Yesterday at Goodwill I found a purple velour skirt-and-shirt set for Elizabeth. I’m never sure what she’ll end up liking/disliking, but she went NUTS for it. It was extremely satisfying: I laundered it yesterday evening and she put it on first thing this morning and was dancing around with happiness. It cost $3.59, unless that was one of the ones that rang up as half-price, in which case it was more like $1.79.
I also bought a pair of flannel-lined Gap cargo pants for William. They cost $1.79, which was weird because right next to them was a boring logo Gap t-shirt in so-so condition marked up to $3.99 (everything in the kids’ section is $1.99 unless otherwise marked) (and then I get another 20 cents off because I have the $10/year Goodwill card that gets you 10% off). The pricing is a little inconsistent.
AND I found Edward a great Gap sweater, dark green with pine trees so it’s nice for Christmas but also nice for the rest of winter, $1.79. AND some other things, but I forget what. Which brings me to this:
I was at Goodwill the other day and felt very lost. I thought of you and wanted a Swistle tutorial of how to shop at goodwill, including the the things you look at when you pick out clothes, how you know the clothes are good finds and how to pick the clothes you know your children will like. I know you have done posts in the past but I felt so very lost.
So it was just a thought if you felt like it.
Ah! I am new to this as well: our Goodwill opened only this past February. (Though we used to have one near us back when we were first married.) And it can definitely be overwhelming. It can also be UNDERwhelming: some days I go and I find NOTHING. Or I find lots of good stuff, but it’s stuff we don’t need. Or I find lots of good stuff, but it’s all been inexplicably marked way above usual prices. Or I find the entire atmosphere of the store depressing and I leave feeling sad.
Are you a list person? I find it very helpful to have a little list of things I’m looking for. For example, the first time I went to the new Goodwill, William needed sweaters: he was wearing the same three sweaters over and over and ignoring all his other shirts. Goodwill had ONE MILLION men’s sweaters, $4.99 each but many marked half price: each day a certain color of tag is half off. Many of them were the same Gap and Old Navy sweaters I’d been upset to see for $20-30 online, so I walked out that day with many, many sweaters.
Or, like, right now, Elizabeth wants knit jeggings. They have to be stretchy, they can’t be baggy. She’s quite particular. They have some jeggings like that at Target for $12.99, but while I wait for those to go on clearance I’m keeping an eye out at Goodwill to see if I can find some for $1.79 instead.
It happens pretty often that I go to Goodwill and I don’t find anything I’m looking for but I do find something else I want. This is the category a lot of people try to avoid (it’s a good way to end up with Too Much Stuff), but it’s how I ended up with a happy purple-velour daughter this morning. Or, like, Edward and Henry don’t really need any more shirts per se, but when I found a Mini Boden shirt in Edward’s size for $1.79 and a Lands’ End rainbow tie-dye hoodie in Henry’s size for $.89 ($1.99 but it was the tag color of the day plus I got the additional 10% off), I went right ahead and bought them and felt happy about it.
Goodwill was especially great when I was trying to get Elizabeth set up for sleep-away camp. I didn’t want to send clothes I minded if she lost/ruined. So I looked through the racks and specifically kept an eye out for the half-price tag color, and I got her a bunch of shorts and pants and shirts and a couple of sweatshirts, all in the $.89-$1.79 range.
I tend to look for BRANDS. If I like something I’ll buy it even if I don’t recognize the brand—but I already know I like Old Navy and The Children’s Place and Gap and Lands’ End and L.L. Bean, and I’m basically familiar with their prices, so I’m more likely to buy those. Periodically I find brands like Hanna Andersson or Mini Boden, and that’s always a thrill.
I check for rips and stains. I TRY to remember to test zippers and snaps and make sure all the buttons are there, but this is my biggest area of forgetfulness. Still, I’ve only lost one or two things that way.
Here is my usual path through the store, with what I’m looking for right now or have looked for recently:
1. Men’s section ($4.99 unless otherwise marked or tag-color-of-the-day). Sweaters for William (EXCELLENT success: I think a lot of guys get sweaters as gifts and never wear them, so I get new-looking Gap sweaters for $2.49 minus another 10%). Shorts and pants for Rob (medium success; a good way to see what 31×32 is like in a variety of brands). Barn jacket for Paul (no success yet). Sleeping pants for Rob (good success: $4.99 is too expensive considering after-Christmas clearances, but I’ve found several nice-condition, nice-brand pairs for $2.49). Hooded sweatshirts for Rob (no success yet). This is also where I found Rob a pair of great dress pants for $4.99 when he needed them for graduation, and I found Henry a tie for $.99 when he wanted one for a school event. T-shirts are $2.99, which is about what I pay for them on clearance at Target, but sometimes they have fun ones, or better brands than Target’s.
2. Kids’ section ($1.99 unless otherwise marked or tag-color-of-the-day). I basically go through the entire section from size 6 (Henry’s size) up. Right now I’m particularly looking for pants for Elizabeth, but the three little kids can usually stand to have some new clothes: the boys particularly are the third and fourth to wear the handmedowns, and sometimes styles have changed, and sometimes I’m just sick of some of the items. And Elizabeth would be happiest if she had every single clothing item in every single color and pattern, so this is a good way to increase her wardrobe. I’m especially happy when I find an item I’d like to own but am unsure if we’ll really USE—a raincoat for sleep-away camp, for example, or a nightgown when Elizabeth has been wanting a nightgown but I don’t think she’s going to like it, or see previous paragraph about the tie Henry wanted.
3. Dishes. This is where I found the Swistle-blue mugs (“Does this MUG coordinate with my WEB SITE?”). I don’t usually buy things in this section, but I always like to look.
4. Stationery/knickknacks/misc. I don’t usually find anything, but I like to look. The kids sometimes find something to spend their allowance on: a little animal figurine, a shaped candle.
Sections I don’t usually look in:
1. Books. Most of them are in the $2.99 range, tons of close-outs/remainders. More importantly, the books are in a huge unorganized jumble. I understand why it isn’t efficient to spend the time organizing them, but it does mean I don’t feel like looking at them.
2. Shoes. They don’t appeal to me, and I usually find them at 50-70% off at Target.
3. Toys. Huge messy aisle, and always crowded, and everything looks broken and lost-piecey. But the kids look here while I’m looking at clothes, and sometimes they find something and I buy it. We also had great luck with Beanie Babies: $.99 each, with tags.
4. Linens. They don’t appeal to me, and it’s too hard to figure out sizes.
I often glance in the women’s clothes, but the plus-size section is small and depressing (elastic waists! decorative sweatshirts!) so sometimes I just skip it.
I think Goodwill works especially well if you:
1. Enjoy that kind of shopping: it can take a lot of browsing to find good stuff, and if the browsing is unpleasant I doubt it works out as a money-saving strategy. Also, if the LOOKING isn’t also fun, then it seems like it would be way too discouraging to keep going back after those days where you find one single thing, or nothing at all.
2. Are relatively unpicky—or are picky in a way that meshes well with Goodwill. The Lands’ End hoodie had a little rip near the hood, and sometimes something has a small stain. I don’t really care about that: most of the kids’ clothes are handmedowns and ALREADY have little rips and stains. I also try to keep in mind how much worse clothes look when they’re in a big used jumble instead of prettily arranged on store racks, and how much better they look once I get them home.
3. Have relatively unpicky kids, and/or are good at keep straight what they will/won’t wear. Edward will wear anything. Rob won’t wear button-downs. William loves sweaters. Etc.
4. Don’t mind things occasionally NOT working out. If I get something home and think, “Oh, crap, I forgot to check the zipper—and it’s broken,” I’m disappointed, but I’m fine with tossing it out and losing the $1.79: I think of it as a donation to Goodwill, or as a Careless Tax on myself. Or sometimes, just as with things I buy at Target or Old Navy, the child doesn’t like the item and I end up donating it back to Goodwill.
5. Are willing (and have the space) to store things that are too big. It’s pretty common for me to find a great sweater in the size above William’s size, or a dress two sizes too big for Elizabeth. Sometimes I’ll pass it by, but sometimes it’s good enough to be worth the trouble of putting it aside for later.
6. Are in a lower income bracket than the average household in your Goodwill’s area. If you mostly buy Target clearance but your neighbors are donating Hanna Andersson and L.L. Bean and not shopping at Goodwill, you’re going to be very pleased with the goods/prices. If instead your whole community is shopping clearance sections and Goodwill, you might find nothing but pilly scraps.
I do like my Goodwill card, but it’s not a good deal for everyone: you have to buy $100 worth of stuff at Goodwill in a year just to BREAK EVEN on the $10 annual cost of the card.
Goodwill can be overwhelming at first even if you’re going to love it in the long run: it takes awhile to figure out the pricing system, and where things are. If you ARE going to love it, soon you’ll start feeling happy to go dig in your usual treasure-map places, and you’ll start bringing things home and feeling happy about your finds every time you see them come through the laundry.