Anyone who knows me is well aware (and probably sick-to-death of the fact) that I LOVE spending my Saturdays visiting thrift stores. My memory doesn’t even reach back far enough to tell you when the thrill of buying secondhand items transitioned into an obsession. All I know is that as a kid, I would absolutely live for Saturday’s in the “junk” stores with Mema and Papa. Now I drag my poor husband, my mother, my friends…basically anyone with free time…all over town to different thrift stores.
Now that our society is shifting to a more environmentally friendly way of living, people from all walks of life are learning to enjoy browsing for second-hand finds. This old pro has definitely learned some tips and tricks over the years and I suppose I should share a few of them after hearing so many people say, “I never find anything!”
1. Plan ahead or make it part of your routine
The thing with thrift stores—it’s literally luck of the draw. There’s no way of knowing what they will have. This might seem a little obvious but the more often you go, the more you will go home with! I have been known to go to stores DAILY because they put new
things on the floor every single day. Yes, there are totally some clerks out there who know me by name. My husband also stops by thrift stores on his way in from work. I understand this might not be reasonable for some folks, but if you live in a larger area, your thrift stores will have better hours so take advantage of your free evenings and weekends!
2. Make your expectations reasonable
Y’all, it’s truly a miracle if I walk in a thrift store and find the exact thing I was looking for. It happens…but it still surprises me when it does. It’s simple: lower your expectations. Instead of walking through the doors with a list of specific items in your head, get used to browsing the shelves looking for items that catch your eye. Keep your
interests broad and flexible. For example, I like crystal and milk glass for serving food to guests. I went to the stores remembering that I will soon be hosting a dinner party. I didn’t “know” that I needed a crystal bowl for salads…until I saw the crystal bowl that would be perfect for salads! It goes great with the items I already have.
3. Check for defects
I should probably say “expect” defects. Don’t forget that thrift store items are previously used. Even if something sat in someone’s house unused, it likely got bumped around during the donation-to-floor process. I am a firm believer that small dings or scratches gives an item character. Even so, it’s best to always give your item a quick look just in case it’s a flaw you can’t live with or at least do a small repair. I feel a stain removal post brewing… I have all but mastered the art of stain removal. Defected items are also PERFECT for an upcycle or re-do project! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on how to use an item, and definitely don’t let imperfections make you shy away from a
great deal. Think of it this way: Would you rather pay $2 for an item that needs a minute’s worth of mending? Or would you rather pay roughly $30 retail?
4. Browse all sections
I’m not going to lie. My favorite section right now is the Halloween costume section. At my favorite thrift chain, they don’t just put the cheap polyester costumes out… They put out anything with a bit of flair, color, or character. Vintage, new… everything! Another thing to watch for— people who put things out on the floor at thrift stores will occasionally make mistakes, or might not even know what something is supposed to be. At
one store I used to visit in my old neighborhood, someone thought that “PS” on a size tag stood for “Plus Size” so I often found petite smalls in that section. Now, my size medium/large body was not able to take advantage of this particular mistake, but I know there’s a petite small out there who will be excited about this little hint. It’s not just clothing that will be in random places. Last week, I even found a cool vintage camera bag in the pet supplies section, nestled in with the collars, bowls, and carriers. Also, after browsing the entire Christian section of books for anything by C.S. Lewis, I discovered this book in the vintage section. I wouldn’t have originally thought to look there!
5. Get the most for your money
A thrift store’s sole purpose is usually to raise money for charity. They want to move items, and they want to move them fast. Most thrift stores, particularly chains, will have some sort of color coded tagging system to keep up with which items were brought onto the floor during which week. They will rotate the sale color depending on which items have been there the longest. If they don’t have a color coded system, they’ll probably have certain sections with a discount. Most thrift stores also offer price
reductions for senior citizens and service members. Also, my best tip for saving money while thrifting… if the item you’re looking for is fairly common, make sure to compare prices on multiples or being willing to come back at another time.
6. Learn to enjoy the hunt
Fair warning for those of you who aren’t accustomed to the ways of thrifting… It can be crazy, especially on the best discount days. People will be rude. You can leave empty-handed. You’ll probably leave the store feeling like you need a shower. Thrift stores will
be dirty and disorganized after people have rifled through them. Pack some hand-sanitizer, lower you expectations, and learned to block out the people around you (but don’t become one of the mean ones). Once you get in the zone and focused, you’ll likely enjoy browsing through the unique, one-of-a-kind items you’ll come across. Just relax and pretend you’re on a scavenger hunt—even if you don’t know what you’re looking for!
I won’t lie to you—people often hide the good stuff in the back in hopes to return on a discount day. Don’t be afraid too look behind things, or at every single item in a section.
This is also another great reason to shop other sections. I have learned to never leave a thrift store without an item I wanted because it probably won’t be there when you go
back. I found this awesome vintage Tolkien set hidden in the middle of the furniture section, pretty far from the book aisle.
8. Make friends with the workers
As I mentioned earlier, there are some workers out there who know me by name. This is easier to do in small shops where the workers are volunteers who work often. They are there because they want to be and they’ll likely be your best ally when it comes to finding good deals. And the best part, it’s just nice to see a friendly, familiar face when you walk into a store. It will help you learn to enjoy thrifting when you look forward to seeing the people who work there. There have been numerous times when I have had people call or message me on social
media, just to show me fun new items that came in to the shop. It’s nice to know when people are looking out for you. Now that I’ve moved to a larger city, I totally miss these people and can’t wait until I have made some new friends in the shops!
9: Wash IMMEDIATELY if possible.
People will donate anything. And I do mean an-y-thing. Even though your item looks and smells clean, there’s a pretty decent probability it touched something that would make you cringe. Don’t let your littles have their toys until they have been properly sanitized, and if it’s an item that can’t be washed, you can place it outside in the sun to kill germs.
10: Shop local
Not a lot of people think about this but when you buy from most chain thrift stores, there’s no guarantee that your money is staying in your community, or even your state. It
takes a pretty hefty price to run large corporations and most of them will not be based out of your community. I recommend first searching for local programs you would be ok with supporting and see if they have a thrift store. For example, I particularly search for Humane Society thrift stores when I go to a new town because I
love animals! My hometown has several small charity thrift shops (zero chains), and I absolutely loved going to them because not only did I know exactly who my money was helping, I knew the workers and the items were even more reasonably priced than I would have found in the larger stores. I’m also a huge fan of thrift stores that at least stay within your state and tell you the exact purpose of their charity. My favorite in my area is ARC Thrift Stores, which is based in my state of Colorado and they help people with developmental disabilities (I have no affiliation with them, by the way. Just another shameless love plug for the second time in this post!).
Ok guys and gals, I could totally write all day long on this subject, so I’d better stop for now. I’m sure you’ll be seeing more thrift-help posts in the future so stay tuned! Happy thrifting!