At first glance, the Goodwill Outlet looks like a cross between a recycling station and the piranha tank at feeding time. But if you’re up for a thrifting adventure, my tips can help you score great stuff there.
Before You Shop
1. Be prepared.
Goodwill Outlet is essentially a giant warehouse, where any merchandise under 20 pounds is thrown into big rolling bins. You will have to dig to find what you want. You will be surrounded by other people digging, grabbing, and talking loudly, all at the same time.
If you suffer from a fear of crowds, germs, or dirt, don’t even bother. You’ll have a panic attack the minute you walk in.
The Goodwill staff do their best to make the store safe, but you will run up against broken glass, boards with nails in them, and other hazards. Many people wear gloves when digging through the bins. And you really should have your tetanus shot up to date.
2. Take the right equipment.
Hang a couple of bags over your shoulder so you can stuff your finds directly into them. Only get a cart if you pick up something particularly heavy; carts limit your ability to get through the crowd.
Leave your kids at home, unless they’re young enough to be ok with sitting in a cart the whole time you shop. Goodwill Outlet is full of unsupervised kids running amuck in a fairly dangerous place; the staff will kick you out if they find you aren’t keeping your child next to you at all times.
3. Know the rotation times.
My Goodwill Outlet takes all the bins off the floor and replace them with fresh stuff on the odd hours: 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, etc. If I go about 40 minutes before a rotation, I can check out all the old bins before they rotate, then get a look at the new bins. My average Outlet trip is between 1.5 and 2 hours.
Do NOT go on the first Saturday of the month, unless you are a thrifting black belt. First Saturdays are the Blowout Sale, when they drop the prices even further and the usual craziness is upped by a factor of 10.
While You’re There
4. Get the lay of the land.
It only looks like chaos. The Outlet groups merchandise into five categories: clothing and textiles, shoes, books, furniture (20 pounds or heavier), and everything else.
In my Outlet, clothing and textiles are on one side of the floor, and the “everything” bins are on the other side of the floor. Books and furniture are on the outer walls. Big grey plastic boxes in the bins contain breakables, like china and glassware.
5. Have some idea of what you want, but be open.
The Outlet is especially great if you’re working on costumes, props, or crafts. You can score all kinds of pieces to remake. Knowing your style before you go will save your buying stuff you can’t actually use (which is tough to avoid when everything is SO cheap).
I don’t wear gloves at the Outlet, because I find it easiest to shop textiles by touch (good quality fabric is easier to feel than to spot). Also, always look at anything in a dry cleaner’s bag; you’ll often find vintage clothes.
6. If you want it, grab it. You can sort it later.
Long-time Outlet pros take armfuls of clothes, dump them into a cart, and then sort after they’ve hit all the bins. If you’re not sure you want something, pick it up before someone else does.
7. Hang back from the new bins.
Wait until the crowd thins a bit before making your way to the fresh merchandise, unless you fancy being the star in a scene from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
8. Know where others are likely to discard finds.
Shoppers discard what they don’t want back into the bins, often the ones near the check-out line. I always do a last minute sweep of likely dumping spots before I get in the line.
But never take something from another person’s cart, including carts that seem to be unsupervised along the walls. Not only is it bad form, it’s likely to result in an extremely unpleasant scene.
9. Separate your stuff.
As you get in line to check out, put back into the bins anything you don’t want. Pull out shoes, books, glassware, and anything else that’s priced separately and put them where you can get to them easily. Most merchandise is 89 cents a pound, but glassware is only 29 cents a pound. Shoes and books are added up individually.
Because I take bags with me, I usually fill the bags, then put the bags into a cart to be weighed. Once I pay, I can pick up my bags and walk out without having to use the packing station near the door.
10. Don’t forget your Goodwill Rewards Card.
Mine’s on my keychain, and I use it EVERY TIME. If you happen to spend more than $20 (I almost never do, since the merchandise is so inexpensive), the card will get you a discount.
So don’t fear the Goodwill Outlet. The more often you go, the more often you’ll score amazing finds. With these tips, you could come to love the thrill of the hunt as much as I do!