Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thrift Stores. Do you shop where you drop?

I recently conducted an end of summer clean out and gathered clothes that no longer fit my youngest daughter, a bicycle she outgrew, and a few of those hideous folding camping chairs that take up too much valuable packing space; especially when it’s better to find a log and settle it next to the campfire. Gone are the days when I had girlfriends to pass on Little Pie’s clothes. There was a set of twins that received volumes of Pie’s clothes until the twins outgrew Little Pie.

Off to the thrift store I go carting my bags of truly gently used clothing. Really nice stuff. I donate because, once again, in the words of my family’s matriarch, “Somone’s gotta do it!” [Psst! Those words really come in handy.] I figure if I take from the system, I should give back to maintain the system’s health.

Confession number one: I do have clothes, nice ones, that I have not worn in at least two years. My latest drop included some of these clothes. Maybe they were gifts. Maybe it’s because I turned 40 over a year ago and wonder if those clothes are still appropriate. Maybe I was a bit too hopeful when I saw it hanging on the rack. Or maybe I was shopping to fill the void that will never be filled. Yes, I’ve been guilty of that but am diligently working on stopping that behavior. Having a $5 Flinch Point really helps.

Confession number two: I do not shop where I drop. I have one store near my home and I drop goods there, but dare not go in.

Last year, my daughter’s school had a massive tag sale fundraiser. I ruthlessly excavated the entire house for items to raise funds for my daughter’s school. I gave up unfinished antique tables in the garage that I probably wouldn’t touch until 2020. Granted, they were gorgeous tables found in the alley but they were tremendous space hogs. I did not attend that fundraiser.

I have a hang up with seeing SOME of my stuff on the racks or shelves; a donation remorse of sorts. The same thing that initially attracted me to it is somehow reawakened. It hypnotizes me and, with swirls in place of pupils, I am tempted to buy it back. “Wow, maybe I do have time to finish that table that I have no room for in my home.” Or, "Hm, maybe I can tailor those pants even though I don't know how to sew." Crazy, no? Fortunately I've never encountered a situation where I see someone wearing one of my donated items. Oh, that would be a disaster. I'd probably tackle the poor woman screaming, "It was a mistake! Those little red Kenneth Cole clogs looked better on me! Give 'em up! Now!" I guess that means if you ever see me stalking you with swirls in my eyes, you better run. The shoes that I write of are pictured at the footer of this blog.

I try to donate seasonally. This works well because sometimes it takes me a season or two to accept that I no longer need a certain thing. This is especially the case with my daughters. I’d love to store everything they’ve ever played with but, I don’t have the space and what would I do with it? Yes, I have some toys set aside in hopes of grandchildren. But these are high quality items and are timeless, not some featured Hollywood toy of the season that would probably terrify future generations without the context that Shrek is a nice ogre. Add to that the rate Hollywood is pumping out children's movies, who can keep up?

So please, if you take from the thrift store system, be certain to donate. I’ve had this specific post in mind for months and was inspired to finally write it after reading a comment from Anna of the Harvey Street blog to the lengthy discussion from the July 31st post, What’s Inside. Anna wrote:

“This discussion reminded me of an important part of the "robust repurposing market" in the headline of this blog -the donating part of the thrift market. I try to make sure what I donate is stuff that is worth someone buying. I totally agree with the discussion about the marketplace being pumped full of junk that no one wants. I'm always disappointed to see cheap, crappy stuff at the thrift store.

So, instead of using up an entire Saturday just to try to make a few bucks off my stuff, I just toted it all to the thrift shop. Sure, I could have made a little pocket money but this discussion made me want to put my stuff directly into the thrift stream. It's not all name brand designer stuff but I hope someone is happy to find the nearly new (and freshly cleaned) Nordstrom's women's suit or the Venetian glass bottle stopper or the 2 table lamps with shades (and bulbs).”

Thank you Anna, for giving me that added nudge. And, thank you for keeping the system healthy.

As thrifters, the vast majority of us are best to follow the unwritten code to give back to the system. I believe this is a basic economic principal that the higher ups in the American economy have abused in efforts to make more money with cheap labor abroad. We bought from them, but they stopped returning the favor by donating jobs to the market. Now look where we stand. Practically penniless on piles of junk.

Someone out there is thinking, “Damn! She’s being hard on the American retail system.” The response? All together now, “Someone’s gotta do it!”

Do you shop where you drop?


Elizabeth said...

Ms. Golightly,

I have to say that I do shop where I drop, and it has been an odd sensation to see my items either put in someone's cart or worse yet, passed over!

My very worst pains came when I whittled my baby items back to only keeping 2 outfits that my first two had worn and sending the rest to consignment. Several months later the ultrasound showed surprise twins! I did manage to reclaim a couple of my favorites from the consignment store, but it also gave me a chance to get some fresh items that I couldn't justify before.

Rebekah said...

I do. There's really only one thrift store in my area. We have quite a few consignment-type places, but only one "drop & shop" place. I've never actually seen anything at my Goodwill store that I was *certain* was been mine.

That isn't to say I've never regretted donating something, though. There are things that come to mind now that I think, "I never should have gotten rid of that. I know EXACTLY how I'd use it now!" But I never see those things again once I've dropped them off. I guess they have a pretty quick turn-over there.

Shopping Golightly said...


Yes, fortunately thrift stores have amazing turnovers. I've gone back to snag an item I saw just five minutes prior only to find it's GONE! Snooze and lose places they are.

Leslie said...

Absolutely, I shop where I drop. I am not sure why anyone wouldn't? Unless there's a pride issue or better-than mentality lurking just below the surface. True thrifting is give and take. Without givers there would be no thrift store, and without shoppers the store would go out of business. I too have seen my own items while shopping. It makes me smile, knowing that someone else will see it, happily snag it and give it a good home. I love being the giver of and the receiver of that thrift store treasure hunting vibe!

Leslie said...

I also wanted to add that I agree w/your comments on the American retail situation. Yes, we stand on piles of junk that was pumped into the US from overseas as our jobs and money were being pumped out. I have been an advocate for buy American my entire adult life. When I shop retail I make a concerted effort to buy American no matter what I'm shopping for. In thrift stores I am not as stringent as I feel that decision was already made by the original purchaser and recycling trumps buy-American. While I do see plenty of cheaply produced, low-quality items at thrift stores, I also see some excellent high-end items and classy brands. Clearly a snapshot of the general American buying culture which is simply about *more* and not necessarily about quality or price. Thanks, great post & discussion here. I'm grateful to be a part of it.

Shopping Golightly said...


Thank you for your insight. I am a wee bit in awe of your complete lack of "donation remorse." Most things I am happy to donate to the thrift store. But, every now and then, something pops up that I have a hard time letting go. That's when I remember that there's so much in life that we must let go of. Knowing that there will be another person who might have a need for this object helps too.

Ms Golightly

Torey said...

I have shopped where I dropped and I was completely afraid of seeing my old clothes. It had nothing to do with vanity, but instead some kind of weird "that's not my shirt anymore" feeling. Kind of like when you drive by a house you used to live in, but know you can't just go inside (like you used to). It probably sounds like I have a unhealthy obsession with my stuff, but it's actually just an unhealthy sentimentality. So thank you for writing this post. I thought I was the only one that would feel sad seeing my clothes hanging on the rack. I need to find a place to donate and not see my stuff (obviously).

Anna said...

Great post! Thanks! :-)

Petula said...

I occasionally shop where I drop. Actually I've dropped at that place for about seven years and have only shopped there twice.

Jennifer said...

I love your post! I do shop where I drop because I want to give back to the thrift store that is so good to me! But, I do hate seeing things that used to be mine. My daughter's little pink sandals, the woman ahead of me in line buying her cute little skirt, or my son's outgrown toys... it has crossed my mind to buy them back, but I was strong, and walked away. However, when I've donated lots of the kid's items (especially toys), I try not to take the kids to the thrift store for a few weeks. Sometimes the kids are more attached to the stuff than I am and get upset when they see it.

Shara said...

I donate certain items to certain stores. I do not like to see my things on the shelf. Especially when they are there week after week! But, there's a flip side. I bought an old barometer the other day at the thrift. The lady ahead of me in line traced her finger lovingly down the spine of it and said, "That belonged to my parents".

Shopping Golightly said...


What a great story! That's really touching. I'll bet she was happy to see that another person found value in that barometer.

Saver Queen said...

Great post. Shopping at the thrift stores makes it easier (I think) to part with good quality items, because you know what it feels like to find something nice. Knowing that the item is on its way to a better home makes it easier to part with!

Anonymous said...

I drop where i shop. When I find something lovely, I try to send the donor a mental thank you. But i absolutely hate to shop in stores with new stuff. It's just no good any more when you know it takes jobs away from americans. And we are more of an age when we would like to downsize.

Christal said...

I do shop where I drop regularly just not on the same day. Following the everything in a thrift shop moves quickly rule, if you come back next week it's all new stuff from someone else.

Anonymous said...

I DO shop where I drop. Maybe I'm weird, but I LIKE seeing someone else taking home my former treasures.

(Our tiny thrift puts donated items out quickly. Sometimes, I drop off donations, start shopping, and see someone buying one of my donations before I leave.)


The Shopping Sherpa said...

I don't shop where I drop because I think it would be weird coming across one of my discards. There's a collection bin across the road from my house for The Smith Family: a charity I have a sponsored child through (so I'm happy to donate to them) but, more importantly one which no longer has an op shop in this city.

I feel guilty that my stuff is being trucked 3 and a half hours to be sorted but figure that I support the other charities' op shops in my area by purchasing from them and therefore can justify the not very green approach to donating.

There's also the issue of wanting unwanted gifts out of the local system so the givee doesn't stumble across them in their op shopping rounds...

Anonymous said...

I love to see my things in new my consignment store it means money in my pocket and a painless donation to a good cause.

ADayInTheLife said...

I can't shop where I drop as I end up picking up what I donate, and that defeats the purpose :O)

ParisGirl111 said...

Do you make money off the clothes you drop at the thrift store or is this similar to donating clothes to a charity? I have bought from thrift stores, but never donated to them. Whoops.

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Jane said...

The strangest thing happened today. The last time I gave a bunch of clothes away, I gave them to a friend instead of the thrift store. Among the items was a very expensive black top that my friend's mother in Canada had given me about 15 years ago because SHE was getting rid of stuff. It was a Calvin Klein black top. So, this afternoon I took my kids to a birthday party (we live in France) and the birthday girl's grandfather (quite young and hip) shows up. I look a his t-shirt, wow, it looks familiar. I look closer. It's THE t-shirt. And in my head I did a quick history of that Calvin Klein shirt that has survived probably over twenty years and travelled the world. Gotta love thrift! And yep, I always get a weird feeling when I see my kids' clothes or mine at the thrift shop. Almost like it still belongs to me or is a part of my own child. I force myself to get over it though. And I've never bought back yet.

Alison said...

I love donating, both because it feels good to give and it feels good to purge those items I know I should let go of. But letting go can be hard, and seeing my things on the shelves or racks is a mixed bag. Sometimes it feels good and sometimes it stings.

There isn't a thrift store I won't shop, so avoiding where I drop isn't an option, but I do drop where I shop the least. That way my things are more likely out the door before I am back again.

I just want to say it's great to see so many dedicated to a lifestyle the people around me struggle to understand (though my husband is catching on slowly, and I've found a couple great co-thrifters). Thrifting is an art and fever!