How to Successfully Shop Your Goodwill

Posted by on Feb 23, 2011

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When entering a secondhand store like Goodwill, the swell of sweaters, electronics and silverware bulging form every section could be overwhelming. Where to begin? The accessories section could be showcasing the perfect gold belt to match a nautical romper. But what if there’s a pair of vintage Oxfords hiding in the luggage section? With a trained eye and ample persistence, thrift store shopping can become as lucrative for your style as it is for your wallet. Follow these tips to successfully find Goodwill treasures without getting up to your elbows in oversized overcoats.

Research the Store

Every Goodwill store is different. Donations are made on location so the nearest neighborhood will affect what quality of goodies your Goodwill carries. If you are shopping for like-new items consider Goodwill branches located near department stores, especially those close to TJ Maxx and Marshall's. Those discount stores often send unsold clearance merchandise to Goodwill. This means you can find brand new items at thrift store prices. It is also a good rule of thumb to visit Goodwills located in ritzier towns. You won't believe what some people will give up! However, beware when buying seemingly brand new electronics from Goodwill. Most likely, they have been discarded due to malfunction. 

If vintage is your game, try to locate Goodwills in areas with an older population. The grandma that kept everything in her closet for fifty years is the one who has all of the dresses you're looking for.   
Use the free Goodwill store locator.

Return Often

If you are on a specific treasure hunt, don't get discouraged if you don’t find your holy grail immediately. The turnover at thrift stores like Goodwill is frequent. Find out what days your local store stocks a particular section and return early on that day. This ensures you grab a sneak peek of the section before the masses pick through it. If you have time to kill but don’t need anything in particular, stop by and browse the store anyway. You never know when you’ll find that exact thingamajig you didn’t know you needed.

Browse All Departments

Although sections are typically neat in the morning, items can get carried around and misplaced during the day. Browsing all departments insures you don’t miss a thing. You don't need to be adventurous enough to buy Jane Doe's forgotten undergarments, but glance over the intimates section anyway just in case there is a misplaced item. Be sure to browse out of season items. Clothes in season will be picked over while out-of-season clothes will offer good quality items that have just been overlooked.

Look Out for Unique Items

Goodwill offers a hodge podge of secondhand items that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. In fact, objects that have been discontinued by manufactures and fetch a big price online are often donated to Goodwill. A used Italian coffee pot can be purchased for under five dollars and works just as well a brand new one. Search for unique solutions such as an old popcorn popper as a coffee roaster.

Thrift Big

Hemming and minor alterations can be a small price to pay for the perfect pattern. Clothes that are too big are easier to re-size than items that are too small. The overwhelmingly droopy muumuu could become a slinky vintage cocktail dress. Ornate neckline structures as well as beautiful patterns will maintain the vintage appeal of a Goodwill item even after alterations.
Take the challenge and make a new dress out of thrift store finds via New Dress A Day.

Beware of Defects

It's important to thoroughly inspect any secondhand item before bringing it home. Don’t waste money on stained, smelly or faded clothes. Make a mental checklist of any defects in the item like missing buttons, stains or ripped seams and decide whether the item is worth fixing.
Check out these tips on repairing (or not repairing) vintage and used clothes from Dummies.

Turn into a Gift

Don't fret if you make it home with an item that is a good find but doesn't quite work for you. Vintage clothes and unique gadgets make a personal gift for a friend. Try to pick a friend or family member that fits the item perfectly and save it for a holiday or birthday. They'll appreciate the time it took to find their thrift store treasure.

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