That Goodwill Feeling

I first entered a Goodwill at University when, like every other student, I wanted fun things but hadn’t the money to purchase them. At the time my budget for alcohol was almost twice that of my food, giving you an idea of my then priorities.

Before that time Goodwill and shops like it retained an ignominious reputation if not an entirely rebarbative one. Second hand items are rarely prized in wealthy capitalist societies and certainly not among their middle classes and beyond. There is the stigma of poverty, the irrational fear of lice, and the distrust of old and used things. Fortunately I think these ridiculous stereotypes have begun to wane of late but there are still those who will raise an eyebrow after being told where I’ve purchased some of my nicer acquisitions, even after having complimented me on them.

After University I stopped making regular runs to second-hand stores, primarily Goodwills. There had been a time when I scoured the landscape for them, hopping from depot to depot and collecting almost indiscriminately the many excruciatingly cheap wonders they had to offer.

On one of my first runs to Goodwill I found a black fitted YSL button-down for a dollar, mint condition. If you aren’t familiar with that brand, look it up. I also discovered a very cheap way to purchase wine glasses, about a dollar a pop, immediately setting me apart from my seemingly cheap friends who had been relegated to drinking their plonk out of plastic cups or mugs. Can you say ‘losers’?

During my tenure at my particular Uni I gained a reputation for having the chicest, if not classiest dorm room. Beset and bedazzled with ten dollar pieces of wooden furniture that looked anything but, most people assumed I had inherited these ‘heirloom’ pieces from relatives. And when it finally came time to say goodbye to college, it was just as easy to let go since I had scarcely paid a penny for the lot of it.

Having then left to teach English in South Korea I completely forgot about Goodwill and its kind, mostly because no such industry existed where I ended up. Korea didn’t ‘do’ second hand stores and neither did Russia where I lived soon after. Russia, of course, did consignment which they turned into a kind of boutique fad in Moscow, but consignment is typically much more expensive for the simple reason that they pay their sources of goods and further, take only the pieces they can sell for top dollar.

When I finally returned to the United States, newly accoutered with a husband the necessity for furniture, I found myself in a quandary until I landed in an apartment in California that was situated directly across from a Goodwill. At first, stupid me, I didn’t realize how lucky I had gotten, but soon after I realized we had struck gold. Or rather, the ability to get what we wanted and keep our money.

With a living room, bedroom, and balcony that needed furnishing, we went straight to IKEA where we found most of life’s essentials without a stitch, but we certainly paid for it. As far as brands go, IKEA is not a bad place to get new things for reasonable prices but our wallets only stretched so far. For everything else we turned to Goodwill and I have to say, Pottery Barn and Bed&Bath, eat your hearts out.

Below are some of the concepts my husband and I put together, almost entirely from Goodwill acquisitions, including a thousand dollar Corvin mango-wood desk which we purchased for the humble price of one hundred.

In the below photo just about every single item you see was bought at our local Goodwill, from that bizarre green vase on the far left to the rope-seat stool on the far right next to the IKEA paper lamp (which, by the way, had I waited, I could have also gotten at Goodwill since one showed up for a quarter the price I paid for mine). The pictures are also second-hand, save the green one on the far left.

What was the grand total you ask? For the desk, the pottery, lamps, basket, figurines, dresser, mirror and yes, pictures…south of 250 dollars and mind you, the desk cost a hundred. That is basically a room for less than 250 dollars, all of it by the way might as well be brand new.




Now for the balcony. Obviously the plants I acquired elsewhere, but all the rattan furniture you see, the center table, glass-top table and two chairs, wicker stand, as well as the round wooden table and painted wrought-iron stand are all Goodwill gotten. That includes the candles, the beautiful bowl they’re in, and several of the pots for the plants. How much was all this? Less than 150, all told. And mind you, it wasn’t a set. I purchased all these goods at two or three different Goodwill stories in the area. But it looks like one doesn’t it?

I dare say we are the envy of are modest apartment complex, passersby regularly gaze with unvarnished envy at our elegantly decorated hanging garden.





These next two smaller concepts are mixed. In the first one we see a wrought iron giraffe, red pottery, and a marble statue centered on a malachite platform. All these figures, save the desk they are on, were Goodwill gotten and cost collectively less than 50 dollars, including the basket beneath them!



I forgot to mention the Russian picture above is also, wait for it…GOODWILL GOTTEN!

In this next one we see a bronze rabbit and golden lamp on a stool. The rabbit I got elsewhere but the stool and lamp were Goodwill gotten. By the way, each came in a pair. So for 100 dollars I bought two wooden/iron bar stools with adjustable tops and two identical lamps, the other is in the bedroom.


I could show more but it would take forever. The thing to remember about Goodwill is that most of their stuff really is crap. It is either old, useless, or really ugly – especially the clothes. But if you have the time and inclination, you can make some amazing finds at these stores and ones like them. My tips are to visit frequently (the best stuff goes fast), keep an open mind, and to do it with some friends. Trust me when I say that if you’re looking for artwork, pottery, or dining-ware and glasses, this is easily the best place to go for nice as well as cheap stuff. And remember, because much of what is left behind in these warehouses is old, you’ll never fail to find vintage pieces made unique by the time that has passed. Stop paying so much money for art decor at Pottery Barn. Just go to Goodwill.


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