Ecohack 6 – Op shopping.

I love op shopping, and I have become something of an expert.  Op shops, short for opportunity shops are variously called charity stores or thrift stores depending on where you live.  I’ve been going to the Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies, (St Vincent de Paul), Lifeline and The Smith Family stores for decades! When I travel, I always visit the local charity stores.

I even created a blog The Op-Shop Queen back in 2011.  It was based on giving op shops reviews and buying a complete outfit, not including shoes, for less than $20. It’s archived and no longer accessible although I may resurrect it.Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.16.06

Why Op Shops?

I earn enough to buy new stuff but don’t for several reasons,

  1. I’d rather spend that money on other stuff.
  2. I like the challenge of building a wardrobe from the quirky pieces you can find.
  3. The quality is often better. I’d rather pay $10 for a second-hand designer brand than $2 on a piece of crap made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions. Mind you the designer brand may also have been made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions, but it is likely to be better quality material and hence last longer.
  4. The feel-good feeling it gives me for keeping clothes out of the waste stream and doing my bit for the environment.
  5. It fits in with my buy-nothing-new-unless-there-is-no-other-way philosophy.

Keeping clothes out of the waste stream.

There are plenty of stats about the impact discarded clothes have on our waste stream. Fast fashion which is fuelled in part by social media, is an ugly trend where people wear an item once and throw it away. The desire to be seen in something new for every insta-moment is a real thing for many consumers.

Me? I have never really been into fashion. Ooops back up a bit there! I did wear shoulder pads and peplums back in the 80s, and I am conscious of not looking like an utterly uncoordinated bag lady. These days I try to go for a classy, elegant, timeless look that will withstand the “what colour is on trend this week” trend. If you keep things long enough, they’ll cycle back around anyway.

Keeping clothes for longer means that energy and resources used in making them is saved. We should be aiming for more wears per item.

 

Picking up a bargain.

I buy everything from op shops. Clothes, kitchenware, shoes, towels, stationery, books, magazines, storage containers, toys for my grandson. If I need something I go there first. My best buy to date is an evening dress which was brand new, with tags and still in the shops (i.e. it was still in season). The labelled price was over $900, I got it for $100. I even bought my Iains from op shops!

I am lucky my home town of Wollongong has several substantial op shops which are clean and bright.

You never know what you might find! A year or so after I got divorced, I went into my favourite op shop to find many of the items from my own kitchen on sale! The items that had been part of his split. I was a bit peeved that a lovely fruit bowl which was a wedding gift was there for $10! (I knew it was mine because of a unique sticker on the bottom). I decided not to buy it back.

Op shopping is now on trend!

Op shopping is becoming so popular that it is getting harder to get bargains. The charities who run them obviously want to make money, and I have noticed there has been a rise in prices. Back in the old days, designer brands were on the racks cheek by jowl with the Kmart stuff. Now, most stores have these items in their own section with much higher prices. I guess getting an Armani cashmere jumper at $30 is still a bargain.

I used to hide the fact that my clothes were from op shops. When someone asked me where I bought that fabulous dress or whatever, I’d say “Oh just a little place in Wollongong.” Now I reply “from my special shop” which my colleagues know means the op shop!

Decluttering trends and the time made available for decluttering by the COVID lockdowns have meant that many op shops are packed to the rafters with items discarded by others. Now’s a good time to start op shop if you’re not into it already!

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That entire outfit not including shoes, socks and undies was less than $10

My tips for op-shopping.

  1. Remember that the clothes are there for a reason. The previous owner did not want them anymore. This could be because they are slaves to fashion, have put on or lost weight, gotten older and the thigh-high split skirt is no longer part of their look, or they died. The items could be damaged or stained. There could be buttons missing. CHECK them out carefully. Turn the items inside out and have a look for moth holes, rips, broken zips, missing buttons, stains. I need to improve on this front.
  2. The clothes are checked by the staff before being put on the racks, but they are not washed. There may be stained items. Make a decision if you think the stain will be treatable, otherwise leave it on the shelf.
  3. If it is missing buttons or is ripped is the item worth fixing? If it’s a beautiful item that suits you, maybe you could replace all the buttons, or put a cute patch over the rip. There are some good books about mending available.
  4. Try it on!! This is my biggest downfall. I too often buy things without trying them on, and they end up back in my own donations bag when I find they don’t fit or look terrible.  And while yes, I haven’t wasted much money and I have not contributed to the waste stream, it is still a waste.
  5. Be adventurous, try different colours and styles.
  6. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need because it is cheap, and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Overconsumption is still overconsumption whether it’s brand new or second hand. You still have to find a place to store all that shit when you bring it home! Buying things just in case is still a waste.
  7. Challenge your family to do op shop gift-giving, where all presents have to be either homemade or second hand. Use scarves or other fabric found at op-shops to wrap your gifts. There are usually plenty of used-once gift bags available too.
  8. If you are a super bargain hunter op shops often have colour coded tags and these may attract a discount. Look out for signs in the store. Eg “all green tag items 50% off today” or “all pink tags only $2”. Some shops like the Salvos, have bargain days on Mondays and Tuesday where all items under $15 are only $2 and other items are 50% off. Since I work full time I can only get along to those days in the school holidays.
  9. Remember to take your own unwanted and no longer needed items to the op shop when you’ve finished with them. But don’t take your junk. Op shops have to pay to get rid of any unwearable, unusable items dumped at their doorsteps. This reduces their profitability and how many people they can help. It’s not the tip, so please dispose of real rubbish thoughtfully.

Plans for the future

I have written a post before about my inability to travel light! I have had an idea on how to solve this problem. Next time I travel, I am only going to take two changes of clothes and buy everything else from local op shops as I need it. This, of course, will depend on IF I travel internationally again. Who knows!

Don’t be scared, op shops are no longer smelly dank places where only the homeless people hang out! The car park is full of Lexus and Range Rovers and people snapping up bargains while doing their bit for our planet! 

 

Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head.

Cheapskate travel in Sydney!

I recently took a day trip from sunny Wollongong (best place on Earth!) to the big smoke of Sydney to check out the Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head. There is nothing quite like being a tourist in your own patch. You speak the language, know the lingo, and you don’t have to exchange any money. And you don’t have to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards!

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Verdigris – metal meets elements

I am living a Year of Zero and have given myself a strict travel budget to follow. It’s pretty close to zero! I factored in an allowance for some short local experiences to stop me from going completely crazy.  This expedition was cheap!  If you travel on a Sunday, your public transport fares will max out at $2.80, and if you bring your own food, you don’t need to spend anything else all while enjoying million-dollar harbour views. I went on a Friday, but still, the daily cap is just over $16.

It was an easy half-day excursion which I rounded off by heading over to another lovely harbour location – Cockatoo Island for the (free)  Sydney Biennale exhibition. I’ll write a separate post about that.

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One of the metal rails used to slide the cannon.

New “Old” Stuff in Australia.

While Australia may be the continent with the oldest human culture on Earth, it’s not big on castles, paleolithic excavation sites or massive cathedrals. The oldest building in Sydney, Elizabeth Farm, is only 227 years old. The oldest (non-indigenous) structure in Australia is a stone fort built by shipwreck survivors from the Batavia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 near the (now) town of Geraldton.

Prior to European settlement, Middle Head was home to the Borogegal People, the Traditional Custodians of Headland Park.  I acknowledge and thank them for their continuing care of the land that is, was, and always will be theirs.

While our indigenous culture is rich and old, our European culture is only a pup in global terms. None-the-less there are still some interesting things to see for those with an interest in history. The Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head near Mosman are just such a place.

The first fortifications on the site were built in 1801 and the larger battery positions were constructed in 1871.

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Middle Head is, well in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and is a very good defensive point to prevent ships coming into the Harbour itself. In addition to the concrete fortifications, there are some old army barracks from the 1940s, most of which are currently empty, and crying out for gentrification.

The Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks rent out the Officers Quarters as holiday lettings. (Currently $400 – 600 for 2 bedrooms with  a total of 4 beds)

How to get to the  Fortifications at Middle Head:

  • From Taronga Zoo: Catch a ferry from Circular Key to Taronga Zoo and then walk along the headlands. Rather than cutting across to Balmoral Beach as shown in the map, walk downhill near HMAS Penguin on Middle Head Road or Chowder Bay Road. After you have finished at the fortifications, you can continue on to Balmoral Beach for lunch and coffee and then catch a number 245 bus back to Wynyard Station. The is a handy bus stop at the corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade. Be on the shop side of the road. The walk is about 8 km all up. Also, see Wild Walks for good directions.
  • Directly from Wynyard Station: If you don’t want such a long walk, catch the No. 244 bus from Stand A in Carrington Street, and get off at the stop just past HMAS Penguin. Then walk around to Balmoral Beach. It’s a relatively easy walk of about 1.5 km on a paved surface. Catch the No 245 bus back to Wynyard Station from the southern corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade.

Word of Caution: Check the timetables before you go to make sure you don’t get stuck! The TripView App or the NSW Transport webpage will help here. Google Maps also has info about timetables.

Food, Water and Toilets!

If you decide not to bring your own food, there are two cafes (Middle Head Cafe and Burnt Orange). There are more places to eat at Balmoral Beach. The Bathers’ Pavilion is pretty swanky and definitely beyond my budget. (Set menu $110 pp!)  However, Balmoral Beach is a great place for a picnic, so I’d pack a healthy and more frugal lunch box if you are also keen on saving some money.

I went on this little excursion while some COVID restrictions were still in place and chose only to get a takeaway cup of tea. Things were still a bit awkward as you needed to book ahead, and there was reduced capacity, so it was hard to just rock up and expect service at the cafes. There are some fish and chip places which are not dine-in.

There are toilets at the entrance to the Middle Head Park just past the boom gates and at the building near the round-a-bout as you get off the bus. There are several sets of toilets along the Esplanade at  Balmoral Beach

There are water fountains on Balmoral Beach, or fill up at the taps at the loos.

PS: The Old Chooks made a comeback and travelled with me. Don’t tell Iain he’ll be furious he was left at home on the shelf!

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Ecohack 5 – Reducing plastic use

Reducing my environmental impact

Is plastic use a problem for you too? I am trying hard to reduce my environmental impact. In a previous post, I quoted a research paper that showed a tiered approach to reducing your impact. From those activities that have a big impact, like ditching the car or having only one child, down to things that while helpful, have a fairly small individual impact. Having said that, if every individual on the planet did that small thing, like switching to a mostly plant-based diet, the impact would be huge!

Roasted Beetroot Salad
Eating a plant-based diet makes an impact!

 

High Impact Decisions

In my thirties, I made a high impact decision to have only one child based on environmental impacts. At the time, back in the 1990s, it was a bold decision that copped flack from my peers and my (ex)partner.  It came about when I did a subject as part of my teaching degree about the environment.  We went on an excursion to a property on the Georges River near Lugano in Sydney. The owner, an old fellow called Ted, had some ramshackle displays made from recycled bibs & bobs and warned us of the dangers of climate change. I was deeply affected and feared the world my child would inhabit.  He was definitely ahead of his time. Most of my classmates thought he was a looney. I don’t remember his last name and the interwebs are so far silent, on his activities. Nonetheless, the information changed my life.

Plastic is everywhere!

As to moderate and low impact actions, I am consuming less, wasting less and travelling less. [Although travelling less seems like cheating as there is no way to travel far at the moment!] I buy second hand whenever I can.

Despite all these good intentions, I am thwarted by plastic!  Plastic use is my big downfall,  an epic fail. On July 1 when I decided to give Plastic-free July a try, I came home from the shops with 4 bits of plastic wrapping my food! My garbage/recycling bin is still full of plastic stuff.

I don’t know the origin of this quote, but it sums things up pretty well

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

 

Epic Plastic Fails

Plastic Fail number 1: I wear contact lenses. I use daily disposable lenses because I had serious issues with adhesions from the longer-term ones. As a result, every day, I end binning the two little plastic wells and the foil lids.  I have tried to think of ways to recycle them or at least repurpose them but have yet to come up with an idea. It seems like I am not the only one worried about this waste. There are collect and return systems in the US but I don’t think they are in action in Australia. They could make little paint pots?

Solution: I could wear glasses, a money-saving option. I could get laser surgery on my eyes, an expensive option. Wearing contacts is pure vanity, although I did try multifocal lenses a few years back, they made me nauseous and dizzy. Perhaps it’s time to try again.

Plastic Fail number 2: Plastic containers. Everything comes wrapped or packaged in plastic! Milk, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, soap etc etc etc. On the food front; berries, cherry tomatoes, bread are a few examples. Nearly every damn thing is in plastic!

Solutions: I have switched to making as much of my own food as I can with the time I have available. This reduces some of the packaging. I buy my veggies loose, and use fabric produce and shopping bags. But you can’t buy some things without plastic. I guess the choice is not to buy them all.

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I am getting pretty good at making my own bread!

I could try solid shampoo bars and buy other liquid products from the bulk store and re-use the containers. That’s on the agenda as a new zero-waste bulk grocery store has opened up near my home. The Port Grocer advertises itself as “affordable”. Let’s hope so.

I recently tried to buy milk in glass bottles. I could only find one shop about 15 km away, and the milk was literally twice as much as the regular milk!

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Glass bottles for milk would be great!

Sigh! Whatever happened to the milkman and the return of the empties at the end of the driveway? Whatever happened to home-delivered bread in wax paper wrapping which was then used to wrap the sandwiches?

Modern, fast, wasteful life! That’s what happened!