The weekend ritual that turns up real treasures

John Hanscombe
June 19 2024 - 12:00pm

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There are clear signs the hunt is about to begin. The ears are alert, there's steely focus in the eyes. Her breathing slows, nostrils flare as she catches the scent of prey.

He knows to stay out of the way, to find a spot in the sun and wait it out. If he's lucky, he might even share in the spoils when she returns with the catch.

But this is no scene from the veldt. It's the weekend routine at the op shop.

The scent of the prey she's stalking is not the aroma of a gazelle, it's naphthalene, stirred as she riffles the racks in search of bargains.

WATCH: Trends in vintage shopping and social media thrifting have grown exponentially, increasing the popularity of op shops. But has this made op shopping too expensive?

She has a remarkable ability to sniff out treasures. Beautifully tailored pants for work. Luxurious scarves for cold winter mornings. Boots of the softest leather which appear to have never been worn. Crocheted rugs made with love by grandmothers long gone. For him, perhaps, a hardcover Le Carre or a pair of thermal socks, brand new, the label still attached.

For her, the op shop is much more interesting than the mall trawl, with its predictable and overpriced franchises and ever-shrinking department stores. There's the thrill of not knowing what she'll find but also the knowledge that by saving money she's supporting a charity. Better still, by giving clothes a new life, she's doing her bit to cut back on Australia's appalling clothing waste.

Global data analysis group Statista measures our yearly clothing waste in kilotons. It says that in the 2021 financial year, we produced 300 kilotons of clothing waste, or 300,000 tonnes. About 200,000 tonnes were donated to charity or given to collection services, of which 107,000 tonnes was exported. Only 30 to 40,000 tonnes of clothing was resold in Australia and 100,000 tonnes went to landfill. Statista says it's unclear how much of the exported clothing waste ends up in landfill overseas.

Op shopping offers a more unpredictable shopping experience compared to conventional malls. Picture Shutterstock
Op shopping offers a more unpredictable shopping experience compared to conventional malls. Picture Shutterstock

The extent of fast fashion's global waste problem was highlighted last year when satellite imagery captured the vast clothes dump in Chile's Atacama Desert. The expanse of junked clothes is almost as large as the nearby town.

Inflation has no doubt forced many of us to hold onto our clothes for a little longer. And those of us working remotely or in hybrid arrangements are probably spending less on clothes because the dog and cat don't care if we're not in a collared shirt and jacket.

Last month at Australian Fashion Week, in a statement about sustainability, one designer made the bold step of sending out on the catwalk clothes from her earlier collections which had not yet sold. This was a first for an industry known for its obsession with the latest "must-haves" and scorn for anything remotely "five minutes ago". Absurdly, other designers sent out new clothes with a "pre-loved" look in an echo of the brand-new ripped jeans concept that just won't die.

The next visit to the op shop will involve taking a bag of clothes back, items she no longer wears but someone else will likely make use of. In a small way, she'll be contributing to a growing circular economy while he, with his aversion to naphthalene, waits outside.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Are you holding onto your clothes a bit longer now? Do you hunt for bargains in op shops? Do you mend clothes rather than throw them out - or is that a skill we've lost? Email us:

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- There will be no change to interest rates in June, after the Reserve Bank board confirmed it will hold the cash rate at 4.35 per cent. It marks the fifth consecutive hold and was widely expected by the market.

- A multibillion-dollar patch-and-repair job is heading to regional NSW as ongoing problems in growing communities are exacerbated by the continuing impact of natural disasters. Health services and housing have been stretched in many areas outside the cities amid a post-COVID population shift, while repeat flooding incidents have left regional roads in a state of disrepair.

- Australia could be punished with a slew of carbon taxes if it abandons emissions reductions targets for nuclear power, mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has warned. The opposition has spruiked a plan to scrap the government's 2030 target to reduce emissions by 43 per cent, and instead pin their sustainability hopes on nuclear power.

THEY SAID IT: "Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless." - Thomas Edison

YOU SAID IT: The torrent of bad news is turning people away from being informed about the world in which they live. It's understandable but it's also bad for democracy.

"This article really hit me where it hurts," writes Paul. "It made me realise how uncaring I am becoming as the incessant barrage of bad news inoculates me against feeling the empathy and outrage that such news should cause. Communications in our global village have become so instant, so immediate, so vast that it's impossible to take in. Safer to watch stupid stuff on social media. And feeling powerless? Essentially yes. It drives home the sad condition of humanity. I can give financially, and I can pray for people's suffering to be alleviated, but I must continually remind myself not to stop caring."

Bob writes: "In Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein calls compulsive reading of news 'Gossip Gone Wild' and says 'most neuroses and some psychoses can be traced to the unnecessary and unhealthy habit of daily wallowing in the troubles and sins of five billion strangers'. I tend to agree with him."

"I am an 80-year-old great grandmother who has kept up with the news, good but mostly bad, for many years," writes Carol. "I have never in my life watched and heard such violence as there is now. Our soldiers would be turning in their graves if they were living in this world of today. God help us all, especially the children of today."

"Not avoiding the news yet," writes Lorraine, who wishes for more good news to balance out the bad.

Joan writes: "Got it in one, John. I avoid the news as often as possible. Watch or listen once in a day then do something else. Negativity begets negativity, just as positivity begets positivity. We are bombarded day and night with bad news, without even having to look for it. It's in our face and ears constantly. No wonder we have a mental health problem. It's so bad now, one begins to think one should have a mental health problem and there's something wrong if one doesn't."

"For me news fatigue started in Dublin Airport as 9/11 unfolded around us at 2pm," writes Bill. "American tourists, on their phones back to home, just kept repeating 'What?' while watching CNN, repeatedly churning out the very limited images. In London Airport, around 12am, armed guards everywhere in lounges, and CNN still with the same vision. In a Singapore hotel 12 hours later, CNN just kept repeating. That constant repetition of very limited news vision tuned me to my current practice. I now ask myself is this news the latest? When did it really happen? Have I got the full story? Whose bias is being shown? And you are correct - it takes a lot to get me to look, and I am a current affairs junkie. If you get too involved, you won't get out of bed!"

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.