Tales from an Op Shop Volunteer


You may have noticed that I love to shop.  In particular, I love op shops (and markets and outlet centres and garage sales).  I volunteer one day a week at my local Red Cross – and have lots of fun!

But … you may be surprised at what goes on in op shops!

Come with me for a little sneak peek behind the scenes!




Some people wash, iron and fold the carefully selected clothes they donate, and politely hand them to the staff at the counter, folded beautifully into a designer carry bag.  We adore these people.

We had one expat couple recently who were moving overseas for work in a hurry and donated the entire contents of their kitchen, including a fridge, outdoor furniture, designer clothes, shoes and jewellery, plus all their linen and boxes and boxes of books.  They even donated a box of stationery and a printer that they thought could be used in our back office. How lovely.  Every single item was washed and ironed, despite them having a week to pack up and move countries.  Truly gorgeous people.

However, there is another type of donation we receive.  A rubbish bag stuffed to the gunwales with dirty, holey, ripped, torn, faded and smelly clothes, mouldy shoes and handbags, and old tea towels.   Unfortunately, this type of donation cannot be used.  It will make its way to the main sorting warehouse where it can be sold on for rags, but it creates a lot of extra work for op shop staff.  Not to mention deeply unpleasant.  Would you want to touch someone else’s dirty clothes?  Especially their knickers?  Thought not!

As a long time op shopper, I appreciate good quality donations because it means lots of lovely things for me to buy.  As an op shop volunteer, good quality donations are appreciated because it means we can make more money for the charity, which is, after all, the point of an op shop.





Oh, the tales that go on about op shop pricing!  You will be pleased to know that there is a standard pricing guide for clothing items.  When we get very special pieces in, such as a Trelise Cooper silk party frock or an Oroton handbag, we draw on our fashion knowledge, sometimes with the aid of Google, to work out a suitable price.  As the purpose of op shops is to raise money for the charity via retail sales, it is our responsibility to make sure the pricing is fair and reasonable and adjusted for items.  Charging the same price for a designer silk frock and a chain store polyester frock just doesn’t make sense.

I had a particularly interesting op shop experience recently – one customer insisted that a gorgeous brand new American designer silk party frock in absolutely mint condition was overpriced.  She was quite belligerent and kept insisting that we obviously didn’t realise we were a charity and that she was a poor student.  Unfortunately, our charity is not to support poor students who want designer frocks for a knockdown price.  It is to sell the donated items at the best price we can get for them (which is always well below RRP and very good value) to raise money for the charity.  I politely directed her to the rack of $10 dresses, which was stocked with quality high street labels, but no go.  She wanted the expensive frock for a bargain price or nothing.  She left without the frock.

Another customer was quite vocal in expressing her opinion that she didn’t know that a pair of Country Road pants, as labelled on the swing tag, were actually Country Road as we had cut the labels out.  She loudly expressed her disappointment at this fact and couldn’t understand why we would do something so ridiculous.  The Red Cross is lucky to have an exclusive relationship with Country Road, who donate excess stock to the Red Cross.  The labels are cut out so the items can’t be bought from an op shop and sold for a much higher price on eBay as current stock, or even returned to a Country Road store for a refund.  It happens.  They’re protecting their brand.  As they should.  Luckily, I was able to show her the Country Road embossed button and she was happy.





Most op shops are staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid staff.  The volunteers are good enough to give up their own free time to work at the shop for nix for a variety of reasons.  Some because they want to help their community, some because they just love clothes, some because they enjoy helping people, and many other reasons besides.  They are all lovely people whom I enjoy working with.

I’m constantly horrified by people who speak rudely or impatiently to shop assistants, who are only trying to help them, whether it is a high end boutique or a supermarket.  To my mind, doing so in a charity shop to volunteers is beyond the pale.  It isn’t necessary to be rude to anyone, let alone a volunteer who is helping to raise money for charity.

It is also worth considering that staff product knowledge in an op shop will not be the same as your average retail store.  Think about an environment with incredibly high turnover like a charity shop.  It is rare for there to be multiples of the same item.   The staff may only work once or twice every fortnight.  It is unrealistic to expect them to know the location, size and brand of every item in the shop.  Yet customers frequently do expect exactly this.

The ones who ask if we’ve got this exact item in a different size or colour?  Yup.  It happens.  Very, very occasionally we get a bulk lot of donations from a particular store or brand and are able to fulfil this request.  Most of the time?  Not a chance.



I am a huge fan of op shops.  I love the thrill of the chase, the buzz of getting a bargain, and knowing that I’m finding pieces that aren’t exactly the same as everyone else will be buying in the chainstores.  Finding a well priced mint condition vintage piece is my Holy Grail!  I absolutely love the experience of volunteering at an op shop.  It gives me the opportunity to interact with some lovely people, thank people for their donations and contributions to charity, assist people with styling, dress the window displays, arrange and price stock, as well as work with a gorgeous team of lovely ladies.  It also gives me great material!

Do you like to op shop?



  • bbeingcool - 8 July 2013 - 2.44 pm

    I am an op-shopper. I love it! I love to buy clothes but I also love to buy homewares and furniture. You just never know when you might happen upon a fabulous retro find.

    I love the work charities do. My policy is to pay what I think is fair, which to me, means I round up to the nearest 10 dollar mark. The people who work in the stores do so voluntarily and the money helps so many people. I bought a Witchery Blazer at an op-shop on the Gold Coast that came down to $7.50…insane – I paid $10 (which was still robbery!)

    Great post! Who donates DIRTY clothes? You have got to be kidding!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Style Unearthed - 5 July 2013 - 9.46 pm

    I love op shops. I’ve never found a designer bargain, but there are always lots of other bits and pieces. Our local has a whole house filled with books, and I regularly go there to stock up my classroom bookshelf – fantastic!ReplyCancel

  • Janet from Redland City Living - 4 July 2013 - 9.48 am

    Miss 16 volunteered in an op shop last Summer for work experience – what an eye opener it was, hearing all her tales!

    Do you get a discount? She got a 15% discount, which was great because we are regular shoppers there. Oh, and for those who are wondering, they are not allowed to just take the good stuff and put it aside when it comes in – it has to go out on the floor for a set period of time first …ReplyCancel

    • Kim-Marie Williams - 4 July 2013 - 11.40 am

      Yes, I do get a discount. Lucky lucky me! I often take stuff home for a wash if it is good enough to sell but a bit grubby.ReplyCancel

  • katypotaty - 3 July 2013 - 7.29 pm

    What a great article! I spent a year of Saturdays volunteering at my local Lifeline Superstore, and was horrified by both what people would donate, and the condition of the donations! I was also disgusted by local vintage clothing store owners regularly trying to knock down the prices of quality garments, fully knowing their worth, and intending to charge almost full-price (sometimes more) for the items in their fancy store. Ick!
    On the other hand, I loved serving people who were going to 60’s, 70’s and 80’s parties, who wanted to dig out the old safari suits and mod frocks. And I was so pleased to be able to offer good deals to young couples and single mothers (who really needed the help) on household items like furniture, crockery and cutlery.ReplyCancel

    • Kim-Marie Williams - 4 July 2013 - 11.43 am

      Yes, helping style people for costume parties is so much fun, isn’t it! We have some discretion on pricing too for people who really need it.

      We’re opposite the Rozelle Markets, which is a good thing in terms of donations at the end of the day. The one-off sellers just bring in all their stuff as they’re leaving instead of taking it home! It is funny though when I sell someone something during the week and they tell me a little story about where they’re going to wear it and then I see it for sale on their market stall! They negotiate hard too. I just smile and nod and say “sorry, it’s in as is condition and priced accordingly”.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Mckenzie - 3 July 2013 - 5.59 pm

    I love Op shops as you know and would never ever give them my old smelly things (not that I have any of those) I only give what I would be happy to buy myself.I would love to work in one but I was told because of my knee they would never let me liability insurance and all that ! Our local St Vincent De Paul just closed after 20 odd years and it was my favourite and I miss it already 🙁 I know they have to pay the rent but it is still sad that it closed.I will have to find a new fave one.I love getting a bargain and I also love the unique pieces I find ,not to mention the usually lovely staff to have a chat to.ReplyCancel

    • Kim-Marie Williams - 4 July 2013 - 11.44 am

      Oh, that’s really sad, Lisa. I would have thought you would be able to at least help out by sitting at the counter on a stool? it is sad when they close down – it’s often because the rent is just too high.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - 3 July 2013 - 10.49 am

    I LOVE a good op shop! All of my favourite things have come from op shops & there are three in Mona Vale so heaps to look through! It’s great that you volunteer xxReplyCancel

    • Kim-Marie Williams - 4 July 2013 - 11.45 am

      You simply cannot go wrong with a good op shop! The one I work in is a boutique one so we have a lot of fun styling and editing the clothes. However, sometimes a good old fashioned one where you can have a jolly good rummage is fab! I love the honouring the past aspect to buying preloved clothes. xReplyCancel

  • Robomum - 3 July 2013 - 8.41 am

    It’s a common myth that donated clothes are cut up for rags – this post is great for slashing those misconceptions.
    I hope anyone who reads this post, shares it, so stores like yours can make more money to help others.
    I like to look through the clothes, but not as much as I love to look at the crockery and kitchenalia. So much fun!ReplyCancel

    • Kim-Marie Williams - 4 July 2013 - 11.49 am

      Another common misconception is that all those charity bins are actually going direct to charities. In some of them, they go direct to sorting warehouses where the clothes are sorted and on sold to second hand clothing retailers. They make a nominal “donation” to charity but I don’t believe they’re accountable. I always donate directly to shops.

      In one case, I got snarled at and told to take it around the back. Six large bags that I’d struggled in carrying and I was supposed to walk down a side alley to the back of the store. So I smiled politely and walked across the road to another store where they graciously accepted my donations and I helped them carry the bags to the sorting area.

      Looking at all the bits and pieces is awesome fun!ReplyCancel

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