Thrift Stores Are Tired of Getting People's Useless Junk

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CC BY 2.0. Philip Pessar

"Don't donate if you wouldn't give it to a mate."

Marie Kondo is sparking some serious irritation for thrift stores. The problem: household goods that are in no condition to be resold. Store employees are having to sort through deliveries of worn-out stained clothing, ugly trinkets, odd souvenirs, and broken appliances.

People seem unwilling to acknowledge that some of their belongings would be better classified as trash, not "someone else's treasure," as the saying goes. Jacqui Dropulic, a manager for Australian charity Vinnies, told the Wall Street Journal, "We aren’t a place for people to just dump their rubbish."

Winter is usually a slow time for the secondhand industry in the United States, picking up again with spring cleaning. But this year it surged ahead, with donations up by as much as 32 percent in certain Goodwill stores. Initially it was thought to be linked to the government shutdown and people having more time on their hands to declutter, but there's been no slowdown since those workers returned to the job. That's why it has been attributed to the Marie Kondo phenomenon.

Among the strange and curious items that thrift stores have encountered, according to the Wall Street Journal, are a barrel of swords, daggers, and rifles (police were called to pick it up), Gucci and Prada shoes with $1,000 price tags attached, mannequins, pornography, shark carcasses, prosthetic limbs, and false teeth. These items might sound amusing, but some of them can be a hassle for thrift store employees to deal with.

I have heard ethical fashion supporters say that people should donate everything to thrift stores, that they'll sort it out and send worn-out items to textile recyclers. They argue that the more inundated thrift store are, the more likely we'll see widespread change in the way old textiles are handled.

But this view fails to consider how the thrift stores themselves feel about non-sellable donations. They're telling us they don't want them! It creates extra work for employees, many of whom are volunteers, and deviates from the original purpose of their stores, which is to resell usable goods. Instead of forcing junk on them, be grateful for the valuable work they do and make their job as easy as possible by deciding when belongings are best destined for the trash.

Some smart commonsense advice is, "Don't donate if you wouldn’t give it to a mate." Or as David Braddon, a sales manager for Goodwill in Houston, said, don't donate "the kind of items that can’t be written about in a family newspaper."