I love Goodwill. I worked at Goodwill stores for two summers when I was 18 and 19, and I learned a lot about each aspect of running the store. More importantly, I learned how to shop there. Before Goodwill, I’d never much cared for shopping, and shopping in thrift stores seemed particularly unconducive to the “get in, get what you want, and get out” approach that I’d thought was the only tolerable way to go about it. But after working at Goodwill and seeing how carefully donations were inspected and sorted (a lot of stuff doesn’t make the cut), I stopped seeing the store shelves as a disorganized dumping ground for junk and started seeing them as a lovingly curated collection of potential treasures. Very reasonably priced treasures. And my 20% employee discount didn’t hurt either.
Goodwill stores are all over the U.S. and Canada, but I was living in middle America when I worked there, and so I tend to associate Goodwill with that part of the country. Maybe that’s one reason I never went to Goodwill during the three years I spent living in Portland, Oregon. But as of six days ago, I’m back in the Midwest — Bloomington, Indiana, to be specific — and I’ve got a limited budget, a new apartment to furnish, and some free time. Where do I go? Do you even need to ask? In six days, I’ve already made three Goodwill trips. It’s great to be back. Here’s what I’ve found so far, all of it essentially like new:
- Stainless steel forks, spoons, and knives (five of each)
- Stoneware plates (seven small, four large), six mugs, and four bowls
- Four drinking glasses
- A large metal picture frame
- A wooden box for my desk
- A table lamp and shade for my bedroom
- Two rolls of shelf liner for the kitchen cabinets
- A stainless steel dish-drying rack for the kitchen
- A metal wastebasket for the bathroom
- A small wall-mount coat rack for the living room
Total cost: $53 (and that’s including the 7% sales tax, a mild culture shock for a former Oregonian). I’m already happy about the price, but yesterday’s trip reminded me of yet another benefit of shopping at Goodwill: the utterly unbeatable payload ratio. Suppose I’d bought all this stuff at the local big-box discount retailer. After getting everything home and unwrapping it all, I would have ended up with a pile of packaging as big as the pile of stuff that came in it. If I were lucky (and willing to do the tedious work of sorting), most of that packaging would be reusable or recyclable, but some of it would certainly have to be thrown away.
By contrast, consider yesterday’s trip to Goodwill, which scored me the last five items on the list above. Total packaging? Six stickers, one piece of tape, two rubber bands I can reuse, and a plastic bag I can recycle or use to line a trash can. It sure is nice not to have to break down all those boxes and throw out that armful of shrink wrap and styrofoam. But the best part of the ultra-minimal packaging was that I was able to carry home all the loot — lamp, shelf liner, dish rack, wastebasket, and coat rack — on my bike. Granted, it was a little precarious, and since I’m not the most coordinated person to ever ride a bike, I wasn’t sure if the lamp would make the journey in one piece. But I didn’t break it, and I was able to walk in the door of my apartment, set it down, plug it in, and turn it right on — because it came with a working light bulb, included for free. Try finding that at Wal-Mart.
-posted by Lindsey