Thursday, August 1, 2019

In The Bins

A few years ago I was driving home from my grandma's house when I decided to take an alternate route. Or, more accurately, I missed a turn someplace and just decided to press onward. As I drove along, I happened to see a GoodWill on my left.

And for whatever reason, I decided to stop.

Ah, GoodWill.


This was no typical GoodWill.

It was on that fateful day that I first beheld...


The Bins, otherwise known as a GoodWill Outlet store, is a magical (and yet somewhat intimidating) place. Imagine a GoodWill retail store -- but with no shelves, no clothing racks, no clearly defined sections.

But with the same amount of stuff for sale.

Only all that stuff is in massive piles... in 8-foot rolling carts.

Welcome to the playground.

Every few hours, all the carts in a particular section (6-8 of them, usually, but it depends on the store) are traded out. Workers wheel away the old bins and bring in new ones. As soon as the last bin is brought out and touches the others, shoppers -- who have gathered just outside the "yellow lines" and are itching to pounce -- spring forward.

They lunge. They dig. They grab. Occasionally they toss things aside, barely caring who the discarded objects strike.

 Anything of probable value goes into their personal cart.

At the end of the day, how much someone pays at the register depends on the weight of the items in their cart.

Clothing is often a steal....

But a heavy old typewriter would not be a bargain.

If your wares weigh more than 25 pounds, the price-per-pound goes down, sure... but you still have to decide if that heavy object is really worth it.

Some typically-heavier items -- such as exercise equipment, electronics, and glassware -- have their own (usually lower-per-pound) prices. In addition, DVDs, CDs, and books are priced separately. Kids' books -- and they're pretty generous with what constitutes a kids' book -- are a steal at $.39 apiece. (Non-kid hardbacks cost $2-something, paperbacks about half that.)

On my first visit to The Bins,  I came away with a couple of sheets to use for backdrops and curtains. I think I paid about $2 all together. I was thrilled.

The next time I visited, I found a 3D LEGO baseplate, one of those ones that sells for $25 at Bricks & Minifigs. As it weighed about three ounces, I paid less than fifty cents for it.

I was hooked. So I kept going back.

I quickly discovered some days at The Bins are better than others. Some days I'll make some really cool finds, and other days, it's all trash. 

I try to avoid going on weekends. That's when everyone and their dog comes out. 

I avoid the location in Beaverton. The people there were grabby on the day I went, and I said "never again." My go-to store is the one on Airport Way, but if I'm in the neighborhood I'll hit up the Milwaukie branch, too. I've found some real treasures there.

I have found a fair amount of LEGO and Duplo in the bins. Sometimes I get lucky and find a set still put together! It may be a little dusty, but after a good rinse, the pieces are good to go. Other times a certain bin will contain hundreds of individual LEGO pieces. And so... let the diving and grabbing commence! Hint: When in doubt, just grab anything that looks like a LEGO. You can always toss the MegaBloks back in the bin later.

I try to always wear rubber gloves when I visit The Bins...

Besides treasures, the bins often contain broken glass, foodstuffs, and random garbage. The worst is when you know you've touched something wet, but aren't sure what it was.

Sometimes you find false teeth...

Yes. I find gloves to be very necessary.

So where does all this STUFF come from? I've found things in the bins that have GoodWill price tags attached, and therefore I assume that they've come from various GW retail stores after sitting on the shelves for a certain amount of time.

But most of the stuff? It seems to come straight from the donation sites. As is. Unsorted, unpackaged... just dumped.

Maybe the employees in charge know what typically sells and what doesn't in their stores, and what doesn't do well just gets sent straight to The Bins without even having a chance in retail.

But that's fine, because if it means I can find things that are worth money, and not have to pay much for them? Why, yes, I'd be happy to shove aside that moldy blanket and that broken CD tower! 

I have found quite a few things that I've been able to resell. 

Vintage Little People & cars can go for a buck or more a piece on Ebay.

Vintage cards & postcards can be hit or miss, but even if they don't sell right away, I enjoy looking at them.

There are also the book bins, which are an amazing source for vintage books. There are buyers there who have phone scanners. They scan bar codes, looking for paper gold. But they're missing out on all the books that are too old to have bar codes! So sad. But hey -- more vintage books for me.

And sure, you have to push aside a lot of textbooks and dictionaries and religious pamphlets to find the good stuff, but it's there.

Is there anything you WON'T find in the bins? I'm not sure. Come to think of it, I've never seen any real weapons. Or any dead things. There must be some sorting going on. Either that, or I've just been fortunate.

But you can find nearly everything else on Earth in The Bins, such as...

Beloved VHS Movies!

Not-So-Beloved VHS Movies!

Family Photos Of Random Strangers!

PG-13 Nature Photos!



 Broken Glass!

Diaries! (Yes, I do look through them sometimes. You guys, don't donate this stuff if you don't want people looking at it, okay!?!)

Personalized Gifts People Received But Apparently Did Not Love!

Vintage Toys!

Unexpected Inspiration!

Awards & Diplomas!

Bathroom Fixtures!

and Books With Goofy Titles!

Sometimes I even find papers with people's personal information, like social security numbers. 


I have, a few times upon encountering social security numbers, ripped them up and dispersed the pieces throughout the other bins. Oddly enough, the one store I usually shop at doesn't have a garbage can anywhere in the main bin area.

All types of people shop at The Bins. Old, young, male, female, well-off, medium, poor. Parents bring their kids sometimes, and either keep them in the cart alongside all the things they're buying (sometimes you can't even see the kid!) or else let their children run around loose to paw through the bins themselves. Some people bring tiny dogs. Others come in (human) pairs and work as teams.

Some come for the inexpensive clothes. Others prefer digging for treasures in the "miscellaneous" bins. Some check the pockets of every purse and bag they find, hoping to find a stash of cash. 

Most people observe the unwritten rules.

Rule #1: Don't touch anything in the bins until ALL the bins in a section have been rolled out.

Rule #2: Don't take other people's carts or the stuff in them.

But you know how it is. Some people know the rules and just don't care. Others pretend like they don't know them, acting all innocent when they're caught or reprimanded.

Occasionally there will be a fight. A lady takes another lady's cart, and screaming commences. A man grabs something out of someone else's hand.

When fights or arguments happen, some folks lift their eyes to watch. Others just keep their heads down and keep on digging.

And on and on we dig. Because where there are treasures to be found -- and there are treasures here if you've got patience, a keen eye, and a little bravery -- there is not a second to lose.