How to have a perfect pre-loved Christmas

·7 min read
Happy young woman opening a Christmas present box
Give the give of charity, sustainability and affordability this Christmas...(Getty Images)

Christmas isn't just about gifts, of course - but giving is part of the season to be jolly. 

This year, however, many of us are, to put it bluntly, a bit skint. Covid uncertainty, Brexit bother, rising prices and worry about the future have left us reluctant to splash out too much on Christmas.

But that's fine - because it's entirely possible to find wonderful gifts for a fraction of the price you'd normally pay. All it takes is a bit of rummaging and commitment.

A second-hand Christmas doesn't mean hand-me-downs that smell funny, unwanted ornaments and dog-eared books. It does mean you can tailor presents perfectly to the recipient, and afford to get more than ever before, without setting your credit card on fire. And you're giving to charity, too.

Read more: ‘Why I buy all of my clothes second hand’

According to a survey conducted by children’s charity Barnardo’s, in partnership with Atomik Research, two thirds of people in the UK say they will consider buying their Christmas presents from charity shops this year. And four fifths of adults said thoughtfulness is the key to a perfect gift, while sustainability is also important for a quarter of people surveyed.

Iso shares her tips on finding treasures in secondhand shops. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Iso loves finding treasures in secondhand shops. (Collect/PA Real Life)

One woman who knows exactly how to craft a pre-loved party season is Iso Neville, 24, from London.

She spends around £200 each year on festive gifts, while the average spend per adult in the UK is £760. 

Head of social media for an art agency, Iso, who has been hitting vintage stores since her school days, said: “As a teen, normal high street clothing shops were too far away for me, without getting a lift from my parents.

 “Instead, I would my browse the charity shops near home and quickly found there were plenty of treasures there for sale at a bargain price.

“Now that I’m older, I don’t see a need to shop at fast fashion stores when second-hand shops have such great quality items.”

Male Shopper In Thrift Store Looking At Ornaments
No, not that one, mate. (Getty Images)

Now Iso’s thrifty shopping ways have been applied to present buying. “Friends and family know how much I believe in charity shops, so they now expect all the presents I buy to be second-hand. 

"No one has ever complained to me, because it’s the thought that counts and, after all, you would never even know the items weren’t new!”

Iso says: “There’s definitely a kind of taboo around second-hand shopping, but it’s just not true that preloved items are trash. Since lockdown, it seems a lot of people in the UK have been having a clear out, because there’s so much choice at the moment in charity shops.

Read more: Surge in second-hand sees eBay save 87 million items from landfill

“You can really find some amazing stuff and I’ve even been able to furnish my home with things I’ve bought at Barnardo’s.”

When it comes to Christmas presents, she adds, it's easy to match gifts to recipients. 

London, UK - September 1, 2017 - Shelves of used books on display at a second hand book shop in Camden Market
There's something in there that your mum will love. (Getty Images)

“I have a friend who recently got into tennis, so I found a pack of brand-new Wimbledon tennis balls and pins in a local charity shop, which I’ll give to her this Christmas."

For green fingered friends, “a good top tip for thrifty gift giving is to get a plant from the garden centre and buy a plant pot from a charity shop to go with it.

"No one would ever know it’s second-hand and they often have very quirky and interesting plant pots for sale.

Watch: Donations of more that £30k have been made to a local Salvation Army branch after fire

“On average, I save at least 50 per cent on a second-hand item compared to buying it brand new.”

Iso added: “A lot of people will have tighter purse strings this Christmas after the effects of the pandemic, so charity shopping is an excellent way to save some extra cash.”

So if you're still bypassing charity shops, alarmed by the subtle waft of unwashed clothing and strange old-lady ornaments in the window, you're missing a trick. 

Here are the best ways to bag a real Christmas bargain, that family and friends will genuinely love. 

"Is it a very small new boyfriend?" (Getty Images)
"Is it a very small new boyfriend?" (Getty Images)

How to buy preloved presents

1 Take a book wish-list with you

giving books for christmas,books as christmas gift,christmas present,reading,literature,education,making a gift concept, copy space
All this reading joy can be yours for less. (Getty Images)

Hardback books are often donated unread. If you have 'wishlists' from recipients, keep an eye out whenever you pass a charity shop. New celebrity biographies are often available, along with recent bestsellers. 

Children's hardback picture books are also a big win as so many are gifted and never read. 

Always remove the price, often pencilled onto the first page, and clean covers with an anti-bacterial wipe. Good as new, plus if a friend loves a particular author, you can amass a whole stack of paperbacks. Oxfam bookshops are excellent for finding the classics, too. 

2 Look at fabric, not label

light pink sweater hanging on clothes hanger on white background.close up.
Angora is better than acrylic when it comes to present buying.. (Getty Images)

Many charity shops are run by volunteers who recognise a designer label but may not know cashmere from Crimplene - so make sure you do.

It saves a huge amount of time to feel the sleeves hanging from the rack, rather than pull items off the rail. Look for silk, satin, velvet, pure wool, angora, mohair, merino and cashmere, and always check the label on the bottom inside seam for fabric information. All of these textiles are expensive to buy new. 

Hand-wash gently in liquid soap, de-bobble if necessary, and dry flat, before folding into tissue paper. 

Don't ignore children's clothes, either. You can often find barely-worn mini-Boden and designer labels as kids grow so fast. 

3 Look for timeless toys

Photo taken in Utrecht, Netherlands
A quick wipe, and they can be played with again. (Getty Images)

Board games are often relics of passing fads and may have bits missing. But you'll often find brand new, wrapped jigsaws and wooden toys for toddlers, as well as whole armies of stuffed toys in good condition. Always check soft toys for a safety label and wash them, and sterilise any plastic toys to be safe.

Charity shops are excellent repositories of Disney DVDs and larger ones often sell bikes and trikes that children have outgrown. Check them over and make sure the tyres are sound and the brakes work. If so, you can save hundreds. 

4 Seek out good jewellery

Colorful ornaments, necklaces, jewellery, bangles and accessories hanging from the frontage of a street side shop in a bazaar.
"Oooh your hippie Auntie Trisha will love those." (Getty Images)

The quality of jewellery very much depends on the area your shop is in. There's often several items from M&S (who do excellent jewellery) and vintage bits, sometimes in a glass case (particularly rings and cufflinks.) Don't be put off by the enthusiastic showcasing - they won't generally be very pricey. 

Look for diamanté, wooden beads and metallic bracelets and necklaces. You can polish them up, and clean any sparklers with an old toothbrush dipped in gin, then gift them wrapped beautifully. It's not likely you'll find genuine jewels, gold or silver- but when costume jewellery is this pretty, who cares?

5 Don't forget eBay

Old pots in the traditional flea market, Gouda, Netherland
Look online for lovely old kitchenalia and vintage homeware. (Getty Images)

Give the seller time to post before Christmas - but if you don't leave it too late, eBay is a wonderland of new-looking and actually-new presents for a fraction of the price. 

Check out toys, and homeware and kitchenware for crockery and gifts for keen cooks (these are often past unwanted gifts for less keen cooks) and comb the vintage sections for stylish friends.

You can also find rare records, 'BNWT' (Brand new with tags) designer wear and this season's accessories, from bags to gloves to silk scarves.

This Christmas, your presents could be unforgettable - in the very best way. 

Watch: Here are the best ways to budget for Christmas gifts this year

Additional reporting, PA Media

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