The saddest thing about browsing through thrift stores is seeing these mementos of lives once lived. Family photos and personalized notes written with love are heart-breaking, but all part of the general progression of life. Every rainfall destroys priceless artifacts. When I think about my time working in a thrift store, I remember the priority for the sorters was speed. The furniture department worried about quality, but for the miscellaneous items, just price and go.
There may be some effort in removing some personal information.
I was a production technician, which was a fancy way of saying that I threw out garbage bins and kept production rolling. I destroyed countless underappreciated donations that would have made even my apartment-mansion today nicer. There was a general policy against selling illegal materials, so it’s not likely to find patient care information sold on the floor, but anything else is open game, so if you don’t want it being displayed in public, don’t donate it.
I took the full picture here but I’ll redact personal information.
It’s a heart-breaking thought to think that here was someone’s grandma that wrote thanking this person for their friendship, and not many years ago either, only to have that note end up in a thrift store. Burn or shred it if you must sever yourself from that memory. We don’t want to see your callous disregard for your family on display and that is why I use this as an example of what not to do. Don’t be like this person. Even if it was donated in error, I still think something like this should have been removed by the sorters, but I knew my four sorters from my time well, and they were good people.
Still, they were all on breakneck daily deadlines.
They have to clear out as much as they can from the back warehouse to put as much on the floor after they’ve cleaned up all the discounted-tag items and had me, or production techs like me, trash them. They would throw out all the home movies, burned media, and other obviously pirated materials, but family photos in album books aren’t sorted through.
They don’t have time to be careful.
They have to clear out mountains of donations, separate the unsellable from the sellable to make sure the store remains profitable, otherwise they’ll be talked to about how they’re underperforming. I didn’t see much of that during my brief time there, but I was talked to about working too slow when I was in a cold, moldy trailer trying to find anything worth selling, working as hard as I could, which was part of why the next time I heard word from any resume I sent out, I left.
For many of the people working in thrift stores, they have no better opportunities.
When I had a gig nearby a thrift store a few years ago now, once we found a military hat that had been donated that we thought of bringing up to say, hey, maybe you should donate this to a Veterans of Foreign Wars place, but after we brought it up, we dropped it, because those aren’t our battles to fight. I saw and threw away plenty sadder than that. Too much to really want to recall in more detail than in my Thrift Store Adventures essay I wrote while I was there.
Nothing too tragic, just like the family albums or personal notes like this.
Now when I go to thrift stores, it’s primarily to browse for books, occasionally looking through other media, miscellaneous items, and whatever else might strike my fancy. I don’t have a lot of space for big items and a lot of time for anything nonessential, so when I go, it’s to blow off steam as a reward for doing something big, or because I’m in the area and it’s convenient enough. In that sense, I don’t go meaninglessly anymore, although I will still see things like these personalized items occasionally.
I’m calling it out to put a stop to it from donator and donation center.
Get rid of all your personal stuff. We don’t want to see it. It shouldn’t be up to the sorters to clean things up like that, because they don’t have the time or ability to do so, but when they receive it, if they can get in there to remove things like that, then certainly, it’d be nice. But let’s explore that “nicety.” Is it because I want to see people’s memories cherished forevermore? More like as we change, grow, and discard our memories we no longer need, we should part ways with them respectfully, or at least, privately.
I don’t need to know your grandma’s name.
I don’t need to know that she was happy for your friendship in a certain year. It’s crude, but I’m sure I’ve acted crudely, so it’s to be expected, I suppose. Even if they cleared out all the personalized things, there would still be the dedications on the first pages of books. Should those be torn out? Book pages are more integral to the quality of the book and they’re fairly innocuous overall.
In that respect, these things are as sad as we want them to be.
Even if this person had donated this item with complete disregard, I can still salvage the memory and display it here in a more positive light, because regardless of what the receiver does with the item once received, the sender’s thought should be what matters. They intended all the best. That I saw it means that there was some breakdown in the receiver’s lifestyle where such a thing was no longer needed or no longer keepable. Who am I to judge that? Well, besides being an anonymous member of the public walking through a thrift store and observing a private moment made public and broadcasting it even more publically, no one.
This thought, however, was one inspired by a thrifting buddy of mine years ago.
|Sources: My personal and professional experiences.|
|Inspirations: I took this photo then let it percolate in my brain.|
|Related: Other Thrifting Adventures essays.|
|Photo: I still like glancing through the miscellaneous section, but I was mainly here for books, and I bought Flowers for Algernon again since I can’t find my first copy of it and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I am excited to read.|
|Written On: 2020 February 23 [28 minutes. 2:12am to “sold on the floor, but” at 2:16am. 2:24am to “it’s convenient enough” to 2:39am. 3:33am to 3:41am. Gdocs.]|
|Last Edited: 2020 February 23 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]|