Can you guess the busiest time of the year at a Donation Center? You guessed right: December. During this particular month, we’re all getting rid of our unwanted goods to make room for new ones and obtaining 2019 tax receipts before the year-end. That said, thrift stores like Goodwill are buzzing hives of treasures – but they need all the help they can get with item processing.

Last month, I had the unique opportunity to volunteer at the Goodwill at 2200 South Dakota Avenue. During this rainy afternoon, my time was split doing the following tasks:

  • Sorting donated clothing, determining if it was good to sell at the store or if it should be baled and sold through Goodwill’s salvage recycling operations.
  • Organized and sorted jewelry of all kinds.

As a huge thrifter, I *kind of* get what it takes to sort and find a diamond in the rough, however, this particular experience opened my eyes a little bit larger, helping me truly understand what it’s like to process donations, but more importantly: the ways to donate more efficiently and overall become more eco-conscious consumers. I gained insight on the city’s fashion habits, and took a moment to look at myself, critiquing my own consumption of clothing.

Here are some of my findings (based on just this one experience). I hope they will help us all think twice about shopping and donating unwanted goods:

1.) Donation maintenance = more items can be resold on the Goodwill sales floor and be recycled faster. By taking a little bit more time with prepping donations, we can save the planet AND help nonprofits like Goodwill further fund their missions. Goodwill accepts most all donations, and is always eager to sort and recycle. But sometimes, not everything can make it to the store floor. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the presence of stains and coating of pet hairs. Therefore, by taking some more time to clean and remove lint debris from clothing, we can make even more of a difference. Here’s a little more on why it’s important to take more time when we donate:

  • Goodwill sells donated items to fund its mission of transforming lives in the community through education and employment. Through retail sales, they can fund their free job training programs and no-cost adult charter school, The Goodwill Excel Center. That said, Goodwill has an efficient process for sorting goods, to make the most of time and resources to get product out to sell at affordable prices.
  • If an item is visibly stained, has holes, or is covered in pet hair, it goes to their other salvage recycling operations, keeping items out of landfills, where items are broken down and used as rags, insulation and other outlets. If an item is clean and in good shape, it goes to the store floor.
    • Goodwill doesn’t launder stained clothing because:
      • The higher costs involved take away from the funds to support the nonprofit mission.
      • It also takes time away from sorting more clothes that can sell on the store floor.
      • Laundering varies by item and can even ruin perfectly good silks and other delicate fabrics.
      • Laundering can affect store prices, driving them up.
      • Selling stained and torn clothing can affect Goodwill’s image and promise of selling quality product. They’re trying to break the thrift stigma and encourage reuse.
    • Goodwill also does not clean pet hair off goods because:
      • Associates and customers can be very sensitive to pet dander, even if an item is lint-rolled to perfection.
      • It takes time away from sorting items that will sell.
This designer Shoshanna dress had some armpit stains that could have been cured with some OxyClean or another heavy duty fabric cleaner.

2.) Low-quality t-shirts, blended synthetic fabrics, and items that don’t last more than a handful of washes make up most closets. Many items I sorted through consisted of things like Old Navy and Target tank tops and t-shirts. I noticed that some were worn quite a bit, had stains, holes, rips, and were of just overall poor quality. After seeing this, it really hit me that we are living in a fast fashion, casual, “comfy” culture.

Poor quality worn shorts

Sometimes, we buy items brand new, impulsively and cheaply, without thinking about how they wear out.

It’s time to invest in ourselves and our planet before it’s too late!

A pile of predominately t-shirts and casual gear.

Oodles of t-shirts and casual synthetic blended fabrics are incredibly detrimental to our ecosystem. I myself just started seeing these objects as similar to one-use plastic water bottles.

A common sight: a tank top made of a blended fabric from a fast fashion retailer that will be harder to recycle if torn or stained.

3.) Guys seem to donate less and care more….about their clothing. We have something to learn from the dudes. Buy less and love what you have. The men’s clothing I sorted was exponentially smaller in volume than the hoard of women’s wear – and the clothing that was donated looked to be in good shape, and/or not too worn. I’m not entirely sure why they were in overall better shape, but I think this goes back to thinking less is more. Thoughts here?

4.) Please Mend. I noticed that some items had tiny holes in them. Eek! These could have easily been sewn up, repaired, or used as rags. It was interesting to note that the fabrics that we buy these days are of poor quality and tear quickly. Not only that, I was reminded about how the fashion industry doesn’t talk about how we should care for our clothing, to make it last longer. They encourage us all to buy, buy, buy more!

5.) For Jewelry: There were fewer donations in this department and nothing was too surprising. However, there were tons of faded cheap hoops in the sorting bin. My small learning here is: it’s time to invest in everyday versatile quality jewelry, so that we don’t have to keep wasting it and replacing it.

For now, those are my five overall thoughts! I will add to this list as soon I have more realizations.

I would love to volunteer again very soon so that I can even more epiphanies that will change the way I buy, own, wear and tear.

Some donations I sorted were off the chain too! Here are my favorite spottings:

A vintage 80’s sweater in pristine condition!

A gorgeous Anthropologie brand cardigan

New With Tags designer top by Gerard Darel – $170!

A beautiful TUMI laptop case

A box of hundreds of unique bangles!

Another statement piece!