Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Shopping at the Goodwill Outlet

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


My thrift-store shopping girlfriends, Holly, Natalie, and I hit The Goodwill Outlet last month. Goodwill, I believe, is the most common thrift store in the United States. In Austin, the Outlet is where everything not sold at the neighborhood stores goes to die (at least that’s how I think of it). It’s a massive, one room warehouse with another massive room for processing goods, and a separate area for the local offices of Goodwill – in total, a 124,200-square-foot (11,538 square meters) building.

There’s definitely a “last chance” quality to the store. Everything is put in waist-high, shallow big blue bins that are probably 4 foot by 5 foot. The merchandise is divided into clothes (probably half of the merchandise), books, and housewares. Everything is sold for $1.39 a pound. You literally push your cart onto a floor scale, and it gets weighed.

The blue bins are exchanged on a regular basis. I’m guessing that each bin is out for only about 3 hours before it is rolled away, and that’s it. Get it now, or it’s gone.

While some of the items are still in great condition, much of the merchandise has a slightly pick over quality to it; after all, it’s already been at a regular Goodwill store for a month or so, and it made me sad to watch the bins of housewares literally being dumped, sometimes accompanied with the sounds of glass breaking. There are clearly people there who are shopping professionally – one carts was filled with just VHS tapes, another filled with just books, plus plenty of folks who are either stocking up on clothing for selling at flea markets or in the used clothing markets in Mexico.

One disadvantage of the pricing system is that some of the housewares, which can be quite heavy, might now be more expensive than they were originally priced at the Goodwill. I considered buying a large set of Thomas the Train items, but because they’re wooden, they’re heavy, and the price was $40. That’s too much to risk on reselling.

Besides just being boggled by the amount of stuff, the strongest impression I left with was a desire to do more to place my no-longer-needed items into loving home, rather than sending them to the thrift store. I’m sure the person who donated the Thomas the Train set or the never used set of napkins never imagined they’d end up in the “last call” bin, and after 3 hours, they’re gone for good.

Today’s Declutter Item

Not long into my first year of decluttering I sold all of my kids ski gear on ebay, or at least I thought I did. I somehow managed to miss this jacket it must have been hiding in a different closet. Well it is sold now. Hopefully I also have a buyer for my husband’s and my ski gear too. Fingers crossed.

My Daughter's Ski Jacket

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Cindy, this is one thing that really bothers me about thrift stores and especially Goodwill. The landfills still get way too many things people don’t want even when we think we are doing a good thing by taking them to a thrift store. Goodwill used to have a repair division and they trained people to repair things and use that as a way to get people off the streets or off welfare and back into providing for themselves. They no longer do that. It is sad because I have a friend who used to be one of the trainers for people and I was amazed at all the great things they learned and the amount of people who were helped by this program. I think that is one of the reasons more items from Goodwill end up trashed rather than bought. It makes me just that much more aware of needing to be very choosy about what I buy so that it doesn’t end up in the landfill later if at all possible.

    • I pulled this information from a Goodwill FAQ:

      What happens to items that aren’t sold?
      Our goal is to try to generate money to fund Goodwill programs from every item that is donated. As for items that can’t be sold in our stores, we’ve found other creative uses for them. For example, some Goodwills recycle old clothing scraps into industrial wipes (cleaning cloths) for industrial buyers. Other items that are too damaged for retail sales are sold to salvage brokers. Roughly 99 percent of all donated goods are re-sold in some way, shape or form.

      What happens to the stuff that doesn’t sell?
      We sell left over items to salvage merchants who then ship the material to third-world countries. Goodwill provides a valuable recycling service to our community. We receive more than 189,000 donations every year diverting millions of pounds of goods away from our landfills.

      Do you repair items I donate?
      No. Nowadays, the cost of repairing items greatly exceeds the price we charge in our stores. In addition, we focus our training programs on vocations that meet current employer demands.

      • In Austin, Goodwill runs a large and busy computer recycling center. I imagine that there is training there testing, repairing, and dissasembling computers, printers, etc. Of course, working with computers is more of an in-demand job than, say, fixing a toaster. My grandfather used to have a little shed / repair shop where he fixed small appliances in his community. That’s mostly a dead art, I fear.

      • Wow! This is great to know. That’s what I get for not going online and checking. I’ll go back to taking things to Goodwill.

      • We buy bags of industrial rags made up of t-shirts that haven’t sold from Salvation Army where I work. It would be slightly cheaper to buy these industrial paper clothes in a natty dispencer, but we figure we’re doing our bit with getting that last bit of use out something and it supports a hardworking charity.

        I can vouch though that the rags we see are clean, but you can see why they have come to the end of their useful life, ie stained, torn etc. Perfectly fine for our work, but not what one would want to wear.

        • That’s great Moni. What business are you in that you have a need for large amounts of rags?

          • I work in a signwriters shop but I know mechanics, car painters and panelbeaters use them too. The Sallies have a truck that goes around once a week delivering them – and you can opt for white or mixed – and it always looks pretty full. Anyone who needs to clean down surfaces that can be pretty grimy or dusty.

  2. Cindy, it’s so interesting to hear what happens to the items we donate to Goodwill. Thank you. I’ve also found that some of our local charity shops take much better care with their donations than others. I used to donate to our local Salvation Army, but the collection area is outside, and I once saw electronics and other donated items sitting out in the rain. Our local Discovery Shop (run by the American Cancer Society) is very neat and organized. The volunteers there clean items and display them nicely. Items they can’t use are donated to a local mission. So it’s always a good idea to do a little bit of research into the charities we donate to.

  3. This is so interesting.

    I suppose the per-pound pricing is more efficient for Goodwill, but as you say, it skews the valuation on some items.

  4. Anita, You make a good point. We have an ARC (Austin Retardation Center) thrift store here that is heavily staffed by parent volunteers. Everything there is tidy and neatly displayed. I don’t know what they do with their leftovers, but they make everything look so attractive that they probably have fewer leftovers than some places.

  5. How depressing! I believe that the key to successful second hand stores is to be organized and set like regular stores. We need more people to shop there, or else…. well, it ends up in the trash like you described so vividly. I recently found a new second hand store nearby my home called Plato’s closet: they buy/sell teenager brand name clothes. It was full of girls and young ladies, chatting excitingly and there was a loooong waiting list to use the 6 fitting rooms. There is a Goodwill store in my town. As soon as you pass the doors, the smell makes you want to run away. I force myself to go there when I cannot find what I am looking for elsewhere but it is not a pleasant experience. Things are overpriced too, compared to other thrift stores. That store is always empty, Goodwill would really need to rethink their business.

    • That’s one thing I can’t stand about thrift shops–the smell.
      I’ve never been in one yet that didn’t have that “thrift shop aroma” about it, even the little thrift shop run by one of the churches in our town.

      Wouldn’t you think the store would spray some Febreeze, or do *something* to make the smell a little more inviting in there?

      • I think it’s an ‘effort’ thing. I think the best way would be to launder everything well, but that’s a lot of time and labour. I’m just not sure some Febreeze would solve it (but if it did, horaah!)

        • I think, it’s kind of a vivious circle: If the thrift store is already smelly, people who drop their stuff there, don’t bother sorting through it before bringing it there.
          The one I’m bringing my things to has the policy that they take only clean (and in case of clothes ironed) things. They also check the bags you drop there (at least with a glance) and sometimes also send you home with some of your items again, if they consider them unsellable.
          The shelves there look very much like in an ordninary shop, there’s never anything crammed and often some kind of nice decoration.
          I think most people who drop their things there do check them first, so that there is no mere trash. You can be sure, I do…

          • None of the shop I got to smell, but my closet Goodwill is extremely, extremely crowded with merchandise. I rarely go there because they could easily double their space and not be empty. My favorite store is called Savers, and it’s huge and quite well organized. Savers is a professional thrift store that pares with different charities, depending on where the store is located. They donate a per pound percentage to the charity. At our store, the charity is Easter Seals.

          • Cindy, when I said the Goodwill store was empty, I meant empty of people. It is full of stuff. People donate but don’t buy there. The other thrift stores are full, of people and new stuff. They manage to sell, cheap and fast. Unfortunately, in my town, Goodwill does not.

  6. Reading the comments, I think you hit the point. The thrift store I’m usually taking my things to, is very neat.
    I’m often stopping by there and I do get the impression that they don’t throw away much.

  7. Here in NZ we have of course The Red Cross, The Salvation Army and the good old Op Shop (Opportunity Shop) for accepting donated goods. The Red Cross and Sallies have websites which explain what they do and don’t accept and what they can pick up and where their stores are located for drop offs. Op Shops are being rarer as 2nd hand good have become big business.

    We also have SaveMart which are run like 2nd hand supermarkets. They also have websites to track down your local stop. They are ‘stocked’ from what we call the Cancer Fundraising Recycling Bins. Around the suburbs, (our local one is in the carpark of the shopping plaza) and they are these big metal bins with a chute-drawer that you dump stuff in and close it. The charity sells it by the kilo to SaveMart who launder it and sell it. So whatever you can fit in the chute they accept. So you see bags of toys going in, quilts, duvets, linen, bags of clothes, bags you name it.
    They also advertise on the side how much they raised for cancer research last year via this method.

    So for a declutterer this is a quick method for moving stuff on and knowing its going to support a good cause.

  8. Some years ago my best friend and I plus respective husbands were invited to a country ball, we decided to do a $10 challenge. We had to buy our complete outfits for under $10. We both did it with a bit of loose change, from shopping at Save Mart. I’m always surprised at the number of really good quality clothes that are there and ball gowns and party frocks.

    • Holly, Natalie, and I always have fun trying to find the most hideous outfit – kind of the opposite of your challenge. By hideous, though, we don’t mean torn or dirty, just fashion awful – like a one shouldered shirt we found that looked exactly like a khaki mini skirt but was meant to be worn up top. It took us a while to even figure out how you’d wear it!

  9. Oh I am on a roll today – must get on with some work after this! My kid’s High School – the annual cross country has turned into a bit of a dress up event – it is spectacular to observe – everyone dresses up and all the 2nd hand stores do a great trade that week, locals turn to watch. You see at least half a dozen brides dashing across the field (I’d like to add that they buy something so out of fashion that no one would buy it for their wedding, its more Bride of Frankenstein than Bride of the Year), we had lots of Avatars last year, boys running along with tutu skirts, Sari’s, home made super hero outfits, whatever they can cobble together really. My son ran as a bush/scrub tree. There were a couple of nurses, some Barbies, lots of Rockstars, Aerobics outfits circa 1970’s, chain-gang prison outfits with ball and chains. The student who turns up in PE gear is the oddity. The 2nd hand shops love it because they move all the really weird stuff and garishly unfashionable stuff that week. The whole event is magnificent in its awfulness but the kids have a great time, and those outfits get one last moment of glory.

    • That sounds SO fun!

      • My daughter has reminded me that one senior class came as the Rocky Horror show cast, and the senior Tech Soft Materials class (what we would have called “sewing” in our day) did Wearable Art which is crazy, barely able to walk in let alone run in stuff. The best part is that they have to run out of the school grounds and about half a kilometre to the beach, along the beach, up a dune and then back to school, over the stile and around the sports fields. Imagine all these ensembles racing down your street, tumbling back down the dunes (think brides and hoopskirts) and dozens of them trying to get over the stile at the same time.
        I don’t know who started the idea, but it is awesome. I wonder if the ones who go forward to do the Inter-City and Regional events find it a let down when they have to wear PE gear.

  10. I don’t like to go to thrift stores because it overwhelms me to see all the stuff everywhere and I don’t like looking through stuff carefully. I find that I do better at garage sales. Their prices are better and you are out in the open air. You do have to drive from place to place, but it is worth the trade for me.

    • I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the volume, but it’s an emotional reaction to the plenty and the waste in our lives, rather than a feeling of “I can’t look through all this stuff.” I used to enjoy garage sales, but really don’t any more, for two reasons, I think. One is that I mostly by clothes second hand, and I think garage sales are usually poor pickings for clothes (except for babies and preschoolers) and also, where I live, there are so many thrift stores and consignment stores (furniture and clothes) and Craigslist does such a brisk business, that the quality and quantity of garage sales has really decreased.

      • Spendwisemom, I feel something similar. I used to love sorting through “stuff” but now that I’m not buying much of anything, it’s just a chore and less enjoyable than most forms of housework!

  11. While I have donated countless items over the years to Goodwill, etc….I tend to drop off said items then quickly hightail it outta there. I’ve been inside a Goodwill store one time & it smelled a bit stale & I felt a bit out of place. My big fear is that I would buy something at a thrift store only to bring it home & then later find out I also inadvertantly brought home bedbugs, pantry or closest moths or worse.

    • I admit to having a bit of a bed bug phobia, but I buy nearly all my clothes and the kids’ clothes at thrift stores. They go straight into the laundry on cold and then are dried on hot. I always wash my laundry on cold, and the pest websites say that the hot of the washer isn’t hot enough to kill pests, but the hot of the drier is. We’ve never had a bit of trouble.

  12. Wow, yeah, that would definitely make me pause as well. I’ve sold some items as I declutter, but I’ve mostly been donating to my local Goodwill and I do hope most of the items I’ve donated sell but I know the chances are slim that all of it has sold. It’s disturbing that so much is trashed in the end, but can we really place blame on the thrift stores? Sure, lower prices would give items a better chance of finding new homes. When I’ve looked for specific items, I’ve often seen much higher prices in thrift stores than I’d pay for the same item brand new. But in the end, if we, as a whole, weren’t shopping so much and buying so much we neither need nor use, the thrift stores wouldn’t be so overloaded with stuff that doesn’t have time to sell before finding its way to the landfills. I’m doing my best not to add to this problem any more than I already have by only shopping when I absolutely need something… which means I rarely shop at all anymore. On the rare occasion I do think I need something other than groceries, I try to figure out a way around it or try to borrow the item first. If that’s not an option, I look on craigslist and in thrift stores before going for something new.

  13. Hi Cindy and 365’ers,

    This is an excellent post and has obviously struck a chord with all. Here in Perth City we have an excellent Salvation Army Boutique (yes I meant Boutique) this place is awesome and I myself have bought some really great gear from this ‘Boutique’ I had to laugh at the lady who was running it the day I happened by, I heard her telling a customer that “just because you’re on the bones of your butt doesn’t mean you have to make do with garbage!” Here here well said I thought. Our ‘Op Shops’ as such do end up being the ‘Hellholes’ some of you have described, but after being in a few on a volunteer basis, it was an eyeopener. Many of the stores face the problems above but I feel it comes down to the individual that ‘donates’ and ‘shops’.

    The one I frequent never has any of my donated goodies on the shelf long! I had excess of everything and that was just my stuff. My stuff very quickly got purchased between many people so it was obviously needed and wanted. I’m bashing myself on one hand for being so cluttered but patting myself on the back for being able to see the light and help others who may be less fortunate. I just keep remembering that if I’m donating something I really look at it and make sure that it is in good nick and that it will be sold and won’t be added to a junk pile to be dumped in landfill.

    If any of you happen to be in Perth, (Perth Western Australia, that is not Tasmania or Scotland, although they may have nice stores too!) check out the ‘Boutique’ the clothes and goods are very high end and the shop is pristine and the ladies and gentlemen that run it are fabulous. I do believe they make a lot of money there for their various endeavours and I have no qualms about handing over $5.00 for a $150.00 pr of jeans! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Oh and I’ve never itched when I was in this shop (I daresay bedbugs, fleas whatever wouldn’t have the audacity to cross the threshold) hahaha 🙂 🙂 🙂

  14. I’ve often thought Goodwill would sell more items if they weren’t so greedy about their pricing. Most Goodwills I walk into lately are full of items that are priced near or above (!) retail. These items aren’t NIB, either; they are used, sometimes missing pieces, are cobbled together from multiple sets…it’s ridiculous. I used to buy clothes from Goodwill but not any more. Here, they want $6 for a women’s shirt. I don’t pay $6 for decent quality clothes that are brand new. =/ I’m all for re-using and buying used and helping the planet but I do have a line. Goodwill could price most things at $0.50 and turn a bigger profit, really.

  15. I find that Goodwills, and probably many other thrift stores, are very varied. The merchandise that’s donated at individual stores typically stays at the store. Poorer neighborhood, poorer quality. Richer neighborhood, higher quality. The GW near my daughters’ school is a bonanza of fabulous goods. Let me tell you, that Thomas the Train set would have never gone unpurchased at that store!

    • At the thrift store where I work we process most of the items that are donated to us in person except clothes. The clothes go to the warehouse to be processed. This would confirm what you are saying. Last week though we were boxing up stuff to send to other stores who were short of merchandise. We are such a big centrally located store right next to the good secondhand stores in the area so we do get lots of donations.

  16. I live in Round Rock and frequent this Goodwill Outlet in Austin regularly. I was reading your comment about the heavy train set. If an item is more than 7 pounds they will sell it to you for a flat rate rather than by the pound.