Shoestring Magazine Editor Melissa

Melissa at work among the bins!

You might think that dropping your clothing and housewares off at Goodwill is the last step in recycling. But would you believe your stuff’s journey just begins when it comes out of the trunk of your car? In some parts of the country, Goodwill Outlet locations bring out Goodwill’s wild side. Items that don’t sell in a specific period of time at regular Goodwill stores next head to an outlet for a second (or third, or fourth) chance at finding a new home. So the stuff still stays out of landfills. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you—or be traveling near one—the Goodwill Outlet is always worth a visit.

I called upon Goodwill Boston Outlet regular (and expert) Melissa Massello for her advice to tackle those outlet bins. Read on for her tips!

DCGF: Imagine you’re taking me to a Goodwill outlet store for the first time. What do I need to know before we even arrive?

MM: First of all, it’s definitely what you need to know BEFORE you arrive. Wear comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dusty (I usually go wearing gym clothes), and bring large shopping bags (I bring an IKEA bag or two) to collect your finds while you decide what to leave and what to keep. Shopping carts are usually at a premium, so BYOB (bringing your own bag) really helps. I generally toss my coat and handbag in the bottom of mine for safekeeping, comfort, and free hands while I dig around in the bins.

So‚ that brings me to the bins. Most Goodwill Outlets are organized in large distribution center bins (think: the size of a small sofa and as deep as kitchen counter) that come and go every 30 minutes, or are organized like pile sales. Get ready to literally dig and elbow your way to the good stuff! This is not a shopping experience for the easily flustered or for anyone looking for something in particular. Shopping the Goodwill Outlet is all about the art of shopping karma and of keeping an open mind. You might find some gorgeous gems that just went to the wrong store and didn’t find the right person to take them home, so they ended up back at the outlet, or more likely they got passed over because they weren’t in perfect condition. Sure, this vintage Burberry’s men’s sweater is full of moth holes, but for $1.75 could I turn it into something cool? You know I will. Or what about this awesome dress with the statement applique around the neckline but ratty top and broken zipper, also for $1.75 – could I use a seamripper to remove the applique to make a necklace, cut away the top and remove the zipper, add an elastic to make a new skirt? Yup, and it only took me about 30 minutes of sewing!

DCGF: Like a regular outlet store, the Goodwill outlet can be very busy and a little crazy! How do you focus? Do you make a plan of attack?

MM: My only plan of attack, like with any thrifting or swapping experience, is to focus on finding colors, patterns, or textures that catch my eye – not to go in looking for anything in particular. Some days I focus on books or housewares and most of the time I focus on clothes, but the key to finding gems the best gems is to go on shorter trips, more often!

DCGF: You have a track record of shopping at Goodwill’s Boston outlet store. What desirable items are the easiest to find? What “wants” should you save for a regular Goodwill store, if any?

MM: The easiest “desirable” items to find in the Goodwill Outlet are mint vintage condition and designer items in really small sizes (score if you happen to be a size 0 or 2, which unfortunately I am not), designer denim, T-shirts (many of which I use for upcycling projects, a la Pinterest trends), and both vintage books and popular paperback books. Books are 3 for $1 at the Boston Goodwill, and for $20 last week I just stocked up on summer paperbacks (Bossypants in hardcover, Prep and some recent business books in paperback) and an entire set of vintage Serendipity books from my childhood, which I’m going to give to some friends at their upcoming baby shower.

As for “wants” that I save for the Goodwill store: shoes (in the outlet, they are really hard to find as a matching pair because they get separated into different bins, and with all that switching-out madness); delicate housewares like china and glassware (many times they get broken in the Outlet bins); and anything like-new in terms of clothing, if you’re averse to doing any tailoring or stain removal. That’s not to say you can’t find mint condition clothing in the outlets, you just won’t find it on every trip, unless you only need T-shirts and jeans!

Shoestring Magazine editor Melissa at Goodwill

Melissa, right, considers a silk scarf before settling on final purchases at the Goodwill Boston Outlet.

DCGF: With prices so good, it’s hard not to scoop up everything! How do you set limits?

MM: Just like my man Macklemore, I only give myself $20 in my pocket each trip. The Boston outlet only takes cash, so that makes it easy to set limits! On special occasions, like if I’m stocking up on fabric and upcycle-able pieces for craft projects, I might give myself $40, but that’s my absolute max. Even with just $20, I generally go home with that aforementioned IKEA bag full to the brim!

DCGF: Best things you ever found at the Goodwill outlet: can you narrow it down to 3?

MM: Holy cow, that’s really hard, there are so many! The Serendipity books were definitely a major score — and a great example of shopping karma, as I had just recently been waxing nostalgic about them over drinks with my siblings and some childhood friends, and then voila! There they were. I also recently found a bolt (about 10 yards) of mint vintage condition fabric made in the garment district in NYC in the late 60s or early 70s, which I can’t wait to make into something amazing — pillows or wall panels or a dress, or all of the above, in true fashion to the era — only to find out that another blogger friend recently found the same exact bolt at her Goodwill in St. Louis! And then there was one trip where I found a new-with-tags pair of Joe’s jeans and a looks-like-it-was-never-worn Citizens of Humanity denim skirt, both in my size, for $3.50 total. I looked them up online: together, they would retail for $422!


Have you ever shopped at a Goodwill Outlet? Remember, Earth Day is right around the corner—Mother Earth would be proud!