10 Black-Belt Techniques for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet

Regular readers know that the Goodwill Outlet is one of my favorite places to shop. And I have new Outlet shopping strategies to share with you!

First, read 10 Tricks for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet, then read on for black-belt level thrifting tips.

Before You Go

1. Pressed for time? Skip the trip.

While my strategies can help you minimize the length of a trip, the Outlet is not an in-and-out kind of place. If you can’t spend an hour and half at the Outlet as a newbie, don’t bother going.

Once you’ve gotten used to the rhythm of the place, you can shave that time down. But don’t ever assume that the Outlet will be a quick trip.

2. Take more than one bag, but no purse.

I take a couple of reusable cloth bags and my wallet with me, but I lock my purse in the trunk of the car. Your finds can get heavy, and you don’t want to carry more than you have to.

As I mentioned in my first Outlet post, I avoid using a cart unless I absolutely have to. If you have too much for the bags you brought, you can always find a bag somewhere in the bins to use.

Thrifting Kit | 10 Black-Belt Techniques for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet
My thrifting kit contains nitrile gloves, a tape measure, a handkerchief, a small magnifying glass, and hand sanitizer in the Crazy Cat Lady bag my sister gave me.

3. A few extras can make your trip more productive.

Consider keeping these items in a small makeup case you can throw into one of your shopping bags:

  • gloves. Try nitrile garden gloves: relatively cheap, very sturdy, and comfortable to wear for a long time.
  • a tape measure. If you’re shopping for furniture or picture frames, keep a list of the dimensions you’re looking for.
  • handkerchief or tissues. And for the love of all that’s holy: if you have allergies, take an antihistamine.
  • a loupe or small magnifying glass, if you’re shopping for something from a particular maker.
  • a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

Take this little bag with you for garage sale-ing and flea-market shopping too.

3. Don’t forget your smartphone!

Your phone is useful for looking up information about your finds and for cruising Facebook while you wait for the new bins to come out. I also snapped photos to text to friends looking for a specific item.

4. Plan for the long haul.

I live near an Outlet, so I go often for just an hour or two. But lots of people who live farther away make going to the Outlet a full-day event. If you’re planning to do that, consider taking:

  • Water and snacks.
  • A small folding stool. You can’t sit on the furniture that’s for sale.
  • A full apron to protect clothes from dirt and snags as you lean over the bins. You can keep your phone, wallet, and handkerchief in the pockets.

While You’re There

5. Hone in.

I’m much more selective about what I bring home from the Outlet than I used to be. Right now, my hunting list looks like this:

  • Books in shades of blue-green.
  • Books of botanical illustrations.
  • Textiles in shades of purple and lavender for a crazy quilt (no knits).
  • Vintage fabric for pillow covers.
  • Down-filled pillows to recover.

Your mileage may vary. But unless you want to look like an episode of Hoarders, only bring home things you have an immediate use for, or are going to use in a project within the next year.

Blue-green bookscape | 10 Black-Belt Techniques for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet
I’m shopping for books with blue-green covers, and I refuse to pay more than $2 each. My Goodwill Outlet currently sells hardbacks for 75 cents.

6. If you’re interested in furniture or rugs, get there at opening.

Good rugs in particular seem to go pretty fast at the Outlet. If you’re shopping for these larger items, you’ll likely find the best selection first thing in the morning.

7. For a quicker trip, scan the bins, then go back.

Because my Outlet now rotates out about 1/3 of the bins every hour on the hour, I’ve changed my shopping strategy.

  • I arrive about 30 minutes before a bin changeover.
  • Because I don’t know which bins will be changed out next, I want to check all of them. So I do a walk-through, looking at each bin and snagging anything that catches my eye, but not spending a lot of time on any one.
  • After the walk-through, I go back and start sorting through bins for things that may have been buried.
  • When bins are changed out, I have usually covered all the old ones thoroughly. So I go through the new bins.
  • Then I return to the bins anything I’ve decided not to keep, check out, and leave.

This strategy keeps my average Goodwill outing to about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Cat and curtain | 10 Black-Belt Techniques for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet
Both the pillow Fiona is lounging on and a set of 5 of these groovy curtains came from the Outlet.

8. Stay alert!

While kids are supposed to stay with their parents, I’ve occasionally walked into the middle of a game of catch or had to maneuver around a kid playing with a new-found toy on the floor.

Kids have no sense of what’s going on around them. Pay attention so that one doesn’t run into you or clock you in the head with a whiffle bat pulled out of the bin.

Other things to watch out for: items that have fallen from bins, carts with treasures—fishing poles, drapery rods, etc.—sticking out of them, and broken Avon perfume bottles (the smell is worse than the broken glass).

9. Keep an eye on what others put back.

Many resellers shop the Outlet. You can usually tell who they are, as their carts have sort of a curated look.

If you see one of them sorting finds and returning things to the bins, it’s worth hanging around until they’re done and seeing what they’ve put back. Just don’t be creepy about it.

Craft room storage wall | 10 Black-Belt Techniques for Thrifting Goodwill Outlet
My crafting room is full of stuff from Goodwill Outlet, including these two oak bookcases, all of the suitcases and train cases in them, and about 80 percent of the craft supplies stored here. (Agnes the dressmaker’s dummy was a hand-me-down from a friend of a friend.)

10. Know your limit.

The Outlet can be overwhelming: noisy, crowded, and loud. If you find yourself getting cranky, getting a headache, or feeling your back and feet aching, it’s time to head for the checkout line.

While that sounds like common sense, it can be surprisingly difficult! Much like a gambler, a thrifter is waiting for the next score (which will surely happen in the next rotation). So don’t push past your limits. Leave while you’re still enjoying yourself.

After all, the next visit will be stocked with a whole new variety of treasures!

Fraudulent Farmgirl
I teach garden and homesteading skills—the stuff your great-grandmother knew how to do. But if there's a faster, cheaper, or easier way to do it, I'll find it!By day, I design earth-friendly gardens for Spotts Garden Service. By night, I don my Wellies to become the Fraudulent Farmgirl. On my small urban homestead, I've ripped out the front lawn to plant vegetables and fruit trees, turned the garage into a chicken coop and grown enough strawberries to feed half the neighborhood.

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