One man’s (gently used) trash

Before there can be successful thrifting, we all need a refresher on responsible donating

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

After I wrote a story about tips and tricks for successful thrift shopping in the Jan. 19 edition of the Reader, I received an email from Cherie Warber, co-manager of the Community Assistance League’s Bizarre Bazaar resale store in Sandpoint. Warber suggested I write a follow-up piece addressing the front end of the thrifting cycle: donating. She said that while Bizarre Bazaar receives mostly good-quality used items, some people have taken advantage of its donation drop-off as a dumping ground. This demonstrates a lack of understanding about what these organizations do, and costs valuable volunteer time. 

By donating items mindfully, everyone in the process of thrifting and resale benefits. Here are some tips for how to be the best donor you can be:

Always wash or wipe down

When it comes to donating clothes, always make sure they have been laundered since their last wear. The goal should be to drop off clothes with a general lack of scent and a complete lack of pet hair. Shoes should be either washed in the washing machine or, if that’s not possible, scrubbed in the sink and thoroughly dried.

As for household items, remove all evidence of dust or grime. Disinfectant wipes are great for this. Imagine yourself cleaning an item so well that you can picture it on the shelf at your favorite resale store. Volunteers will thank you for saving them time and yuck exposure.

Bizarre Bazaar Assistant Manager and CAL Publicity Chair Donna Hutter sorts through donations at Bizarre Bazaar. Photo by Ben Olson.

Be honest about wear and tear

There is a difference between “gently used,” “well-loved” and “downright done for.” Gently used clothing and household items can often pass for brand new, especially after a good clean. Well-loved items might feature light wear or mending, but still have plenty of life left to give. If it even crosses your mind that those boots your kid wore for three winters are done for, don’t try to donate them. Those boots served their purpose. Their next life might be as a doggy chew toy if you can’t bear to throw them out.

As for electronics and appliances, plug them in to make sure they all work as intended before donating.

Know before you go

If you have questions about what is accepted at a particular thrift shop or resale outfit, don’t be afraid to call and ask questions. This will save everyone time and hassle. For instance, when it comes to consignment, most places only accept seasonal clothing at certain times. Also beware before trying to donate large, bulky household items, as some places don’t have the space or manpower for those donations at certain times. 

There’s also a pretty universal list of items undesirable for general donating, including mattresses, medications, open cosmetics, undergarments and the like.

Consider transportability

Donated clothing should be folded and secured in bags or boxes that can keep it protected from the weather or any unpleasant donation bin or warehouse odors. Household items should be packaged keeping in mind that they might need to be moved several times before being unpacked. Wrap things in newspaper, and mark boxes “fragile” as needed.

Imagine opening a donated container and finding the actual contents of someone’s junk drawer presented as if they’d just been dumped for disposal. This has been a reality for volunteers in the community, and there’s no excuse for it. Vet items, clean them and pack them nicely.

Remember your options

Some charities and shops are seeking only gently used items for resale purposes. Others are willing to accept the more well-loved pieces, particularly if they have a specific goal to get vital items — like jackets and other basic needs — into the hands of underserved or unhoused folks. 

Some items will present dilemmas. Maybe a kitchen appliance needs a simple fix and it would work like new, but you just don’t have the desire to do it yourself. Maybe those rain boots would be in perfect working order with some shoe glue. Maybe the mirror’s frame is beautiful, but the reflection shows some chips and other light damage. For these items, we have the Clark Fork Mall, or the Dufort Mall or the Colburn Mall. That is, that small area at almost every local refuse site where things go to wait in a strange purgatory between donation bins and dumpsters. Lord knows we’ve all found some treasures there.

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