Digging Through Trash for Treasure

I have a confession to make.  For the past month, I’ve been buying my clothes by the pound. $1.49 a pound.

A place called Goodwill Outlet—a last-stop thrift store for clothes sold at regular Goodwill’s—makes this possible.

I’m not cheap. Really. I just have:

1)      An aversion to blowing money on things that don’t appreciate or involve a passport.

2)      Recycling on the brain.

3)      Rebel genes.

4)      A passion for adventure.

All of this makes it fairly unappealing to shop mid and upscale department stores on a regular basis, so when a fashionista friend hot-listed Goodwill Outlet as the place to go for clothing steals, I went to check it out.

On my first visit, it was clear that The Outlet was not–I repeat, NOT—a place for prissy people. That it might even, more or less, be a step up from dumpster diving.

Unlike the average, say, Macy’s, Nordstrom, or regular Goodwill, it was a one-story, half-a-block long warehouse with dozens of HUGE rolling bins filled with random stuff. None of it was sorted. Blouses, skirts, dresses, pants and coats were thrown into the same bin. Women’s clothes were mixed with men’s and kid’s AND sometimes linens and candles too. Some stuff was grimy or mysteriously wet and smelly.

Some shoppers showed up just shy of a Hazmat suit, wearing gloves and masks. I came as is, but before diving in needed a minute for the overwhelm to fade. Then I rolled up my sleeves and literally dug in, because that was what the situation required.

Following my friend’s advice, I dug, sorted and repeated for about two hours—getting a thorough gym-style upper-body-workout—and then I eyeballed each item up and down like a factory clothing inspector. In the end, only mint-condition, soul-stirring, totally-me pieces made the cut.

So, I giddily sauntered up to the register, loaded my finds onto a scale, and wah-lah, for about fifteen bucks, I updated my spring/summer wardrobe. A turquoise trench, two floral dresses, white wrap dress, a maxi striped skirt, white and colored jeans, vivid print tops, pencil skirts, a springy blazer and scarves.  I get compliments on everything.

On my second trip, with my friend along for fun and moral support, I plucked out two cashmere sweaters, camel coat and jeans for fall, and yoga pants. A heavier haul for fewer pieces, but still the damage was only about twelve bucks.

Thrifting isn’t new. It’s how my mother, an Olympian budget stretcher, kept five children clothed, although I turned my teenage nose up then. She was unpretentious, like most of the people I’ve met at The Outlet, from all walks of life. Random bargain-hunters. Regulars who resell on EBay or container-ship to Africa. Grannies tooling around for grandkid clothes and toys. Well-heeled penny-pinchers who pull up in Benz’s.  All of us elbow-to-elbow patiently digging through the trash for treasure, a little smug about gaming the system and dodging crazy retail mark ups.

Once you go Outlet, do you go back? I don’t know, but so far, with the exception of the rare, ratty pieces the dog could have drug in, the quality of the often-label clothing is surprisingly good, and sometimes, I can’t believe my fortune. I can only imagine that it goes this way: People impulse-buy brand new stuff they hardly wear, grow sick of the clutter, donate and repeat, and Outletters score stylish hand-me-downs at $1.49 a pound instead of shipping them off to already-crowded landfills.

I’m pre-Mackelmore, the rapper, but I still dig his viral YouTube hit Thrift Shop, filmed at The Outlet, and much like he sings in the song, when it comes to spicing up your wardrobe, twenty bucks will do.

To buried treasure,

N. Shami

9 thoughts on “Digging Through Trash for Treasure

  1. Hi. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I really enjoyed reading this post. My sister is a veteran bargain hunter and thrift shop devotee. I’ve learned a lot from her about getting the most for my money.

  2. I’m an avid thrifter and I love thrifting, another mans trash is another mans treasure I always say. Love the article and it was well written, I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  3. The rapper macklemore really put me onto thrifting and I’m so glad he did because I’ve saved a lot of money shopping my local goodwill and salvation army. I was that guy in the club who used to sped $75 or a T-Shirt that I would see on the same guy an hour later.

  4. First off I am a Thrifting princess and I love it! It’s amazing and being a college student it really does save me a lot of money. I can create my own fabulous one of a kind outfits for the fraction of the price that you’ll find in Macy’s!

  5. I’m not going to lie, Mackelmore put me onto thrifting and I’ve found some pretty sweet threads. I go to the goodwill that’s in the upscale side of town and I really score when I go there. I got a pair of T.Religion jeans for $5! Great way to save money!

  6. Loved the article, I absolutely love thrifting. It’s a great way for me and my girlfriend to bond with each other. Plus we always find some cool vintage top or something. Great way to pass a lazy sunday.

  7. Ive been thrifting since I was 12 years of age and I just turned 23 so I know what Im doing when it comes to thrifting. I try and go every chance I get. Last week I found a pair of shades that were so fetch for $5.99. It was a steal!

  8. I’m a thrift store king. Seriously, I’ve found some awesome finds there. Sometimes it’s to keep, sometimes to gift, sometimes to resell. For a buddies birthday a few years ago, I found this chrome bowling ball that opened to reveal 5 shot glasses, an ice bucket and a spot to store the liqour. It was the most original gift that he got that year. I paid $7 I think, we looked it up on ebay later and they were selling for $75+
    Though if it’s for flipping, I generally hit up yard sales. Buy something for $5, flip it on ebay or craigslist for $50.
    But very few things can beat that awesome thrift store find of a cool jacket, pants, shirt etc. Though I draw the line at shoes 🙂

    • Hats off to you King. That chrome bowling ball was a cool treasure. No thrift shoes for me either, but in the “old” department, I have found some very cool vintage dresses.

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