Ten rules for shopping at Goodwill

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m addicted to Goodwill.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m addicted to Goodwill.  It’s my $10 a week habit, and I. Just. Can’t. Stop.

But really, why should I stop, when I keep finding terrific bargains like eight handblown wineglasses for $5?  Or handthrown pottery pots for less than a buck each, a beautiful porcelain owl for a dollar (ok, yes it was not very attractive when I bought it, but after I spraypainted it white, it was indeed beautiful).  We also own a few Goodwill lamps that I purchased for $2.50 each, and then refurbished for next to nothing.  Two of them are sitting in the living room of our farmhouse…unfortunately, Goodwill lamps rarely come with lamp shades, and when they do they are usually so awful you have to throw them into the trash.  The Goodwill lamps at our farmhouse are topped with shades that I had to buy from a regular store and pay $17 each for, bringing the cost of each lamp up to slightly less than $20…but I still think $20 for a lamp is really not bad at all; especially considering that I’ve paid over $100 for lamps in the past buying them from expensive furniture stores in my community (I must have been crazy to pay that much).

Not everything at Goodwill is a bargain though, and not everything sold there is something you’d actually want to have in your own home.  Some of the stuff there is cheesy-looking stinky junk and it is completely awful.  My husband used to accuse me of bringing home what he referred to as “junk store crap,” until one day I brought home a $3.99 painting that turned out to be an original Aubrey Ramus that was valued over $500.  Since then, he pretty much keeps quiet about my weekly Goodwill purchases.

Here are my ten rules for shopping at my local Goodwill:

  1. Don’t buy shoes at Goodwill (after a friend of mine picked up a horrible grody toenail virus from merely trying on a pair of secondhand shoes, I became even more resolved to avoid thrifted footware).  I’m sure most of the shoes at Goodwill are virus-free, but I’m still staying away.
  2. When you enter the store, make a beeline for the back of the store, where they keep the furniture and other big items.  If you see a piece of furniture you like, immediately remove its tag and go to the cash register to buy it.  My reasoning is that if the item is so terrific that you want it, then someone else will too, so buy it right away.
  3. If you see it and you want it, then buy it that very same day.  Don’t go home and think about it.  I’m still lamenting the loss of six clean-lined antique chairs priced at $10 each that I thought would be perfect in a friend’s dining room.  By the time she got back to me with a “yes, buy them now,” email note, the chairs were gone.  I should have just purchased them, and taken my chances.
  4. Look beyond the horrible finish on the actual piece.  Sandpaper and spraypaint can do much to restore an item to usable condition.  However, if you’re not absolutely sure you’re willing to put in a little work to make something usable, then don’t buy it.  As optimistic as an item’s potential is, it’s still just a piece of crap, if you just leave it in your garage and never do anything with it.
  5. Look in the store’s “framed art” section for the occasional rare and beautiful painting that has been overlooked by bargain-hunters.  This is also a good place to find decent frames that you can easily sand and spraypaint.  Dave and I have several chalkboards that are made from repurposed Goodwill paintings.
  6. I never bargain for a price reduction at Goodwill.   Goodwill is a non-profit that does amazing things to help people, and although I love a good bargain, I love the organization’s mission even more.  So, I just pay what they’re asking, and move on.
  7. Avoid the rack and display cases at the front of the store where they place what the store employees view as the “best” items.  My experience is that this stuff is usually just junk.
  8. Don’t avoid looking through the clothes.  I recently discovered a pair of Adrienne Vittadini slacks with the original sales tag still attached.  The store in my community always has many beautiful silk saris that I think would be very beautiful repurposed into tableclothes or window treatments.  My store also has a 1950’s vintage wool coat with a mink collar that would be beautiful with the right holiday outfit.
  9. Any items of clothing should be tried on before purchase.  There’s a reason clothing ended up at the Goodwill store…it may just be that the item wasn’t needed by its former owner.  Or, a hem was sewn wrong, buttons are missing, or the lining is split.  Unless it’s something really special and you absolutely know you’ll repair it, don’t bother buying clothing if it needs repairing…I mean, honestly now, do you really think that you’re going to sew a missing button onto that Goodwill jacket, especially when you have a big basket of your own mending at home that has been sitting in the closet for over a year?
  10. Buy quality, and leave the crap behind.  This means looking for Waterford crystal, checking lamps to see if they are Stiffel (yes, a friend of mine purchased two beautiful Stiffel lamps for her living room at Goodwill for only $4 each), checking labels on clothing (focus in on designer clothing, and leave behind the cheaply-made stuff from Walmart…if you’re really keen on Walmart clothing, then go to Walmart, where it probably costs less than the same items at Goodwill).  Likewise, forget about cheap particle board furniture and go for the solid wood (why yes, I did once buy a particle-board credenza at Goodwill for $50, but in my defense, it was mid-century, valued at $500, and covered in beautiful teak veneer, and it’s now living a life of luxury in my office).

Many people have told me that their Goodwill “doesn’t have anything good.”  Every Goodwill has nice stuff, just not all the time.  Although I go there once a week, I don’t always find a bargain.  Weeks might go by, and I won’t see anything that is worthwhile.  Then, one day, I’ll stop in for my weekly 10-minute surfing through the store, and there I’ll find a pair of antique pewter candlesticks for $3, or a Louis Vuitton handbag for $5 (no, I didn’t buy that handbag, but I wish I had).

For more Goodwill shopping advice, check out Rashon Carraway’s blog, Mr. Goodwill Hunting.  I’m always amazed at the bargains that man finds.


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