There are some things that just shouldn't be donated. Thrift store employees reveal the strangest thing they've found in the donation pile.
Dang! Hate It When That Happens
“About 10 years ago I worked at a chain thrift store, one morning we got a phone call from this gentleman saying, rather calmly, ‘I think I accidentally donated my mom,’ naturally I had no clue what the heck that meant. Turns out the guy donated his mom’s ashes so he left his number in case we found it.
The whole back room went on a hunt because it had turned into this competition on who would find his mom first. We found her, phoned him and he came and picked her up. We thought that was the last of him until we were processing some donations a few months later and found his mom again. We phoned him because we still had his contact information, his only reply was ‘god dang it’, he came and got her and we never heard from him after that.”
A Heartwarming Story
“I do not work at a Goodwill but I found the DD-214 discharge papers of a World War II veteran at a thrift store, along with original family photos, documents and letters.
I was very upset, having recently handled so much paperwork around the death of my grandfather. I knew exactly what I was looking at when I saw the DD-214.
I bought all the documents I could put my hands on and started googling the man’s name. I tracked down his adult daughter who owned a small business with her husband. I found the email address of the small business and sent her what must have been an alarming email, although I was as cordial as I possibly could be.
She got back to me almost immediately. It turned out he had remarried after the marriage to her mother ended. His new wife and her two sons pretty much took over the man’s life and the daughter saw very little of her father. At the end of his life they took charge of all of his possessions and cleared out his house without having told her anything. Even though the second wife had died and the two sons were not technically blood. She was very angered and upset by this at the time, understandably.
I told her she must be the little girl in the baby pictures I had found and I would be glad to send her all these materials. I shipped them out to her via FedEx with tracking and she was so deeply moved. She didn’t have any baby pictures with her father.
I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything good in my life, I’m sure I have. But I know I did a good thing that week. Internet research skills + compassion for the win.”
A Sweet Little Time Capsule
“I worked for a nonprofit for seniors that had a charity shop in it. People often just dropped off boxes of stuff they found in their parent’s attic. One box had a bunch of letters. Some of them were from WWII, when the man was stationed at Camp Carson in Colorado and one of them must have been something they were keeping from an older generation. It was a 1914 letter proposing marriage. It was so romantic. He fell in love with her when they went ice skating together. He included an advertisement for some houses they could buy. They were really nice houses, selling for about $1500.”
The Sisterhood Of Traveling Shirt
“I volunteered at a Goodwill for community service. It wasn’t all that exciting. But I learned that 90% of donations don’t make it on the racks. This is what makes this story even wackier to me.
One time, years before, I found an awesome shirt at a local thrift shop and bought it and it was awesome. I was wearing it and my (not yet) first husband told me that he thought I got rid of that shirt. He remembered because it was such an odd color (like green polyester). I told him “heck no, I just bought this”.
He couldn’t BELIEVE it, but he thought I had re-bought a shirt that I already owned and then had donated.
We donated through an organization called Disabled Vets (I think, this was 20+ years ago) where they pick up your stuff with a truck. They call a week or so ahead of time, when they are in your area.
I must have put this shirt in a bag, or he did. Disabled Vets came and then they sell their acquired donations by the pound to local thrift shops. The donations are then sorted, many disposed of, some sent overseas or elsewhere, and a small fraction placed on the racks.
Well, this shirt must have made it through all that, ended up at a nearby thrift store, survived to get on the rack, and then I BOUGHT IT AGAIN.
My husband even found a picture of me wearing it prior because I wasn’t sure I believed him.”
You Never Know What You’ll Find
“I used to sweep the parking lot of a Goodwill and they would toss very interesting stuff in the dumpster. Hundreds of books. Like really expensive ones. Leather bound sets of classical works from the 1920s, early prints of sci fi novels (I found a nice collectible copy of Dune recently), family bibles stacked thick with memories. Food dehydrators, paintings, collectible sports memorabilia, super valuable vintage tools and fixtures. Most of it is just stuff that nobody bothered checking the value on before chucking it out, and it’s really sad.
I found a destroyed collection of old Spalding baseball bats, the oldest being from the 30s. They were left in the dumpster in standing water for days at least. It’s sad to see things like that go, maybe because at one point someone loved them very much, and someone else decided that all the care it took to collect these treasures was a waste.”
A Rare Piece Of History Rediscovered
“One of the few surviving Enigma machines. The owner passed away and his family dropped it off with a box of newspapers and some memorabilia from the war etc. My aunt being a history nut, figured out what it was, got it appraised (worth almost £100k), and looked for the family for 5 months before being able to return it to them. She didn’t have the heart to take it under false pretences.”
The Gnarliest Shirt Ever
“I worked for a youth program ages 13-18 that did not accept donations as we were government-funded, but that didn’t stop people from leaving garbage bags full of children toys and baby clothes for some reason, and despite the sign stating “we do not accept donations”. They would leave them out in all weather and suddenly we were stuck with them. So we would rebag them as the bags got covered in cat urin and get torn up. We would often get poo-stained baby clothes, toys that were for some reason half-melted, and random expired food. Ticked me off every time I rolled in and saw a bunch of garbage bags at the door.
Also, went to Value Village one day and played my usual game of “find the weirdest shirt and most obscure band shirt”. I found a shirt that said in bold white letters ”I’ll buy you a drink when you learn to swallow without gagging and take it in the bum without crying”. I was baffled that:
Someone saw this shirt and bought it, either for themselves or for a loved one.
Someone eventually thought it was appropriate enough to donate to a thrift store.
Someone at the thrift store saw it and thought it was appropriate enough to price it and put it on the shelf.
Needless to say, I wear that shirt constantly now. Just kidding that shirt did not leave the store with me.”
She Had No Idea What Her Son Owned
“I had a mate who worked in one of the bigger lifeline stores in Australia. A woman came into the store with five large clear plastic storage boxes and asked to donate them. He looked inside of the boxes and it was thousands of beautifully hand-painted Warhammer pieces. He was shocked and asked her why. They were her son’s and she couldn’t keep them in the house anymore since his death. My friend said he couldn’t accept the donation, he said the whole collection was worth alot of money. She had no idea. He asked her for all her details and asked if he could try to sell it for her. She agreed. After his shift, he went home and took photos of everything and posted it online in an Australian Warhammer forum. Within a couple of weeks, everything was sold. He called her and she met him at the store. He told her he had sold it to collectors all around Australia who loved her son’s work. He handed her roughly twelve thousand dollars. She cried, he cried, she offered him half, he said no. She told him she would donate his half to a suicide charity in her son’s name and his name. He said it was the best thing he had ever done in his life.”
Better Than Dirty Underwear
“I was examining an old manual typewriter someone donated. It had a vinyl carrying case with a zipper pocket on the inside. I opened it and found a manual, the original receipt, and an envelope of Polaroid pictures. The pictures were of several women in lingerie or half-dressed. All looked like they were in their 60s-70s. At the bottom of the Polaroid were a name and date, covering about a 10-year span. One of the nicer things I came across working that job, better than dealing with the dirty underwear we got on the regular.”
People Really Be Throwing Out Valuable Items
“A sword used by a Japanese officer in WWII.
A suitcase full of adult toys.
A coin collection worth nearly $2000 accidentally left in a cupboard that was donated.
A photo album of someone’s wedding (was donated amongst the belongings of the pastor that married the couple after he passed). The bride happened to be someone I went to school with.
I tend to sort books at my store so have found a few odd things in there: cash as bookmarks (about $150), a book with carved pages to conceal some jewels and gemstones, a few 1st edition books on agriculture from the 1800s, LOTS of handwritten recipes, personal letters and my favorite: a letter sent in the last mail delivery from Hong Kong before the British returned it to China affixed with EVERY stamp available at the time and mint versions of each of this stamps enclosed.”
This Is A Goodwill Not A Garbage Dump Okay
“I work at a thrift store as a donation handler. The gnarliest thing I had seen was a literal stack of mattresses left overnight during off-hours. They were disgusting, crawling with bugs and riddled in stains of various shades and hues. Noped the heck out of that, called my manager and they brought a forklift out to take them to the trash compactor.
Just the other day we had a donor drop off a small crate (like a milkcrate kind of thing) chock full of hentai. Just today I found a small, marble one-hitter pipe at the bottom of the donation bin.”
“So, I worked for a charity, we picked up old clothes etc and sold them in bulk to a thrift chain. When we unloaded the truck, it was common to toss the store employees the bags, and they would catch them before stacking them on racks. Well, one time some idiot put a big chef’s knife in a bag of clothes, the store employee caught the garbage bag of clothes, wrapped his arms around it as he caught it, and proceeded to stab himself in the arm. After that, the policies were changed, we had to put the bags at the edge of the truck for them to take off, because our insurance didn’t cover us off the truck, and theirs didn’t cover them in it.”
Incredibly Sad And Personal Finds
Love letters between two people from the late 1800s, multiple suicide letters and one suicide tape, and many diaries. One diary specifically was written by a gay man going to med school in the 70s in San Fran. It spans 10 years and has a first-person account of his feelings the day Harvey Milk was assassinated.
I used to process donations at this thrift store, so I was seeing everything first. A lot of times when people die their family members will drop everything off, so we have to sort through and figure out what we can and cannot sell. Personal things like letters and diaries can’t be sold, but at the same time they seem so special it’s hard to throw them away. When I quit that job I took a giant box of all this personal memorabilia with me and had a bonfire where I read every single letter/note/diary and then burned them. I burned everything EXCEPT the diary, letters, and suicide tape I mentioned. I have those all sitting in a drawer in my closet. I still sit down and read them sometimes.
The suicide tape was so disturbing I actually separated the tape from the tape recorder so I couldn’t easily play it anymore. It was an hour-long recording of a father saying goodbye to his three sons. I wonder how that tape even got donated in the first place. Like, was it an accident? Did the son it was given to die as well and then whoever was donating didn’t know what it was? Or did he never actually commit suicide, and over the years he forgot about it, leaving it to get mixed in with his other stuff that eventually got donated?
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Literally the first day on the job at a Salvation Army I came across: -Several cardboard boxes filled with glassware, all of which were soaked with cat pee.
A crate of super rare VHS tapes (including a VHS copy of Eragon) Granted, my first day was a bit of a special occurrence. Besides the disgusting clothing, though, it was actually a super sick job. Unless it was super valuable, you could take anything you want that came in before it went out front. The coolest thing that ever came in was an assortment of Norwegian vinyl greeting cards, essentially an archaic version of the modern ones that play a sound when you open them. Another time we got an Aussie jacket and gator boots (I live in Western Canada so the odds of coming across these are virtually 0), but probably the rarest item was a 1980 Nakamichi Dragon Cassette deck (which was in terrible condition and didn’t work, unfortunately)
A voodoo doll with pins in it (I assume it was some sort of tourist souvenir but still creepy as heck)
Several bags of actual trash (this is actually quite common since people assume poor folks will take anything, and it’s cheaper than going to the dump)
A pair of women’s yoga pants stained with (I assume) period blood.
A bag full of urine-soaked clothing (from a different person)
“It Wasn’t Much But It Was Everything For Us On That Day”
“Didn’t work there, but I was about 5-years-old and my mom brought me and my siblings with her to Goodwill. She raised us alone, didn’t have a lot of money. This was essentially a school clothes trip. She was just trying to get IN and get OUT, we had strict rules NOT to ask for a toy or frankly just don’t ask for ANYTHING. This is a necessary trip ONLY.
Naturally, that lasted long enough for us to walk through the automatic doors. My brother went one way, my sister another, and I headed straight for an enormous basket of wallets. I had made up my mind that I needed a wallet and the only place I could beg with any hope to get one was second hand. I picked up one, didn’t like the pockets. Picked up another, wasn’t a fan of zippers. I HATED the sound of Velcro so that eliminated many options in the basket. Eventually, I brought my carefully scrutinized selection to mom, who was already overwhelmed by my sibilings’ finds that she only told me no a few times before she relented. It cost her $2.
We loaded our sacks of clothes (and my precious new wallet) into our van and started for home. I remember going through all of the pockets like I was performing a dissection, picturing what I could put here and what was supposed to go there. At some point, I found a slot that was inside of a pocket that was “stiff,” as if it was never used often. I poked at it enough to separate the fabric, and found a bill inside, intricately folded into a tiny square. Before I even realized exactly what it was, I had ripped it out and held it out over the middle seat in the van, waving frantically and practically bouncing in my seat. “Mom! Look! My wallet has money!”
It was four $20 bills, a total of $80. I’ll never forget the astonished yell and absolutely magical, gleeful laugh my mom let out. My siblings and I joined in, and we didn’t stop smiling and talking about it the whole way home. That $80 wasn’t much at all, but it was everything for us on that day.
Mom let me keep a $20. I couldn’t even tell you what I spent it on. But I still remember how that wallet smelled.”
Ah Yeah! Dead Rats!
“I worked for a Goodwill program that hired developmentally disabled adults. My job was to assist the clients as they processed donations. We found things like a bowl and bag of weed in a coat pocket, a shirt that said, ‘I don’t drink, I just go to AA to get chicks’ (somehow that one sustained a tear and had to be trashed), and, worst of all, a garbage bag full of dead rats.”
Okay, This Guy Is Certifiably Cool
“I worked at a Goodwill when I was in high school (nearly 20 years ago) and there was a list of things we were not allowed to accept that make sense but you might not realize, such as kitchen knives, CRT displays (monitors and TVs), anything with florescent lights, mattresses, and some other things I can’t remember.
When we got one of those things but didn’t notice in time to turn it away, we didn’t really have a set policy on what to do with it. Mostly we’d put them in our dumpster, but sometimes… I’d set it aside behind the building, and put it in my car after work.
It’s how I’m the owner of a full-sized sword I still don’t know what to do with.
The other thing that came in that was weird but not because the thing itself was weird: if you’ve donated anything to a Goodwill you know that they have a kind of “drive-thru” donation area, where you pull into a small pass-through garage with open doors on both sides, then you and/or an employee take your stuff out of your trunk or whatever, then you drive away.
One day, a guy pulls up in a rusted out red Trans Am (or it has become a Trans Am in my memory), screeches to a halt, reaches over to his passenger seat, grabs a plastic bag completely full of something, and holds it out though the driver-side window.
I walk toward the car, and just as I was about to grab the bag, he looks me straight in the eyes and says “this is for you” like I was Frodo and this was the One Ring.
He drops the bag and I barely catch it as he speeds away without saying another word.
So, what was in the bag? It was entirely cassette tapes. The Cure’s first single, The Velvet Underground’s underrated self-titled album, a Tom Pretty b-side collection, two records by the Sugarcubes, the Pretenders, and more.
I had just gotten into Talking Heads and David Bowie, my music taste was evolving, but it was still mostly 90s grunge. I’d never heard of the Velvet Underground.
So, like with the sword, I set it aside and took it home myself. It was for me, he said.
My car still had a cassette deck, so I started listening to this curated collection of one person’s music taste. It was like that cliche of your older brother introducing their music to you, except I have no idea who this person was. It ended up being exactly what I needed at exactly the right time in my life.
I still have that Velvet Underground album displayed on the wall in my home office.”
Not Everyone Is Doing This For Charity
“Was working in a Charity shop that helped support cancer patients’ treatments. Most people’s donations were from the goodness of their hearts, but a very small minority would use the shop as a bin bag drop off. (Forget those people, they are scum.)
One time two young enough dudes rock up with two small bags of clothes and two drawer-type bedroom furniture. The bag of clothes was all good, some expensive stuffed in them. But each drawer had a mirror supper glued to the top of the desk.
I’m standing there looking at it, like a fool, wondering what the heck is this all about.
Turns out the Garda (Irish police) came in one of the days looking for the furniture and clothes. The two lads were coke dealers and they just dropped off the evidence. They were using the drawer to cut up coke.”
Somebody Donated A Treasure Trove
“I’m a thrift shop junkie and all the people that work at my local ones know me and know that I know what most stuff is worth. I went into a St. Vincent DePaul store and the manager knew me and called me into the office. There was a large box. Not a little jewelry box, like a tackle box-sized box and she opened it and it was full of antique jewelry. Right off the bat, I saw a couple of emeralds and some sapphires. She said someone left it and the key was taped to the top of the box. I don’t know jewelry but recommended someone I know who’s an expert to come look at it. It was worth a fortune. All I can guess is someone’s grandma died and they didn’t even look in it they just dropped it off.”
Okay, Here’s A Gross Story For Ya’ll
“Oh, I got this one! I worked in fundraising for a non-profit that used to run a thrift store. Despite the fact that the store had been closed for years when I came on staff, people still regularly dumped trash outside our door on weekends, and there was an entire terrifying garage of leftover merchandise I spent five years (yes, years) slowly sorting through and figuring out how to get rid of. My “donation wall of shame” included:
People are gross.
500 (yep) plastic kleenex box holders that a big box home store that shares initials with the Better Business Bureau had given as part of a bulk donation deal.
NUMEROUS bags of donated clothing where the top few layers were great and the rest were dirty, stinky, ragged, permanently stained, or otherwise unusable.
A mattress that someone had either given birth on or something horrible had happened to them (a weekend dump job; eeeewwww – we called the cops).
An artificial lower leg that someone’s dog had gotten a hold of and chewed most of the foot off.
An open box of female rubbers, two missing, one opened.”
That Was Very Gucci Of Them To Do That
“I worked for a charity shop for a year during my time at university. Once we got a huge donation of clothes in the middle of the night. Like someone just dropped a massive pile of clothing in front of the entry and buggered off. That’s not cool and usually, people do it cuz they want to get rid of trash cheaply. But dang this time there were a pair of Gucci men’s shoes in there. We all didn’t know how to tell if they were fake or real and went to ask a neighbor shoe shop and they were REAL! And not only real also very old and in great condition! We sold them on an auction for a lot of money!”