It's Now The Season Of Prime Thrift Store Shopping. How To Nab The Good Stuff

A woman shops in a thrift store on April 12, 2019 in Hornell, New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here's something aficionados of thrift-store shopping may already know: December always brings a flood of donations, from used clothing to furniture to household items.

And that makes January a prime time to hit the secondhand stores.

"It's always been a tradition that our donors donate between Christmas and New Year's," explained Goodwill Southern California director of logistics Tinna Bauer. "And the last couple days of the year, they donate even more."

She said that rush is likely due to the Dec. 31 deadline for tax-deductible contributions, as well as folks cleaning up after the holiday season or maybe dispensing with a few excess Christmas gifts.

While she doesn't have the official numbers yet, Bauer said the year-end wave caps a big year in donations — a phenomenon she credited, in part, to the popularity of Marie Kondo's Netflix show, "Tidying Up," which was released at the start of 2019.

So what does this flood of donations mean for area thrift shops and shoppers?

HOW TO GET A GOOD DEAL

I asked for your tips, and KPCC listener Katie Kurutz from Pasadena answered the call.

Kurutz said she has been thrifting since she was little. She visits her local thrift shop about once a week because she can get great deals, help the environment by not creating more clothing waste, and support Goodwill's workforce re-entry work.

Because so many people donated so many items at the end of 2019, she said now is a great time to get a good deal. Just a few days ago, she found an $85 J. Crew skirt for $7 at her favorite location, the Goodwill at the corner of Altadena and Foothill Boulevard.

Her No. 1 piece of advice for people trying thrifting for the first time?

"Never go with an expectation," she said. "If you have sort of a rough outline of something that you're looking for, that's fine and will help you go to the right rack, but never think that you're going to get the thing that you're looking for, because that's just not the way it works. You have to be open to the thrift store gods and let them tell you what you need."

She also urges thrift shoppers looking for a good deal to:

  • Visit often ("You've got to increase your probability because it's a game of chance.")
  • Set an item limit for each visit ("I'm going to have to wash and store these pieces, so let's not walk away with 10.")
  • Go first to the rack by the fitting room for a curated selection ("People have already culled through things and pulled some things out that might be interesting.")
  • Check the clothes closely ("Always look at the armpits for stains ... you just can't get them out.")
  • Be nice! ("Sometimes people just drop stuff on the ground or things get kicked around, so just always be cognizant and hang stuff back up.")

The general manager at a different Pasadena Goodwill Southern California also advised visiting on days when there are special sales, like half-price and dollar days.

"If they see something that they like and they want it, they need to buy it right away, because if you come back tomorrow — it may not be here," the manager warned.

The entryway to a Goodwill Southern California donation center in Pasadena was filled with unsorted donations on January 2, 2020. (Carla Javier/KPCC)

WHERE YOUR MONEY GOES

So what do thrift shops do with this new year bounty? It depends on the organization.

For the sake of explanation and simplicity, I'll use three thrift shops that sell donated used goods within a half mile radius of the KPCC/LAist newsroom in Pasadena.

According to Goodwill Southern California, the money raised by selling the donated items funds job training and career services. Items sold in Salvation Army in Southern California thrift shops benefit the organization's drug and alcohol treatment program, according to divisional commander Lt. Col. John Chamness. And at the Huntington Collection, proceeds from sales go to the Huntington Senior Care Network, which "helps older and disabled adults and families remain healthy and independent."

A bin at a Savers second hand store in Aracdia was filled to the brim with donations on January 2, 2020. (Courtesy of Diane Velez)

TIPS FOR DONORS

Maybe you are looking to downsize, not increase, your personal collection.

Diane Velez brought books, professional clothing, bags, and formal wear to her local Savers in Arcadia.

Initially, she wanted to give them away to socially conscious women on Instagram or to organize a clothing swap, but ultimately, donating them for resale in a thrift shop was more convenient.

When she got there last week, Velez said there was a line. The green bin where donations are collected was completely full.

Bauer from Goodwill Southern California said the busiest season for donations is coming to an end, though, so donors shouldn't have much trouble dropping items off at their local donation center going forward — though she did point out that some Goodwill donation centers might not have enough space to safely accept furniture.

Staff at a Pasadena donation center recommended donors call ahead to make sure there is enough space for whatever they're bringing.

And they remind folks that they can't accept items that can be recalled, like car seats, strollers, or cribs, for safety reasons.

Other tips? Tweet me (@carlamjavier) or email me (cjavier@scpr.org).