Thrift store shopping

Goodwill Hunting

by Odile Leclerc

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Thrift Store Shopping

I was hit by a strong smell of dust as I followed my brand-new husband inside the wide facade store. He had insisted I go with him to a place he dropped by now and then. I was prejudiced though, convinced that kind of store only appealed to the homeless and the poor, wrongly thinking its merchandise exclusively came from old donated stuff. But when I stepped in, little did I know, it would take me all but thirty minutes to fall in love all over again. This time, I fell in love not with my husband but with Goodwill Superstores.

I proceeded toward the closest rack of clothes, labeled "Women's long-sleeve sweaters." I started sorting through its content, fully unimpressed, until my eyes caught an all Merino wool braided knit pullover, exquisite condition, INC brand. At Macy's, I may have frowned at the price tag. Here at Goodwill, I couldn't help but smile. "Five dollars!" I burst out.

I now am a Goodwill addict. Over the last four years, I have visited many Goodwill stores, some more times than I care to remember. As such an "expert," I developed my own guidelines to make the most of bargain shopping.

One thing I've learned as a Goodwill shopper is that you don't shop at a thrift store the way you shop at Nordstrom, looking for something specific. Having expectations that you will find the exact piece of clothing you've been longing for will set you up for disappointment and frustration. The odds of finding your dream jacket, or else, are about one in a million. Just go in thinking you'll have a good time. If you find something you like, that's great. If not, it's no big deal.

Designer Labels

In my first steps as a bargain hunter, I found myself excited the minute I saw "Gap" or "Old Navy" inside a garment. In my enthusiasm, I wouldn't examine it thoroughly, only to discover later that there was an irreparable moth-eaten hole. Take the time to survey stains, seams, and the general look (does it look worn out or can it have a second life). Ask yourself if you will enjoy wearing this piece of clothing. If the answer is no, don't buy it.

Goodwill receives countless donations a week and I estimate that 99 percent of it is junk. That leaves one percent for good, great, or sometimes, brand new stuff. That small number is the one you should be interested in. Quality contributions come, for example, from people who have the luxury to renew their wardrobe on a regular basis, or from someone who's "30-day-money-back" receipt for a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans has expired. Stop by often. With time and patience, great gems await you.

What's the Downside?

It's easy to get carried away in a Goodwill Superstore. Some visits will be so fruitful that it'll seem like you're finding something on every rack. Be wary. It's easy to spend too much money on cheap clothing, drilling a hole in your budget. Buying too many clothes has another downside: it will end up taking a lot of your precious closet space. Refrain from making impulsive decisions that you could regret later. But if you must do so anyhow, consider taking advantage of items on sale that Goodwill offers on any given day. The mere thought of knowing you got an extra deal can make you fell like a million bucks, not to mention look like one after you've slipped on a sweater bearing a coveted brand.

A Win-Win for Everyone

Are you now convinced that shopping at Goodwill is good for you? In case you still aren't, here are more incentives to bargain shop there. Because Goodwill not only sells clothes for women but for the entire family, there is something for everyone. Because Goodwill also carries household goods, big and small electric appliances, linens, furniture, and more, a student who watches her pennies can furnish and decorate a one-bedroom apartment at a very reasonable price. And because a stop at a Goodwill Superstore can be a fun family activity, kids can pitch in to help dig into piles of inexpensive clothing, books or toys.

Goodwill's mission is to provide job training and career services to people in need so they can enjoy productive lives. Each time you shop at Goodwill, you contribute to the well-being of less fortunate people in your community. Isn't that the best gift your money can buy?

I was deep into my first Goodwill shopping spree when my husband startled me with his loud voice. "Time to go girl."

"Oh!" I said, with a hint of disappointment. "Couldn't we stay a little longer?"

But before he could say no, the new bride in me jumped right in, "Honey, I insist we do!"

Odile Leclerc writes non-fiction on various topics, but once in a while ventures in the world of short stories. She also teaches the violin to children and teenagers, and plays with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Born in Quebec City, Canada, she has now been living in the United States for five years.

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