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A Strategic Approach To Shopping The Goodwill Outlet: Three Tips To Win Big at The Bins

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Shopping at a typical thrift store is pretty self-explanatory. Peruse the racks, check the price, try things on, and spend five minutes debating whether or not those jeans are worth $12. For me, a leisurely weekend trip to my local Goodwill Retail Store is one of those unnecessary “errands” that I just can’t seem to kick. The Outlet, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Goodwill Outlets are the final stop for clothes and household items that didn’t sell at their normal retail locations. Items here are priced by the pound in order to liquidate the stock before they are auctioned, recycled, or destroyed. At most locations, textiles are less than two dollars per pound. These prices make some shoppers competitive, and others borderline aggressive. When staff roll out new bins of merchandise throughout the day, shoppers are asked to stand behind a yellow line until they’re given the “OK.” Although they ask us not to run, some people do anyway, and the whole thing just feels a bit like The Hunger Games.

During my first trip to The Bins, I was entirely overwhelmed. Looking back, I wish I had entered with some sort of strategy to help tune out the anarchy that was unfolding around me. If I could go back, I would give myself these three tips to win big at The Bins.


Dress the part

Digging through piles upon piles of unorganized clothing will start to feel like a workout sooner than you think. Dress comfortably, and avoid wearing large coats or anything that will restrict your movement. For your essentials, definitely consider a crossbody purse or a small backpack so that you can keep your belongings close at all times. These stores can get crowded, and we don’t want anyone mistaking our purse for an item on sale! If none of these tickle your fancy, a small wallet in your pocket will do the trick; just avoid leaving your personal belongings in your cart.

And don’t forget to wear gloves. If you’ve never been to The Bins before, this part might sound a bit weird. But for germaphobes like me, you’ll be grateful to have a layer of protection between your hands and the mysterious fabrics that you’re rummaging through. The Bins are largely disorganized and may house anything from spills to the unwashed clothes of a previous owner. I’ve never stumbled upon anything particularly gross on these thrifting excursions, but it’s best to be prepared. I think cheap exam gloves work just fine, but some people prefer cut-resistant ones just in case they come across the sharp edge of a broken toy or appliance.

make a mental mood board

Here’s the fun part! With a keen eye, you’re bound to find plenty of hidden gems at the Goodwill Outlet. This is why I suggest that you set your sights on particular colors, patterns, and fabrics. It’s easy to get overwhelmed while staring down a bin full of tangled clothing, and that’s just no fun. So before your shopping trip, ask yourself a few questions about what you’re looking for. Which color schemes do you have in mind? Do you have your heart set on denim? Are you planning to revamp these pieces, or wear them as-is? I find it much easier to find cool things in the bin when I know what I’m looking for, so making a mood board (either mentally or on Pinterest) helps me to gloss over all the pieces that don’t fit the vibe.

grab now, think later

The financial stress that is relieved by these heavily discounted thrift stores doesn’t come for free. You pay by accepting the inevitable raise in blood pressure that comes with shopping on a time crunch. Luckily, with the right frame of mind, you can channel this elevated state into one of excitement. Grab literally anything you think you might want. At the end of your adventure, you can reevaluate all the items you’ve found and decide what gets to come home with you. Anything that doesn’t pass the test can be thrown back into the bin for the next excited shopper. And sure, you may wish there was enough time to spend five minutes debating whether or not those jeans will fit. But at least they’re not $12 this time.

Even though the Goodwill Outlet had me shell-shocked upon my first visit, I’ve come to realize that a good strategy is really all you need to find your next dream outfit amidst the chaos. If you think you might want to try your hand at scavenging The Bins, click here to find a location near you.

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Katherine Fillion

U Mass Amherst '24