If December is all about giving and receiving, the guilty pleasure of excess and the warmth of celebration, January is the polar opposite, when we all decide to be our most angelic and virtuous selves as the real winter cold stabs us to the bones.
The diet’s on, the wine’s been relegated to the cupboard to sulk for a month, and the good intentions are spilling free. Now is the perfect time to sort through those unwanted Christmas presents and help someone else for a change.
Happily my family know me so well that unwanted offerings just aren’t something I have to deal with, but for those who have a reindeer jumper or soap on a rope too many, clearing out the present cupboard is a fine idea this week, now that the Christmas dust has well and truly settled.
Back in dear old Blighty, this task is made all the easier by the rainbow parade of charity shops to be found on every high street, meaning you can dispense of the outcasts almost guilt-free. From when I was a student and beyond, I loved hunting for one-off bargains on a budget, something I looked forward to with relish anticipating my move to Paris.
But Paris, for once, did disappoint. I pictured myself snapping up vintage Agnes B for a mere pittance, profiting from the French snobbery that likes to buy new. But it’s partly down to this snobbery that to my dismay, there were just no charity shops to be found.
In fact, it took me three desolate, bargain-void years for me to find the city’s principal philanthropic retail contribution (those with long memories might remember my Guerrisol post from last year, but that’s a purely commercial endeavour, albeit providing the same rummaging fun).
Its name is Emmaüs, and with 15 or so outlets of varying size and quality, there are hours of great value, second-hand fun to be had. Just like in the homeland, you could dress yourself and furnish your home and more in a single visit (to the bigger ones at least), with clothes and bric-a-brac up to the rafters and a good cause winking at you behind it.
Once you’ve muscled that woman out of the way to win that pair of red leather boots for a tenner, you can reflect on what your purchase means, other than a gold star in the vintage style stakes. Your money will be going to help the homeless and those in poverty, a philosophy that dates from 1949 when the charity was set up by Priest Abbé Pierre to do just that.
As well as providing financial aid, Emmaüs also provides employment and housing, and some of those in need are offered work helping to restore and prepare donations for sale. And this is not just in Paris either; there are hundreds of locations throughout France, and the philanthropy has exploded on an international level. By the early 90s, the do-gooding had spread to over 40 countries, kicking off in the UK in 1992.
You might share the (thankfully fading) Parisian instinct that cast-offs aren’t worth the energy to find them, let alone a few euros, but in my many visits hunting for used treasure, I’ve seen many a hipster and fashionable young thing searching for that unique piece to offset their designer wardrobe core.
Unlike many other of the city’s second hand shops, the prices aren’t jacked up amongst cries of ‘vintage’, meaning you’ll always get a cracking deal. If you need further persuading, check out my spoils. My shopping list of awesome finds include branded walking boots for seven euros, Mango jeans for five, and the jewel in the crown (you can’t help to be impressed with this one) a big, orange Le Creuset crockpot for a paltry 2 euros (yes, I had to clarify with the shop assistant at least three times). It needed a good scrub, but hey, don’t we all?
So rather than ignoring your unwanted Christmas presents at the bottom of the wardrobe hoping they’ll take themselves to back from whence they came (they won’t), donate them to a good cause and feel warm and tingly inside instead. To find out where you can dig for glory (buy) or become a saint (donate), check out the website here. Just make sure you take your rejected goods to a different area from where your relatives live, or you’ll be getting coal in your stocking next year.