Goodwill to my fellow residents

Sometimes when I take a big pile of stuff to Goodwill, I worry about what’s going to happen to it. I don’t worry in a warm-fuzzies sort of way, like “I hope my things find good homes!” or anything. I worry in a “I hope Goodwill won’t throw this stuff out” sort of way. Whenever I shop at Goodwill, I always marvel at the amount of absolute junk there is. They can’t possibly sell all this stuff, can they? People drop things off every day, and sometimes it looks to me like the amount of stuff people drop off is larger than the amount of stuff people actually buy. What do they do with the stuff people dropped off because they didn’t want it but none of the shoppers want it either? I give my stuff to Goodwill because I don’t like  throwing it out, and the idea of Goodwill throwing it out instead isn’t much better.

Lately I’ve been giving my apartment an overhaul. I’m gradually replacing my old (inherited, scavenged, particleboard) furniture with some vintage pieces that are more durable and suit my tastes a bit better. I bought a sofa to replace my futon, a credenza to replace my (I use the term loosely) entertainment unit, and a pair of end tables and an ottoman to replace my coffee table. My coffee table was too big for my living room and it didn’t match anymore, but it’s still perfectly good, so I stored it away in a closet for potential future use. I didn’t want my futon or entertainment unit anymore, but since neither of those things would fit in my car, I couldn’t take them to Goodwill by myself.

At my apartment complex, a lot of people put their discarded furniture next to the dumpsters to be hauled away. The discarded furniture sometimes stays there until trash day, but other times it’s gone fairly quickly because someone saw it by the dumpster and decided they wanted it.* When my new old sofa was delivered, I put my futon outside next to the dumpster. I had to carry the frame and mattress out separately (they’re heavy), but I made sure to set the frame back up and put the mattress back on it, to make it look as attractive as possible for potential takers. I left my futon outside at 9 p.m., and it was gone by seven the next morning. When I put my entertainment unit out by the dumpster, it too was gone within hours.

I’m happy about this for several reasons. It makes me feel good that other people think my stuff is worthy of owning. It entertains me to think that a nearby apartment now looks a little like mine used to. But most of all I’m really glad to know that neither Goodwill nor I had to throw my stuff away. I know that I won’t be able to do this with everything I want to get rid of (some things are impossible to display enticingly next to a dumpster), but it makes me feel good to know that at least those two pieces of furniture aren’t going to waste.

* In my apartment in Houston, I was able to make shelves in two of my closets using bookcases and magazine racks I found by the dumpster.

12 thoughts on “Goodwill to my fellow residents

  1. Man, I want that futon. I do hope someone took my sofa from the side of the freeway for use. I wish I could find them so I could give them the cushions.

  2. I thought about that, but I got rid of my futon weeks before your sofa became a traffic hazard. Michael’s got an old (albeit crappy) sofa if you want it when you get back.

  3. Don’t worry too much about the stuff being thrown away, while no one else may buy it, Goodwill is most likely still getting money for it *and* not throwing it away. Apparently even the ratty old clothes you don’t think anyone would possibly wear get sold for recycling. I know it’s true as far as clothing ( is one example) and would assume it holds true for other items.

  4. A lot of American donated-to-charity stuff ends up being shipped to Africa and sold there. What you see on the Goodwill store shelves and racks is pretty much the cream of a stupendously large crop. Here’s a pretty good explanation of what’s done with it.

    In case you weren’t already feeling bad, unfortunately it may be better for us to just use our old clothes for rags. The flood of free castoff American clothes has basically poisoned lots of third world textile industries.

  5. Ooh, that article may explain the man wearing the Lady Speed Stick t-shirt in this photo.

    I wonder if it’d be possible to give your old clothes directly to the people who make “cleaning cloths and other industrial items.” Maybe not, though.

  6. hrm, lesser of two evils really…to the trash to take up more landfill space or to third world countries to potentially undermine their economies?

  7. You can always post it free on Craigslist- usually it is snatched up in hours. The advantage is that people come to your house and haul your stuff away for you. The disadvantage is that people come to your house.

  8. Back in college, I relished the spring finals week trash-picking — great furniture, artwork and other stuff. I once found a great Hershey’s Syrup ringer tee that said “I’m very, very good” on it that I’m positive got me a few tips at the sandwich shop I worked at.

  9. dammit, you beat me to a dumpster post! i’ve been working on one for awhile, but then DI came back into my life, and drinking ensued. uh, don’t know what goodwill does with what it doesn’t put out, but i know half-price gives what it can’t sell to goodwill. it’s a circle, really.

  10. As Rusty said, a lot of the excess clothing gets shipped to Africa. When I lived in Uganda (from 2003-2005), i always found it hilarious to see these people in little villages wearing t-shirts with like “Springhill High Spring Dance 2001!!” or “Banking Can Be Fun Again! Small Town, Connecticut” on it.

    One of the interesting things is that rather than being sent to africa to be donated and distributed for free, the clothing actually gets sold in markets instead. While this might seem wrong (since the clothing was donated to begin with), it actually allows people to run a small business selling clothing, and doesn’t contribute to the ‘culture of entitlement’ that give-aways create. On the other hand, the used clothing is sold so cheaply that it’s destroying local clothing manufacturing industries, and very few people wear traditional dress, since it’s cheaper to by the old western clothing.

    But still, after all that, you shouldn’t be worried about your clothes, because even if poor american’s don’t get to benefit from it, poor africans do.

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