30 May 2024

Dee Glentworth: Wellington op-shop queen

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 30 May 2024

Dee Glentworth is carrying on her family tradition of sharing secondhand treasures at the Wellington op shop Free for All.

Over 700 shoppers showed up on the opening day of their new Petone premises last week, Glentworth says.

"There was a line from our front door right the way to the foreshore. I've never seen anything like it. And even when the shelves were low, people's spirits were high," she tells Kathryn Ryan.

Dee Glentworth and volunteers at Free for All

Dee Glentworth (R) and volunteers at Free for All Photo: Facebook

Free For All gladly accepts donations apart from "hard to move" items such as ring binders, VHS tapes that aren't children's content and "big-back" TVs. 

Glentworth grew up around bargain-hunters. Her dad's family ran secondhand stores and one uncle was such a keen op-shopper he tried to get one last rummage before going into a hospice on Boxing Day.

Before setting up Free For All, Glentworth worked as a relief teacher in low-decile schools where she put her own op-shopping skills to use sourcing items for classrooms and families.

Later, volunteering at the Hawke's Bay op shop Seekers, she scoured massive wool bales full of donations for things she could rescue and redistribute in the community.

"Oh my goodness, I had a Honda Odyssey and my husband would just groan when he knew I'd been down to the op shop. Because I'd come back and every inch of that car was stuffed full of stuff. Then I'd go and drop it off."

Glentworth first began the Free For All service from her garage. Later, at their Porirua shop, visitors paid a $7 entry fee to leave with whatever they wanted to take.

Last year, when the operation outgrew the premises and shut down, the community weren't having it, she says.

"People were saying 'When are you opening again? I can't wait to see you. This is my downtime. This is my sanity'."

In New Zealand, we have many charity shops whose primary goal is to raise money for a charity, Glentworth says, but op shops are independent.

Free For All is an old-school op shop that focuses on providing affordable items to the local community. 

"Free For All's philosophy is not based on 'haves' giving to 'have nots'. It's based on everyone working together on a common goal, which is to reduce landfill and improve the environment.

"We don't have givers and takers because that sets a power balance, right. With Free For All, it's 'sharers' and 'rehomers' because both people are equally as important. The model won't work if it's one-sided."

For Glentworth, bargain-hunting hasn't always been a healthy practice, though. She now realises the emptiness in chasing the "high" of scoring discounted items online, as she did in the past.

"I'd stay up before [children's clothing brand] Pumpkin Patch's sales and circle the items I wanted. It took a long time to figure out that actually, at the end of the day, those items that you pay all this money for, when it comes to the end of your life they're actually not worth anything.

"Free For All and the whole concept of it has really freed me from that shopping addiction that I held. It's really shown me that your value isn't in the items that you buy. It sounds so cliche but it's the memories you create, it's the people you spend time with. One of my favourite sayings is "A 55-inch TV isn't gonna stand by my grave and weep for me".

Glentworth, who lives with chronic pain, says leading a super successful op-shop operation gives her a sense of purpose.

"I could never hold a full-time job so I never felt valuable. [Free For All] has given me the ability to feel that I'm contributing to the world without focusing on my health being the issue."

She encourages other people who aren't able to work full-time to join the team and volunteer for a couple of hours a week.

"You don't have to have the best health. You don't have to be perfect. Just come and meet us and get stuck in."