May 7, 2020 | Maria Cruz

Thrift Shop Workers Share The Strangest Things They’ve Found In Donations 

There’s absolutely no telling what treasure you’ll find at a thrift store. From vintage clothing to signed books to money long-since forgotten, second-hand stores have lots to offer. Unfortunately for those who work there, donations can sometimes haunt their dreams.


#1 A Rare Find

I was 16 and in charge of going through donations, pricing them, and putting them out for sale. I came across something I didn’t recognize, so I did what I always did and slapped $0.25 on it and put it out. A few hours later a lady brought it back to my boss in the donation room and told her we shouldn’t be selling pipes. Oops.


#2 Unusual Tools

I was sorting out some donated items and came across an unusual set of tools. Through some research, me and a few co-workers discovered that it was a full transorbital lobotomy tool set. It was apparently donated to a local university for display. Apparently, a vintage set in good condition can sell for around $1,000.


#3 An Unfortunate Discovery

I remember one time, my husband and I saw a magic wand when we were shopping at Goodwill. He picked it up and asked what it was. I told him that it was an adult device, to please put it back and to wash his hands. My husband didn't believe what I said until I pulled up a picture on my phone and showed it to him.


#4 Middle School Drama

My co-worker found a 12-year-old’s journal. It was a gold mine of middle school drama. It also had a lot of stories about Jacob from Twilight and wishing she was a werewolf. We read through the whole book and cried laughing. I think years from now that same girl will wonder where that journal is, and desperately wish she had it again.


#5 Don’t Lose Your Head

I remember this one time when a classmate of mine once told me that he found a human skull donated to a thrift store. It evidently still had remnants on it. After my classmate found it, he obviously reported it to the authorities. As it turned out, it was part of an active investigation in the next state over.


#6 Blank Canvas

Not something I've found particularly, but this is still something very strange. Every month and a half or so, a man would come by right before we closed and would donate a single blank CD. Every single time. My co-workers and I would always put it into our computers and see if anything was on it. There never was.


#7 Dirty Laundry

I’d have to say that the weirdest thing people donate to my thrift store is dirty laundry. It honestly happened so often that we had to wear gloves to go through clothing. We washed everything at least once to be safe. Who finishes wearing their underwear and then thinks, “Meh, I’ll just donate it without washing it”?!


#8 Worst Thing to Find

My wife worked at a thrift store as a teenager. The worst thing she found was a newborn baby who just passed. A woman was high, gave birth in the street, freaked out and dumped her baby there. My wife found the baby, called the police, and the woman was arrested for neglect among other charges. She somehow managed to dodge more severe charges.


#9 You Owe Me

We've had some clamps on a chain, a rampant rabbit with car charger, a jug in the shape of a woman’s chest and a book with a hole in it that you stick yourself in for a novelty puppet show. Oh, and there was also a mobile phone with a bunch of photos of a local policeman wearing his girlfriend's underwear. I securely deleted those. He owes me a get-out-of-jail-free card for that.


#10 Waiting for You

My manager said she came to the shop once and there were huge bin bags waiting at the front of the store. It was obvious to her, going through the bag, that a guy had just dumped all of his ex-girlfriends possessions into bin bags and had donated them to us. I mean all of her possessions; adult items included.

black-and-white-black-garbage-plastic-bagWallpaper Flare

#11 A Bag of Rocks

When I was about 16, I worked at Goodwill for six months. There was this old homeless man who used to try and sneak inside to sleep and stuff like that. Every day he'd get kicked out by one of my female co-workers. After about a month of working there with her, the homeless man came up to the counter, gave her a Target bag filled with rocks, and left. We opened the bag and found a doll underneath a layer of rocks. It was so creepy. The doll looked exactly like her. We flipped it over and the back had her full name sewn into it. She quit about a couple of days later because she was worried about him coming back to the store.


#12 Instrument Case

I didn't work at a thrift store, but one of my dad's friends did back in the day. One day, a large instrument case came in. Inside of it was a Breedlove Black Magic acoustic bass guitar which, when the thing was released, retailed for over a thousand dollars. We snagged the thing for a cool $300, which I’m okay with.


#13 Unwanted Items

I worked in donations. On the same day we got a pickled baby tiger shark and a coin purse made from a kangaroo sack. I knew because it still had the original tag on it. Me and my co-workers were guessing it was an unwanted gift someone felt bad about throwing away. It was not the same person that donated the shark.


#14 That’s Not Sand

I was a receiving and loading lead at a thrift store for a few years. We had this guy that cleaned out storage units for a living and then he’d dump whatever he couldn’t flip with us for a tax slip. He pulled up and we were going through it all. It was pretty nice stuff and looked like it was an estate sale. We got it all unloaded and then we started snooping through and found a green glass vase filled with sand. I started pouring the sand into the trash so we could figure if the vase was worth using. He then told me, “That’s not sand.” Somehow, we ended up with an unmarked, full urn.


#15 Strange Donations

I manage a thrift store that supports a cat rescue organization. We get strange donations all the time. One example is printed money. One time, someone dropped off a backpack full of obviously copied money on big sheets of paper. The secret service came out and got it and everything. We recently got a set of dishes that commemorated a state university, someone bought them for $900! I didn't even know such a thing existed before we got them.


#16 Prized Possession

Hand to God, I was rooting through the Goodwill bins and found a signed first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone . Honestly, it was strange to me. I couldn’t help but wonder why in the world anyone would give it away. I managed to buy it for myself and I won’t lie, it’s my prized possession today.


#17 Defaced Book

One time, someone donated a book (some country singer's autobiography I believe) that had been massively defaced by a complete lunatic. I know that’s not a great description, but it was full of expletives and crude drawings. It was utterly insane. I didn't meet the donor because I was at lunch at the time, but my co-worker said they seemed completely normal.


#18 Finder’s Keepers

We’d often get the typical weird things like adult toys and the like. But, who can forget to add money! We were allowed to keep any money we found, usually it was the occasional few bucks in a purse someone forgot. Other times it could be big bills. One lady lucked out and found a stash of around $2000 in two dollar bills in a trinket box.


#19 Big Box

I've found a ton of weird stuff. The old ladies I worked with called stuffed animals “stuffies” and I always thought it was strange. Well, one day we got a big box labeled “stuffies.” They opened it up and it was full of adult toys. I've never heard so much hooting and hollering in my life. It sounded like a pack of coyotes.


#20 A Man’s Cup

I once found a cup shaped like a man with a giant, full-mast member. Of course, I snickered at it and pointed it out to my co-workers while we were clocking out. My manager freaked out and took it off the shelf. I feel bad that I got that man cup taken off the market. I'm sure somebody would have treasured him.


#21 Grandma’s Life

Yea people just don't care sometimes. We have seen a moving truck come with a grandma's house basically packed up in it and dropped off to us. We got everything besides the jewelry box. Family photos and everything. We found a 9k ring in the pocket of a jacket from that one and more jewelry stashed in a pocket. Shows the family never even looked.


#22 In the Attic

I can say that my grandmother almost donated a 1958 Gibson ES 335 to the Goodwill in the mid-'90s when I was a teenager. If I wasn't learning how to play the guitar at the time, it would be long gone. It belonged to her second husband who passed in the ‘70s. It sat in her attic for 20 years until she gave it to me.


#23 Dress for Sale

My mother used to work at a charity store back in the day. I’d have to say that wedding dresses were donated depressingly often. However, the strangest thing that was donated was some antique Victorian underwear that was in perfect condition. My mom actually ended up keeping that one after clearing it with her boss first.


#24 Missing Gecko

I got many weird donations that I won't even get into. The strangest time was when a young man donated a bag of clothes and then a small gecko. We were honestly all lost at what to do about the little guy until the donor swung back about an hour later looking kind of frantic. He was asking if we had seen his lizard. We kindly showed him where it took up residence under the porch and we never saw either of them again.


#25 Missed Opportunity

I was working at Goodwill and someone traded In a boxed copy of Stadium Events for the original Nintendo. I didn’t know anything about it. A lady bought it and resold it to a nearby shop for something like $10,000. I found out because a news team came in about it reporting the story and I was the one who processed the donation. I really ruined the bed on that one.


#26 Kind Gesture

My mom used to work for Goodwill when I was younger. As you can probably imagine, she’s found some rather neat items. One time, she found $5,000 in someone’s old jeans. She was kind enough to return the cash to its rightful owner by looking into who donated the items. She also found a hand grenade in an old jacket once.


#27 Glad to See You Again

I was decluttering and threw a journal from my adolescence in the bin. It was a journal that graphically described my first period, 14 crushes ranked in order of kissability, mortifying youth group tales, detailed sketches of my fantasy elf wardrobe and dark times I'd rather not remember. Well, my packrat dad couldn't stand to see a half-full journal on the curb, so he donated it to a thrift store. Apparently. Because later, someone contacted him by mail to return it. Thanks, dad. Thanks, stranger. So glad to have that back.


#28 One Hundred Bottles

My boyfriend volunteered at a local thrift shop for a little while. One day, he was going through donation boxes and found a peculiar ceramic mission with liquid in it. After a little research, it turned out to be 30-year-old Christian Brothers brandy. Only 100 bottles were made in celebration for their anniversary. Since the thrift store can't sell liquor, he was able to snag it. The brandy was so good .


#29 Long Weekend Dump

I worked at Value Village as a teenager. I can’t think of anything really crazy. I saw some sad stuff, though. We got photo albums, antidepressants, mail, etc, basically just garbage. Sometimes what seemed like loads of laundry was just obscenely dirty clothes, like someone just didn’t want to do their laundry.

That was a wild place to work. People would often argue with us after dumping literal garbage at the donation centre because they were moving and they wanted to get rid of it. After long weekends were the worst. The whole parking lot would be covered in garbage. Management has since put up a gate after I left.


#30 Books for Moms

Last week I was in Goodwill and I found a small booklet called something like, Adult Material for Mothers . I opened the book expecting full-on smut, but it was a bunch of photos of attractive, 30-year-old men taking care of a baby saying things like, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll take care of the baby tonight, you go out with your friends to happy hour! You deserve the night off.”


#31 Inner Pockets

I'm a manager at a large chain thrift store and this story is from when I was a pricer. I priced the clothing before it went to the sales floor. It's pretty normal to find a small amount of cash in a pocket every so often, but one day I was pricing a blazer and I checked inside the inner pockets, as you do. I found two envelopes with Chinese characters on them with $1000 cash in each.

Inside the same blazer, we found a rubber-banded stack of like 25 credit and rewards cards and an expensive-looking watch. We tried to contact the guy but his phone was disconnected. I think he probably passed away and some family member just donated all his stuff without checking it. I only got to keep $300 of it but that's $300 richer than I was before.


#32 Noah’s Ark

I worked at Goodwill for a short time. It wasn't exactly a "cool" thing we couldn't sell, but nevertheless it was a funny story. One of my fellow employees was telling me about how someone donated a piece of wood (or I should say left a piece of wood). As a joke, she put a price tag on it for $10,000 and said it was a piece from Noah's Ark. Strangely enough, someone seriously believed it and wanted to buy it. Needless to say, management wasn't happy, quickly removed it and threw it away.


#33 Child’s Artwork

I worked at Goodwill for about eight months. I saw several weird things come through the donations, but one does stick out in my mind. It was a paper plate that was turned into an art project by (presumably) a small child. It was lying face down, had a name on it, lots of glitter and tassels and such. I grabbed it to look at the front, and I saw a very colorful, glittery obscene symbol on the front of the plate. Of everything I ever saw there, that one left my speechless.


#34 A Little Surprise

I manage a small non-profit thrift store and I found a live frog in a box of donations last summer. It was probably just stored in the garage for a while and the frog climbed on in. Other than that, I find gross donations way more often than weird ones, but that frog was one of the strangest ones I ever saw come my way.


#35 In the Couch

I don’t work at a thrift shop or anything, but a friend of mine lost his snake. He couldn’t find it for a few months and ended up donating his couch at around the same time. About six months after he donated the couch, Goodwill found his snake in the couch. He saw the story on the news and got his snake back.


#36 Where’s the Beef?

Not a Goodwill, but the library I worked at had a donation bin where people could drop off books to give to the library. The strangest thing we ever got was a package of beef. It was warm and (thankfully) still in its packaging, but all of the staff in the library couldn’t figure out what possessed someone to drop off room temperature meat in the donation bin.


#37 An Ugly Vase

My grandfather used to volunteer at the thrift store in their senior community. When someone would pass away, their family would donate some of their things. One day, he was telling me about this “ugly vase” and they priced it really low. Another volunteer recognized the style and realized it was actually a Picasso.


#38 Reason Enough to Quit

I briefly worked at a thrift store that a lot of questionable people visited. One day, I was cleaning out one of the dressing rooms. Someone had just left all of the clothes they tried on on the floor and inside out. I started to turn a pair of jeans right side out when I felt something sticky soaked through the jeans. I looked down and what I saw was so utterly disgusting. Someone had shoved their (freshly) used feminine hygiene product into the pocket of the jeans before leaving. I quit a few weeks later.


#39 Personal Plaque

This is easily one of the creepiest things I ever found. I discovered a photo of myself, on a peewee league baseball plaque with my name and photo engraved to it, at my local Goodwill. I have no idea how it got there, it freaked me out and I ran home to get money to buy it. But by the time I got back, it was gone.


#40 Fry Your Eyes

I found a (presumably) fully functional industrial infrared laser. This was from a Goodwill outlet. I contacted the company that manufactured it and the guy I spoke to pleaded with me to never try to turn it on. He even offered me $50 to get it off the streets. It was built like a tank on half-an-inch-thick milled aluminum. I found out later that it's the type that is used in film processing machines and is invisible to the eye, while also having the charming ability to blind you in about a second.


#41 Straight to the Cops

I worked at a salvation army thrift store. One day, this older guy (mid-to-late 50s) dropped off a box of jewelry. It came straight to me because all jewelry went to the front. At the bottom of the box was a jewelry box filled with pictures of this guy with children in a very adult manner. It went straight to the police.


#42 Pizza Hut Nostalgia

I wasn't a worker there but I got all my clothes from Goodwill as a kid. My mom did the best she could with what we had. She bought me this ugly jacket because mine was too small. After trying it on, I discovered a $50 bill in the left pocket. I showed my mom and we ordered a single pizza from Pizza Hut. It was the first time I had stuffed crust and to this day, Pizza Hut is super nostalgic because it reminds me of my mother. I think she used the rest of the money for gas. I’m super thankful to this day to whoever donated that jacket with a $50 in the pocket.


#43 Staying Warm

I work at Goodwill currently. This isn’t necessarily a donated item, but we crushed a homeless man in the outdoor bailer one winter because he got in there to "stay warm." We barely heard him hollering from a tiny hole in the side of the bailer and called the police. I can't believe he lived to this day. We had crushed like two loads into the bailer before we heard him, poor guy.


#44 Sentimental Stuff

I found my parents’ pictures from when they went on vacation in Switzerland as teenagers in love. Their photos were actually in sterling silver frames. Worse still, they were being sold for $1.99. They told me they donated a bunch of stuff the other day. It’s still crazy to see your parents’ sentimental stuff for such a cheap price like that.


#45 Bright Orange

I once found an interesting-looking bag with this hole that looked like there might have been space for a spy camera to look through. It also had a chain attached to it. I pulled the chain out of curiosity and all of a sudden this bright orange plume of smoke seeped out of the hole! Next thing you know the whole place is engulfed in this smoke! Turns out it was some sort of bag people would put cash in and it had this “security system” attached to it and would dye all the money. Let’s just say the whole place was a shade bright orange for a while.


#46 Foul Clothing

When I was in college, I volunteered at a church with my roommate taking in donations and this woman brought in these two huge garbage bags of clothes. We took them and put them in the back to sort later, but they smelled kind of foul. We figured maybe it was just old stuff, but we opened them and both bags were absolutely crawling with maggots. I felt disgusting for a week after that.


#47 Grandpa’s Stuff

I don't work at Goodwill, but my grandmother said she was going through my grandfather's (who passed away 10 years ago) closet to donate things. I went to look through the bag of stuff to see if I wanted to keep any for memories. Inside the bag was probably about $5000 of Gucci and other expensive clothing items.


#48 Left With Nightmares

My last job was at a small thrift shop and we got weird stuff all the time. Most of the strange stuff I would find would be stuff people forgot in purses or backpacks that they donated. I once found a tooth in a wallet, but the thing that will never leave my nightmares is the time I opened the headphone-pocket of a backpack to find it packed with toenail clippings. It was packed! Like, it was filled over an extended period of time…


#49 Old Beige Box

I worked at a computer recycling center for a while. Someone walked in, dropped an old beige box on the counter and left. From the outside, it looked like your garden variety P4 desktop. Inside were two enormous bags of the devil’s lettuce. The desktop itself had some crazy custom liquid cooling and top of the line graphics and components for the time.


#50 Our Own Giraffe

When I worked for Goodwill about 14 years ago, I found an almost-new plush giraffe that was the same one my mom bought me as a five-year-old. It looked brand new compared to the dirty, faded one I’ve had and brought with me everywhere as a child (I still have it to this day). I bought him and gave him to my mom as a gift. Now we both have our own giraffe.



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