How to Go Thrift Store Shopping and Not Feel Guilty

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If you’ve hung around Organized 31 much, you know that almost every craft and organizing project I do starts with a recycled item.  Often I start with an item that I already have, but I also hit the thrift stores for inspiration. I’ve had several conversations with friends who hesitate to shop at thrift stores because they feel guilty taking items from somebody who might really need them. 

Last week I shared 3 reasons you should shop at thrift stores and not feel guilty.   My experience volunteering for 3 years at a charitable organization with a thrift store (at one point I was even responsible for the housewares section) gave me insight into what types of items are in demand and what items sit for weeks at charitable thrift stores.    My friends have found this information helpful and have even started thrifting.  I was recently  encouraged to share my tips on what to buy when you go thrift store shopping and not feel guilty.

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Charitable thrift stores receive all kinds of donated merchandise. For profit thrift stores or consignment stores are more discerning about the merchandise that they accept.  Since my friends feel guilty about shopping at charitable thrift stores I’ll focus on that type of thrifting.  Please understand that I’m telling you about tendencies, there will always be exceptions to the tips I share.

How to Go Thrift Store Shopping 

Certain items are always in demand at thrift store and other items are not.

Jeans, tee-shirts, sweatshirts, underwear, socks, easy to wash coats, tennis shoes, work boots, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, pots, pans, silverware, everyday dishes, small appliances, TVs, DVD players, radios and tools are always in demand.   Crystal, knickknacks, high-end china, table cloths, cloth napkins, curtains, dry clean required items, pictures, wall decorations and old computer equipment are not in demand.   Think practical everyday life versus superfluous, luxury items. 

Certain types of clothing are in high demand.

There is always a shortage of men’s clothing at thrift stores.  Men tend to wear their clothes out (and so not donate them) and women tend to get bored and donate their clothing while it’s still in decent condition. Also, women will wear men’s clothing so both men and women purchase men’s clothing, but men generally do not wear women’s clothing. 

 If you look at the men’s clothing section at the thrift store, you’ll see that it’s dominated by dress shirts.  There is not a large demand for men’s dress shirts.  Tee-shirts, work shirts and sweatshirts are in greater demand. 

There are always more skirts than slacks in the women’s clothing section.

Look at the shoe section.  You will see very few pairs of tennis shoes or boots, but you will see many pairs of women’s dress shoes.

Practical, easy to care for clothing are in demand.  Think jeans, tee-shirts, sweatshirts, work shirts, athletic wear, tennis shoes.  Fancy, difficult to care for clothing is not in demand.  Of course, “fancy clothing” would be enjoyed, but the demand is for everyday, practical clothing and shoes.

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Current styles in clothing is in more demand for women’s clothing and older children’s clothing.  Fashionable teen clothing, in particular, is in high demand.

Certain sizes are in greater demand.

Generally, larger sizes of clothing are in greater demand in women’s and men’s clothing.  Smaller clothing sizes tend to be donated more than larger clothing sizes. So the supply of smaller sized clothing is greater than the demand, but the reverse is true for larger sized clothing

Certain types of items are donated in larger items than the demand for them.  Storage tins, records and books are donated in greater numbers than there is a demand for them.  Golf clubs, out-dated computer equipment, puzzles and VHS tapes sit around for weeks.  If there are lots of a certain category of item week after week, you can guess that item is not in high demand.

Donation cycles don’t match need cycles.

Most people clean out their clothes or decorations at the end of a season and donate them then.  That means that winter clothes tend to be donated in the spring when the demand is for lighter weight clothing.  It also means that holiday decorations are often donated after a holiday when the demand is low.  Most charitable thrift stores do not have the storage area to hold these items for year until the next season.  The demand is for in season clothing or decorations, not for purchasing a season ahead.

Items are discounted to move them out of the store and make room for new merchandise.

Charitable thrift stores will discount items that have been in the store too long.  That means that there is not as big of a demand for the discounted items.  You rarely see an empty thrift store, usually they’re over-crowded.  The thrift store needs to discount older items to make room for other merchandise. 

Here are some thrifted item projects I’ve done.  In these projects I used items that are not in high demand at charitable thrift stores.

close up of pink sweater coffee cup sleeves with 2 packets of sweetener on wood table

I purchased an out of style teen girl’s sweater on discount in June to make these cup sleeves.

wreath made from rolled up book pages with red ribbon and gold reindeer

 I used a thrifted 45 record and book to make this wreath. 

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There is no reason to feel guilty shopping at a charitable thrift store.  I hope these tips on how to go thrift store shopping helps you enjoy the inspiration of thrifting while supporting your local charitable organization.

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  1. Great article. I don’t think I ever thought about the cycle of things donated or what would be high in demand. The next time I go to a thrift store, I will take this with me! Thanks for sharing your great projects too!

  2. Susan, thank you so much for sharing your insights! I am not a thrift store shopper but I think that’s about to change. It all seems like common sense after you’ve spelled it out (if I think about our own donating patterns) but I’ve never considered the impact as a shopper or the facility that has to store these items. As a blogger, I’m very excited about hitting the thrift store post-season so I can stock up on items to be well-prepared for next year’s holiday posts!

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  4. I love that you do your crafts with recycled items. I don’t spend much time at those places but I think I need to now

  5. The truth is that I love to go to a thrift store, but it must be a good friend. I hate doing it alone. I lose patience very quickly and from my experience you need the time to look.
    Maybe I should good with you sometime 🙂 I really wish

  6. These are great tips, that I wasn’t aware of! I generally go through spring and fall cleaning and donate, but I will pull up this list next time we are ready to purge. I especially love the refurbished Thrift Store finds!

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