I was pretty intimidated by the idea of going to the Goodwill Outlets. For those who aren’t familiar, the Outlets are where all the things that don’t sell at the usual thrift stores end up. They’re filled with big bins, and nothing is organized — you just dig and dig through piles hoping to find a gem. Periodically, staff will take away the picked-over bins and bring out new ones. Shoppers can get pretty territorial, swarming like vultures over the new bins, vying to be the first to go through the piles. (I didn’t take any pictures while I was there, because I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. But you can go on YouTube and find lots of videos of people walking you through the experience.)
Thankfully, my friend Anulfo, a veteran shopper at the Boston Goodwill Outlet, offered to go with me for my first trip. And it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be, but I was still glad I had someone to show me the ropes.
I went to the outlet with high hopes that I’d find a few gems– but I really expected to have to sort through piles of relatively worthless stuff. Instead, the truly worn-out pieces are rarer than completely wearable clothing. It took a little bit of hunting, but I found beautiful items from Anthropologie, Boden, and Banana Republic that I couldn’t believe had been ignored at the usual thrift stores.
There were far more clothes than housewares, but even in the housewares bins I came away with some great things: lots of Christmas decorations, which I’m excited to repurpose come winter; some vintage souvenirs; and the aforementioned mug. It was made in Portugual, owned and discarded in Boston, and has now made its way to my desk in Philly.
The main thing that struck me about this experience was the vastness of how much we discard. All of these items were on their last chance to be claimed by a new owner, and yet the majority of them were still perfectly usable and useful. It was hard for me to walk away from items I didn’t need, out of the knowledge that they’d likely end up in a landfill. If I was flagging on my resolve to buy nothing new for a whole year, one look at the outlet’s bounty reminded me how unnecessary it is to buy anything brand new.
My advice for visiting the Goodwill Outlet:
- Come Prepared: Bring gloves if you’d rather not dig through items bare-handed, and bring a bottle of water. I like to wear a cross-body bag when thrifting so it’s easier to keep my hands free, and I was especially glad I did so at the outlet.
- Be Patient: Come ready to spend a good chunk of time at the outlet. Take your time hunting, because there are good things to be found, although it might not seem like much at first glance. Like with all thrifting, remember to have some imagination — think about what items will look like when cleaned, pressed, and styled.
- Be Persistent: Don’t be afraid to look back through bins you’ve already been through, because other people’s digging will bring new items to the surface. I thought I’d already seen everything in one bin when I found my best find of the day: a gorgeous 1970’s wedding dress that almost made me wish I hadn’t already gotten married.
- Come Opened Minded: I usually recommend having a bit of a shopping list when going thrift shopping, because it helps keep you focused, but at the outlet I found it better to just be open to finding anything. You never know what you might find in the bins, and that’s part of the fun!
- Be Friendly and Polite: Some people can get pretty aggressive, but it doesn’t seem worth it to me to fight for first dibs on all the bins. As Anulfo pointed out to me, not everyone is looking for the same items — case in point, the wedding dress that was like a holy grail to me had already been passed over by several people. And in any case, there’s plenty to go around.
If you’re looking for your local Goodwill Outlet, you can find the one nearest you on their website.
Have you ever been to one of the Goodwill Outlets? What advice would you give?