come out the other side stronger and better. I also hope that the journey to ‘the other side’ is not too painful.

I don’t think we will ever return to the same level of wealth that we’ve had until recently. And rightly so, frankly. We need to get to a point where clothes, goods, flights etc. cost what they should, based the amount of labour, resources and processes involved in producing them. In that way we will limit their consumption to a more sustainable level.

Blimey, I have to take a break here to say that I can’t believe I’m writing all this. Last week I was blogging about mangoes for goodness sake. But it’s the joy of blogging and this post is a reflection of what is preoccupying my charity shop of a mind right now. I’m not massively bright or politically aware, so you’ll be able to argue, pick holes and find far more eloquent accounts about the current state of the World we live in than this effort, but it’s what I know (or believe) in my gut, to be true.

Ultimately of course I hope I’m completely wrong. There’s another part of me that recognises that throughout history human beings have had something terrible, a demon, to dwell and focus on and that perhaps my fear is just that; the modern monster, the current trendy apocolyptic terror for those of us who can afford to seek an abstract fear.

But really – I shouldn’t be able to buy a silver skirt for £12 should I? And if it’s available for that price I shouldn’t buy it, should I? But I am weak and I am a magpie and I am indoctrinated and so I bought that skirt and played my part. But this isn’t a tale of complete doom. In writing this I also acknowledge a possible key to change.

If I believe that we are all culpable by our small wanton acts, for the current mess we’re in then presumably I must also believe that we can all influence it for the better as well, if we make some changes. Small, positive steps by each of us can contribute to a much better story for the future. What we can’t do is devolve ourselves of all responsibility for the mess or for solving it.

Our friend Lucy suggested to me that we ‘start by planting a lettuce in a window box’. She’s right; small steps lead to big changes. We do all have the ability to contribute and we should all do our bit to change the world we live in for the better. But it’s a small step and I must sign up to more than a couple of homegrown lettuces.

lettuces and strawberry plant collage

To help us get to a better place there are growing numbers of people and groups who are leading by example and showing us the positive steps we can take towards a better, healthier and more sustainable way of living. The clamour for a different way of life is growing and I hope it gets so loud we can’t ignore it, though I realise we’re a long way off that yet.

So here are the inspiring articles and happenings that crossed my path this week. Mere morsels to whet your appetite…

1. Guardian article: Transition Towns

2. BBC News article: food swapping

3. JoJo Tulloh‘s new book “The Modern Peasant’: a veritable feast of edible essays on sustainable food production in an urban environment. JoJo spoke at my local WI meeting at which there was also a food swap. My first taste of the WI – inspiring and enlightening.

4. Observer article: Britain’s New Peasants down on the Farm

Have a read of the articles, look around and see what’s happening in your area and maybe you’ll be inspired like me, because it’s not hopeless. It can’t be.

Disclaimer: I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the charity shops again before long, for this is no overnight conversion. But I’m beginning to act with a little more conscience and I won’t be buying any more silver skirts. Oh and if next week I’m blogging about Gucci handbags then batton down the hatches: there is no hope.

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8 Responses to ““A bargain, a bargain…”

  1. Lucy Says:

    Currently chortling into my Gucci handbag. Lovely blog dude – really enjoyed reading. When are you starting that Charity Shopper site? I’m after trainers/converses for Albi size 2! I’d love to hear your top ten east London charity shops… Had my window box lettuce for tea. Tomatoes looking very pathetic though! L. xxx

    • eethree Says:

      Yes I can just imagine you with a Gucci handbag. Maybe with lettuce growing in it. I like the idea of the charity shopper site and in the meantime I’ll keep an eye out for Converses for Albi. Best charity shops in London? Hmmm – maybe I’ll put together a list…

  2. Lucy Says:

    http://www.timeout.com/london/shopping/the-best-charity-shops-in-london

    • eethree Says:

      Ah ha – of course there’s a Time Out list. I think the author lives in S.W. London and once made a day trip to Dalston (and err, Deptford) – probably ‘cos he/she heard it was jolly cool.

      I haven’t visited many on their list except the Tachbrook St. circuit which I’ve increasingly found is overpriced and not particularly interesting. So my list would/will be very different. Might head to pile ’em high West End Lane though, purely for research purposes obviously. All aboard!

  3. carole@letthemeatcake.co.uk Says:

    Very brain jangling.. I too have had to curb my charity shop addiction. I just don’t go in to them as often – as I found it impossible to resist any purchases as all great prices and a contribution to charity. Sadly I think most shops use cheap/slave labour, how else can a Primark top be £3 .. unless you make a commitment to spend more at places like People Tree etc then there is no way of knowing the origin of our clothes. You’ve pricked my conscience as I’ve had an outstanding Leamington Transition Town invite.. may have to go now…

    • eethree Says:

      I know, quite hurt-y stuff isn’t it. My problem is walking past a charity shop – I find it very hard, so you’re already ahead of me! If I could find a way of making my charity shop foraging useful to others I’d love to – like Lucy has suggested. I shall think on. In the meantime do report back on your transition town meeting. I found that article fascinating, not least the private admission by council CEOs that the good times aren’t coming back. I like that transition town proposals are about finding a positive response. Check out the article comments too – some are very revealing…

  4. rachel Says:

    Well, I do not belieeeeeve that you went and bought a silver skirt to lighten up everyone’s day ARFTER you’d left me weighed down by my next 5 years, (and past 5 years) worth of M&S purchases. Dear God, did it feel like two hours in the changing room to you? WAS it 2 hours in the changing room? If only I had a silver skirt I’d put it on now, to wear as I go to the vegetable patch to check on how our radishes are doing. xx

    • eethree Says:

      Yes it was 2 hours. At least! But if that’s your only shopping trip for five years you’re doing well. Oooh radishes, how I love them. Try this delicious radish salad with pomegranante molasses, which I know you have in the cupboard!

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