10 Do’s and Don’ts for Finding Gold at Goodwill

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved


using ordinary objects to make something extraordinary

Anyone who knows me knows not to mess with my every other Saturday at Goodwill. You heard me correctly–Goodwill. It’s their 50% off Saturday where not only are there fabulous finds, but honey, they’re HALF OFF. It’s become a major sport for me

Sometimes my mother will call me during these forays.

“Where are you, sweetheart?”


“That’s nice, call me later.”

 Oh, would she die.

Now, this is no random hit and run. I only shop Goodwills in the high-end zip codes. This makes it a geographic challenge, and may mean a long drive to shop at just one, but the payoff is magnificent. I have three favorites if you live in the Phoenix area: North Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, and South Chandler. Of course, they are at polar opposite ends of the East Valley, where I live.

I sometimes have a comrade with me–my friend Nymarie. She lives in Chandler, so she’s always in for the Chandler store. We are in complete agreement on Time, The Plan, Regroup and Compare skills. Then there are The 10 Rules and Last Chance Check.

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved


It is very important to arrive when the store opens at 9:00 am. Not so much to grab for bargains, but to get a darn cart. No one can do Goodwill without a cart. At the very least, it’s some place to park your purse.

The Plan

This is where Nymarie and I part ways. She shops for 17-year old twin girls and a college son’s dorm room. Not my thing. I immediately run to the furniture. I have a small cottage business where I find and fix up small home furniture pieces–end tables, trunks, coffee tables–hence, the name upcycle. I sell in a small online group in my area of stay-at-home moms who love anything shabby chic (word has not reached Arizona yet that this style is waning) and will pay great prices. On 50% off day, I can buy a junky looking end table for $2.50, take it home and paint it white, distress it a bit, replace a knob on the drawer with something terribly chic from Anthropologie (bought on sale) and easily sell it for $25-$30. What’s not to love about this pastime?

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

I once painted a plain wooden trunk with distressed wide vintage pink and white stripes and put feet on it from Home Depot (that were actually made for the top of bed posts). That baby made me $50. But dang, I wish I’d kept it! It was that cool. Oh yeah, parting with some of the upcycles is difficult at times. Cute can be hazardous if keeping it instead of selling it.

You get it. Look at every piece for its possibilities. It is true. One woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure.

Stay away from upholstered items. I’m germophobic, and I just don’t know where they’ve been. But, wood? Easy to clean and paint. Oh! I haven’t told you my BEST furniture find. From the Fountain Valley Goodwill. Six light wood tall back dining room chairs with a small inset of metal design on the back of each chair. Gorgeous. In great shape. Ugly chair pads, but no matter. I’d been to an upholstery tag sale. I had tons of upholstery. Ready for the price of the chairs? $12.99 each, at half off, made the total around $30 for SIX dining room chairs! I ended up upholstering each chair pad in a different pattern. They’re adorable. And you won’t find these in a retail store!

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

Regroup and Compare

In the store, Nymarie and I are always in touch by cell phone. When our carts are full, and our feet are tired, we meet to do the, “Do I REALLY want/need this or is it ugly” meet up. The benefits of Nymarie. She’s skilled in all things Goodwill, has great taste, and is brutally honest. We both also grab things for each other. So in the middle of the store, we go through our treasures. Keep. Toss. Keep. Toss.

The ULTIMATE finds are new items, name brands, with the tags on. At freaking half off! I have gotten many designer items this way.

Just recently, I bought four MacKenzie Childs iconic checkerboard placemats for $1 each. They  retail for $5 for $1 each. It just doesn’t get much better.

I also buy a lot of books. Books I want to read, classics for my nephew, specific authors for friends, and new books I resell at a local bookstore. At 50% off, most of them are $1-1.50.

The Rules

It’s very easy to be tempted to buy things on 50% off day because the price is just so low. I mean, Pottery Barn plates for $2 each? That’s a great price, but my cupboards are full of plates. I must have rules. Maybe they’ll be useful for you.

  1. Don’t buy clothes that look really used. Someone else didn’t want them. Neither do you.
  2. Do buy new-looking name brand clothes. I’ve found Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, H&M, Anthropologie, Gap, DKNY, Free People, and more. I just bought a Michael Kors top for $6. I swear, sometimes I hyperventilate!
  3. Don’t buy shoes unless they’re new with tags. Enough said. Same with purses.
  4. Do look for throw pillows. Many are new and can help you change a room style easily.
  5. Don’t buy sheets or pillowcases. Someone donated them for a reason.
  6. Do check for comforters. I always look for them. Not for my bed, but because I use them as couch covers. I probably have three different sets with matching throw pillows for each season. Excessive? Not at a price of about $16 total.
  7. Do check out the towels. I’ve found Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren in great shape.
  8. Do check the yarn. I knit, and will buy yarn if it’s new, a good brand and there’s enough skeins.
  9. Do check out the accessories aisles. Sometimes I find new candles, stationery, or decent kitchen items. This is where the plates, glasses, and pans are located. Generally, I just see junk in this area. Although I recently bought a glass butter dish, and this is where I found the MacKenzie Childs’ placemats.
  10. Do check the furniture. You know I run here first for wooden accessory pieces to upcycle. Goodwill sells new mattresses and pillows, although I’ve never bought any.

Last Chance Check

Before I check out, and this is especially important if I don’t have my bestie Nymarie with me, I go into a quiet part of the store and organize all of my items. I fold all my clothes with prices up, same with linens. I always manage to find a great deal on throw pillows, and I have them underneath the cart with tags up. I put all the books together. You get the idea. I group like items with tags up so I can count how much money I’m spending. While I’m doing this, I’m mentally totaling and at the same time, asking myself, do I NEED this, or is this a WANT? Wants go back. Sometimes, I’ve filled a cart for $20, and this is no lie!

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

© Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

My motto is: Any amateur can pay retail. Real shoppers find the deals.


Dori Owen

Dori Owen blogs on ArizonaGirlDiary.tumblr.com, is a columnist on FeminineCollective.com, a contributor/editor for The Lithium Chronicles, created the Facebook page Diary of an Arizona Girl, is an author on AskABipolar, was featured in the books FeminineCollective RAW&UNFILTERED VOL I and StigmaFighters Vol II, and is a zealous tweeter as @doriowen. She's a former LA wild child who settled into grownup life as a project manager, collecting an MBA and a few husbands along the way. Dori spent her adult years in Southern California, with a brief stay in Reno, and has now returned to where she ran away from in Arizona. She is a shown artist, writer, and her favorite pastime is upcycling old furniture she finds from thrift stores. She lives with her beloved rescued terrier, Olivia Twist, and the cat who came to visit but stayed. The love of her life is her grown son in Portland, Oregon who very much resents being introduced after her pets. But she she does love him the most.

8 thoughts on “10 Do’s and Don’ts for Finding Gold at Goodwill

  1. Renee DeMontRenee DeMont

    This is fabulous Dori! My folks used to live in Fountain Hills. Wish I had known about the Goodwill back then! Great game plan!

  2. Hot Mess

    Well, since we now live in OC and J works in Huntington Beach, I am super close! But, also check the sunglasses/glasses too because I have found Vera Wang frames, Gucci Frames, all kinds and finding the frames saves a couple hundred bucks if you need to get glasses because then you just need lenses too.

  3. Dori OwenDori Owen

    Hey….a celebrity’s in the house!
    I’ll have to look harder in the sunglasses/case bin. I see it, but cruise on by. It’s in the dreaded
    Home Accesories messy shelving. I will definitely be on the lookout for Miss Me. I have never seen that label out here. Greaaaaat tip from a pro! It’s really too bad we couldn’t go junkin’ in Laguna Beach. They only have one thrift store–but it’s great. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!
    [Rolls red carpet out…..] xD.

  4. Hot Mess

    Don’t forget the bin of Sunglesses cases, you can find some really good designer hard shell sunglasses cases that you can fit two designer pairs of sunglasses in for about $1 each. Also, look for brands like Miss Me jeans. Those jeans brand new are over $100 each and can be sold for at least $60-70 a pair. Xoxo fellow bargain shopper and matching Ugger. I’ve got a bunch more tips too lol

  5. Dori OwenDori Owen

    Hah! Thanks, Rachael, sounds like you need to join our Saturday morning team! Thank you SO much for reading my Goodwill tale and taking the time to comment!

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