Lifetimes In One Place

by Warren Robertson

Charity shops make me sad. Sectioned in small, out of the way complexes, they are stocked with boxes of unused donations and detail lives, and moments, that were once precious, but are now marked down to just R5. Edwardian wigs, a VHS titled “Diana: The People’s Princess”, pottery figures of once brightly coloured clowns, second-hand sex toys, a rhino horn ashtray, a taxidermied squirrel  – and this is only the stuff I brought in.

These shops feel like forgotten places. Always inexplicably cold, they smell of moth-balls, dust, and Helen Zille’s Twitter account. The customers are a mixture of the kind of people you expect to see talking about past lives in a teepee at a music festival, and retirees who walked through the door in 1967 and have long since given up trying to find their way out. If you leave a rubbish bag filled with a deceased person’s clothes unopened in a charity store for long enough, it will gain sentience, stand up and start working the till.

Despite all this, there is a poignancy to charity shops. It’s difficult to see a Rosewood box of old silver cutlery gathering dust, and not think of the person to whom this was a treasured possession. Undoubtedly it lived in a locked cupboard and was only unpacked when special guests came over, yet now it competes for space with broken plastic kids toys, yellowing pulp-fiction paperbacks, and humorous paragraph ending punchlines.

I am reminded while in these spaces that treasuring things is pointless, as ultimately I will die and the items I keep close to my heart will just become someone else’s burden to be packed in a box and donated to charity. As a result, a visit there functions the same way a near-death experience must. I always leave blinking into the sun, thanking my lucky stars that I am both alive and mentally tough enough to avoid buying a dusty bonnet filled with plastic flowers. I do however miss that ashtray.

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