Open for Bins-ness

Rows and rows of blue bins. Items at the Goodwill Bins are not curated or organized by type; instead they are distributed randomly throughout the bins. Photo by Brian Webster

Huge sequin shawls are in the same bins as tiny onesies. Sad single shoes are strewn about. One bin is carpeted with puzzle pieces. 

The Goodwill Outlets, fondly called the Bins, is not a normal thrift store. The Bins is named for how products are displayed: in giant blue bins. Items in the bins are not organized or curated at all. Instead, they are thrown about randomly. Clothing ends up at the Bins after spending two weeks at a normal Goodwill without being sold. Overall, the fun of the Bins is digging through large amounts of stuff in order to find the treasure buried underneath. 

The Bins prices its clothing in a nontraditional manner: by the pound. Clothing costs two dollars and 19 cents per pound, and if you have more than 25 pounds to buy, the price drops. 

Because of this, the Bins is much cheaper than other clothing stores. When buying something new, a person can spend anywhere from ten dollars up to forty dollars on one item of clothing, or even more for jeans. However, pants from the Bins cost only around one dollar each. Even thrift stores, a less expensive alternative to expensive traditional stores, have much higher prices than the Bins. For example, shirts at Goodwill sell for around six dollars in my experience. Based on these rough estimates, the price of clothing from the Bins is a discount of between 80 and 98 percent off the price you find at curated thrift stores or new clothing stores. This huge price reduction makes the bins an affordable place to find intriguing pieces of clothing. 

There are two Bins locations in the Portland area: one in Milwaukie and one near the Portland airport. I went to the Milwaukie Bins, which can be reached by taking the 14 bus and transferring to the 70 at SE 11th and Madison. Trimet Trip Planner estimates that this takes fifty minutes. This is a large chunk of time, but with good friends and an open mind, it will become a memorable adventure. 

Anne Dynes (11), a student at Franklin High School, recently took me to the Bins. She went for the first time freshman year and returns frequently, about every month. Dynes loves how low the prices are and the high quality of clothing. “You can get really nice denim there, which you can’t really find at other stores unless it’s like forty dollars,” she says. Her favorite finds have been various pairs of pants, a designer Ann-Klein jacket, and even an alpaca sweater. 

Resellers dominate the Bins. They search for clothing that they will later sell online. For them, the Bins is their livelihood, and Anne recommends “being aware that this is a lot more serious for them than it is for you.” 

Her first tip is to snag a cart if at any point you see one unattended as there is a very limited amount, and having one is helpful to put clothing in. Also, Dynes warns, “Definitely bring gloves.” The Bins can be disgusting at times, and I appreciated a barrier between the questionable clothing or other items and my hand. 

This is probably common knowledge, but in case anyone reading this article has been living under a rock, customers at the Bins do not try clothing on. Stuff costs so little that if it ends up not fitting, only a few quarters are wasted. 

Another trick she has is searching beyond the top layer of clothing. “A lot of people skim along the top, but if you really dig in there, then you can find the good stuff,” Dynes says. 

If you find yourself crossing your legs while shopping at the Bins, don’t worry! The Milwaukie location has bathrooms that are surprisingly clean. 

Perhaps Dynes’ most helpful strategy was this: “If you think there’s even a small chance you’re gonna want to buy something, put it in your cart.” If you don’t claim an item immediately, it will probably either be gone or be buried under other clothes when you try to find it. The next step is to sort through everything you’ve put in your cart and be realistic about what you’ll wear and what’s best left there. 

Finally, you’ll pay by putting all your items in a basket to weigh them. During my outing to the Bins, I purchased a whole paper bag full of clothes for less than ten dollars. My haul consisted of nine articles of clothing plus a few knick-knacks. 

The Bins is more than just a weird store where apparently you’re supposed to wear gloves. It can be a miraculously affordable way to find clothes or a memorable experience with friends on a sunny day. Whatever you buy will only cost two dollars and 19 cents per pound. So grab a cart, pick up any shirt that catches your eye, and find what is likely the cheapest clothing you’ve ever bought from anywhere other than a garage sale. 

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