Thrifters and pickers: A dilemma

I love thrifts, on the giving and receiving end, ever astonished by how much our culture has and donates. With patience and luck, practically everything a person wears flows through there.

Ev's skirt
Most of my forays were with my mother, in Naples, Florida, thrift store heaven. Think about it: so many estates whose heirs just send everything to charity. Mom braked for any thrift that might have a wraparound skirt, the clothing equivalent of the fondue set.This was her skirt of choice for casual daywear, worn with a polo or cotton blouse, from the moment she bought her first, ca.1960.

We had to sneak because my father forbade shopping at thrifts. We would have a "long lunch" or "nice drive" and I'd smuggle her skirt into the house in my bag.

Lately I've been on the donor end, divesting all sorts of gear before moving day. I've consigned a few high-end items (original Halston, Ferre) to a designer secondhand store and given some to friends–but bags have gone to charity thrifts. One charity, Windfall, prepares women to enter the workplace, but takes only unworn contributions, less than 2% of my pile.

Charities with stores–Goodwill, Value Village, Sally Ann and the like–are picked by vendors who take the best things to mark up and resell in their hip vintage boutiques. One of my friend's daughters worked in Goodwill receiving and was well paid by a Queen St. secondhand shop to skim things before they hit the floor.

Anyone can buy; the vendors know when the racks are restocked. I've seen shirts and skirts I gave to Goodwill fluttering from a boutique rack more than once, and yes, I'm absolutely certain. In one case, the price tag was higher than what I'd paid.

I'd hoped my donation would end up delighting a woman who couldn't afford the garment in a boutique, or someone like Frugal Scholar (among others) who values conscious consumption and recycling. When vendors make a buck on my donation, it sticks in my craw. 

Am I being unreasonable? Should I lighten up? 

Wonderful moment: Le Duc put a personal flotation device (PFD) on the curb. That's his method for anything decent: offer it to the neighbourhood. Someone picked it inside ten minutes. That evening I answered the phone, and a young man asked for our son, Jules.

When I replied that Jules was at work, the caller said he'd found the PFD and noticed Jules' name and number inked inside. He asked if we meant to give it away or was it lost?

I was touched by his considerate behaviour; we ended up offering him some camping gear.

I've also used our local Freecycle board to post office equipment; respondents have been friendly people who can use what we no longer want.

Giving feels good, but not so much when I'm stocking a for-profit shop.


coffeeaddict said…
If Slovene people had a national sport (I mean besides winter sports) it would definitely be keeping up with the Joneses. Our national mentality has been severely impacted by poverty and surviving a millennium long oppression from foreign invasion forces. After transitioning to capitalism and entering free market everyone felt as if they won the lottery: all this merchandise available!
Everything has to be brand new and we want it all: a huge house, the latest BMW model, a boat and exotic vacations and the list goes on. Unfortunately thrift shopping has no part in the main stream mentality. It so often reminds us of the hand me down clothes and the single pair of boots we had to wear while growing up.
Darla said…
The story about the young man made me smile. I give better clothing to the local women's shelter. I usually give housewares, etc. to a smaller charity shop like the American Cancer Society. I haven't tried Freecycle yet.

Duchesse said…
coffeeaddict: Yes, that's a classic behaviour for early capitalism, to create avid consumers.

Here, I have very wealthy friends whose 20-something children insist on shopping only at thrifts, as a kind of statement.

Darla: Many of my things would not be suitable for shelters (dry clean only), and some will take only baby clothes. But we gave them a lot of household items.

We have divested half of all our goods.
Anonymous said…
I give my nicer things to the smaller charity shops. I've also found some really nice things there, so I guess the "pickers" haven't found them yet. I also leave things out on the curb-- they're gone in five minutes.

I don't blame you for not wanting the resellers to get your stuff. Resellers are bad for the shop because the shop ends up with less "good stuff" to draw customers.

I used to organize sales for charities and I would purposely not advertise online because if I did, we'd end up with resellers buying out all the quality items within the first few hours, and we'd be left with nothing but "junk" to sell for the duration of the event.
Duchesse said…
Mars M: Here, pickers hit everything. And I'll admit I've been biased toward the larger charities b/c they pick up.

Just gave shopping bags of jewelery (most of it costume) to a church's spring rummage sale. We had a block party and invited neighbours to take a lot of items (if they wished)- that was fun!
Susan B said…
We have "Dress for Success" here which takes business clothing in good shape and provides to women who are trying to enter or re-enter the workplace. I always wanted to donate to them but they didn't make it easy. Everything had to be freshly dry-cleaned (and in the bags) and dropped off at their downtown LA location. I eventually gave up and now donate to local charity thrift. I wish I had more time to comb through the thrift and consignment stores here; I know there are some good ones. The trick is to go often, and spend time going through the racks, which I'm unable to do.

We have a park across the street frequented by families on weekends, so used to put our outgrown baby stuff out on the curb with a sign indicating it was OK to take, and someone would invariably pick it up within hours.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: The stuff I give is clean, but not still in cleaner's bags, and I would not re-clean just to donate. Important to note we do not get tax receipts here for donations.

I only go into one thrift here (it's near my streetcar stop) and occasionally find a fab thing, like the $5 Italian straw and leather bag I got last summer.
LPC said…
I suppose I'm just so pleased with myself whenever I get unwanted stuff out of the house that I haven't focused on what happens to said stuff afterwards:).
But I will assure you that there's also a lot of totally great stuff that makes it onto the racks at Goodwill and Sally Ann. At least the locations I frequent on St. Clair West. My Forstmann wool coat from the 60s, in mint condition, my Brooks Brothers tweed, a gorgeous brocade bag in cream and lime green, my Sonia Rykiel jacket...

Good for you for divesting half your goods! Bravo! That's a lot of decision-making, no?
Susan said…
Our younger son insisted on buying ALL his clothing at thrift shops when he was in high school. It wasn't something he advertised, just something he did. He thought going to a regular store was being wasteful. And, the interesting thing is, he dressed nicely.

Now, he's 28 and lives in NYC and shops at regular stores--and still dresses nicely.

Yes, it would make me sad to see clothing I intended to go to people who would be delighted to find something really nice show up in a upscale consignment boutique.
Murphy said…
In my town, Goodwill skims its own stuff - and sends it to the Goodwill downtown "boutique" store, where they sell especially nice items. It doesn't bother me so much that thrift store owners buy the stuff and resell it because Goodwill is still getting the asking price, and can use the profits for its charity work.
Northmoon said…
I look at it the same way as I do for gift giving - once I give/donate it I have no say in what is done with it next. If some pickers and a resale store owner can make a living from it, that's okay with me. I've shopped in vintage stores as well as thrifts and found their prices are still lower than new for better quality. Your skirt priced at more than the original cost is an exception rather than the rule!

Love the man who took the trouble to call and make sure the vest wasn't lost! How nice that you could reward him and get some more stuff out of your house at the same time.
Belle de Ville said…
Recently I've been in full household reorganization mode and I've got (literally) pounds of clothes here in my home office to be donated. Perhaps if I were more enterprising I would try to sell the better ones on ebay, but I like the idea of providing them to the next buyer at a very low price.

Not only do I donate, I shop at thrift stores too on a regular basis. Obviously, I'm a big proponent of buying pre-owned goods. But these days I rarely find anything worth buying as all the good stuff has been already acquired by pickers.
frugalscholar said…
I have written about this before and probably will do so again. I was a "picker" myself in grad school when I was in the vintage biz (1980s). Then--and more so now--most of the people shopping at thrifts and sales are re-sellers. I'd say at least 75%.

If you have something worth money--and have some time--I would suggest selling it yourself and then donating the cash to your charity of choice.
Alexandra said…
I think seeing a business make money from my donation would bother me too. At the same time, I'd tell myself that a donation is like giving a gift - once it leaves your hands, it's out of your control. And the charity to which the item was originally donated made a bit of money on it by selling it to that business, which is part of the point.
Rubiatonta said…
I used to consign my better (almost-new) items directly, but was irked when things were priced so low I might as well have given them away. I'm going to try the eBay route for those items now, since I'm cash poor and could use the dosh.

Otherwise, worn stuff gets picked up by Big Sisters. I support the work they do, and don't mind what happens once it's gone.
As long as Goodwill, SA, etc. are getting paid what they ask for the item, what's the difference? I'm pretty sure it's not the boutique owners who are shopping at the thrifts for their stock. Retail is hard work and a store owner doesn't realistically have time to shop in thrift stores for stock. I know of many women who buy designer items at thrift stores, have them cleaned, then take them to the local consignment store or boutique to sell them at a profit. That's probably how your donated items ended up in the boutique. Competition for the good stuff has definitely increased over the last few years! As for your daughter's friend, what she is doing is against Goodwill policy and she could get fired for it. If she is doing so with the store manager's knowledge, the district manager would certainly not approve!
rb said…
I don't thrift shop but I do thrift donate a lot, and pretty good stuff, too. I don't think I would mind if I saw items I gave to Goodwill at a boutique/vintage shop. Why? Because I know Goodwill is going to sell my items and support their charities with the proceeds. If I had wanted to spend the time and effort selling the item myself (such as on ebay) I would have done so, but I didn't.

I also put things out on the curb for giveaway - not clothing, but household items, books, etc. They are usually gone by dusk. And I do use craigstlist free, too. I have used freecycle in the past but I found it a little more difficult to use than craigslist.

Usually when I post something for free on craigslist, I immediately get 5 or 6 responses saying, "I'll take it! When can I come get it?" and then one or two asking me for intricate details, multiple photos and can I deliver it to them? After I finish rolling my eyes, I use the delete key. :)
Duchesse said…
LPC: It is a greater pleasure than I ever anticipated.

OneWeird: Those are some finds, and I'm so happy they made it on the racks.

Susan: I think men can dress especially well from thrifts as the items do not date so rapidly.

Murphy: That's right, the charities still get their price. Maybe I should look at it as the cup half full, two entities make money.

Northmoon: Yes, I do have to let go. But grrr, when the stuff gets picked without even hitting the floor so 'ordinary people' have a chance at it, I don't like it.

Belle: I sold just one thing on eBay, a lot of dozens of Hermes boxes. I had dinner last night with a friend, a glamourous woman who told me she buys all her clothes second hand, and she's one of the best-dressed women you'd ever want to know. Being a small size helps, though.

Frugal: I don't have the time to list, pack and ship; I'm spending the few days left seeing friends and managing the move.

Couture Vintage: While I have not seen the owner, I have seen their staff there. (Lived in this city 31 years and know them by face and sometimes by name.) The pick and resell to consignment thing also happens but I know exactly who picked my stuff. The girl was likely acting against policy, a broke and resourceful 18 year old.

Rubi: Was offered $30 for my suede and alligator Prada heels by a high end consignment store owner; sold them on eBay for $130.

rb: Had one of those delivery requests too, and was stunned. Love looking at consignment stores, but as a 14-16, not many things there for me.
Susan Tiner said…
Good for you, making progress on purging and sorting.

We've tried that same thing, of putting quality items at the curb that get picked up within 10 minutes. I love that!

I had no idea that "vendors" pre-pick through donated items for higher end boutiques. In that case maybe you could offer the nicer pieces for sale to your readers.
Jean S said…
I know someone who has a thriving ebay business with used clothes--she regularly makes sweeps of Goodwill and Value Village and then meticulously cleans and preps the clothes before posting them. She also mends if needed.

I don't have a problem with that, given how time-consuming a process it is.

I do have a problem with someone "skimming" the Goodwill goods before they go out on the floor, though.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Good idea but have no time to pack and ship the many items. Maybe I'll do that in the future.

No doubt I've purged a few things I'll miss later, but by now am kind of punchy: out, out, out.

Jean S.: I guess that business is fair (and does sound like major work). I'm still struggling through my perhaps Pollyanna-ish wish that someone who could not afford the garment gets a find. I know how I've felt to find something great.

Scooping the good stuff before it hits the floor, or phoning friends who leap on it by prearrangement (to protect the spotter) is a fairly common practice.
Anonymous said…
What is your plan for the items other then clothing that is "good" but not good enough to pass down to the children or grandchildren? For example, a lovely silver condiment/bread basket. Are you sending these things to consignment? I have no trouble getting rid of lots of things and keeping the cherished or wonderful things but the ....nice...things in the middle puzzel me.
Anon on Tueday
Anonymous said…
If you take the items directly to the Goodwill or Value Village does this avert the picking? I was under the impression that this only happened if the bags were picked up by the charity. Eileen
Duchesse said…
Anon: A local church has a well-known annual sale that is 'fancier' than a rummage sale. They have appraisers value items such as those you described and price them. All proceeds go to the church's programs, which, though I am not a member, I support.

I've also given a few antiques, unwanted by my sons, to friends who wanted them.
Duchesse said…
Eileen: No; the stuff was picked in the sorting room. Doesn't matter if they pick up or people took it there.
Tiffany said…
Lots of good thrift shops near where I live, but they now hardly ever have any nice clothes, due to the 'pickers' going through, and those that are left are quite expensive by thrift store standards. I give all clean, wearable clothing to charity - and I've seen people wearing my stuff :)
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: That must be fascinating; I've been looking for people wearing my stuff since started heaving bags at the place a month ago. So far only one man in one of my scarves- quite strange.
SewingLibrarian said…
It would annoy me to have my stuff picked, too. Yes, it's fine that Goodwill makes money from the picker, but, like you, I like to think of someone poor (or at least not wealthy) getting something nice for a good price at Goodwill.
I often set out things that are too big for the trash and not "good enough" to call the Salvation Army for. Everything has been taken by the end of the day. Who knows where it goes?? I hope someone gets some good out of the stuff.
s. said…
ONEWEIRDWORD: That's so funny; I drop all my items at the Goodwill or Sally Ann on St. Clair West! Maybe you've sifted through some of my dontions.

DUCHESSE: Yes, I feel quite ill when I drop off items and know that the many of them will be "picked" instead of reaching the hands of the students and the working poor I would love to see get them. However, I've had a few friends who worked at these thrift stores and they all tell me that at least half of all donations end up in the dumpster; the stores just aren't big enough to hold everything that is donated. So, I convince myself that the "picking" is good as it allows the stores to make easy money on the higher-end items and throw out a bit less.
Duchesse said…
s.: What is thrown out is often dirty, damaged etc. Some charities (Goodwill is one) bundle and sell bulk lots to recyclers; the clothes then are sold in developing countries. (The NYT Sunday Magazine did a fascinating piece on this several years ago, tracking one donated t-shirt to Africa.)

Sewing Librarian: Curbside donation has resulted in things being taken within the day- sometimes within a few minutes! Recently a Canada Post truck stopped to pick up something.
Duchesse said…
Alexandra: Yes, the charity makes money no matter who buys it. However, I hoped the goal of the charity is to make money and at the same time, provide goods to people looking for used goods, not primarily to serve as a supplier to other stores.
Mardel said…
I know that Goodwill or the Salvation Army make money on the stuff the pickers pick, but sometimes it bothers me as well. It happens more at the local Goodwill, and I've seen more of my stuff on the street if I take it to the Salvation Army (which is 20 minutes closer to me anyway) so that tends to be my inclination. There are several older gentlemen of very little means who make a morning of it the day the stuff is put out, and I've seen them happily taking a few of my spouses things out of the store.

Otherwise I have sold stuff, but it takes a lot of time and effort, and I've used consignments. At this point I am just happy to be rid of it. This decluttering makes for incredibly light spirits and I keep finding more and more that I don't need to hang on to.

I've freecycled a lot of household stuff, and fabrics to the quilters too. I love Freecycle, and the idea that something of mine is going directly to someone who wants/needs it. I live in a very small rural neighborhood, so putting things out on the street doesn't work, but it did when I was in town.
Duchesse said…
mardel: The purge happened in waves: a first of obvious things, a second stage of getting rid of vastly more.

Delightful to see the men scoring your husband's things.
Anonymous said…
A lot of our charity shops are quite clued up as to what is quality or valuable and what isn't so they are not so likely to get ripped off by dealers as they used to.

I have been using freecycle recently to clear some stuff out and it is nice to see the people who take the stuff and know why they want it. I also had a good laugh watching from my bedroom window as the man who collected my very ancient upright piano wheeled it down the hill to his house - just 100 yards away!
Duchesse said…
Alienne: Perhaps he'd heard you playing? My sons were happy to know that their bedroom furniture would be staying on the street, sold to neighbours for a very modest price.

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