Most made up national holidays are pretty dumb, but National Thrift Shop Day on August 17 should be given a pass—at least for its environmental merits. The Salvation Army alone reuses and recycles over 34,000 tons of textile per year, saving over 238,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering our precious atmosphere annually. Thrift stores were basically invented to trick people into recycling, and its worked.
Apart from the obvious environmental benefits of thrift store shopping, there's also the much-beloved thrill of finding something you never even knew you were looking for, and then realizing you are actually able to afford it, too. Most avid thrift store shoppers can give you a list of items they've discovered over the years—ranging from the delightfully wacky to the deeply disturbing. But the real gems are typically first uncovered by the employees ripping through boxes of chunky Christmas sweaters and water-damaged copies of Lena Dunham's book. In celebration of National Thrift Shop Day, we spoke to secondhand store owners and employees to learn about the weirdest items they've ever discovered while on the clock.
One time, it was my turn to sort through the donation bins we keep outside. After sorting through most of it, I saw a small plastic baggie tied at the bottom. People usually use these to donate smaller things, like knick-knacks or jewelry. I reached in, pulled it out, and opened it to find a fresh pile of dog shit. Nothing tops that—I've managed to block everything else out.
A guy brought in bags and bags of action figure dolls—these were gallon-sized bags. I don't know what he was doing with all of them. What's even weirder is that they were all missing body parts. Whether it was an arm or a leg, all of them lacked vital extremities.
We got a lot of strap-ons last spring. I don't know why.
Our shop doesn't really let people come in and sell things. It's a big liability because you can never prove whether something is stolen or not. But a lot of junkies come in trying to get rid of stuff they stole. They don't like listening to me telling them that we're not going to buy their stuff, and one time a guy punched me in the face. So, the worst thing I've received since working here is a big purple bruise on my eye.
I once opened up a box filled to the brim with just dildos. They were in different sizes and different colors. Some were in packaging but others were obviously used. That box smelled pretty terrible.
I used to work at a store that bought things people would bring in. It's really fun, but after a long day of standing on your feet and looking through smelly things that people are trying to sell you, you lose a lot of motivation. After an especially long shift, you get tired. Once, after working two shifts back to back, my manager accidentally bought a dirty shower curtain. She thought it was a Stevie Nicks-type cape. Nope, it was a fucking shower curtain.
Someone donated a personal scrapbook. It looked like a child made it for their parents. It said things like, "I love you, Mom and Dad" and had all of these hand-drawn pictures. It was pretty sad that someone would just throw that out.
Someone once donated a box of shoes, which was great because they all seemed to be in good condition. There were all kinds of shoes: sneakers, high heels, even some sporting cleats. But once we started sorting through them, we couldn't find a single matching pair. I thought I was just tired until my coworker started complaining about what we were going to do without any pairs. Maybe someone out there has the second box full of the matching pairs. We will never know.
One time a woman left her marriage certificate in the box of things she donated. We tried to track her down to give it back, but to no avail. She never came looking for it.
Another time a man brought in what must have been a dozen boxes of military books, specifically about tanks. Most of them about WWII tanks. And in between the pages he had left all these clippings from porno mags—just strewn casually inside about half of the books. Clearly, that guy was really into combining his two favorite things: tanks and babes.