The Luxury of Limitations – How to Become a Goodwillionaire

In this day of pinching pennies and reduce/reuse/recycle, what used to be a hush-hush weakness is becoming a trendy strength: buying used. I myself have gradually shifted from married office-worker to single mom at home, living off of child support and a small part-time job. So for me, being a donation patron was perhaps out of prudence more than preference, but second-hand shopping can be for anyone!

So get started or boost the buys:

  • Go often. Don’t be turned off or even intimidated by a single visit. Give various stores a try or two until you find ones you like. The little guy may have a dear-to-your-heart cause, or the big chain might feel more stream-lined.
  • Get to know the layout. I used to avoid shoes and toys; now I have confidence to spot the good stuff. Uppity-priced items under glass or in a “boutique” section aren’t always better. Some look like junk to me, while I feel sneaky paying 49¢ for that Bybee mug sitting out with the framed geese and dusty florals.
  • Equip yourself: wood stain markers, Magic Erasers, Goo-Gone, Stitch Witchery, Clorox bleach pen, Dryell, Fray-Check, and of course buttons, thread, glues, paints, tools, etc. Protect stuffed animals in the washing machine with a pillowcase, cover damaged wood with fabric. Think practical, but outside the box.
  • Go for the gold. or blue. or lavender. It took me a while to even notice – clothes are often sorted by color. Zero in on flattering hues or quickly find a blouse to go with that “perfect” skirt, which had better match something or you’ll never wear it.
  • Check clothes carefully. It’s easy to overlook missing buttons, broken zippers, pit stains (I know – eww), dingy cuffs, stretched hemlines, snags, pills and tiny holes. I can get all excited about an Ann Taylor dress, only to bring it home and suddenly see why the owner got rid of it.
  • Know the store’s return policy. There are days I feel like I’ve examined every item on the racks and I try on 30 things; other days in a rush I do a broad scan in hopes of eyeing an attractive print or luscious fabric and I can try it on later at home.
  • Read the labels. Is it worth dry-cleaning or hand-washing each time? And size standards can change; an old size 10 may equate a size 6 now. It’s not you, it’s the clothing industry. Really!  The label style may hint to its era. (If high-waist pleats or large bib collar doesn’t already.) Juniors (odd numbers) tend to get mixed in with Misses (evens), and grown-up XS with kids’ large and vice-versa. The brand name or logo style can clue you in.
  • Make it a family norm. So far my girls have been blessed with abundant hand-me-downs, so wearing used is nothing new to them.  If your kids resist, try easing them in on costume occasions such as tacky day, etc. Let them enjoy making fun of old styles and they’ll find some worthy stuff along the way. Encourage them by being generous and giving them freedom to choose. And don’t buy sizes too far ahead; tastes and styles change more quickly than you might think. Stock up on basics like solid tee’s, weather boots, snow suits, rain coats, leotards and other gear.
  • Don’t let the hoarder vine creep in. Am I ever going to reupholster that chair or rebuild that wobbly table? Can I really alter those size Tall pants or let out that jacket? How much would I have to spend to “fix” the item? Do I actually need that, or should someone else buy it? Is it something I love? It may be in good condition at an amazing deal and maybe so-and-so could use it, but shopping isn’t a rescue mission.

It’s not always about saving money. Clearance at Target and Hobby Lobby and the like can be much cheaper. But what will always draw me back to thrifting is the unique selection. Under one roof, I can find high-end boots, vintage name-brands and rare children’s books. And I would probably never buy such a dramatic blouse or fancy jacket – except when it’s so cheap I can feel free to take chances on a different style or a nowhere-to-go (yet) dress. I can lavish myself with fashionable coats and I now own multiple nice purses instead of my usual one black and one brown. I find myself feeling privileged to frequently flaunt anonymous offerings and cast-offs.

So hold your head high and speak out about your finds!  Let us know your own tips and favorite store features, too.

Colette Duncan is a stay-at-home/work-from-home divorced mom of two crafty and daring little girls residing in the Carolina Foothills. A bit to the right here, a tad left there, but aiming to be true to Christian values. She is a part-time employee for her church and thrives on helping with computer projects for businesses or friends. Her loves are organizing cabinets and creating with/for the girls, as well as sleeping without interruption and having a movie all to herself. Follow her @junkinpunkin.


  1. Thanks for the great thrift shopping tips, Colette! We’ve got a photo group on flickr where a lot of people share their Goodwill finds (, and if you’re looking for the Goodwill nearest you, check out our list of Goodwill stores ( or scroll to the bottom and type your zip code into our Goodwill Locator.


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