In 2013, ‘I was unemployed and looking for work, so I thought it would be a good idea to work at a thrift store. I thought it would be fun. I was wrong.’ I’ve written about some of these experiences years later, but I uncovered this essay from that time, so let’s read, together, my thoughts on working there. I’ll edit anything out that’s too personal or too weird, otherwise, this was how it was like…
General Donation Advice
– Sort out all of your trash first. We don’t want your pee-stained pillows, biohazardous clothing, broken dishes, shattered wine glasses, or rusty metals. You shouldn’t treat a thrift store as a free garbage dump.
– Call your local thrift store or charity center if you’re in doubt if your donation – such as a couch, a playpen, car seats, helmets, holiday lights, or anything that might be a questionable but genuine donation – will go to a good home. The first and most obvious question would be: will your location accept this item? You want to make sure they’re able to properly receive your couch and loveseat set or 12-chair dining room set. If you are further concerned about what will happen to the item, ask. What organization(s) will benefit from my donations? What will happen to my donations; will certain items be recycled, put on store shelves, sent to other locations, or other countries? What will happen to my donations if they are put on store shelves but don’t sell? These may seem like annoying questions to ask, but you should be an informed donor, especially if you truly want your donations to end up in good hands.
– Make sure your donation is travel-ready. If you bring your donation to a thrift store, it could be handled by at least a half dozen people, from the person who accepts your donation at the door, to the one who sorts through your donations, prices your donation, places your donation on the store shelf, moves your donation to another location or store, and of course, your donation’s new owner. Make sure glassware is wrapped in newspaper, bags are sturdy, boxes are taped properly, and sets of items are kept together by tape, rubber band, or appropriate means.
– Keep like items together and separate items separate, because while it might be fastest to just throw everything in a box, or wrap glassware with clothing or throw some books in your clothing bag, it helps the thrift store process donations faster and more efficiently if things are organized.
– Cash over donations. Hate to say it, but if you’re looking to donate to a specific organization, such as a charity for blind children or cancer survivors, those charities would benefit more from money than a hundred pairs of socks. Again, this is where being a responsible donor comes into play. If you truly want to make the most impact to your community, call ahead and see what items they need most.
– Expect accountability. Most thrift stores don’t just get free items and make all this money off of them. They act on behalf of certain charities and organizations, so if your donations sell, the organization gets a cut of that. You shouldn’t be rude and you shouldn’t expect the world from the first thrift store employee you meet. You should, however, expect to know that your new and gently used donations will truly help your community. Otherwise what, truly, is the point of a thrift store? Wouldn’t it just be a discount clothing store at that point?
The General Workers of a Thrift Store
I’ve worked in high paying jobs and working at a thrift store most certainly is not. I got into it because if it’s between a thrift store and Walmart, I’d rather work for a company I believe in, a company that I think truly does good for people and the community, and certainly not Walmart, unless absolutely no one else was hiring (it seemed like it was close there for a while). The people I’ve talked with that had a choice of various minimum wage companies agreed with the sentiments. The people that stick around have a sense of pride for “not giving up,” “not quitting,” and generally, if you even call in sick once, it’s a sign of weakness. It’s hard work. The donations are dirty and heavy. Everyone is sick to some degree that works at a thrift store: coughing, sneezing, and sore throat are everywhere, and the closer you are to unsorted donations, the worse the symptoms. The first aid kit has a sign-out sheet, where you’d write your name down for the injury and what you needed from the first aid kit; the list filled up in about a month.
So, who are the people that endure? Why do they stay when they could get a better job? Bad luck, I think. Maybe they tried out other jobs and finally found something that’s physically demanding but otherwise comfortable. Maybe they have a felony or an addiction and are capable enough to work at one job, but not able to move anywhere else. Maybe they like it there.
Working at a thrift store is also language neutral. The only English you really need to know relate to your specific tasks, though it helps if you have a coworker that can translate. I’ve worked with some people where I would willingly trade away my English skills so I could just focus on my work, rather than gossip and chitchat.
Although my time working at the thrift store was brief, one thing I did learn was work-related humility. You may think your job is hard. You might whine and cry because of a certain task you have to do. It’s a big task for you and it puts you in a bad mood every time you do it. That feeling is perfectly understandable in that context, but remember, there’s always someone working nearby you that’s got a worse job. I did a variety of jobs at the thrift store and I did their worst job. A lively man that almost in his 70s could barely speak 50 words of English has done the work dutifully for almost two years. I stood in when he called in sick and could only last a day and a half. My job was a sort of general helper. Some people would be very polite when they needed help, others would act like I was entitled to help them exclusively, but he never asked for help from anyone. He just does his work so I give him a hand whenever I can.
So who continues to work at a thrift store? The hardest working people I’ve met. It’s a well-oiled machine when things are running smoothly, everyone benefits, but when it’s not, donations are stacked to the ceiling for months at a time. All it takes to turn things around is a few new people with a strong sense of discipline, or maybe a strict Theory X manager to micromanage the clutter away. So the next time you donate to your local thrift store, take a polite and quick peek behind those donation doors to see how their back shop is organized. If the people there are strange or can’t speak English, it shouldn’t be a big deal. There just aren’t enough jobs to go around, so at least the workers at a thrift store are able to eek by.
I feel like a lot of this writing about my experiences working in a thrift store will seem negative. I think much of it is reasonable, and if I’m impassioned enough to find another job less than 90 days after starting work here (when I started, I genuinely wanted to make a career out of it, 100%,) then it must have been repulsive for me.
But it’s invigorating work as well. My favorite part of the job was receiving donations. Donors have a sense of generosity and charity when they donate. They feel good about helping and I’d feel good about their charity as well. Even when people would get too hung up on the details or value of their donations, or even when I’d know most of their stuffed animals or certain items would just be trashed, it’s still a nice gesture.
Worst Parts of the Job
I unloaded one trailer that mainly had bags of clothing. Some of the bags were exposed to rain, and aggravated my sinuses. I wouldn’t say I have allergies to dust, dander, pet hair, and mold, but after a certain point, it does get to me, and this weakened me quite a bit. I was sneezing and it was taking a lot out of me physically.
Then a truck came that needed to be unloaded as soon as possible. The driver helped and by this point my nose was running and I was just in not very good shape. I wasn’t efficient at all.
Halfway through unloading this truck, another truck came in. Not only did I need to work faster to get this first truck unloaded, I needed to get the second truck unloaded. The drivers were there to help, but additional backup? A little bit of help from a part-timer and that was about it. It was stressful.
So the next time I silently complain to myself that a day was hard, or a series of activities were difficult, I just need to remember some of the days working at the thrift store. Wow, was today exhausting, and other days were just as exhausting.
The Final Days of the Castle of Lions
When I finished the orientation paperwork and videos, the first order of business was to break down cardboard boxes and help clean up the warehouse. It was a mess. I got to work, slowly learning the culture, and seeing how things worked from behind the scenes of my favorite type of stores. I imagined the treasures I would see. The first one that really caught my eye, besides an old computer box I recycled, was a playset that had a sticker with the words “Castle of Lions” on it, at the top of a shrinkwrapped cart. I thought maybe this was a Thundercats playset at first, but when I looked it up that evening, I found out it was actually a rare, valuable Voltron playset from the 80s, where small pieces of it could sell for over $50 on eBay. I kept seeing this cart as I broke down cardboard boxes, with its tragic masthead standing out proudly. Perhaps it’s shyness, but I didn’t ask about what was happening to this cart, or even the likelihood for me to own this item. When I found out the cart was full of garbage that ended up in the trash compactor, it was too late. This was the first thing to make me realize that this wasn’t going to be a long term job. Even if I had saved this item, how many others had fallen? How many other Castle of Lion playsets, TurboGrafx-16s, or other collectibles were destroyed due to lack of knowledge of their value? I was in no position to save them then, and even a few weeks later, I still can’t see myself as the Bringer of Knowledge and the Saver of Collectibles.
The Tragedy of Donated Plush Toys
Over 90% of plush toys that this thrift store receives are recycled immediately. I received a donation from a young man wearing a nice, white dress shirt on his lunch break that was dropping off six bags of Beanie Babies. He said they were all clean, recently washed, and wanted them to go to a new home, maybe for blind children. I knew where they were going, but as the company dog, I acted grateful on behalf of the company for the donation. Later on in the day, they were in the plush toy recycle bin, the bags weren’t even opened, on their way to the distribution center, maybe for shipment to another thrift store or maybe destroyed, but certainly not to a charity for blind children. Another donor gave away a few bags of clothing and a cute cardboard box to hold a Beanie Baby. She said her 24-year old daughter grew out of Beanie Babies and so she wanted it to go to a good home. I saw it a few hours later, semi-crushed, in the trash compactor, not going to a good home. From a business perspective, if there’s no money to be made in plush toys, this is the most effective way to handle this sort of product; move it on. Plush toys might be a sort of high-risk product because are much harder to clean, disinfect, or de-mold than other types of products, especially when you’re in an environment with dust, debris, dander, mold, must, and mites, so I can’t completely blame them and call them heartless. But when I was a kid, I loved plush toys and still own most of them, so every time I see a plush toy thrown away or degraded, even years later, it crushes my soul.
The Mindset of Donors
People will often justify why they are donating things. When they donate garbage, it makes sense. We had a donor bring in a toolshed’s worth of things, all rusty and muddy, that told us exactly that. All of these items went straight to the trash compactor, including some nice truck straps with some rust, but it makes sense because if they sold something like that and the straps broke, it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.
People will often justify donating newer things as well. It might for pride, such as one person who donated a bag of clothes with a leather coat “that’s worth over $200,” with the mindset that if she donated higher-priced items, she would get more donation stamps for a coupon. I was not impressed. Other people have more honest intentions, wanting their donations to go to a good home. I don’t have the heart, or the balls, to tell people that some of their donations won’t be going to a charity, but rather, the trash compactor.
Why doesn’t my thrift store get anything cool?
The biggest factor on what items a thrift store receives is what the community brings in. A thrift store in a poor part of town will usually receive poor donations, just like a thrift store in the rich part of town will tend to receive nicer donations. If the thrift store is part of a chain of thrift stores with multiple locations, their distribution network also has a big role to play. If one store’s book section is low, another store will step in and contribute 5,000 pounds worth of books, which depending on that store’s processing/retiring system, could last about two or three weeks.
Toys and videogames are a little different. I’ve seen so many toys, from cheap little McDonalds toys to rare, vintage toys, thrown either in the trash compactor or in the “hard toy” plastic recycling box. Hopefully, those bins are sent to another thrift store that will actually try to sell them to the community rather than end up being smelted down into new plastic tupperware, because I kind of wanted that vintage Ecto-1 that sold for $10 and that vintage Ecto-1 without a passenger door that was thrown in the plastic recycle box would have been nice to own as well. Videogames are a crapshoot because depending on the location, a number of collectors could stop in to check out a specific section (doesn’t matter, videogames, toys, furniture, clothing, jewelry, or collectibles) on their lunch break or on their way home from work, or the ultra-rare collectible could sit for several weeks.
The Sordid Tale of the TurboGrafx-16 – rough draft
The TurboGrafx-16 was a videogame console from the late 80s and was an early competitor to the SNES and Sega Genesis. This obscure console found its way to a neighboring thrift store where it sat on their shelves, complete in box, for less than $10. It didn’t sell at that store, so it made its way to our thrift store in a large enclosed trailer. I unearthed it, took a few photos, opened the lid to see the styrofoam still intact, and in a moment of weakness, briefly considered stealing it.
It was raining hard outside and I was physically not well. I thought of how I would conceal it in the nearby woods even though it was raining and come back for it later, or how I could sneak this large object out without being noticed, because this is the sort of minimum wage culture where a co-worker told me “if there’s anything you want here, just tell me. They pay us shit, so we should be able to have whatever we want.” I had shown him an external DVD player, and he encouraged me to steal it. I didn’t, and the next day, the guy was a no show. All of these thoughts passed through my mind as I held this rare console in my hands. This moment of weakness passed and I passed this morality test; after all, I could probably buy it in the store, or if not there, somewhere else later on in life. It wouldn’t be worth the risk and even if I successfully stole it, it would be a taint on my pride and morality, so I left the complete TurboGrafx-16 box where it should have been: in the trailer, on a cart that was bound for the store over the weekend. I came back to work on Monday and didn’t see it on the store shelves. It wouldn’t sell that quickly, I thought, but maybe it did.
The weather was still the same. Rain, sun, rain, sun. It might rain heavily for about one hour and then the rest of the way would be clear. We also had an issue where carts would be outside for too long, in the rain, so we threw out a number of boxes of books. I asked one of the people who ultimately might see, value, price, and put the TurboGrafx-16 in the store for sale if he’d seen it. He hadn’t. I hate to imagine this rare console ending up in the trash compactor, the Destroyer of Collectibles, but after seeing a number of rare items ending up there, I can only hope it managed to sell.
The Donations Your Favorite Charity Won’t Get
The thing that pisses me off most about working for a thrift store is throwing away perfectly good products. This is a more affluent thrift store, so this might be the practice of every thrift store, but every morning, the employees of this thrift store will look for old items on the floor. After five weeks, the assumption is the item will not sell, and said item is usually destroyed in the trash compactor. Today, I threw away a whole bin full of perfectly good basketballs, [American] footballs, soccer balls, tennis rackets, and even a skateboard because they didn’t sell in a timely manner. These donations from your community will not help any children’s organizations or schools. They will not replace worn out, old, moldy, sports equipment and they were in great condition. One of the basketballs that the thrift store destroyed originally sold for $5, was from a quality name brand and was not worn out in the slightest, but rather than send these unfavorable, unsold items to an organization that truly could use these items, they are instead destroyed. How is this morally justifiable?
Don’t Donate Glassware
The more fragile the object, the less likely it will actually make its way to store shelves or in the hands of an organization that can actually put your donations to good use. Let’s assume you have extra glassware and flatware and are true in your intentions of getting this set to needy hands. Wrap each item with newspaper and make sure the box is sturdy. I’ve seen the contents of boxes with false bottoms, or no tape underneath the box, fall out and completely shatter. Glasses, plates, anything fragile, especially if the box is not labeled “FRAGILE.” If you’re donating a large amount of items, you might think wrapping glasses and dishes with old clothing might be a good idea, but it’s just harder to sort out on the other end. If you donate your glassware to an actual thrift store, rather than a community dropbox or a truck, it will be much more likely to make its way onto store shelves. Charities will sell donations by the pound to thrift stores, so the box that you intend to go to a charity for the blind will just end up in your local thrift store in a few months. If the donations are made to a truck or standalone box that sits in a parking lot, it will be haphazardly loaded into a truck by a minimum wage worker. If your donation of glassware came thirty minutes before a minivan full of books? Better hope that the box can support the weight of those books.
Even if everything goes well and your old set of glassware, dishes, plates, and assorted flatware make it into a thrift store, depending on their rotation policy, they could end up just throwing your donations away if they haven’t sold. Every morning when I come into work at the thrift store, workers will take old product and throw it into garbage bins. These garbage bins will then be emptied into a big trash compactor. Perfectly good drinking glasses that last week sold for $1, or, a set of dishes that could make a poor family feel more comfortable, are thrown away on a daily basis. No chips, no dents, no scratches, no stains. The final destination of your generous donations is a graveyard of morality and all because for-profit organizations find it cheaper to destroy than redistribute.
Don’t Donate Puzzles
Puzzles, boardgames, and any sort of non-digital piece of entertainment with pieces, paperwork, and items are often the first thing to get thrown away even before arriving in a thrift store. It’s not because of some ultimatum to get kids to only play videogames. No, it’s rather because if such an item could be even worth playing, let alone selling, it should be 100% complete. A puzzle minus even one piece is useless. Why do so many people donate puzzles without even taping up the box or at least using a rubber band to keep the box together? For every donation trailer I’ve unloaded, there’s been at least one former puzzle box, with all of its pieces strewn about on the floor. If your intentions are pure, and I thank you for that because if we can help out anyone we should, then make sure your positive vibrations and best intentions don’t go to waste. Don’t assume your donations will be handled with care.
Don’t Donate Old Encyclopedias
I work in a more affluent thrift store, so they tend to throw out a lot of books. Not recycle, mind you, I mean dispose of them in quite the same way they discourage you to do. This shit probably goes straight to a landfill, despite my supervisors telling me otherwise; that’s just a hunch, though. So when I come across interesting books on their final voyage – the books with torn covers, stained covers, slight water damage, outdated, overproduced, or most frequently, volumes and volumes of old encyclopedias – I like to honor them by opening a random page and read a random sentence or two, as a final chance for its final reader to glean information from it. I hadn’t read anything profound or life-changing, but just less than a minute with a book that was written with care, respect, love, dignity, and honor should be enough. Some of these books hadn’t even been read once; from shelf-warmers to landfill-warmers.
Don’t Put Sharp Objects In Garbage Bags
Because it hurts.
If you simply must be a jerk and leave sharp objects like knives, metal with sharp corners, wood with sharp corners, high heel shoes, or even some books, at least pad the sides. It’s so easy just to use some cheap scotch tape to tape up the sharp edges. It’s not just that either. I’ve heard more than one donation trucker tell me about finding a knife in a pillow. Why? Why do something like that? People tend to be irresponsible, disrespectful, and arrogant in general, so if you’re donating something sharp, put some common sense into your materialistic thoughtfulness as well. Your donation might be handled by close to a half dozen people before it ends up on store shelves or the trash compactor, so at least make it an easy transition.
Don’t Donate Food
Food banks need your food, thrift stores don’t. Peanut butter and hot cocoa tend to last longer than bread, so when you hide your half-eaten loaf of Hazelnut bread, it turns kind of greenish by the time a sorter looks at it. Probably didn’t help with all the stagnant mold growth in this place.
Don’t Donate Home Videos or Personal Photos
My thrifting buddy and I had a bit of a tragic game we’d play while going to thrift stores, where we’d take a look at family albums for photos. It’s weird seeing other people’s family photos in thrift stores. Their memories were donated away, no longer wanted, no longer the treasured item that people would rush into a burning home to save. Family photos. Baby pictures. Other people’s memories, reduced to products you could buy on a store shelf. Most of these items are filtered out before hitting store shelves as I’ve come to find out, because if a VHS tape of Anastasia won’t sell on store shelves, your home videos certainly won’t, “unless they’re a serial killer.” The only reason I could think someone would donate their old memories, besides wanting to avoid paying to throw them away at the garbage dump, might be to provide other people with a glimpse in how another family functions. Maybe it’s a sort of charity idea, where here’s our functional family, here’s how we act, so your family can be inspired as well. Maybe?
Don’t Donate Too Much Holiday Stuff
I was talking with one of the donation truck drivers about why our thrift store destroys so much product, and he said, “it costs money to store things in the warehouse or send them to other warehouses.” He was very jaded by his line of work, so for him, donations are just things to move from Point A to Point B. Our particular store does have a fairly large storage area for the back stock, mainly holiday goods and certain clothes for sale days. This quote will give you an idea of how much inventory we had: “if the item won’t sell for around five or six bucks, toss it. We have way too much back stock.” When you are spoiled with a vast storage area of holiday back stock, you can afford to be picky with what donations you keep and what donations you trash, I guess. So if you’re going to donate holiday stuff, at least try to bring in those donations closer to the actual holiday itself.
Don’t Donate Holiday Lights
Holiday lights are the least likely donation to help any thrift store, besides soiled or damaged goods. I saw so many boxes of holiday lights, and my theory on that is that if it’s cheap to buy them at any grocery or hardware store, why even bother buying them at a thrift store? You might save a dollar or two, but a quarter of the lights might be burnt out, and the lights might be more dangerous than they’re worth if they were sitting outside in the snow for too long, so it might just be better buying them new.
“Man burned opening package at Edgewood thrift shop”
Working in a thrift store can be dangerous for numerous reasons. Donations can be sharp, broken, or explosive. A thrift store employee in Atlanta opened up a box [2020 Editorial Note: This link broke over the years…], just like he did every day, with toys and an explosive that sent him to the hospital. In our weekly meeting this morning, our manager stressed safety first – in part because two weeks prior, someone was cut on some glass and had to receive stitches – and went over safe handling procedures for handling donations. Clothing should be felt briefly before digging into any pockets to avoid sharp objects. Gloves are reluctantly available to anyone digging into boxes, but no mention of how hazardous items are to be handled. I’m not sure if this incident could be avoided in other thrift stores, because the sheer volume of product that thrift store employees sift through on a daily basis is amazing. It’s all a lottery. Sometimes you’ll find something really cool or really nasty.
The Magic Bootlegs
Our store has policies against what cannot be sold and bootlegged media is one of them. So when we received a probably well-intended donation of several bootleg Shaw Brothers movies, such as the Magic Blade, they don’t go on store shelves. They go straight to the trash compactor. In a way, it’s a shame, but they hold no real market value, and when you’re a rich thrift store that can afford to destroy perfectly good merchandise, why even try to sell merchandise that isn’t even good in the first place?
Why Donate Empty Cases?
I collect videogames, myself. I like to own copies of games with nice labels, no scratches or stains, and if it’s CD-based, with the packaging and CD in good shape. When you donate the packaging to a PS2 game, but without the CD, it just gets thrown in the trash, even if the instruction manual is there and in great shape. I guess it’s along the same lines as donating pirated media as well: best intentions and tough thrift store filters result in the object going into the trash compactor.
Stained or Broken Artwork Gets Destroyed Automatically
I threw away a nice at least two feet by two feet canvas-style portrait of Marilyn Monroe today. It had a slight stain that I couldn’t easily clean off with a bit of spit, but was practically unnoticeable a few feet away. Or it could have been painted over. Instead, its value was deemed worthless.
If It Hasn’t Been Played in Almost 20 Years…
If you go to a thrift store, and you see a constantly shuffling supply of PC games and videogames, but they tend to focus on just a few consoles or eras, that doesn’t mean that other charities and your neighbors are just donating PS2+ and Windows XP+ games. The rarer, more vintage, games don’t even make it to store shelves. I threw away a mint condition copy of Microsoft Fury3 for Windows 95, shrink wrap with box in great shape and all. This item really only has limited value, because first of all, it was a promotional item not for resale. They get picky about little things like that when they are spoiled with an excess of product. The whole “runs best on Windows 95” and “also runs on Windows 3.1” might have been its death knell. For a collector like myself that doesn’t have a Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 computer, this item is more of a display item. You don’t really open stuff like this if it managed to stay intact for 20 years. Oh wait, it didn’t. So I sent it off to the Collecting Graveyard with a final unwrapping. Shrinkwrap came off easy, box opened just fine, and the game was on a CD medium. I suspected it was going to be on floppies, many floppies. The worst part about this whole experience was knowing that it could sell for quite a bit on eBay. How much? $25, and this one was in better condition.
Incomplete Videogame Consoles
If you donate a Gameboy of any generation to a thrift store, but something’s broken about it, chances are it won’t be sold. Maybe if you donate it to a thrift store that is less arrogant about its stock than mine was. Maybe if it’s a thrift store that truly cares about the community and wants to make sure that every item it receives is handled with care and respect. Not mine. We received a donation of one of the old, brick, Gameboys, but the screen cover was broken off. It could still boot up if it had working batteries, and the battery cover was still there and it was in great condition otherwise. I would have bought it, and even told the guy who was deciding to price it that even the battery cover itself was worth a dollar or two. I later saw it sitting in a frying pan in the metal recycling bin. Maybe our metal recycler will see some value in it where everyone else has not.
The End of the Lifecycle for This Life Jacket
If a thrift store has a big, organized warehouse, it will normally store holiday items until that holiday actually comes up, so there won’t be a bunch of Halloween costumes clogging the shelves around the Fourth of July. Some items are less intuitive. I threw away a $7 life jacket today because it didn’t sell. Not many people go out on the water in April in Seattle. I thought about how this life jacket could have gone to any one of a number of organizations to promote safety on the water and wondered the statistics on the matter. “In 2010, … 672 [boaters] died. Most (72%) boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.” Not to say that this particular life jacket could possibly save a life, but maybe.
Sex Addicts Anonymous and Porno Mags
Before I started working at the thrift store, I read a few posts on reddit about how it’s like to work at a thrift store. I’ve only worked there for a few weeks, so I can’t say I’ve seen anything too strange, but I did see a crumpled up porno magazines in one of the product trailers and a Sex Addicts Anonymous book in another. It would have been a better story if both were in the same general location. Maybe if I work in a thrift store for a few years, I could say that I’d seen something like that.
Guns, Guns, and Guns
This particular store doesn’t sell guns or gun accessories. During the first week I handled the donation receiving door, I helped bring in a few items a person was dropping off, with the last item being a shotgun case. We are taught how to respectfully decline donations and how to handle irate customers. I just said, “I don’t think we accept gun cases, but I can check with my supervisor if you wouldn’t mind waiting.” He said it wasn’t a big deal, so I gave him directions to the gun shop down the street, because they’d be much more likely to buy it or accept it. A while later, I was unloading a trailer filled with clothing, and the first thing I noticed was about a dozen shotgun shells. I picked them up as I found them and let management know; they didn’t seem too concerned, and I thought it was discerning but amusing. In another trailer, I found a 1974 edition of Gun Digest with a beautiful design of the gun from Dirty Harry, the Smith and Wesson Model 29. Due to that anti-gun company policy, I bet it will just end up in the trash. Too bad, it looks like it’s worth about $5 on eBay, if not more. The day after I wrote this section, I found a gun hostler in one of the product trailers. I’ll let the sorters figure out what to do with it.
“Extinction Lasts Forever: When They’re Gone… So Are We”
I saw this nice little piece of embroidered cross stitch art with a number of rare and exotic animals. A mighty lion, wrinkly rhino, pensive panda, shocked panther, awkward dolphins, howling wolf, mysterious parrot, floating koala, and a soaring bald eagle whose wings touch both sides of this mural. It could have been more aesthetically pleasing in several places, but it still looked nice enough to sell. Where did I find it? In the trash compactor, of course. I also thought it was a fitting conclusion to its life advocating against extinction.
Why donate license plates to a thrift store? If you have a garage, it’s a cool memento to hang up of your vehicle(s) throughout the years. If not, I could see them having significantly less value, but I still think it’s kind of an odd thing to give to a company to try to resell. Either way, if the thrift store is at least somewhat progressive, it will end up in the metal bin, where I saw not just Washington state plates, but Ohio as well. Seems like they traveled quite a ways to get here.
Baseball cards, everywhere
In every trailer with assorted goods I’ve worked in, there are always baseball or basketball cards strewn about on the floor. It gets in the way, creates a tripping hazard, and in general just makes me not feel good about stepping on donations, no matter how small. I finally found the culprit: an open trading card display box (large enough to fit some 100 cards) of NBA Hoops from the 1990-1991 season. Another example of a donation being ruined because of poor handling. A rubber band would have been the difference between seeing all of these cards in the trash bin and in stores for $3 for a set of 50, like I see in other stores. On that note, I thought about how baseball cards were like beanie babies, where people thought they’d seriously invest in them. Maybe they had more success over the years, but I think it’s pretty much done by now.
This is a new section I wrote in 2020 as I was copying over everything. Let me first say that it’s been a trip down memory lane. Not particularly terrible for me now. I was overly materialistic back then. Now that I’m closer to an anti-materialistic person, where I won’t hold onto anything that I don’t value now, even if I once did, unless that value then has any degree of significance, these sections do reveal a sort of needless empathy. I probably learned through working there to get over that. It was a growing pains type job.
So the general policy was if the paintings were original, if the frames were good we’d sell them, otherwise, we didn’t really bother with them. The guy that worked furniture back then, Scott, he was a mad man. He had one of the best furniture departments in the state. He was ex-Army and ran his operation that way. Everyone was just a little scared of him but he knew what needed to be done. I think he did it for a hobby since he drove a nice truck. He was stern with me for a few weeks then probably after seeing I was pulling my weight started to open up to me. That was nice. Good on him, wherever he is now, he did it for the right reasons.
If he thought the painting would sell, it’d sell.
A Scarecrow Appears
I never wrote this back in 2013. We probably had a scarecrow donation. It was probably funny.
Vexillology, or, respect toward flags
Before I worked at the thrift store, I had some cursory interest in vexillology, the study of the history and symbolism of flags, although I’ve never folded a flag into a triangle nor raised a flag in any ceremony. After begrudgingly placing a Washington state flag into a cloth baler for resale or recycle during one of my first weeks on the job, I did research to first see if that was a legal route of disposal and then to see what the rules and regulations were on the proper disposal methods of flags. State flags don’t need much in the way of formal disposal, but the United States flag must be disposed of properly – by burning. At no time should you donate an old flag to a thrift store or charity organization, especially if it is a family heirloom, because everyone that sees this donation will think you’re a jerk, or if they’ve served in the military or have strong military roots, they’ll think you’re a disrespectful jerk, at best. I saw a United States flag thrown in a pile in one donation trailer, which I tried to fold as best I could and placed in a cooler so it wouldn’t get destroyed. Another United States flag was brought to us on a truckload of donations in a nice triangle display case. This donation completely offended the driver that helped me unload this and his truck full of donations, in part because his grandfather’s heirloom flag didn’t even have a display case, and also because of general patriotic sentiment. I agree with him too. If you are not sure what to do with an old flag, donate it to an organization like the Veterans of Foreign Wars that will actually handle it responsibly, rather than just another article of cloth to be sold for cents on the dollar as scrap cloth.
Garbage bins in thrift stores
Occasionally, as you’re browsing through a thrift store, you might come across a random garbage bin on wheels. I’ve seen these bins a few times before working at the thrift store and kinda figured that’s what it was and it’s exactly what you think it is, going exactly where you think it might go. Typically the old stock will be trashed every morning before the store opens, but in the off-chance a bin is missed, it might sit out in the store for a while. As you could probably tell by now, I think throwing out old merchandise is the most disgusting part of working at a thrift store, so if you see anything you like in any of these bins with tags on them, you might be able to buy it for a steal, because to the thrift store, it’s trash.
Mold in general is just not very nice, even if it makes pizza taste good, so when I noticed a 6″ by 6″ patch of mold on a plank of plywood inside one of the donation trailers, it all made sense: I had a severe allergic reaction in another trailer last week, experienced sporadic allergic reactions (coughing, sneezing, red eyes due to sneezing, and the sort of minor respiratory issues that relate to all of that,) and today even with a dust-mask, I didn’t really cough or sneeze as much. But my lungs feel like they’re coated in dust.
That dust-mask? According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), if you’re in a work environment that contains mold, you need a N-95 respiratory mask, which admittedly, cost more than dollar store masks. The one I picked used today even had a clearly printed label stating it “does not meet NOISH specifications,” so I was making a subtle statement when I wore it.
So when I realized the mold in two places, I told my lead in a discreet way. I didn’t want to blare the horns, flip all the fire extinguishers, and yell at the top of my lungs about the mold. I was polite. I said I had found the mold and would like a better dust mask. We had none. I told I didn’t have to work in the trailer anymore, but I decided to fill one more cart of product, so that way tomorrow’s crew would have more to work with, and to be polite. I wasn’t using this as an excuse to be lazy, or to get out of doing work. It is a legitimate issue, I don’t really feel 100% well right now and when I have worked in the trailers, so hopefully this is the bit that will finally turn things around and make things more bearable for future employees. Me? I have four days left and though I’m worried about absolute worst cases, I have to remember the positives, the opportunities that lie ahead, that were the direct result of choosing to go on this Thrift Store Adventure, and take what I’ve learned with me to help others.
That was a time and a place, man. I don’t know if I could do it again. I was young and wanted to experience life. It’s rough work and even now I have trouble with jobs, so I don’t know how I lasted all of about the four months I worked there. I’m glad I was able to dig this out of the archives. I had this saved on my RYM music profile on a hidden list. I’ve since deleted it since between 2008 and 2013, it was a cool place to be, but now it’s become overly commercialized, and I really only go there now to see if I can get people interested in checking out my writing. I like cataloging music still but my materialism is gone. I don’t feel the need to own discographies anymore. I still like many of my CDs, which I’ll be sorting through in the month of February in more detail.
I just don’t see a need to get new CDs much anymore.
Maybe the thrift store taught me that. Maybe it was the move. Regardless, I’m happy I found this essay, read through it, and could publish it here. I captured as many thoughts as I could on working there without actually having my current writing, not really chops, maybe more writing pace? I write thousands of words daily. I bang out the material before breakfast and whenever I can. Back then, I didn’t know I’d take writing as seriously as I do now. I probably had some relevant photos back then. Now they’re all tucked away deep in storage.
|Sources: My professional experiences.|
|Inspirations: I wrote this probably as a way to deal with what I was seeing.|
|Related: This was an early essay that could match in with the Downsizing Zeal series and Thrifting Adventure series, which it probably gave its name.|
|Picture: Screenshot of its stats from 2013.|
|Written On: The original essay was written between 2013 April 14 and May 01. I wrote the intro and outro then read between 6:20am to 6:43am then 6:50am to 7:21am on 2020 January 16, while listening to some crappy 2020 album then 30 Wit a Hammer.|
|Last Edited: 2020 January 16 [Other than minor edits for the original version, the rest is first draft; final draft for the Internet.]|