If You Love Thrifting, You Need To Know About Shopping “The Bins”

published Jul 22, 2023
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HACKENSACK, NEW JERSEY - JULY 27: Bales of clothing are ready to be put on the sales floor at a Goodwill Outlet Center on July 27, 2022 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Goodwill and other markets that sell pre-owned items have seen a rise in customers due to inflation costs and younger consumers buying pre-owned materials for environmental concerns. Market analyst IBISWorld predicts that the thrift store market will grow by 2.4% in 2022. Through its recycling of clothing and other items, Goodwill helps keep millions of pounds of clothing out of landfills annually.
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For me, thrift shopping is a form of self-care. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and often pop into a charity shop when I’m traveling — especially if I find myself with extra time to kill. That’s where I found myself a few years ago while I was visiting my son in South Carolina: with a few unplanned hours on my hands and an itch to see what the local Goodwill store had to offer. When I arrived, I saw something I’d never seen at any other Goodwill I’d ever been to. Instead of just one store, there were two buildings side by side — one Goodwill, and one Goodwill Clearance Center.

The Goodwill Clearance Center (aka “the Bins”), unlike regular Goodwill stores, skips the neat racks and rows. Instead, what you’ll find inside are waist-high bins filled with a mix of everything imaginable — clothes, shoes, books, electronics, toys, home decor, kitchen gadgets, and more. And instead of each item being tagged with a price, you’ll instead carry your items up to a large scale to be weighed before you pay for it by the pound — usually in the $1.50 to $2 range. (Furniture is often an exception; it’s instead marked for deeply discounted flat fees.)

“These stores are typically called Goodwill Outlets, Bargain Centers, and Pound Stores,” says Bill Parrish, senior consultant of donated goods retail for Goodwill Industries International. While there are 3,300 Goodwill stores across North America, the outlet stores are much less common, with only 159 in total. If you’re a dedicated thrifter and you haven’t shopped the Goodwill Outlet yet, it’s time to give it a try. Here’s what I’ve learned will make for the best shopping experience for you.

Plan ahead.

Goodwill doesn’t have their own map showing where the outlet stores are located, so one aficionado even created a website dedicated to finding outlet locations by state. On each store’s specific website, you’ll find essential info, like their hours and poundage price. Some stores offer discounts if you purchase over a certain weight, and prices vary depending on the location. For example, a Goodwill 2nd Chance Outlet in Kentucky currently prices housewares at $.99 per pound and shoes at $1.99 per pound, but those poundage costs drop to $.45 and $1.75, respectively, if you buy more than 25 pounds.

Grab a cart before you do anything else. 

Once you enter, make grabbing a cart your first priority because it’s likely that you’ll fill it up, even if you don’t purchase everything you place inside. If you find something you’re considering, put it in your cart and then decide what you want to buy once you’re done shopping.

Minimize the things you carry in with you.

Skip bringing a backpack or large purse. Not only are these cumbersome if there are a lot of people shopping at the Bins, but some stores don’t allow large bags, so as to discourage theft.

But do bring hand sanitizer, wipes, or gloves.

It’s also essential to protect yourself against germs and dirty items, so whether that means bringing sanitizing wipes or wearing gloves (or both!), it’s ideal to have something to quickly wipe things off and keep your hands clean. Gloves also have the added benefit of protecting you from any sharp edges of cracked or broken items in the bins, so they’re a frequent recommendation from seasoned Bins shoppers.

Expect a crowd.

Also, be prepared to encounter a lot of shoppers. Once, I showed up at a Goodwill outlet and people were lined up along the side of the bins. An employee said, “Go!” then shoppers made a mad dash to look through the fresh merchandise. Admittedly, the competition aspect was a little stressful for me, so I shopped some other bins and waited for the frenzy to settle before taking my turn at the new donations. 

When I queried Parrish about this experience, he said the outlet stores can sometimes rotate the merchandise several times daily, which means that you’re always going to have fresh stock to poke through. “The bins that are being refreshed are sometimes marked off until the rotation process is complete,” he added. Once everything is in place, the shoppers can search for finds. That rotation is likely what I witnessed, although that might not be typical for every pay-per-pound location.

All in all, shopping at the Bins is fun, and just like every thrift trip, you need to go with an open mind, ready to discover the unexpected. Whether you’re a reseller, avid furniture flipper, enthusiastic home decorator, or simply curious about what you’ll find, visiting one of these discount locations is the expert-level thrift adventure that could net you your next great treasure.