I was introduced to the “thrill of the deal” at the tender age of 5.
It happened through a sort of social osmosis as I waddled into a local Nordstrom Rack with my mother and siblings on a sticky summer afternoon. There was a commotion… a polite hysteria… an exciting vibration in the air that I knew could only be attributed to one of two things:
1) John from New Kids on the block had descended upon us, or
2) something delectable and free was about to make its way into my mouth.
Anticipating an inappropriately romantic encounter or something utterly elating to my stomach I inched my way closer, only to find troves of women chanting in delight:
“Oh my God…” “Can you believe it… All of it… FREE!”
I watched as they overturned boxes and voraciously stuffed its contents into their undergarments. These women in their soft sun dresses and motherly mullets suddenly had superhuman strength as they pummeled each other, pupils completely dilated, seeping in sweat from the excitement of the now defunct merchandise brand called Jumpin’ Joy.
The excitement centered around free neon hats, tee shirts, tote bags and box upon box of pens with the 80’s style graffiti lettering “Jumpin’ Joy”. Unfortunately for me, none of these items were edible, nor did they resemble the awkwardly chiseled features of an underrated boy band phenom. I failed to grasp the hysteria.
But within minutes of observing these rabid women, my peaceful sister with her soft bowl haircut and gender-ambiguous wardrobe began jabbing and upper-cutting slow-moving children who were hovering over her Jumpin’ Joy boxes.
“Free... IT’S ALL FREE!” she chanted as she brazenly stuffed hats and tee shirts down her pants and shuffled to another corner of the store in search of more.
And sure enough, within minutes of her retail possession I also began hip checking immobile children who stood in the way of my jumping joy paraphernalia.
It seemed our Jumpin’ Joy conquests that sticky summer afternoon solved many a question that occupies the mind of a 5-year-old.
Not sure what to wear for the first day of school? Jumpin’ Joy tee shirt.
Don’t have a fresh new backpack? Jumpin’ Joy tote.
Want to make a new friend? Offer a Jumpin’ Joy pen.
Going on a family trip? Refer to the answers of questions above.
My indoctrination into the “thrill of the deal” was balanced with my mother’s scrappy immigrant ingenuity: she would see to it that these items would be used for the next decade for the purposes of family pictures, gift exchanges or family outings - nothing would go to waste. Was it appropriate for her to show up to my high school graduation in a formal dress and a neon Jumpin’ Joy hat? No, but nothing could stop this woman from her love of utility.
It is perhaps this formative experience that has informed much of my shopping sensibilities. While I can understand the temptation to hoard bargain items, I will never purchase an item if I can’t imagine using it for the better half of a decade. Thank you, immigrant ingenuity.
Not since the Jumpin’ Joy debacle have I seen tender kindergarten teacher-esque women exhibit super human strength in pursuit of a bargain deal. That is… until I made my way to The Goodwill Outlet, aka “The Bins.”
Enter "The Bins"
If you’ve never heard of The Bins before, Goodwill Outlet stores serve as the liquidation centers for their retail thrift stores. In most cases, merchandise is moved to The Bins if it fails to sell within six weeks. This is the last stop before these unsold items make their way to the landfills. The beauty of the outlet is that once it is moved to an outlet location, it is typically sold by the pound… yes, by the pound. Either way, you can expect to pay at least 75 percent less than you would at a Goodwill retail store.
And unlike the Goodwill retail store with its overhead lighting, semi-laundered clothing hung on mismatched hangers and fitting rooms available at the “ding” of a bell, The Bins is, well… not like that at all. The outlet is housed in a grey warehouse building and the clothing, furniture and “miscellaneous everything” items are grouped into large blue plastic bins that look like makeshift tented gurneys. The items are dusty and garbled together; some are like new and others seem like they could have been ripped off of a human body in a local crime scene.
I was curious if I would be once again possessed by the thrill of the deal in this dingy warehouse like I had in days of old. Would I find anything that was a bargain while simultaneously spanning a decade of wear?
The answer? Yes.
But before you can master the art of securing precious treasure, there are a few pro tips I’d like to impart to you that will help with your emotional fortitude in your future Bins journeys.
Pro Tip 1: TRY NOTHING ON
Before you go, spend a few minutes getting reacquainted with your beloved measuring tape and measure your hips waist and bust. If there is a day of reckoning when it comes to sizing, it would be the day that you venture out to The Bins. No more “I’m between a size 4 and 8 depending on the brand” mumbo jumbo. If you want to be successful at The Bins, you need to have your measurements inscribed into your soul, or better yet... your phone’s notepad.
The reasons? Aside from the lack of fitting rooms, the garments at The Bins can be a little “extra” when it comes to filth. And trust me, pulling anything over your head will make you squirm and deaden your motivation to press forward with the search. I should know as I made the mistake of pulling a top over my head and then proceeded to itch for the better half of 20 minutes in state of mini-panic as I imagined skin-burrowing gremlins eating me alive. Don’t make my mistake. Measure in advance and pull nothing over your head.
Pro Tip 2: Early Bird Gets The Worm
This goes without saying, but don’t doddle. Don’t arrive at 11 AM after a coma-inducing brunch. Befriend Yelp and find the “Outlet Store” that has the most positive reviews the night before and plan to go at store opening. While new product is continuously cycling throughout the day, store opening is the least crowded time and will make you feel a little like a rotund child all alone in a candy store without rules or inhibition. You get to find treasure all by yourself for the better half of an hour before the rest of the sale addicts saunter in at 11. That first hour will make the difference and add to your searching fortitude if you plan to stay for longer.
Pro Tip 3: Come With A List Of 3 Things You’d Like
Repeat after me: “I will not let the bins make me cry.” Ah, but this is the fate of everyone unless you come prepared with a list and a focused effort for what you are looking. Before stepping foot inside the bins, jot down a small list of 3 items that are missing from your wardrobe or home. When making your list, remember that designer treasures can be found here, but don’t go off the deep end and think you will find a an Alexander Wang wedding dress for your upcoming nuptials.
My list for my Bins excursion:
1) A designer pair of jeans
2) Jacket or coat for warmer winter
3) A sexy or lacey top
This list will be what keeps you from entering into a dizzying state of panic where suddenly clothing and people all blend to become a sort of outlet-zord villain.
Pro Tip 4: Smile, Make Eye Contact, And Flip Like Macklemore
I found that everyone at The Bins are generally pretty nice. There is no hair pulling or Black-Friday-like stampedes when new merchandise is wheeled out. However, The Bins are a bit of a feeding trough where people politely pile on top of each other, and at any given moment you could find a pair of men’s underwear flipped onto your head from a local searcher. The solution I have found is to make eye contact and smile at the people who are around you so that it registers to them that you are relatively human, and then aggressively flip through your bin and toss unwanted clothing into the adjacent bin. It feels a little aggressive with people in such close proximity, but that is the only way I find I can quickly sort through piles without unwanted items piling up over my treasured items. All that to be said, smile and nod, but be aggressive with Macklemore-Thrift Shop-ish moxie.
My Haul From My First Bins Excursion
Seven is a magical number, and after this thrifting adventure I was reevaluating what seven dollars could grant you in the modern world.
A tricked-out diabetes-inducing mocha from Starbucks and perhaps a half pound of very average smoked deli meat. But in the world of The Bins, for seven dollars I became the proud new mother of the following:
1) One pair of dark washed Seven For All Mankind jeans
2) A pleated maxi polka dot skirt
3) A striped Universal Thread tank top
4) A white trench coat
The beauty of these treasures is that while they were all adorable in their own right, none of them were a hot new trend that I would have to retire in the coming season. Even better, I could see how each item would last me the better half of the next decade. Immigrant scrappiness deployed.
The Thrill of The Deal
The Bins is a worthy adventure for anyone who understands the “thrill of the deal." With these 4 pro tips in mind, you have the potential to update your wardrobe in the same amount of money of what otherwise would have been wasted in smoked deli meats.