Many of you are probably familiar with Goodwill’s regular thrift stores, and might be wondering, what is a Goodwill Outlet, and why should I shop there?
Goodwill Outlet is essentially the last stop for things in the Goodwill chain before they either go to the landfill or are shipped overseas. Stuff from the regular Goodwill stores that didn’t sell goes here. They also have a lot of stuff that didn’t even make it to the stores—if there are too many donations, the overflow just goes here as they don’t have enough people to sort everything that comes in.
So why shop there? Unlike regular Goodwill, the stuff is only sorted into rough categories (like clothing) and put in piles or bins. It is fun to dig for treasure!
Also, the prices can’t be beat. There are no price tags—when you check out, they weigh your items and you pay by the pound (for most things). $1.49 a pound for clothing! To give you an idea of what that means, a pair of men’s khakis weighs about a pound.
A few general tips
Dress in grubbier clothes. It is a little dirty, and you don’t want to wreck your nice clothes. Have hand sanitizer handy. Some people wear gloves, but I don’t.
Leave your purse in the car or at home. You can’t keep an eye on it at all times, and a purse in your hand or over your shoulder impedes digging ability. They take credit cards, so that is all you need.
Leave your kids at home. Some people bring their kids, but they will just get in the way, get bored after 15 minutes, and ask for a bunch of crap you don’t want to bring home.
Bring a bag; they don’t have any. I usually bring a big blue IKEA bag or expandable string bags to stuff my finds into as I go along—they hold an amazing amount of stuff.
Don’t stop to ponder every item you think looks interesting as you go—it is too slow. Grab it all, and edit your choices later. Give everything a careful once-over and pare down right before you check out, including a sniff test. Mildew and smoke smells can be difficult to get out.
If you find that your stuff is getting too heavy, you can get a cart. Cover your cart with something big you find nearby, like a sheet, as otherwise people will shop from your cart. Rule: carts stay against the wall.
Apparently 80% of all Goodwill Outlet shoppers are resellers—they buy carts full of things that they resell on eBay or Etsy or to local shops. The things you find here are probably 99% crap, but there is a lot of great stuff to be had if you are willing to dig.
So, what should you look for while you are here?
Fabric! Have fun cutting up clothes to score some very inexpensive fabric for your stash. It feels so wrong the first time you do it, but it gets to be fun cutting up clothes, and the more expensive they originally were, the better!
It is true that it takes longer to extract fabric from clothing than from bolts of fabric at the store, but at under $1 per yard of fabric, it can be worth the extra time. Especially if you have down time where you don’t feel like sewing–I cut up clothes while watching tv. Bonnie Hunter has a great video on quickly “de-boning” a shirt to give you an idea of how to speed things up (although I find that ripping doesn’t always work for me).
I usually just scan and grab things by looks alone, but I always give things a quick feel. If the clothing feels good and is good quality, it will probably work well for you. If it feels scratchy, stiff, thin, cheap, or at all unpleasant, just put it back, no matter how pretty it is. There is so much to choose from–don’t waste your time on crap.
As you get more practice, you will be able to mostly identify fibers by feel and appearance–being able to spot linen or silk from across a table is handy. To be safe, though, always check your labels.
As far as quilting and sewing fabrics, consider all of these below.
Cotton (of course!), and cotton blends. Double-check the labels, and make sure there is no spandex as it is stretchy. If you are very careful you might be able to make it work, but I don’t bother.
Women’s cotton pants and shirts tend to have spandex, can be cut on the bias, and have lots of darts and stitching that make it more difficult to get a large usable chunk of fabric. Men’s shirts yield much more fabric—just feel them first as some are unpleasant.
Linen. A large linen dress or skirt will yield 1-2 yards of usable fabric and cost around $2-3.
Denim, corduroy, twill, canvas/home dec. All of these make great picnic or other utility quilts, tote bags, etc.
Wool. Wool pants, shirts, etc. can be lovely, but feel for scratchiness if you are using them for a quilt. I like old wool blankets—I have a few that I am busy turning into batting for camping quilts. Thin wool pants would also make a nice warm very thin batting–just piece it together.
Silk. Especially if you are into art quilting. Silk weighs next to nothing!
Avoid: Anything with spandex. Most synthetics, like acrylic, or anything more than about 50% polyester. If you are quilting, any fabric that is too thick, thin, stretchy, or slippery to work with without expletives, like rayon or satin. Also check the clothing for wear. Stains and rips you can cut around, but worn out, faded, or badly pilled means unusable.
But don’t let that limit you! Use your imagination; that is part of the fun!
So, what can you expect here? It can be a little overwhelming your first time, especially if you are a thrifting newbie. This is the view as you walk in the door. It is basically a giant open space.
There are a few unposted rules, and you will get scolded by employees and other customers if you miss one. I noted these below.
There are two different kinds of areas for stuff—the conveyors + bins, and the tables.
On a regular day, bins full of stuff roll out on conveyors about every 15 minutes, 2 or 4 conveyors at a time (there are 8 conveyors). After the bins have been out for awhile, employees come and dump out the bins into these giant cardboard boxes, clearing 2 or 4 conveyors at a time. After the conveyors are empty, new bins full of stuff roll out. Usually they stop sending out new stuff about 2 hours before closing.
When they are really going, you have to be fast if you want to look through all the bins, spending no more than about 5 seconds per bin, or 2 minutes per row (there are about 20 bins per row). By the time you get to the last row of bins, they will be dumping it out! Some days and some weekends they have a more “relaxed” schedule and only put out new bins every few hours, and instead swap out the stuff on the tables more often.
Rule for the bins: no standing in the center aisle that has new stuff rolling out (the “center” is the aisle between two conveyors that has the giant box).
Also, when new bins are coming out, no touching the bins or items in the bins until they are all out and an employee says it’s ok by saying “Ok!” or “Thank you!” or something. You will know it is time because there will suddenly be a frenzy of people digging!
Also for your digging pleasure are tables full of stuff. Mostly clothes, but also shoes, bags, books, and toys.
If you get here and the tables are empty (like below), either you came too close to closing time, or they might be about to put out a bunch of new stuff.
Another rule: No touching stuff on the tables as it is being put out—even if they are done with the one table. If you aren’t sure, look around; if everyone is standing around and staring at the stuff, you probably are not allowed to touch.
When the employees signal to start digging, there is usually quite a frenzy of people looking through the pile. I often just wait a few minutes until things calm down. If you are more assertive, dive in!
Stop when you are tired. You can literally stay here all day and continually dig through new stuff, but you shouldn’t. There will always be more stuff and another day! I usually either set a time or volume limit (e.g. one hour or one bag full) for myself or I find it hard to leave.
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, avoid the pitfall of finding a use for everything you touch and turning your house into a hoarder’s house of sewing projects to be! Be selective and realistic about what you actually have the time and inclination to make. I try to collect things for specific projects only, while giving myself a very small allowance for unexpected finds.