Remember when we introduced you to thrifting champ Beautiful Existence? back in January of 2011? At that point she—yes, Beautiful Existence is her legal name—was just warming up to the ultimate thrift store challenge and blog: Living the Goodwill Life, in which she shopped exclusively at Goodwill for the entirety of the year.
We sat down with Existence (who, not incidentally, looked terrifically pulled together in her Goodwill-acquired J Crew cashmere) to discuss what a year of Goodwill does to a person.
WWW: What inspired you to set off on this challenge?
Beautiful Existence: My parents own an organic farm outside of Olympia, and my whole life I was raised with the notion that you use minimally and you reuse all the time. I was in a Goodwill last year with my mom and thought, I’ve seen all these people do these challenges and I’ve always thought about doing one for myself, why not start with something I knew relatively well? I thought it was pretty realistic goal to buy everything one needs from a thrift store—and I gave myself proper limitations on it; you know, pharmaceuticals and food and things like that. Being at the end of this challenge this year I know without a doubt that you can get almost anything you need at a thrift store if you really, really try.
What were some of your favorite purchases?
My favorite purchase, furniture-wise, was a Williams-Sonoma Pottery Barn-esque portable kitchen bar. We ended up using it as a bar for drinks and glasses at our Christmas party and it was perfect. It was 30 percent off of $50, and it was in mint condition. I also purchased a Tiffany bracelet at the Glitter Sale.
What was your strategy for the Glitter Sale?
I was the first in line. I stayed overnight in a tent to be first because I wanted to see what it was really like when you first walk in the doors. Oh, it was beautiful. They had everything color coordinated. My eyes went on visual overload immediately and I just started grabbing stuff. Literally I was grabbing stuff, walking down the aisle with both my hands open just trying to get things. It was intense, they do such a good job and they clean up the whole store and I’ve been there so many times and I’ve never seen it look so good as it did right before the Glitter Sale.
What are some things you learned this last year?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about is just how Goodwill helps our community. Not just our community but nation wide; every Goodwill has this job training mission but they all apply it in different ways. Depending on their local community, they will have team programs, retirement programs, some of them have camps or ESL instruction courses. It’s really amazing to see what your donations and your dollars end up doing in the community. The people I’ve been able to talk to the most are the people who work in their stores. There is one lady that I know who is a manager and used to be homeless with her kids. It is one of the non-profits that I’ve really come to understand.
Do you miss regular stores and brand new things?
I do a little bit because I’m a true northwest girl and I’ve been a Nordies shopper forever. Having all those options and breaking them down to just one place, I thought it would be a lot more difficult than it was, it was actually relatively easy. But there are the people that know me and know I was jonesing for something new thought “Well, you’re not buying so we’re going to give you something.”
Most recently, Vince Camuto boots from Nordstrom.
Do you have any tips for aspiring thrifters?
Thrift stores are not dirty and dingy like they used to be. Things are sized, they are properly marked racks, there are people to help you. Every convenience you can think of, it’s there. Go on off times, in the morning; it’ll be nice and mellow. Or go in the evenings. Don’t ever go on a weekend afternoon because it’ll be a little bit much. They put out products all the time so you don’t have worry about missing something, really. Take somebody with you. Give yourself some time because it isn’t until the end of the day that they actually go through and re-sort things into the proper places. So if you don’t give yourself the time or don’t have a second pair of eyes helping look you could miss some things. High-end items and collectibles are right up there in front. You don’t even have to mess with the rest of the store if its too much at first, but you can at least go in and look at that stuff.
Do some people just have an eye for valuable things?
I can see things. I’ve been around so many antiques, collectors, and dealers with my parents through the years, and I used to work retail management for a long time so I know higher end. I can see material on the rack and know that it’s a higher-end piece.
What’s the next challenge looking like?
I have ten years of challenges that I’ve already mapped out. An entire decade. This next year is for Parents magazine because I’m a parent and I heard about a teenager on NPR who took on teen magazines. I’ve had Parents around now for years because of my children, and I looked at it and thought: for an entire year to take on the products they endorse, the advice they write about, the things they say to try with your kid? This next year is going to be really interesting.