Thrift stores are not just outlets for our trash & other donation guidelines

I’m sitting down to write this post about donation guidelines with some trepidation as it’s definitely a sensitive subject. I want to handle it with care and with grace because this topic has a tendency to rile people up. And that is not at all my goal for writing this post. Instead, I’m hoping to simply raise some awareness around what should and shouldn’t be donated.

Thrift stores are not just outlets for our trash & other donation guidelines at I'm an Organizing Junkie blog

Donation Guidelines

First for those that may not know why I’m so passionate about decluttering let me give you a little background. I’m what you could call a power purger. I am constantly looking around my home to evaluate and purge the things that are no longer serving me and my home. In addition, I believe wholeheartedly that purging must come before any organizing can occur in order for lasting changes to take place. I add items to my donation station on a very regular basis. Once the box is full I drop off the contents to my thrift store.

I choose to donate to my local thrift store for a variety of reasons. First, I don’t have the storage space to collect items that I want to sell myself. Nor do I really care to invest my time in to selling these items. Second, my thrift store donates all store profits from items sold to our local hospital. This benefits my entire community. I’m also a regular shopper at this thrift store and it makes me happy to purchase clothes and household items for a great price while giving back at the same time. I love that we can reuse and recycle items this way, keeping them out of the landfill. In addition, I have friends that volunteer at this thrift store and a friend that owns her own thrift store in another community.

So all that to say, I’m pretty familiar with what to donate and what NOT to donate.

And at the top of that DO NOT donate list are used s*x toys and menstrual cups. No just no. And yes my girlfriend has had to deal with both those things at her thrift store. Also on the list are stained sheets, sweat stained t-shirts, jeans ripped on the bum and items holding mouse droppings. Ugh.

yellow stained shirts

ripped jeans

She once had someone donate an entire box of left foot shoes with not a match to be found. What? So many of the things donated are ripped, stained, broken, have missing pieces, or covered in animal hair. The amounts are staggering actually.

And here’s what we should always keep in mind about these types of donations. It takes someone’s time to sort through box after box of donations to determine what can and can’t be put out on shelves. In the case of my local thrift store, where it’s all volunteer run, it bogs them down from being as effective and efficient as they could be.

And something else to consider is most thrift stores are not lacking in donations. At least that’s the case here in Canada. When I drop off donations in my town, there are literally bags upon bags stacked right to the roof and not enough volunteers or time to get through them all. How much easier would their jobs be if they weren’t digging through trash?

The idea for this post actually came about after reading a Facebook post from one of my blogging friends and then sharing it to my FB page. She had purchased a pair of waterproof winter boots for her son at the thrift store. They were actually labeled waterproof on the inside tag but they leaked for her son the first time he wore them. Now I get that perhaps the original donator had no idea that they leaked but if they did know they shouldn’t have been donated. I will say that the comments on that post surprised me. For instance, one person replied:

It is a thrift store. People donate all types of items. Good or bad. It keeps them put of landfills. Perhaps you were not happy with your 3 dollar buy but for a family that 3 dollar buy may be all they can afford. It is up to you to be aware of what you buy.

First of all, thinking the items you are donating to a thrift store will never hit the landfill is absolutely false. Especially if that particular thrift store doesn’t take things that are ripped, stained, broken, have missing pieces, or covered in animal hair for instance. I do know that many thrift stores try and recycle as much as they can with various collaborations they arrange with other organizations and that’s great. And many will take things like stained shirts and cut them into rags. But please don’t assume this is happening.

Before donating something questionable, as a courtesy, please take a minute to call the donation center first and ask them about items you might not be sure about. EVERY THRIFT STORE IS DIFFERENT. For instance, here where I live, the shirts they use for rags need to be of a certain cotton count. If the stained shirts don’t make the rag cut, they are tossed.

Note: other organizations may be able to take some of these things but you have to do your research. For example, often animal shelters are willing to take blankets and sheets including those that have stains.

Another example is this travel coffee mug of my husband’s. He got it for a gift one year and it never really kept his coffee hot.

coffee travel mug

Yes I could have donated it but I didn’t want someone else to buy it with the assumption it would keep their coffee hot. Because that is a very logical assumption one would make when buying a travel coffee mug. Out of consideration for my fellow human being I tossed it. The volunteers/employees in both these examples can’t test the items and so would naturally assume they worked as intended. They would have put them out on the shelf at the same price as other similar items. But most stores have enough donated items that work as intended, they don’t need things that don’t.

And secondly, the idea that people of lesser means should be more than happy to settle for lesser quality, just makes me sad to be honest. Because why should they have to? Everyone deserves to have dry feet and hot coffee.

Here’s what another commenter had to say.

I grew up poor and let me tell you spending your precious pennies on what appears to be a good coat or boots or toy for a birthday only to find when you get home that it doesn’t work, has a broken zipper you cannot afford to replace, or isn’t warm or waterproof is horrible!! You can’t get your money back, you can’t afford to buy something else so now what? It is NOT ok to donate items like this!! It’s not keeping anything out of the landfill because now the person who just wasted their money on it is going to throw it away angrily! Sometimes trash is just that and guess what? THAT’S OK!

Thrift stores are not just outlets for our less than good stuff. It’s also perfectly okay and encouraged to send your good stuff there. Yet the idea that someone’s good stuff is too good to donate to a thrift store is something I still hear on a regular basis.

In fact, I recently watched a Youtuber share this particular thought recently. She was purging her home and in the process would pile her more expensive items up in her office with the intention of selling them. However she never got around to selling these things and her pile just continued to grow. It was actually causing her a great deal of stress. She mentioned that she didn’t want to just donate them though because “they were too good for the thrift store”. So instead she hung onto them for well over a year allowing them to agitate her every time she saw the pile.

Now I totally get how hard it is to let the things go that we’ve paid a lot of money for. Selling them through an online community group, or through some other means is a terrific idea. However good intentions are only as good as the discipline behind them. If selling is your goal, give yourself a deadline to sell them by. We make time for the things that are important to us. Hanging onto these items long term takes up valuable storage space in your home. The clutter also causes much stress and chaos. Plus it keeps us living in the past and not in the present.

At some point we just have to cut our losses and move on. And donating them to a thrift store is a fantastic way to bless someone else.

If an item is no longer serving you, it’s not wasteful to let someone else enjoy it. Consider your donations to the thrift store a gift.

I know most people donate with the best of intentions to help others and it is so appreciated. This post is simply a friendly reminder to please be considerate when tossing things into a box to take to the thrift store. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you would buy the item and/or gift it to a friend. If the answer is no, please reconsider. Also if you have toys or other items with multiple pieces or sets, please keep them together in a bag. Tape cords or remotes to appliances so they don’t get lost.  Add instructions if you have them. Please wash clothes first if they are covered in animal hair. You get the idea. I can assure you that a little thought goes a long way when gifting your items to the thrift store.

If you’ve made it this far in my post about donation guidelines, thank you. I understand this is hot topic and would ask that you please be respectful in the comments. Thoughts?

What will you be gifting to the thrift store this week?

PS: I’m loving the suggestions in the comments of alternative places to take donations, please continue to share! It might be helpful to include the general area that you live in and/or country as well.


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Filed under: Clutter Control, Purging


46 Responses to Thrift stores are not just outlets for our trash & other donation guidelines

  1. 1
    Nicola O. says

    It really is key to know what the specific guidelines of the store are. Our local thrift chain recently started a textile recycling program — you can bring in stained, torn, dirty clothes, shoes, and linens, and they’ll be recycled. They just can’t be wet. Which beats the landfill for sure!

    • 1.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      That’s terrific Nicola! I love that some thrift stores do this and why it’s so important to check first. You never know.

  2. 2
    Carol says

    Deciding to get rid of something and actually getting rid of the items can be two different emotional tasks. It is worth the time to sort when you are purging. Garbage and Donate are distinct piles and sometimes we need to re-evaluate the donate pile afterwards. Donating is not always a ‘one stop’ process, sometimes you need to make different stops to get things to places that will be able to use them or recycle them. Thanks for bringing this up.

  3. 3
    Mon says

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I always ask myself before donating how I would feel if I bought a certain item there. Or would I like shopping for items of this quality. Treat others the way that I would like to be treated.

  4. 4
    Donna says

    Really good post! We each need to re-evaluate our decisions when it comes to donations. If we really don’t want something to go to the landfill, we need to take the time to research whether there are other alternatives to the local thrift store. For instance, that pair of jeans with the broken zipper or ripped seat? Use online sources like Nextdoor or neighborhood pages on Facebook to see if anyone would like to have them for making a jeans quilt, for instance. Or someone who repairs clothing and donates it to a local battered womens’ shelter.

    • 4.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Donna for sharing those suggestions!

    • 4.2
      Val says

      We threw out 3 of my husband’s jackets today. All had blown zippers and I don’t have the skillset to fix them, and the repair shop is expensive. I didn’t think of seeing if there were organizations that might fix and donate.

    • 4.3
      Barbara I Trechak says

      I really like what you said in your post. Your Ideas are good and certinly something to consider.Thank you Barbara

  5. 5
    Beth DuBord says

    Our local thrift store will take unwearable clothing and send it to a shredder to be used to make paper. I have a friend that regularly shops at thrift stores to buy old jeans to make tote bags, hot pads and quilts

    • 5.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      That’s awesome Beth! Yes every thrift store is different on what they accept and don’t. That’s why it’s always a good idea to call around.

  6. 6
    Ann says

    Very valuable post. I love to shop and donate to thrift stores, but some I just avoid because there is so much filthy junk in them. When in doubt, throw it out. I agree, every thrift store has an excess of donations. Garbage is expense in the urban area where I live–I almost never fill our garbage bin, so it costs me nothing to add the waste to my can. But Charity organizations probably pay by the dumpster, and why give them the cost of going through and then paying for your junk to go to a landfill?
    My favorite shop supports local Lutheran Schools, and it’s a pleasure to shop in–bright, clean, well organized, priced right, and always has a line to check out. Best thing, is they have several huge re-use/Recycle containers in their parking lot where I can drop off bags of clean, ripped or stained textiles and worn out shoes. Makes purging easy and fun because I always hunt for treasures after I drop off donations.

  7. 7
    Anna says

    I don’t have a thrift store in my area with opening hours that would work for me, but my apartment building has a shelf in the laundry room to drop off things somebody else might use. I put stuff there that are still working and are in good shape, but I have seen everything from broken pots to disgustingly dirty neti pots or unwashed breast milk pumps.

    • 7.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      I love that idea Anna, it’s too bad some people can’t be courteous enough to wash their items though.

  8. 8
    Neena says

    A very good, and necessary article. So many of us have trouble just throwing something away, thinking someone in need might use it. Your comment that why should we think they should be willing to accept something worn out, stained, torn, etc. is so important to remember. This is also very timely for me to read this, as we are starting to seriously purge, (not being good about doing it regularly), in view of planning a major move in the next year. Thanks.

    • 8.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thanks for your comment Neena and good luck with your move!

  9. 9
    Bernadette Bliss says

    A very timely and informative article for me also. Thank you for posting it and the folks who provided some great suggestions.

    • 9.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      So glad you liked it Bernadette, thanks for taking the time to comment!

  10. 10
    Hilda Rodgers says

    Great post Laura! It’s so important. I love that more donation places are offering textile recycling… for some it even helps fund their operations. At least it keeps it out of the landfill. If I have a lot of unwearable clothing I put it together in a bag and label it textiles so it saves the thrift store employees or volunteers the time to sort it. And I just dropped a bag of old towels off to an animal shelter yesterday and they were so appreciative. I’ve also found some success with Facebook freecycle groups for things that can’t be donated (open toiletries, games missing a few non-important pieces, etc.). It’s all about finding the right places or people to give things to. Thanks for this important post. We really need to be more considerate 🙂

    • 10.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thanks so much Hilda for providing those tips, appreciate it!!

  11. 11
    Margie says

    Thanks, for the gentle reminder! I was just dropping some stuff off recently and the lady in front of me had a whole van full and most of it looked like garbage, the store employee was dropping the items in the trash as she was unloading. I’m trying to focus on reducing my intake of items this year, so I actually will have less to purge.

    • 11.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Yes! That is the ultimate goal for sure! I’m working on that too.

  12. 12
    Debbie says

    Great reminder for how to be a better donor! I want to recommend a really eye-opening book by Adam Minter called “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale” that talks about the thrift store industry and what exactly happens to the donations we make. It is very enlightening!

    • 12.1
      Barbara I Trechak says

      Thank you I just ordered the book on Amazon it looks very good

  13. 13
    Barbara I Trechak says

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. I’m so naive I had no idea these things were happening.
    Sometimes when I donate things some of them still have tags on them because I shop too much and don’t like an item and I always say to myself don’t return it donate it someone may like it very much.
    Even still I will be much more considerate when I donate thing. Thank you again

    • 13.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Barbara for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  14. 14
    MelanieL says

    Thank you for writing about this topic! Your comment about gifting to a friend or family member is what I base my donation decisions on, if I would be comfortable giving to them then it’s OK to donate. I agree that some people are searching for items to cut up and craft with etc. but that’s not the donors decision to make. 🙂

  15. 15
    Carol R says

    This post is EXCELLENT! I work at a center that helps those in need in two counties in our state. Besides a food bank and client service area that helps with bills and housing, we have a thrift store for those in need to shop in with a voucher. It is so sad to see what people ‘think’ others will be ok with. We try and tell everyone, ‘if you would not give it to your best friend, then don’t give it to us’. We do recycle as much as we can but the trash dumpster still is loaded everyday. And that costs organizations so much money to get rid of beside adding to landfills. Thank you for writing this article.

    • 15.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Carol for sharing your experience with us, it’s so important we get the word out about this.

  16. 16
    Barbara G says

    I prefer to think of donating items as a gift and if it is not something that I would give to a friend I will not put it in the donation bin.

  17. 17
    Lisa A Thompson says

    I can’t thank you enough for this post!!! I volunteer at a local non-profit thrift store, and some of the stuff we have to deal with is just disgusting… yesterday it was a bin of clothes with mouse turds…sometimes it’s used underwear…clothes that are ripped, covered in grease, etc. We fill up our dumpster weekly. It takes a LOT of our precious time to sort through all the garbage, when we should be putting items on the floor & organizing what we have. Not to mention the health hazard some of our “donations”can present.

    • 17.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      I am so thankful for volunteers such as yourself, thank you for what you do. And thank you for sharing your experience here.

  18. 18
    evi says

    very great post, thanks for being so honest! it is in fact very frustrating to buy something at a thriftstore or flea-market to find out later that it is broken. When I go through our things I always wonder “Would I want to buy this?” – if not, it’s trash. End of story.
    We pass down our three kids’s clothes to my husband’s cousin – I admit, ripped and/or stained things slip into the boxes every now and then becaus sorting through three kids’ clothes is just so much work, but the cousin knows and just throws the things out. she’s happy for the clothes and completely understands my overwhelm. 😉 – what I am trying to say is – as long as people keep talking, every problem can be solved…
    I wish we had thriftstores where you can drop off things here in Austria, sounds great for purging things!
    all the best, evi

    • 18.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Oh that’s so interesting Evi that you don’t have thrift stores there. I’m curious now to know where do you take the stuff you no longer need or use? Are there other organizations that can use it?

  19. 19
    Vonn Thomas says

    Great post! I think there is something else to consider when donating – will it actually end up being sold? I say this because I have donated regularly for many years…and I know for a fact that all ‘good items’ don’t end up being sold. Some volunteers have a mindset that is this: “This leather jacket is TOO GOOD for those who shop here, or for being donated to a needy family. I’m going to keep it for myself because it fits me.” I know a lot of people who volunteer and they share their stories just like this. Also, I’m a quilter and crafter and have often donated fabric to the “Ronald McDonald House” in my city and to local charities that make little quilts for neonatal units at hospitals. I once donated $15,000 worth of fabric (I was addicted to fabric shopping) and imagine my shock when the volunteer told me she was hauling it all down to her basement to ‘sort it out.’ A LOT of that fabric didn’t make it to the RMH – she kept it. Some of my fabric ended up in a local state fair quilt expo. I knew the quilter who made the quilt and I KNEW it was my fabric. I don’t agree with anyone who says any ‘good, quality item’ shouldn’t just be given away to a needy family. If they have nothing, then let them have the stuff a person with more money wouldn’t use…I grew up dirt poor and my mom depended on donations and thrift shops as well as hand-me-downs. Thus, I have a soft spot for donating to organizations that will see that the right people end up with the stuff. In the states, my #1 place to donate is to Veterans’ groups. I’m a vet as is my husband. I donated several coats to them a few years back, some leather and suede, and I prayed they were given to the vet’s family and not confiscated by some well-meaning volunteer. My craft items are donated to “Little Sisters of the Poor,” a place that takes in seniors without their being able to pay much. It makes my heart feel good to help those seniors and disabled people create works of art because I had too much craft inventory. I don’t mean to sound so suspicious about everyone, but how do you KNOW it will end up as you intended the donation?

    • 19.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Yes I totally understand what you are trying to say. I do know our volunteers at the thrift store here have to purchase whatever product they take home, they don’t get it for free. And then that money goes back into supporting organizations in our community so it still benefits the community. But for sure every organization is different in how they handle these things. It’s a totally fair question though if you want to ask them before deciding to donate with them. It may also depend on whether or not they are a “for profit” or a “not for profit” organization.

  20. 20
    Lisa Frese says

    I routinely take my gently used items to Goodwill Industries or Salvation Army in PA in the U.S.; I have a daughter with disabilities and these non-profits support programs and jobs for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. Also, if I find clothing which have stains or rips, I take to H&M stores at our local mall. They will give you a 10% coupon for every 3 items as they use the clothing to repurpose Then my 18 and 20 year old daughters go shopping for trendy clothing and use the discount.

    • 20.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      I love that H&M offers this. Thanks Lisa!

  21. 21
    Liz Peek says

    Thank you for the post. It never occurred to me to find out where our local thrift store sends their profits or if they have restrictions on what they sell or even to know what they do with the stuff that they can’t sell!
    Also, I know that “keeping things out of the landfill” is a big deal, but I think we all need to be better consumers, and not purchase some of those “things” in the first place. In many cases we can either do without or create a perfectly suitable substitute.

  22. 22
    Aviva says

    Thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it and your perspective. As the youngest of a family of 7, all we really could afford was hand-me-downs and sally -an but there are soo many options nowadays! As a kid I would’ve appreciated if more people did this, but now as an adult and mother even more so!

  23. 23
    Pamela says

    I heard that some overseas missionary received used tea bags. How terrible is that!

    • 23.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      So sad actually, that mentality is just wrong.

  24. 24
    MakeNest Interiors says

    So glad you broke the silence on this one. In our industry in home design, it is lovely to help our clients achieve a more joyful and beautiful space. However, they often struggle with finding the best avenue for passing on the items and furniture no longer needed. We often suggest donating home items to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which helps fund about 80% of their community efforts.


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