Thrift Shopping FAQ

Most know that thrift shopping means discovering cool finds and saving money, but there are still tons of questions that come along with thrift shopping. Wearing other people’s old clothes can sound off-putting. Where have these clothes been? Are they washed, or are they crawling in parasites? Can just about anything be donated to thrift stores? Also, where does the money go that is spent on clothes in thrift stores? Today I will be addressing some frequently asked questions when it comes to embarking on your thrift shopping journey.

Are the clothes dirty?

Unfortunately, thrift stores do not wash the clothes before selling them. So, make sure to wash the clothes before wearing them. Don’t make the same mistake as author, David Sedaris, mentions in his book, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”, and contract crabs through a used pair of pants. On websites like Value Village and St. Vincent de Paul, donation guidelines don’t request that clothes are washed before they are donated, either.  

The good news is that thrift stores generally do have donation guidelines that prevent from truly germy clothes. On Goodwill’s website,  they request that you make sure your items are free of stains and rips. It is also mentioned on Value Village’s website that employees have the right to refuse items that are “unacceptable.”

How does buying clothes from thrift stores help?

It’s commonly wondered if donating clothes and/or buying clothes from thrift stores actually helps, or if it’s just giving the company more money. If you’re wondering how your purchase helps, a thrift stores’ website will most likely have a section completely dedicated to this.

Value Village’s website outlines all of the reasons why making a clothing donation is so beneficial. Donations accepted at their store help fund nonprofit organizations, such as the Epilepsy Foundation that works to find a cure and overcome challenges that come with Epilepsy. This is just one of the organizations that are funded through the money that comes from buying clothes from their store.

Similarly, Goodwill also provides reasons as to how buying from their store helps others. Their website states, “87 percent of the revenue generated through your donated stuff to support and grow programs that result in significant social impact for your community members in need of work.” Basically, Goodwill takes pride in creating jobs for those in need of one.

My personal favorite thrift store, St. Vincent de Paul, actually has annual reports of what the money from their stores have done to help others. In their 2016 annual report, anyone can read their summary of accomplishments. All of the revenue made from their thrift store is used to fund programs, such as their successful meal program that serves at least one good meal a day to those in need. The St. Vincent de Paul meal program also makes sure people can celebrate holidays like Easter and Christmas with holiday-themed activities and meals. On the last page of the their annual report, they are completely transparent with where their revenue has gone to, like meal programs, family support services and other services St. Vincent de Paul provides.

These are just a few of the stores that claim that their revenue goes to a good cause. This doesn’t mean all thrift stores are run by philanthropists, though. Beware of stores that take money from customers to solely benefit their company. Don’t forget to look into a store’s history, too. The Salvation Army, for example, has an extensive history of discriminating against the LGBT+ community. This organization has actually shut down services in areas, like San Francisco, where homosexuality is openly accepted.

Moral of the story: not all thrift stores share the same philosophy, but some definitely are contributing greatly to the community.

Should I trust that all items are okay to buy?

From my personal experience, I would say that it’s okay to buy all clothes from stores, especially if you plan on washing them first. Things like rips or stains on clothing can be clearly seen before the actual purchase. There are tons of other items at thrift stores, ranging from blenders to even laptops. It’s understandable that one would be skeptical about making that kind of purchase.

First, I’d recommend against buying bedding. Sheets and blankets are supposed to wrap around you for hours at night–who knows where someone’s old ones have been? To stay on the safe side, I’d purchase new ones. The same idea can be applied to items we snuggle up with like pillows and stuffed animals.

And then there’s the question of whether or not the electronics are worth buying. One thing I always think of when I see an appliance in a thrift store is: why’d the owner give it away in the first place? It probably means that it doesn’t work that well. Especially when the appliance is very outdated, it’s probably not worth it to buy that donated toaster that will probably take 15 minutes to turn bread into toast. Always check for an item’s condition. Don’t purchase something without checking the condition of the cord system, or if there are scratches on something like a DVD or CD.

Accessories are really fun to buy at thrift stores. There are so many cool things like scarves, jewelry, purses and sunglasses at most stores. You can even find expensive brands like Coach or Ralph Lauren at great prices.

Just because some of the items available at your choice of thrift store may have some scratches or some appliances may be outdated, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also great finds. Just think of where items may have been before they were donated, and why they may have been donated.

Can I return items?

The simple answer is yes, usually you can, especially when it’s just clothes. But, return policies vary from store to store. For example, at Goodwill, items cannot be returned unless they are purchased with in-store credit. In addition, electrical items have a 2-day return policy. Books, jewelry, watches, records, tapes, CD’s, DVD’s, furniture, ink and software can’t be returned at all.

Don’t expect to just be able to return anything after any amount of time. Like regular stores, thrift stores have return policies.

These are just a few of questions I usually hear from people before they decide to go to a thrift store. My main pieces of advice would just be to make sure you’re buying from an ethical store, and don’t buy items that you’re not quite sure are very good quality, especially when they’re electronics.

Thanks for reading this week’s Thrifty Thursday post. If you have any more questions, feel free to comment below. Be sure to come back in two weeks!


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