Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tips For Thrift Shop Shopping


"Why shop at thrift shops?" you may ask. 
"Well why the heck not!?" is my answer! 
If you are a regular reader of my blog, then I'll bet you may already be a seasoned thrift shopping pro, since I write a lot about upcycling and repurposing salvaged finds. Or maybe you have never been to a thrift shop before. If you haven't, and you like antiques, vintage things, upcycling, creating cool stuff, finding a bargain, and treasure hunting, then maybe it's time you give thrift shopping a try. 

In this post I'm going to share some of my own thrift shopping tips and advice. There are all types of things folks shop for at thrift shops. I mainly shop for vintage collectibles and household items that I can use in art projects and home decor upcycling projects, so this article is geared more towards this type of thrifting.


If you're a regular thrift shop shopper, you already know that this type of shopping can be hit or miss. Some days you may find so many cool items that you can't believe your luck. Other days, nada! Here are some tips to help make your thrifting experience easy and fun!

Tip #1: Get to know the thrift shops in your area and the pros and cons of each shop. I've found that the second hand stores in my area vary in terms stock selection. One local shop tends to have an abundance of clothing but not many household items. Another shop has lots of knick-knacks and household items such as lamps, but little clothing. Another thing that varies in thrift shops is pricing. In one shop where clothing may be very inexpensive, household stuff may be a bit overpriced. Make a mental note of these types of things so that the next time you are hunting for a certain item, you will know just where to shop first.

Tip #2: Many thrift shops have sale days where certain color price tags are reduced, and this can be as much as up to 75 percent off. Find out the sale days and write them down!  Also, do they accept credit cards? Some shops only accept cash. One of our local shops only accepts cash but has an ATM in the store.

Tip #3: Find out who runs the thrift shop. Some thrift shops are run by charities, such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army. Others are privately run for profit. In my personal experience I have found that items in the for profit shops generally have higher prices compared to the charity run shops.

salvation army and goodwill thrift store logos
Logos of thrift shops run by charities

Tip #4: Make a list! I keep a running list on my iPhone of the different things that I am looking for when I go thrifting. Not only do I look for items to use in projects that I am currently working on, but I am also always on the lookout for particular (and often harder to find) items to use in projects that I am planning on making down the road.

Tip #5: Never buy from the "NO" list. Here's mine:

Things I will NOT buy from a thrift shop:

 - Anything that could harbor insects: stuffed animals, mattresses and bed frames, pillows, upholstered furniture that I do not plan to completely reupholster, etc. You never know how clean the previous owner's home was so you can't be too careful here. Things such as roaches and bedbugs freak me out (as they would most people I'm sure) and that's the last thing anyone needs in their home!

Other things you should never buy from a thrift store:
 - Children's car seats, car seat carriers, playpens, cribs, or children's clothing with drawstrings (due to the high amount safety recalls and updated safety standards)
- Hair dryers, cosmetics, undergarments (just because...eww), bean bag chairs, halogen floor lamps, bike helmets, any type of safety equipment (same reasons as above: safety first!)





Tip #6: Develop thrift shop karma! Be nice to the shop workers. Get to know them by name if you can, and always be polite. There have been plenty of times when I've come across an item that did not have a price tag on it. When this happens, I know just who to go to. Building a rapport with the shop staff is not only beneficial when you need to put something on hold or when you are looking for a particular item, but it's just plain nice. Be nice!

Tip #7: Be sure to bring your own bag of donations to drop off while you are there! 

Tip #8: Don't buy something just because it's cheap. Many beginner thrifters make this mistake, and after an afternoon of shopping, find that they purchased many items that the really just don't need or won't use. Thrift shops are full of bargains, and it can be tempting to over-buy. If you see something that strikes your fancy, put it in your cart and think about it while you continue to shop. I always say, when in doubt, throw it out!



 Tip #9:  Bring hand wipes and hand sanitizer! (or keep them in your vehicle) As clean and neat as most thrift shops are, you are still bound to touch something that might be a bit...uh...grungy. You never know, you may find yourself digging through piles of musty old books. Better to be prepared!

Tip #10: Thoroughly inspect all items before you buy them. This means checking buttons, making sure zippers work, looking for stains or damage, and trying out electrical items. There have been many times I've asked for a light bulb or electrical outlet to try out a lamp or appliance. Don't be afraid to ask!

Now that I've shared my basic tips, let me know -
Do you shop at thrift shops? What types of items do you shop for? What was your best find? 

*Be sure to check back for my next blog post, where I will write about what I think are the hot thrift shop items to look for right now!






I hope you have a great week 
Love, Laura


My broken china jewelry is always available for purchase at https://www.etsy.com/shop/dishfunctionldesigns




36 comments:

  1. I love thrift stores! I go there for craft show displays (I use old dishes), clothes for me, picture frames, certain kinds of furniture... A lot of the most interesting stuff we have in our house was thrifted/garage saled!

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    1. One of the fun things about thrifting is you never know what you are going to find. I always go with certain things in mind that I am looking for, but I always seem to leave inspired and with new ideas!

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    2. I love the hunt and then the transformation. I stay away from all the things you mentioned, and personally the clothes just aren't my thing, I like the knick knacks and furniture section myself. Happy thrifing.

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  2. I love shopping at thrift stores too! I shop for some crafty stuff but mostly clothes. I love the look on some people's faces when I tell them where I bought the name brand clothes I'm wearing. :)

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    1. Had to chuckle at this, Sarah. When I mentioned to one of my sisters-in-law that my husband and I buy the bulk of our wardrobes at thrift stores and about the prices we pay versus retail she got this little sneer and asked us, "yes, but do they carry name brands?" That was about 2 years ago and I still laugh about it today!

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  3. I didn't know what I was missing until I started thrifting when I moved here. I'm usually shopping for my home; usually furniture to paint. I have gotten some remarkable deals at my favorite, SPCA Thrift Shop. I adopted my little one from their adoption center and go to the thrift shop regularly. I've gotten clothes, knic knacks, a washer (still going for 2 years)$25, TV $20, wing back chair for $5, an end table for a dollar, a chest for $5, and $1 for a table cloth made in France! I love their shop as they price things to move and they do move. I just found out they deliver for a small charge but if they pick up at the same time, there is not charge... so I repeatedly kick myself for not get a soft as butter broken-in leather chair and a half and matching ottoman!! There are others that are priced higher and others to do a whole room but so far I just love the SPCA's goodies. Biggest lesson I learned was if the price is right and I really want it, I better get it then because it will most likely not be there if I wait!

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    1. Exactly. You have to get it while it's hot or someone else will! Sounds like you found a gem of a shop!

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  4. Thanks for all the helpful tips. I'm new to your blog - came here for some repurpose ideas for old china. I have a booth space at an antique shop and am having a hard time keeping it filled - especially smalls. I've tried flea markets, garage sales, auctions, estate sales, thrift shops and either items are either priced too high for me to be able resell or it's junk. I never thought the hard part of having a booth would be finding stuff to sell! I like your idea of keeping a list handy - I think this is part of my issue - when I do find a good sale/shop, I get overwhelmed and end up buying 1 thing.
    Thanks again, following now and looking forward to learning more!

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    1. Great, I'm glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful!

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  5. Unfortunately the local thrift stores are pretty much old Dollar store items. I do look when I am out of my area. My fav find was a solid sterling silver cuff bracelet w/ 3 huge chunks of turquoise for $7.50 at a Salvation Army store. It was so tarnished it was black. I have seen similar for $250..my fav bracelet!

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  6. You bet I thrift shop! Your tips also apply to yard/garage sales and my favorite, estate sales. It's hard to say what my best thrift shop find has been I've had so many. My husband and I changed to a lifestyle of thrift a few years back when I opened my online vintage shop and we never looked back. He's proud to tell everyone that about 85% of our home is outfitted with previously owned furniture and decor. About 90% of our wardrobes now consist of thrifted clothing. We bought our first house one year ago and we're in the process of decorating the inside with our finds and the yard with upcycled salvage pieces. Just found your blog this morning and enjoying it very much. Now following a handful of your boards on Pinterest, too.

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  7. I love my GW!!! Recently I found pieces of my china there. It had been discontinued and I was able to get 15 plates for $19.00!!! I am currently upcycling pants for my daughter who is expecting! Bought the pants and the stretchy shirt and she got a beautiful pair of dress capris for $5.00!!

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    1. Great deals! It truly can be like treasure hunting when you find something that you really need or will use.

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  8. I am fortunate enough to have an AMAZING thrift store in my town. My favorite pieces of furniture were found and I often find beautiful clothes. Once, they even had six or so Vera Wang gowns! Everything is pennies on the dollar. I agree with you that the key to good finds to only buy what I really love and need I would also add that it helps to go often.

    Another wonderful thing about thrift store is that donating my unused, unwanted items feels soooo good: I get a de-cluttered home, unwanted items will soon be loved again by someone else, and all the profits (of our thrift store anyway) go to charity. It's a win/win/win! :)

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  9. I am a thrift shopper. To repurpose items is so fun. Your tips line right up to my thoughts on these fun scavenger hunts, I may have an item I am looking for...but usually it is all about the hi t....finding that unexpected item.

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  10. The one thing I would add to your list is a handy dandy tape measure. You need to know if it'll fit you, the spot you have in mind, or if there will be enough there to finish your project. I love your list and will add it to my thrifting journeys journal. Thanks for this article & blog!

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  11. I shop at thrift shops all the time ! Right now I'm looking for old red sweaters to make into holiday pillows for the family room.Once I found a "Cantonware" plate worth about $100.00 for $3.00 ! I was so excited, best find ever for me. Growing up on the East Coast my parents had quite a few pieces on their hutch,so i was able to add to their collection. Thanks for your blog ! Really enjoyed "rummaging" through all your ideas!

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    1. That's excellent! What a great find! Glad yo like the blog.

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  12. I am a thrift- store -aholic! Began with me looking for play clothes for my only child. But, I knew right away, I would buy lots more than that. My child is now 31 and an avid thrifter herself. The only thing I buy retail is if I can't find it at the thrift. I usually have to buy my jeans retail, but every now and then I get lucky. The key is to go often, really check out your items and if you don't need it, or just can't live without it, don't buy it! Thrifting is fun if you have time and don't mind digging. My best find was a signed art print for 6.00, matted and framed and also, once I found a piece of my old pottery I have collected for years. I love your blog, my first time here! :)

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    1. Thanks for vising, and for sharing your finds!

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  13. Great tips for the uninitiated, and some reminders for seasoned vets too! Personally,
    I haven't shopped retail for clothes in @ 25 years...let other people pay the higher
    prices--I'll get it once it's been donated! I don't follow "trends" or care what's
    "hot" at the moment--I go for the style of clothes that I like and fit my life, and
    there's rarely a shortage of that (you just have to look, and look some more). Resale
    is a great place to buy books too! (I'd go broke otherwise) NOW, I think I'll peruse
    your blog some more!

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  14. My first visit here...enjoyed everything on your site and great pics. I am "seasoned thrifter" and luckily have terrific shops nearby. I would also add bring along a tiny magnifier if you are checking jewelry or backstamps and such. I remember my mom sitting Friday nights and plotting her missions through town each Saturday morning. My favorite find was at a church rummage sale..what I thought was a tiny journal with beautiful material cover. Just threw it in my bag. When I got home it actually is like a memento book in foreign languages, different handwritings and lovely little pen and ink and color pencil drawings from early 1900's. Think it was 25 cents.

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    1. Thanks for adding this great tip, and for sharing your wonderful find! Thanks for visiting!

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  15. I have been a Thrift store shopper out of mostly necessity. We live in a small town with several Thrift shops that are way too expensive for me but I do hit them occasionally when I have some "extra" money. and I love them. I have found some vintage jewelry from 1910-20's that I would never re purpose as I wear them. However I love this blog and will be looking for old sweaters and stuff to re purpose to sell in my area. Thank you for ideas.

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  16. I've found some great stuff including a one karat emerald, several pairs of sterling silver earrings, pieces that match my dish set(s), and money in pockets of items that I purchased! I also got some great Levi jeans in good condition, new Timberland boots and a pair of Birkis.
    Take a tape measure, magnifying glass, and hand sanitizer, and go every day, if you can. Go to different thrift stores if you're just starting out to see which ones have the best selection, best prices, sale days, senior or student discounts, etc.

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    1. Those are some amazing finds and some great tips! Thanks!

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  17. I 're fashion clothes and sell. Love goodwill some times thats the best place to get deals. People need to think just because its goodwill doesn't been it not in great shape. For example I bought a pair of jeans great shape for for $6.00. I was getting ready to wash them like I always do, inside pocket found $50.00 You are so right you can get more bees with honey and vinger.

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