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50-year Goodwill shopper Dee Arneberg just getting started

If you need a reason that would explain why Dee Arneberg has furnished 75 percent of her home with goods purchased at Goodwill stores, then maybe it’s because she was raised in a series of foster homes, or that she married young and had four children by the time she was 20.

“I loved the prices,” Arneberg said recently, sitting poolside at her Summit-area home.

“Let’s face it,” she said. With children, “It helps balance the budget. It’s always been clothes at Goodwill because they grew so blasted fast.”

Somewhere over the past 50 years, something just clicked.

“I became a Goodwill addict,” she said.

In 1990, Arneberg, now 76, was awarded custody of two grandchildren. By then, she could count a blended family, with her second husband, of six children.

With two young grandchildren in the house, something had to change.

“We had this house full of crystal and other ‘show-off’ stuff,” Arneberg said. “It was all, ‘Don’t touch.’ I couldn’t say ‘Don’t’ and ‘No’ all the time. It wasn’t good for their esteem. I started giving furniture away.”

She’s been giving things away — things she bought at Goodwill stores — for decades.

“I think I’ve furnished 11 houses,” she said. “Children, grandchildren, neighbors down the street. If something stands out, I’ll get it. I give things away, or I keep something I find — a coffee table — and give the other one away.”

She buys for family, friends and neighbors. If she sees a hummingbird on a plate or a photo or embroidered on a piece of clothing, she’ll buy it for a friend. Same with ships, although these she might keep for herself, what with her husband being a retired longshoreman.

Arneberg buys items for a widowed neighbor and for neighborhood children. She hosts three annual parties — Halloween, Easter and a celebration of summer — and buys prizes that neighborhood kids win at games.

And the payoff?

“It’s when little kids bring me Christmas cookies,” she said.

For Arneberg, Christmas begins just after Halloween. She has been known to decorate five trees for her living room alone. Holiday decorations are stored in the crawl space beneath the house.

Christmas ornaments?

“More than you can imagine,” she said.

NO STIGMA

“I have a mission to support Goodwill,” she said. “My brother-in-law was hurt in a car accident. Goodwill trained him and he got a job. It changed his life. That was 20 years ago. Now, how many people do you think I have been able to help with job training? That makes it more fun for me. I know where the money is going.

“I lived in a lot of foster homes. Six foster homes,” she said.

“I made sure my kids were well-dressed, and I wanted my home to represent that I was taking care of my family. People look down on you: you’re so young, having kids.”

She said she has visited Goodwill stores across the country and spends, on average, six hours shopping the aisles every week.

“I like the hunt,” she said. “I like browsing.”

THE QUEST

The proof of her prowess as a huntress comes during even a brief tour of her home. She remembers each purchase itself, and the price of many items.

Twenty-nine dollars for the antique billiard-ball rack, just like the one priced online for $450.

Lampshades, lamps, a miniature Bible, opera glasses inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Nineteen dollars for a gold-brocade bedspread. A silk brocade table cover for $6.99, tag attached.

She would feel bad if she broke that beautiful bowl for which she paid $169 at a major department store, but if it only cost $4.99 at Goodwill, and even if it’s the same bowl, well, c’est la vie.

Candlesticks, vases, a hall stand. Art depicting lighthouses and ships, furniture made of rattan, a metronome that cost $15, many pillows, seashells, many more pillows and a framed display of knots.

“You can change the look of everything by changing pillows,” she said.

She is particularly proud of a wooden dresser from Toulon, repurposed as a buffet: $39.99.

In the backyard, there’s a former storage area now recommissioned as a “casbah” with flowing silk and yards of gauzy sheer. Across the way, a yard-art raccoon stands beside a carved eagle.

“It’s my hobby,” she said. “I’m not obsessed, but I could grow into that.”

NOT FOR SALE

Julie Acosta manages the Goodwill store at 1415 E. 72nd St. in Tacoma, and she knows Dee Arneberg.

“I think she is driven to create experiences that are filled with joy and love and relationships,” Acosta said. “She uses Goodwill as a medium for that. When she buys, she buys to share, either in her home or to give away. When she brings it home, it’s always a conversation piece. Everything she buys creates memories.

“Every treasure hunter is unique,” Acosta said. “Some, they’ll go home and they go straight to eBay and they make a lot of money. One customer owns a vintage store. One customer is a hoarder who finds weird artifacts. Dee always tells me, ‘I love to dig.’ ”

And Dee says proudly, “I’ve never sold one thing.”

“She sees the potential in things,” Acosta said.

“She’s kind of turned me into it,” said Dee’s husband, Don. “She can’t pass up a good deal. She loves to give stuff away, for other people to appreciate it.”

One recent afternoon, Arneberg visited the Goodwill store at 8025 S. Hosmer St. in Tacoma.

“What am I going to find today?” she asks. “Where do I want to start the hunt? Is there anything odd, anything unusual? Something has to jump out.”

Rule No. 1, she said? “Buy it before it’s gone.”

And she carries a magnet to test the composition of metal objects. She carries batteries, especially to test toys.

She picks up a vase, one of a pair.

“I can find all kinds of places for this,” she said.

She checks every shelf and she buys a child’s pink London Fog jacket for $7.99, just perfect for a beloved 2-year-old.

Arneberg has visited Goodwill stores in nine states, and only in paradise was she disappointed.

“I couldn’t find one in Hawaii,” she said.

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