The Good in Goodwill


One of the advantages of living in a city where the distribution of wealth is so disproportionate and patently unfair is that lots of rich people throw away lots of nice things. If you are a scavenger or a dumpster diver by principle, then Los Angeles is a good place to be. (If you are a scavenger or a dumpster diver by necessity, it is probably worth trading the warm climate and second-hand Gucci for a more humane metropolis.)

In January, I moved into a new, unfurnished apartment a block from my old place. I had been sharing a room—not an apartment, a room—with somebody and it was starting to cramp what little style I have. The first order of business for my new apartment was to find a good desk like a comfortable study desk in Singapore, so that I would have a place to write polemics. I found an incredible desk on the side of the road the night before trash day. It’s perfect. It has four shelves and is so big that I couldn’t lift it without help and barely got it through the front door.

I also needed a chair; the milk crates I’d been sitting on were hurting my bum. I took a cruise around the neighborhood and found several plastic chairs. I took two home.

The next order of business was a bookcase. I didn’t find any on the sidewalk, so I went over to Goodwill, where I found three. My understanding of Goodwill’s policies and practices is superficial, but I respect what little I know. 84% of revenues fund education and career programs. Goodwill offers ex-offenders help with job training especially if they want to be part of companies that are trying to find permanent staffing, housing, substance abuse, literacy, and mental health. Of course, I should know more; anything—even if it’s a non-profit—that has over 2,000 retail stores makes me jumpy.

Mostly, though, I like Goodwill because if you have to buy something, it makes more sense to buy it used than to buy it new even if you’re supporting the most eco of the eco-friendly corporations. You can’t do it for everything (I still don’t have a bed or a mattress because I fear secondhand infestation), but you can do it for a lot. I’ve found good kitchen stuff and even great music there.

I was back over at Goodwill today looking for clothes. I don’t like clothes-shopping, so I try to get it out of the way all at once–usually when a critical mass of friends and family start telling me to my face that I smell or that it’s really time to stop wearing that green LL Bean hoody that’s two sizes too small. (Sigh. I know.) I left the store with 5 pairs of pants, 7 shirts, 2 belts, 1 sweatshirt, 2 skirts, and a super cute strapless blue dress that I’m sure I’ll never wear in public. All told, it cost me $80, which–it happens–is exactly what Patagonia’s (cute) Hempton dress costs. The stuff I found at Goodwill included Gap, The Limited, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger–all companies that I would never support with a direct purchase.

Of course, the deal with Goodwill is that you have better luck if you live in a big city where people dump last season’s fashion quicker than you can holler “Gratuitous waste, mofo!” As a friend of mine in New Hampshire said, “If you go to Goodwill here, you’ll be lucky to find a pair of stained sweatpants with patches on the knees.” Touche. Every place and every weltanschauung has its advantages and disadvantages, I suppose.