Think of the last time you drove up to your local thrift store and dropped off a garbage bag of clothes you haven’t worn in years.  Likely you dropped them off, looked down at the time on the dashboard of your car and then drove off to get to your next appointment not thinking about them again.   That is what we all do.

Have you ever thought about where those donations end up?

Every thrift store, large or small looks at the quality of the merchandise and from there determines if the item is worth selling.  Even small town thrift stores have a donation pile where unwanted items that don’t sell get shipped off to somewhere.  Just think about the sheer amount of merchandise the larger thrift stores go through in metropolitan areas where truck loads of free stuff arrives daily.  What do they do with all of it?

My Experience With Thrift Stores

I have shopped through thrift stores ever since leaving my parents home at the age of 18, and found myself attracted to the items that you simply cannot find elsewhere. In fact, I had to laugh at a memory just before I was married.  I was engaged to my husband 10 years ago and my grandmother commented that my habit of shopping thrift stores was over once I got married.  Maybe it was looked down upon in her eyes. Thrifting is considered “poor”, yet yearly flea markets are announced from the roof tops and almost everyone wants to attend .   You simply cannot ignore how sensational it is to find a small treasure that is inexpensive and unique.

I am proud to say that when my husband and I first got married, I turned over furniture to pay off the majority of our debt.  Scraping the unwanted finds from these stores and selling them for a profit worked well for us for several years.

Along the way, I got to know some of the management in the greater Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland area, and they told me how many people made a living selling name brand purses and clothing from these stores. Some ladies were able to pull in 5k or more per month in the good days. It paid to be nice to the employees, as they would hold back the best merchandise for those who were selling online.

Thrift stores have changed from 10-15 years ago.  Today stores hold back the genuine silver and name brands and sell the best finds on their own websites.  People don’t just throw away valuables in a rough economy, as they did back in the late 90’s.  Most people try to sell what they can before they donate, which makes quality merchandise harder to find.  So what do these stores do with the unwanted items? 

My eyes were opened to just the sheer amount of “stuff” that the stores cannot store or sell.  In the greater DC area, The Salvation Army had auctions where the discards would get a second chance through their auctions.  You would arrive at 10 am for the auction where you would have the chance to bid on dozens of carts the size of a couch.  You would find carts of toys, picture frames, shoes, belts, and so much more that would go for as little as $20 dollars.

There was a whole section of furniture, and appliances that could be bid on and purchased.  I loved attending the auctions because you could walk away with dozens of pieces every day that could be cleaned and fixed up and then sold again for a profit.  The only challenge most people had was not having a large enough truck to carry it home.  I would imagine things have changed since I attended the auctions long ago.

The Last Stop For Goods In America

One day I stuck around after things were winding down and witnessed a large amount of the furniture loaded up into a 10-15 foot truck, and so I asked who bought the lucky load.  My heart sank when they told me it was being hauled off to the dump.  Larger items simply went to the garbage after several days of not being purchased.  Quite sad, isn’t it? It is a much different story for clothing and small merchandise.

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations GoPicture Credits –Arizona Daily Star,The Northwestern, Post-Crescent

The Goodwill thrift store has an “outlet store” in many of the larger cities where items are also arranged in large carts and are brought out for the public to sift through.  Items are sold by the pound, which means everything is deeply discounted.  It can get pretty intense when new carts are brought out.  Buyers have been known to shove and push their way around to get the best deals in the cart.  You have buyers stocking their stores, and foreigners who purchase goods to send overseas.  You will find a mixture of people in these locations, especially those who live in the coastal cities close to the shipping docks.  The Goodwill Outlets often give the unwanted items that cannot be sold in their stores a last chance before being sold elsewhere by the bundle, or being sent off overseas.

Often that is where the story ends for us.

Have you ever wondered what happens AFTER they arrive overseas?

I stumbled upon this powerful 13 minute documentary showing the process of what happens when truckloads of clothing arrive in India and Africa.  It’s an eye opener.

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations GoClothing makes its way over seas in large shipping containers.  Goods are transported by large trucks once they arrive overseas

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations Go

Clothing makes its way across the sea in huge shipping containers.  From there every single garment is slashed by hand which prevents the garments from being stolen.  This process protects the investment of the owner.  Garments are then sorted by color, and any embellishments such as buttons and zippers are taken off.  Every garment is looked over several times through the process.

 

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations Go

Clothes are sorted into colors

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations GoLadies have fun sifting through the clothes and every once in a while having fun before the clothes are destroyed

In one part of the film, the women in the factory comment that most of the clothing hardly looks worn.  It gives them the impression that water is too expensive in the west to wash clothing, and maybe that is the reason why most garments look hardly worn.

Another lady comments that she finds it perplexing that crystals and beads are sewn on “knickers“.  She says “the poor helpless things are forced to wear them abroad“, as she refers to the underwear.  Another part of the film shows one lady holding up a bathing suit and comments, “this is the whole outfit“.  I can only imagine the perceptions they have of us are just as distorted of what we also have of them.

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations Go

The film shows is how clothing is stripped down to the basics, and cut up by machines which then can be spun back into thread which are then turned into blankets which get shipped around the world.

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Thrift Store Donations Go

You will find yourself smiling at the women in this film who are filled with more joy.  They see the wealth in the garments that are just tossed away here in the West, yet they seem to smile as they live on less than what we have.

Is Revelation 3:17 true?

“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” 

Are we so rich with goods that we have lost our joy and love of the simple things that life can offer?  Can we see the beauty to life if we had nothing?

Did you know that 50 percent of American workers make less than $30K a year, and that 63% of workers make less than $40,000 a year?  Our country is not as wealthy as we think.  In fact, we are one of the most wasteful nations around the world.  We eat of paper plates, throw away paper as though there was plenty of it, and trade in our barely new electronics for the next best thing.  Most of the world lives on a few sets of clothes, and yet we have closets full of beautiful items with the price tags still on the garments.  The average person in the west makes 100 x times more than the rest of the world.  Yet, are we generous with helping the poor, or do we just think about ourselves?

The next time you think about donating something, consider this documentary.  Save some of your garments in a box, and consider listing it as a bundle on your local buy and sell group on facebook or craigslist for FREE.   Yes, for free!    There are families who could consider it a blessing to have your second hand throw aways.

Watch this  powerful 13 minute documentary, and you will discover that you have a lot to be thankful for.

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