Seven Surprising Things You Learn Working In a Charity Shop

People Shoplift from Charity Shops

This surprised me the most. The heartlessness of coming into a shop staffed by volunteers, raising money for a charitable cause… and nicking stuff. The pettiness of stealing things that are being sold for a pound. It’s not even like it’s poorer people stealing, either; it seems to be people who could easily afford the items at full retail price.

I walked in for an afternoon shift just as a full rack of jeans was discovered missing. There was just an empty rack, so whoever it was had just picked them all up with no regard for size or style and left with maybe ten pairs of jeans. More experienced staff said those jeans will likely end up on a market stall or on e-bay.

You Find Out All Kinds of Personal Things

Most people are aware that old ladies will happily tell everyone all about their latest surgery, but it turns out that all kinds of people will also happily tell charity shop staff the gory details of their personal lives. Women tell me at the till about their changes in breast size and point out the size of the bras they’re buying. People tell me exactly what reason they’re buying clothes for and exactly what they think of a relative who’s wedding it is.

The most interesting anecdote of all isn’t mine, but a coworker’s as they told me how weird it gets sometimes. An attractively dressed woman with a lot of make up on came in, and looked at revealing clothes and high heels, as she has done since when I’ve been in. This time, apparently, a man came up to her and asked her if she was working. After a moment of her panicked face, she told him to wait outside. Turns out she’s a sex worker. The funny part of the story is that my coworker says she carried on shopping for nearly an hour while the man stood around outside waiting!

People Act As If the Prices are Extortionate

It’s a charity shop. The things are mostly second hand and none of the clothes cost more than a fiver. There are some truly lovely, good quality items that seem to be brand new, and they’re priced higher than used and basic items while still being charity-shop cheap. Someone, people still try to sweet talk themselves discounts or complain about the price.

I helped a woman shorter than me, getting a handbag down off of the wall for her. We chatted about the designer label, the likelihood that it was real leather, and the as-new quality it was in. She took it to the till, but then asked in surprise if the price on the label was right; apparently £14.99 is a shocking price to ask for an as-new bag that is nearly £900 new, and she left without buying anything.

People Donate Brand New, Quality Items…

Having never really had a lot of money in my teens or adult life, I’ve only really given old clothes to younger relatives and more recently sold them on eBay, or binned them if they were too damaged. The things that go to the charity shop are things you don’t need to replace (and thus sell for money towards the replacement) and things that wouldn’t fit a relative. Seeing some of the great clothes and other things we get in the charity shop is a heart-warming reminder that people who are better off do actually donate their possessions rather than share and sell for extra money.

Just as the nearly £900, barely-used designer handbag, I’ve put out, neatened up or sold some items that it really reassures my faith in humanity to find donated. We’ve had brand new items, still in their packets, including mid-range shirts. I can tell many of the books donated to us have never been read, their spines stiff and pages pristine, and one or two even with the unfaded receipt still tucked into the back cover. Much of our nicest non-clothes items are PDSA items such as pet-themed décor, but even that gets donated; I’ve sold a painting and wondered who painted it, who donated such a lovely item.

…and Old, Broken Rubbish

Unfortunately, people also seem to see charity shops as a dump where you get to feel good about yourself, and we get people attempting to ‘donate’ all kinds of rubbish. We don’t take electrical items and things like bike helmets, as it’s near impossible for us to know if they’re in usable condition. We find that clothes are too ripped or that battery items have old, mouldy batteries in them, but that’s a judgement call.

It’s when people try to give us obviously cracked bike helmets that would be dangerous to use, puzzles and multi-piece toys with many pieces missing, or things that are blatantly of no use to anyone that’s most frustrating. I’ve even had to explain that no, we don’t take kitchen cupboard doors with no hinges or handles!

People Have Zero Common Sense

While it is a volunteering role for a charity, it’s also retail work in a high street shop. As such, you get all the same realisations of customer ignorance. There’s something about walking into a shop that makes people forget how to read, use logic and count, and it seems that charity shops are one of the worst for this.

The typical occurrence of people handing you clothes with labels on the top with huge £1 stickers and asking you how much they cost happens, as does people looking at a sign that says “3 items only in the changing room” then asking if the curtained area is a changing room or how many items they can take in. I had to repeatedly explain to a customer that while I personally did not know if the watch she was buying had a battery in it, it had been tested and did work. She walked over to a display while I rung her purchase up on the till, then asked if I had, in that time, tested the watch.

Charity Shops Are a Local Charity, Too

While the point of charity shops are already charities, raising money for animal, medical and international charities, the shops themselves provide a charitable service to the local community. In selling the things people have donated, charity shops are shops selling cheap second hand things that people can afford easier.

A woman came in to buy her kids some holiday clothes, as new clothes for 4 children can get very expensive very quickly. A couple of people come in regular, donating the puzzles they’ve completed and buying up new puzzles to do. In a conversation I had with a customer, I realised he was a homeless man buying an interview suit for less than £10. Working in a charity shop gives you a real insight into their role in the community.

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Working From Home: Routine

[Related – “Working From Home: Workspace“]

The difference between working from home becoming a distracted, lazy waste of time and becoming the most productive way you’ve ever worked is often routine. It’s easy to fall into a habit of procrastinating or flipping between unfinished tasks without getting any closer to finishing them. A routine can stop that before it even begins. In the same way you need a good physical workspace to get to work in, you need a good mental headspace for work.

The most basic aspect of a routine is times. Set aside a fixed amount of time every day for work, and don’t do anything unrelated to work in that time. If it’s as short as an hour, set a timer and give yourself a small reward afterwards; do it before lunch and have your lunch as a reward, or mid-afternoon and then play videogames when you’re finished.

If you’re working all day, for example starting at nine am and finishing at five pm, give yourself set breaks to stretch your legs and rest your mind. If you’re working at the computer, the recommended screen/break balance is an hour on the computer then 15 minute doing something else. It’s a good time balance for many things, as it’s not healthy to sit all day if you can avoid it. Remember to have meal breaks!

If you have trouble feeling focussed, a tighter or stricter routine might be helpful. Just as offices and work environments have dress codes, it can help to get dressed in a work-appropriate outfit before sitting down to work. It doesn’t have to be a full suit if you don’t want to, but rolling from bed to work in your pyjamas is not a motivating set up. Getting washed and dressed and putting on a polo shirt can be a big part of feeling motivated and ‘at work’.

The real secret to working at home successfully is finding your own balance – some articles will tell you that you must recreate a typical office environment as closely as physically possible, but the main appeal of working from home is the comfort and ease of working in your pyjamas on the sofa. Only you can find the balance between the two that works for you. Maybe you need to allocate tasks to a timetable and work to a strict list on the clock, but you can sit around in your onesie and eat snacks. Maybe you can come and go on work and don’t need reminders, but only if you wake up and put on a shirt and trousers. Maybe you need a little of each.

Once you’ve got some sort of routine down, working will become habit. You won’t have to focus on going along with your routine when you’re used to it, and you won’t have any trouble getting down to work and being productive when you’re in the habit of working and being motivated. Without the time taken up by a commute and with the fine balance you’ve worked out, you might even be far more productive and create far better finished products at home than you ever did before.

Working From Home: Workspace

[Related – “Working From Home: Routine“]

Setting up a good workspace is a vital part of working from home. For one thing, having a dedicated workspace that you avoid doing non-work activities in helps you feel like you’re at work and be focused when you want to get work done. It doesn’t have to be an entire room or a fancy set up. In fact, you can easily set up a great home workspace without spending a penny!

Choose a table space you can spare in a room that won’t be distracting. A desk in your bedroom or a table in your living room are good places, as is a corner of the kitchen/dining room table if you can spare it. Try to choose a table at a good height for working. You don’t want to be bent over, so make sure you can rest your arms on the table and have your back straight comfortably. There should also be plenty of room for your computer and/or other equipment, a drink in case you need one, and space around the table for you to move easily.

Most people find it easier to work sitting on a chair, but it can be good for your posture and productivity to work standing up. If you prefer this or just like the idea, you’ll need a higher desk and might have to buy or make one specially. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about a chair!

An office chair is the best option, because they’re designed to be good chairs to sit in while you work, but if you don’t have one you don’t need one. As long as your chair means you’re sitting at the right height for the table and doesn’t make you slouch it’s a good enough chair. If possible, get a chair that you find comfortable to sit on with your feet under it somewhat, as this leg position makes sitting up straight easier.

Really, the table and chair, and that the room isn’t distracting is most of a good workspace. A distracting room is one where there are things that might distract you, obviously. If you need quiet, choose a quiet room, if you prefer to listen to music, choose a room you can play music in, and don’t pick the kitchen if you snack to put work off. Try to choose a place you’ll be alone in, or at least where the other people won’t affect you.

All that’s left is the actual table space. The typical advice of avoiding clutter applies, but it can be good to have things you often need.

The top of a computer screen should be level with your eyes, and everything you need such as a mouse should be within easy reach without moving your shoulders. A mouse is preferable to a mousepad if you have one, and all kinds of keyboard with various degrees of ergonomics exist if you want to splash out.

Art or craft tables should have a clear space in the middle big enough for a typical piece of work, and at least enough space for both your hands to comfortably rest. A nice little desk organiser, or even old mugs, should be within reach so you can easily find and use things.

With an appropriate table and (possibly) chair, and a neat space on it, you’re finished; that’s all you need for a working at home workspace. Get to work!