The darker side of thrift store finds
Even before I started reselling, I loved checking out people’s amazing real thrift store finds on Facebook and Pinterest. Thrift stores contain some truly unique items, and every one of them carries a history. I think it’s an honor to be a part of that piece’s history. Plus, there’s just a lot of cool stuff out there!
Did you hear about the woman who found an ancient Roman bust?
What about the guy who found one of Picasso’s original sketches?
I also love the stories of extremely personal or sentimental lost items that somehow find their way home. But those kinds of stories all come from the customer side of thrifting.
As a former thrift store employee, I know the darker side of thrift store finds.
Most donations don’t make it into the store
I spent almost a decade working retail, most of that in thrift stores. About 85% of the donations we received never made it into the actual store. The vast majority were thrown away or recycled due to age, condition, simply being out of season, and about a thousand other, much weirder reasons.
If you think about all of the thrift store finds you’ve had personally and the ones you’ve heard about, remember that was all pulled from the top 15% of donations. I wanted to tell you about some of the finds I’ve made in the other 85%. I’ve found a few treasures, a lot of trash, and also some serious nightmare fuel. I’ll start off light by telling you about the cash.
Checking pockets for cash
There’s kind of a secret rule of thumb in thrift stores to double or triple check older furniture for hidden cash deposits. We found that people who lived through the depression don’t trust banks with the entirety of their money. They prefer to have cash on hand for smaller transactions like the grocery bill, and to keep a comfortable nest egg around should anything unfortunate happen. When those people pass away unexpectedly and the task of cleaning out their houses falls to their children, those secret stashes are often left undiscovered.
In one of my old stores, someone’s son donated about 14 large boxes of his father’s old paperwork. They contained decades worth of receipts and employment records from the company he founded. They also included close to a thousand dollars. Fortunately, there was enough contact information in the paperwork that we were able to give the money back to his family, but if a store cannot identify the original owner, usually, they keep the money.
Several dock workers, the people who unload donations from your car, were fired from one of my stores after finding cash and splitting it amongst themselves. They found over $5,000 in an old sewing desk and agreed to split it three ways and never speak of it again. That night one of the dock workers told his girlfriend about their score. The problem was, he was dating the store’s manager. The next day she fired all three and broke up with him. That’s a rough disciplinary meeting.
I served as the Department Head of clothing and domestics, so my people were the most likely to find small amounts of forgotten money. We learned to check every pocket in both clothing and purses before putting anything out in the store, and the money added up.
Originally, I told the store manager that we would consider any money as a donation to the store, but, being awesome, she told me to save it up and treat my team to lunch whenever I had enough to cover it. We touched about 4,000 items every week, so that petty cash added up. I treated my eight person staff to a special lunch at least once a month!
Those lunches might sound like nothing big, but they went a long way as bonding sessions. Before long, the other guys got jealous. After three or four months the other department heads complained and we had to stop. Although they had the same opportunity to save up found money, they almost never found any.
Please take my advice, if you thrift, shop at the bins or accept donations, check your pockets. People forget money more often than you think. Plus, there’s other, much weirder, things that you can find.
There are drugs in those pockets too!
There’s not really a funny way to say this, so I’m just going to lay it out for you; in my thrift career, I found a lot of drugs. Like, a lot. Like, I am not, nor have I ever been a drug user, but after the amount of pot I’ve sorted through, I can tell the good stuff from the bad.
I haven’t found as much cocaine, but I’ve found a decent amount of that as well. Funnily enough, the coke is usually in what we called “rich lady” bags. Those contained freshly launder, neatly folded, semi-professional brands like Calvin Klein, Chico’s, and Anne Taylor. They weren’t bagged up and shoved in the bottom of pockets like the weed. When we found cocaine, it was usually nicely wrapped in a decorative box containing a complete kit. Let’s just say I got to know my local cops pretty well.
Hold your guns
One thing I am NOT an expert on is guns. We only found two guns in my thrift career. Both were donated together, wrapped in a box with men’s flannel button downs. I had no idea what I was looking at. I didn’t know how to tell if they were loaded, or even if they were real. Neither did my store’s assistant manager or the general manager.
We ended up calling the police and treating them like they were live bombs until an officer showed up and told us they were unloaded starting pistols. He agreed to take them because we had absolutely no idea what to do with them. He also definitely laughed at us behind our backs for freaking out over them, but he was nice to our faces. That’s really all I ask.
Be kind to your thrift store workers
My point, other than to amuse you with my dark and tragic past, is to remind you to please be kind to your thrift store workers. A lot of stuff goes on behind those clear plastic curtains, and you actually see very little of the donations that come through the door. To get a single rack of cute, saleable clothing, they have to sort through mountains of garbage. And please remember that for most of them, it’s just a job. The teenager working the register is not responsible for the rising prices. She’s just trying to get through the day like the rest of us.