Category: Projects

World Book Day! – the second hand version

This is the day that I walk my son to school and pass an eclectic group of literary characters. A few common characters we see on our way to school are Where’s Wally, Harry Potter (or various other Hogwarts pupils), Matilda, a multitude of superheroes and the list goes on.

It turns out, this is the day to put on a costume if you are a young boy or girl of primary school age living in the UK; or a teacher of these children. Halloween appears to come a rather distant second to World Book Day.

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And although I sometime wish the fun and excitement of dressing up for Halloween here in London was as big as back home, I am so on board with this day!

The World Book Day Ltd charity has the aim of “advancing the education of the public particularly by assisting in the promotion of reading amongst children, and particularly by promoting world book day…or any other such event the purpose of which is to promote and encourage reading among children and young people.”

Today I didn’t dress up, although I have started to give serious thought to what I might dress up as next year. What I am doing is sending my eldest to school with a copy of his current favourite book (Book 1 of the Magic Tree House series), as requested by his school and heading off to my nearest Oxfam Bookshop in Balham with my youngest son. Any excuse to do some charity shopping. We are going to take our time browsing the shelves and see what treasures can be found. We might even stop to read one or two books together in the shop.

I love a good second hand bookshop and even the not so good ones, if there is such a thing. I love stumbling upon old copies of books that can be hard to track down on the shelves of a high street bookseller. And picking them up while giving to charity is a big bonus.

A love of reading was passed down to me by my parents, particularly by my mum. To this day, she is one of the most voracious readers I have ever known. Not only does she try reading anything, and I mean anything, she has spent a good portion of her life in libraries and bookshops, especially the second hand variety. She has also spent the last two decades giving her time and energy to a charity that supports the local library in my hometown. I suppose I am hoping to continue to pass an enjoyment of reading on to my own boys.

Happy treasure hunting (for books) everyone!

Further details of the World Book Day Limited Charity can be found here.

How to turn Secret Santa shopping from frustrating to fun

Taking part in a Secret Santa activity seems to be gaining popularity, whether you get involved with your family, friends or co-workers. It can however be equal parts frustrating and fun. The fun is usually focused on the actual exchanging of gifts portion, which seems to have an endless list of ways you can play. I can’t help but think of the episode of The Office (American version) where they are playing and everyone is trying to get the iPod that Michael bought and Jim is desperate for Pam to get his tea pot full of thoughtful gifts selected just for her. More recently, I saw this video come up on my Facebook feed.

For a few people, the shopping part is just as fun, but more often than not this is the frustrating part. Sometimes it’s as simple as you don’t want one more thing to add to your Christmas shopping list when it’s already the length of your arm.

Finding and buying the right gift for someone you know well can be hard enough. Trying to find something that will be well received by a person you don’t know very well, like a work colleague, or worse for an anonymous recipient can be almost impossible.

In order to turn the frustration of Secret Santa shopping into a more enjoyable experience, I can absolutely recommend heading into your local charity shop. And here’s why it’s a fun alternative to your other high street shops.

Feel Good Factor

No matter what you choose, whether it’s a hit or miss on the day, you just made a donation to a local charity and that’s never a miss. So maybe this isn’t exactly fun but it’s going to make you feel better about the purchase. Plus, if it does end up back at a charity shop, you just gave another person the opportunity to find a treasure and make a donation to their local charity shop.

Budget Friendly

You are getting something at a great price. Sometimes Secret Santa participants are required to commit to a price limit which can just add to the frustration when shopping. Your money goes farther in a charity shop and you don’t have to be looking for pre-Christmas sales.
Sometimes you can even find unopened gift packs that have been donated because they were an unwanted gift; just a quick and easy wrap or gift bag and you are done!

Getting creative

This is the part where you really can turn the frustration into fun. Not every purchase in the charity shop needs to be the whole gift, maybe it’s just part of the gift to enhance it or maybe you find a little something that catches your attention and gives you an idea of how you could create something for your Secret Santa.

This last idea is where I have had great luck this year with shopping for creative Christmas gifts. Not technically Secret Santa gifts, but gifts for my son’s four classroom teachers at school and for some of our special neighbours. This year the charity shops were home to some amazing unconventional and functional “gift baskets” allowing us to enhance our gift giving.

The beautiful Christmas tin I found back in November was perfect for our sugar cookies that we made for our neighbours and the snowman mugs were a great way to package up a few homemade goodies and a Starbucks card for my son’s teachers. And the mugs themselves are so cute. But then again, I’m one of those people who loves Christmas mugs. They make every cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate taste just a little bit better. These little purchases allowed me to stay within my budget but give gifts that I was excited to give.

I should mention that although I have made use of the charity shops for my Christmas shopping for several years now, it is something that the charity shops promote themselves.
My local British Heart shop actually displays a Secret Santa Stockist sticker in it’s window, encouraging Christmas shoppers to venture in and have a browse. They also have this great guide on their website.

So if you are in need of a last minute Christmas gift for someone I hope this has inspired you to check out your local charity shop.

Happy Christmas treasure hunting everyone.

Share Your Wealth

img_0781Black Friday has arrived. Although for some retailers it has been “here” for the last week. So before the amazing deals (and some not so amazing ones) grab your attention and your hard earned cash, I thought I would share another important date with you. No, it’s not Cyber Monday either.

Giving Tuesday (#givingtuesday) is the 29th of November following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For some of you, this date might already be marked in the calendar, but for others this might be a new way to share your wealth this week.

…at it’s best we are shopping for others.  We are embracing the spirit of giving.

This week really does mark the beginning of the “crazy” holiday shopping season. This is a time of year that, despite our best intentions, can get away from us. We all want our money to go farther and shops know how to convince you that spending less and getting more is what you are doing. At its worst, credit card bills that taint the first months of the New Year are the result. However, at its best we are shopping for others. We are embracing the spirit of giving.

I encourage you to check out the Giving Tuesday website to hear how others are starting their giving season and find ideas and inspiration on how you can begin your own charitable season.

I have already planned my own way to celebrate Giving Tuesday… and yes, the Charity Shops of London are very much part of that plan.  You can follow my Giving Tuesday adventures here and through my Instagram feed.

You can also see how The Big Give is helping your charitable pounds go further this year. Beginning mid-day on Giving Tuesday, they have created the Christmas Challenge and are working with organisations to match charitable giving to a long list of UK charities.

When I moved to London, almost six years ago now, I remember seeing the Black Friday advertisements and being surprised at this particular US import. Having lived in Vancouver, so close to our US neighbours, I sort of understood the trickle effect that US events had on us in Canada – in more ways than shopping trends. But really, what did I expect. Retailers will take any excuse to get you in their shop in the lead up to Christmas. Perhaps Giving Tuesday is destined to become a global phenomenon on the same scale as Black Friday and Cyber Tuesday; one can always hope.

Happy Friday and happy treasure hunting!

Just try it on!

Two weeks ago I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and try on a few pieces that I would normally flip past on the charity shop rails.

If an animal print piece was ever going to find it's way into my closet, it would have a better chance in the form of a cardigan.

If an animal print piece was ever going to find it’s way into my closet, it would have a better chance in the form of a cardigan.

I had so much fun! 

It was a genuine happiness booster for me.  Not once did I leave a charity shop without a smile on my face.  I was also thrilled to find out just days into my challenge that I was not alone in the quest to “just try it on!” Charlotte Lucy over at Shoestring Chic posted to her Instagram feed a terrific orange top that she’s had for an age but was “scared of the bright colour”.



Much like Charlotte, I tried a few colours that I usually shy away from as well as cuts that I wasn’t sure were right for my body type.  I also tried a few patterns or styles that I love on other people but just don’t feel brave enough to try myself.  A few times I actually laughed at myself in the change room; usually just before taking a selfie for posterity and to share with anyone who visits my blog. *side note, still not sure if anyone out there is reading these posts.

I suppose you could take this challenge in any shop if you wanted to, but I can’t help but feel that the best place is in your local charity shop.  The truth is, if you want a real variety of items, you won’t find them in your high street retail shop.  You don’t want to be limited by the current seasons trends or seasonal colours.  Not everyone looks great skinny jeans or in traditional Autumn colours.  If you want to try out wide leg trousers and a bright yellow dress my money’s on the charity shop.

While I am always grateful to be living in London with amazing access to so many charity shops, this challenge allowed me to gain new appreciation for their value.  I hope you enjoy my challenge photos and feel free to have a chuckle; I did.

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Happy Sunday and happy treasure hunting everyone!

The Charity Shop is my Fashion House

To try a new style or stick with your look?

Early this week the team at Who What Wear UK posted the challenge to “try something different out for size” along with a quote from Japanese-French, fashion designer Kenzo Takada.  I quickly realized this was also a perfect charity shop challenge.

Fashion is like eating. You shouldn’t stick with the same menu.
~ Kenzo Takada

I think Takada’s idea has occupied my mind over the last few days because I was very quick to disagree.  But why? It sounds like a good suggestion.  Trying new things is something I encourage my two young boys to do constantly.

Perfect excuse for coloured pens

The perfect excuse for coloured pens

I like to think that I am open to trying new things myself. I just recently started running (for mental and physical fitness) at 32 years old and I started a bullet journal, to help me feel more focused and organized. Plus, any excuse to use fun stationary!  Both of these new activities have been great experiences and I continue to enjoy them.

I was wondering if maybe I just don’t have any interest in style or fashion.  But then I remembered something that I read a few months ago, from an American fashion designer, that resonated with me.

Style is very different from fashion.  Once you find something that works, keep it.  ~ Tom Ford

This cWhat I Read Italyoncept of personal style is something that I have been thinking and reading about (check out my What I Read post) a great deal this summer.  I’m not sure if it is simply a phase of my life, (mum with two busy boys), my tendency toward a more frugal lifestyle, my current preoccupation with streamlining aspects of my life, but I am drawn to the idea of a sort of “style uniform”.

I want to look good and have my clothing reflect my personality but not at any cost. I don’t want to spend an age staring at my closet before going out, or changing outfits whilst questioning how I look in the things I own. I also don’t want to be a slave (financially) to the changes in trends but still stay current with the styles that I do like.

The charity shop is my fashion house

Whether you find yourself in Kenzo Takada, or Tom Ford’s camp, or if you waffle between the two schools of thought, I would suggest that the charity shop is the answer to either approach.  If you want to step out of your “fashion comfort zone” and try something new, without breaking the bank, what better place to start.  And if you know and love your personal style and what works for your body, lifestyle and budget, racks of wonderful new-to-me (new-to-you) pieces are just waiting to be found.  In either case, the London charity shop has the inventory you are looking for.  Charity shopping means you aren’t limited to just the current A/W16 trends that are available on the high street.

The challenge

This week I am going to try and find a fashion treasure from both camps.   There are some styles and looks that I admire on others but I feel aren’t right for me so I don’t usually bother with them – but this time I will.  I will find something that I wouldn’t usually wear and try it on. I will also find a piece that perfectly represents my own personal style (at the moment) and try it on regardless of whether it is on my charity shop list or not.

I won’t commit to purchasing my finds, but I will post my results both on Instagram (with #charityshopfashionhouse) and here on the blog.  If you are feeling so inclined please join me.  I would love to hear what fashion camp you identify with and see your results of the challenge.

Happy treasure hunting everyone!

Saving a sink

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.42.52 PMAll week during the school run my boys and I have passed this sad little sink basin resting outside a block of houses.  It even survived our local pickup day on Wednesday.  Oddly, I realized I was anxious to see if it would still be there on our afternoon journey after the day’s collection is done.  Truthfully, I have wanted to take it home all week and I’m not exactly sure why.  The boys and I pass cast-offs, in varying degrees of disrepair, on an almost daily basis in our corner of SW London.  I have other thoughts on curb side cast-offs, but that’s for another time.

If I’m honest with myself, the only reason this sink basin isn’t sitting in our back garden (out of view of my more than patient husband) is it was simply too heavy for me to carry all the way home.  Yes, I did pick it up just to check.  This is one of those very few times I sort of wish we had a car.

The basin doesn’t have a single crack in it and with a good wash would be a perfect white with not a single stain or discolouration. All I have been doing is going over projects in my head and pouring over Pinterest for weird and wonderful ideas of what could be done with the poor thing.

At first all I came up with was using it as a planter, especially because it is missing the faucet.  But thanks to Pinterest, my mind was blown by other peoples creativity.

I realized that if I was to find a way to rescue the basin and bring it home, not only would I have so much fun planting something in it but I would have something new to add to my charity shopping list; an old faucet, and it wouldn’t even have to work!

Am I the only one who can’t help but notice those things that others throw away? Have you ever rescued something from the pavement?  I would love to hear from you.

Happy hunting everyone!


5 things you need for a successful charity shop visit

 Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 3.13.32 PMWhether you are a long time charity shopper like me, or just beginning to be intrigued by the mystique of these high street staples, this list of must haves is for you.  Charity shopping is a lot of fun whether you find a treasure or not, but when you do find that something that you can’t leave (or live) without, you will be so glad you headed out prepared.  


  1. Mindset\attitude

Whether real or perceived, you can’t be in a rush.  You also have to be in the mood for a good browse and happy even if you walk out with nothing.  If you are on the hunt for something you really want, or worse, “need” that day or in the next few, you are not going to enjoy the experience.  You are also likely to let treasures (either for yourself or others) go unnoticed, including that something you’ve been waiting for and hoping would show up in the shops.

It’s also important to be intentional about exhibiting that relaxed and open attitude whilst you are In the shop.  The reason for this is people. First, and perhaps most important, you are in a shop that is open and available for you to enjoy predominantly because of volunteers giving of their time. A friendly greeting and smile goes a long way in making their efforts feel appreciated and their time in the shop enjoyable. I have seen and felt how a shop atmosphere can change to a fun and welcoming space for everyone with a simple gesture and can last long after you have left the shop.

Charity shops are also notoriously small spaces packed full of goodies and often with barely enough space to pass someone between clothing racks; which I admit sometimes adds to the atmosphere I love. It also means that you will be bumping into someone and more than once will be saying ‘excuse me’ to a fellow browser. Doing it with a smile and showing some patience while someone else browses through a section you can’t wait to look through, keeps the whole experience fun for everyone.

  1. Time

Not every trip to the charity shop, or shops, needs to be part of a full “charity shop, day-out extravaganza”.  About a year ago, I popped into a charity shop in Dublin, Ireland right next to a bus stop with my husband and two boys while my in-laws played lookout for our bus.  We were in the shop less than 5 minutes and walked out with two green glass Coca Cola glasses shaped like 350ml cans. They were discovered, wrapped, paid for (in cash, see tip number 4) and in my bag before the bus was in sight. Those glasses are used every morning for my husband’s orange juice; he loves them. It just goes to show, the right place at the right time is one of those charity shop fundamental principles.

If you only have a set amount of time, you would be better served by going into one shop or maybe even limiting yourself to one section, for example just browsing books or bypassing clothing. If you try and rush a browse through an entire charity shop when you really don’t have the time you are most certainly going to miss something but more important you are taking away the fun of the experience. To be honest, rush browsing seems a bit like skim reading a book, neither of which seem appealing or a very good use of my time.

Clothing is often an area that I choose to skip over when I am in a rush. If I was to see an article of clothing that I really liked but didn’t have the time to try it on, one of two scenarios would play out.

  1. I would have to leave it behind, disappointed and thinking about it all day, or worse every time I visited that shop, or
  2. I would take it thinking “I’m sure it will fit” or “it looks like it will be fine” and then it isn’t great and ends up back at the charity shop in a few days when I just can’t justify keeping it.

I am very seldom thrilled with an impulse purchase.

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