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Whenever you’re clearing out your life, whether it’s cleaning up a room full of junk or purging unwanted items before a move, you’re bound to end up with a bunch of excellent stuff that you don’t want anymore. Who among us does not have a pile of things we’ve received as gifts or picked up over the years and don’t want or need?
You’ve tried giving it away to friends and family, but no one wants it. You’ve tried selling it at a yard sale or on Facebook’s marketplace, but no one bites. So now you’re taking it to the local Chicagoland thrift stores, and even here, it seems no one wants it.
Why wouldn’t a thrift store accept a donation? After all, it’s free money if they can sell it, so it seems like they would be more than happy to take anything you have to give, correct?
The truth is, thrift stores have a few good reasons (and a few less good reasons) why they might not accept your donations. Here’s why.
The Items Are Junk
One of the most common reasons a thrift store won’t accept a donation is when the items you want to donate are, to put it delicately, garbage.
“Broken furniture. Flashlights with leaking batteries. Disfigured Barbie dolls.” – NBC Chicago
You’d be surprised at how many people treat thrift stores and charity shops like Goodwill as glorified waste removal companies. Whether it’s old and broken toys, non-functional electronics, or even literal garbage, a surprising number of people try to donate stuff that the thrift store can’t possibly resell.
Often, there’s a disconnect between perceived value. Some people assign a lot of value to things that are only slightly broken or still partially usable because it costs money to replace them, and that’s not always an option for everyone. So, if those items have a residual value, they think someone else may also perceive that value.
That may even be true! There are plenty of people out there who might be willing to buy or barter for used and half-broken items, either to use as they can out of need, or to use as parts to repair another of the same thing, or even out of a hoarder mentality. The trouble is, thrift stores are not part of that equation.
Thrift stores exist to take goods as donations and sell them for profit. Some of that profit (though not necessarily as much as you might think) may go to a charity or back into the community, but much of it goes towards paying salaries and rent on the store’s property, and so on.
Remember, a thrift store has to choose whenever an item comes in. Can they potentially sell it, and if so, will it sell for an acceptable amount or in a reasonable time? A bulky item that only sells for $2 isn’t worth the space it takes up, and an item that sells for $50 but only once in a blue moon may not be a wise decision for the store to take and display.
Unfortunately, thrift stores need to reject these donations. If they then need to dispose of the junk they receive, their bills go up, reducing the already-thin margins many thrift stores operate on (especially local stores rather than chains) and even driving them out of business if the disposal costs rack up too much.
The Items Need Maintenance or Repair
Another common issue is that the items need repairs. Most thrift stores don’t do much more than minor cleaning of the things they receive and resell. For functional objects, they may test them out, but for most items, they sell as-is.
A table with a broken leg isn’t worth trying to keep and resell, but it’s okay if it’s a piece of furniture that’s a little scuffed up. Again, there’s probably someone with a spare table leg or the tools to make one who would happily buy the table. But, the thrift store doesn’t have the time, expertise, tools, or desire to fix up items before selling them. They face the risk of that broken table taking up a ton of space for months without any interest from customers.
All thrift stores don’t necessarily have policies like this in place. Some thrift stores, particularly those owned more as passion projects by individuals (as opposed to chains like Goodwill or Salvation Army), are more likely to have specific items they’ll accept and repair. You might find one owned by someone who likes fixing watches or toys, for example. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case for most items.
That’s not to say these kinds of items are worthless. Many can be donated to other organizations and charities, such as the Chicago Furniture Bank or Lakeshore Recycling Systems. They can be used as training for community skill-building projects, as materials for everything from other repairs to art, or recycled, as appropriate.
The Items Aren’t Likely to Sell
A sad fact is that many items out there simply won’t sell, even if they have value and are in good condition.
Sometimes, this is because the items in question were mass-produced as a collectible, tricking people into thinking they would have long-term value. A typical example of this is sports cards. Authentic vintage sports cards can be worth a lot of money, but sports cards printed more recently may not be worth the cardstock they’re printed on.
Another common issue is that the items aren’t usually trusted as secondhand items or aren’t something people typically look for secondhand. During the start of Covid, for example, it was nearly impossible to get rid of baby items like car seats. The fear of surface contamination, face-to-face transactions, and the lack of ability to sell them effectively made them impossible to donate and sell.
In other cases, some items were just mass-produced, and nobody cared to buy them. The most infamous and well-known example is the upright piano; sometimes, it seems like everyone who lived through the 70s has one, and no one born after the 90s wants one, so millions of them are floating around that nobody will ever buy. A lot of older dishes, kitchen tools, and small appliances may fall into this category.
A thrift store has to weigh what they can sell; if the thrift store doesn’t think they can sell an item, they won’t accept it as a donation.
The Items are Banned by Corporate Decree
Sometimes, the management of the thrift store has specific lists of items they can and cannot accept. There are usually a variety of reasons for this. They might be illegal to resell, hazardous to handle, not be easily testable for functionality, or they might not be worth the time.
Here are a few examples from the Chicagoland area:
1. Howard Brown Health’s Brown Elephant
This program offers curbside pickup for certain household items and furniture but does not accept beds, mattresses, box springs, TVs, industrial furniture, pianos (see?), exercise equipment, and large appliances. They also will reject items that are too damaged, dirty, or otherwise unusable without serious effort to repair them. Most of these restrictions are focused on excessively large items, so if your donations are huge, bear in mind that storage space is limited and larger items are more likely to be rejected.
2. The Society of St Vincent de Paul Chicago
Operators of drop boxes all around the Chicago area accept bagged donations primarily of clothing, shoes, purses, and linens but won’t take much of anything else. These donation boxes are pretty small, so you don’t have to worry about them not taking your office furniture or piano – you won’t be able to fit it in their donation bins!
Goodwill is one of the nation’s largest thrift and charity stores, and the list of things they will and won’t accept is handed down from their corporate offices, with individual discretion of the workers locally also contributing. Their list, at least as of this writing, prohibits them from accepting:
- Air conditioners.
- Weapons or ammunition, including “toy” weapons like BB guns.
- Large appliances like stoves, washers, and refrigerators.
- Car parts.
- Baby items.
- Bed pillows.
- Bunk beds.
- Used bike helmets.
- Chemicals of any sort.
- Construction debris.
- Exercise equipment.
- Hazardous waste.
- Damaged furniture.
- Lightbulbs, unless they’re new in-box.
- Medical assistive devices.
- Mattresses, box springs, or waterbeds.
- Pianos. (See!)
- Tube-style TVs.
- More items are seen on the list on their site.
Most household items are accepted, but there’s a lot on their list that they won’t take, either because it won’t sell, it takes up too much space, it’s too heavy for their workers to handle, it requires too much work to get it in sale-worthy condition, or it’s hazardous to store, manage, or resell.
The Items Risk Contamination
A few everyday items on “will not accept” lists include mattresses, bed pillows, and furniture with stains or excessive pet hair.
There are a few reasons why these items might be prohibited. Mattresses, for example, take a lot of space to store, and many people aren’t interested in buying a used mattress if they can avoid it.
At the same time, one of the more common reasons these items are denied is the risk of contamination. We’re not talking about something like surface-spread Covid here; more likely, it’s something like fleas or bed bugs. These, as well as stains of indeterminate origin, all make an item much less enticing as a product to buy. After all, would you not want to buy something that has a chance of bringing bed bugs into your house? Of course not.
Moreover, thrift stores must contend with contamination of their storage facility or store. If they bring an item with insects into their store, suddenly any product they have could have those attached, which becomes a huge problem.
The Donations Are Not Legally Sellable
What kinds of things crop up in this list? Sometimes, items you’ve had lying around your house for years or decades may be acceptable for you to use but are technically not legal to sell. While you could potentially sell them online or in person, a thrift store is beholden to laws and the regulations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
A thrift store can be shut down, fined, or even sued if caught accepting these donations and selling items on this list:
- Children’s metal jewelry that contains too much lead.
- Recalled products (unless they’ve been repaired, if possible.)
- Cribs that were manufactured before June 2011.
- Any product that can be hazardous, particularly to children.
You can read a PDF guide from the CPSC here. It describes many everyday items and the reasons why thrift stores cannot resell them, as well as guidelines for identifying things that may not be explicitly called out.
Often, older items have cutoff dates precisely because of changes in regulations that happened on those dates. That kind of thing happens pretty often. The crib example above is a primary case; in 2011, the CPSC identified flaws in current cribs and set out stricter standards for materials and construction, ensuring more significant levels of safety for young children.
What to Do with Junk You Can’t Donate
If you have things you can’t get rid of – either because they’re damaged, unsellable, or no one will accept them – what can you do with them?
If you’ve tried all of the usual options, like friends and family or yard sales, or even if you don’t want to deal with it, why not call us?
As a junk removal service, Junk Relief is willing and able to haul away anything – yes, anything – you may have. We’ll take it if it’s a single armchair, a whole house worth of hoarded junk, and anything in between. Trust us; you can’t scare us; we’ve seen it all and cleaned it all.
Moreover, you can trust to get as much as possible back into the community. Anything usable, we donate ourselves, or we work with our partners to recycle. Not only are you clearing out your junk, but you’re also ensuring it’s handled best when you reach out to us. Contact us today for a free estimate, and we’ll help you clear out any items that you can’t keep or donate.