How to Shop at Goodwill (and find all the best stuff!)

I shop almost exclusively at Goodwill. The couch I’m sitting on, the coffee table my feet are on, the end table next to me, the table in our entry way, our dresser, and both of our night stands are from Goodwill. The jeans I’m currently wearing and the sweater wrapped around my shoulders are also Goodwill finds. My favorite coffee mug, nearly all of our picture frames, and my ridiculous book collection. Yup, Goodwill.

And yet time and time again, when I tell people where I’ve gotten so many of my belongings, the first thing they respond with is “I never find anything good there.”

If you aren’t finding good stuff, then you’re doing it wrong. I never leave Goodwill empty-handed. At the very least I’ll leave the store with a 25 cent paperback book. Here’s how I do it.

How to Shop at Goodwill

1. Touch everything

If you just said “ew!” you’re going to miss half of the good finds. May I remind you that if you’ve ever slept in a hotel, you’ve been all up in sheets that someone else has done God-knows-what in? So touching a shirt that someone else wore isn’t a big deal.

Looking at every item is the easiest way to find awesome stuff. I flip through every single rack in the women’s section. You’ve really got to perfect your wrist flick motion to plow through the racks in a jiffy (Grammy? Is that you? Yeah, I just said jiffy. It was weird but I liked it.)

The best part? Goodwill sorts clothing by style, then size and then by color. It’s a rainbow of beautiful.

This is just the short-sleeve small section.
This is just the short-sleeve small section.

2. Ignore the sizes

When I said I sort through every rack, I meant it. I completely ignore the sizes. As I type this I’m wearing a slouchy sweater that I found in the x-large section. Maybe it wasn’t intended to be slouchy, but it’s slouchy on me and I love it.

They also definitely just eyeball an item before they slap a tag on it. I’ve found size 2 jeans in the medium section (huh?) and size 14 jeans in the small section.

So ignore the sizes. Look at everything.

3. Try it on

If you said ew to the first one, then this is definitely an ew. I do it anyway. No matter how cheap it is, it isn’t a great deal if it doesn’t fit you.

4. Look for the staples

Goodwill is my holy grail of jeans stores. At least half of my jeans are from there. My favorite finds are American Eagle (the ones I’m wearing in this post), Mossimo, Loft, and BDG (from Urban Outfitters).

I can also practically guarantee you that if you are looking for a staple piece, like a black pencil skirt, you will find it. I have 3 black pencil skirts in varying fabric from my local Goodwill. They also have always have cardigans in practically every color, if that’s your thing. N also gets a ton of nice dress shirts from Goodwill.

5. Visualize every piece of furniture with a fresh coat of paint

The furniture section at Goodwill is very hit or miss. That being said, the couch I’m sitting on as I type this is from Goodwill. It’s a lovely couch and was practically new when I bought it. Now it’s covered in dog hair.

Look for quality in the furniture. Check all the joints. Open the drawers and see how they’re connected. Can you take the hardware off to repaint? Good. Is it solid wood and not particle board? Good. Is it heavy as hell? Great. A piece of well-built furniture from Goodwill is a better investment long-term than anything from Ikea. And it’s probably still cheaper.

Of the furniture we’ve bought from Goodwill, I’ve refinished about half of it. On the right is my most recent furniture purchase. I’ve been wanting a vanity for years! Suggestions on a paint color welcome.

My "getting ready" area. Both of these are from Goodwill.
My “getting ready” area. Both of these are from Goodwill.

6. Pick the Goodwill in the wealthiest area near you

I frequent three Goodwill stores, all within about 10 miles of my house. The one I always find the best stuff at is the one that is closest to the big houses (i.e. rich people). Labels I find almost every visit: J.Crew, Loft, Gap, Abercrombie, and Banana Republic.

Goodwill stores near college towns also tend to have a ton of great women’s clothing but way crappier furniture.

7. Visit frequently and if you can, visit on a  Sunday or Monday

Goodwill gets new stuff all the time but  a great majority of it comes in on weekends. Sometimes it takes them a bit to get it out on the floor which is why  Monday  is the ideal day. There’s usually a lot of good stuff out by Sunday afternoon though.

8. Don’t hold back in the book section

Buy every single book you think you might want to read. Do it. Paperbacks are between 25 cents and $1. This is exactly how I am well on my way to having a library that rivals Belle’s. Also, FYI pregnant people, there are always at least 10 copies of What to Expect When You are Expecting at every single Goodwill. That is not an exaggeration.

A quick search of the book section on my most recent visit turned up some great titles:

Books at Goodwill

9. Don’t be tempted to buy, just because of the price

I’ve been guilty of this many times. It’s easy to justify a purchase when it’s only $3.50 (literally less than a Starbucks latte). That being said, if you really can’t imagine what you’d pair something with or it doesn’t fit you well, pass on it. If it’s furniture that has to be refinished and you don’t have the time or energy, just say no.

10. Don’t forget all the extras!

And by extras, I mean random crap. Their “home goods” section has tons of china, Christmas decorations, decorative glass items, baskets, and sporting equipment.

If I ever decided to take up golf...nah, that would never happen.
If I ever decided to take up golf…nah, that would never happen.

11. Enjoy a little opposite bragging

Oh, these $150 Columbia snow pants? $5 at Goodwill. This adorable blush pink Loft sweater? $3.50 at Goodwill. This Gap v-neck t-shirt? $3.50 at Goodwill. Oh and these fabulous white jeans? $5 at Goodwill.

I’m just not one of those people who would hide the fact that I bought something at Goodwill. Wearing a brand name item that you bought from Goodwill doesn’t make you cheap or gross, it makes you smart. Though admittedly, I am cheap.

12. Contribute to the circle of life

Two Disney references in one post? I’m killin’ it today.

If you find good stuff at Goodwill, give good stuff to Goodwill. It’s a great organization that helps thousands of people develop job skills. When I clean out my closet, those clothes go straight to Goodwill. Often I’ll buy something at Goodwill, wear it for a year or two, and drop it back off.

Follow these tips and I’d be willing to bet you find some super cool stuff on your next Goodwill trip. Got any more tips to add to this list? Do share!

 If you liked this post, you might enjoy:

How We Got Rid of HALF of Our Stuff

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