If you know me, you know I like to thrift — a lot. I’ve been hanging out in thrift stores since I could drive, but I really kicked it up a notch when we bought our first home. We basically outfitted out entire house from thrift stores, auctions, and Craigslist. I always have a new toy or cute outfit from a thrift store.
I love buying things secondhand. It makes me feel good keeping things out of landfills, and getting products that were only used once and then tossed. Sometimes I think about doing that challenge where you don’t buy anything new for a year.
Anyway, people always ask how I find awesome stuff when I’m out thrifting. Some thrift stores aren’t necessarily better than others, it’s just all about how you search. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and here are my biggest tips:
1. Stop by thrift stores – a lot.
I know where all of the thrift stores are in town. Usually whenever I’m driving by one, I like to stop in for 20 minutes or so and take a quick peek around. It’s basically like running any other errand; it doesn’t need to take a full day or a thorough search of the whole store. I’m just looking for things that jump out.
2. Don’t buy glass items in their original packaging – they could be broken.
This applies to electronics, too. Thrift stores don’t have return policies, so you have to be super sure you want the thing before you take it home. Sometimes boxes are already opened and you can peek inside to check out the item, but, a lot of times you’ll find stuff new in packaging. If you can’t handle or test something in the store, buyer beware.
If it’s a boxed electronic that looks new, it’s probably fine. But still don’t spend too much on it. Which brings me to…
3. Don’t spend more than $10 on an item you don’t understand.
This one seems obvious, but I’ve wasted so much money on toys that look cool and then gotten home to either realize they were broken. I once bought a jig saw from a thrift store for $25 (I really wanted one), got home, and realized it was missing some important pieces that held in the blade. I could’ve bought a new one for only about $15 more.
4. Try to only buy quality brands—nothing from fast fashion retailers.
Thrift stores are a good way to see how well an item will hold up over time. Whoever owned it before you probably threw it in the dryer on accident, stretched it out, reached too far, and left it balled up in a hamper for too long. Crappy fast fashion garments will pill up, shrink, and skew like crazy. Sort through the racks and look at tags first, then when you land on a good brand, pull the piece out and examine it. Rifling through all types of clothes will show you pretty immediately the difference between J.Crew and Urban Outfitters.
5. Buy good items when you find them, not when they’re a good fit.
I like to buy cool holiday stuff even when it’s not in season, and grab backyard picnic stuff when it’s the middle of winter. Items at thrift stores don’t go bad (I hope), so you can grab that popup tent or lantern or pack of Christmas crackers and stash them until the time is right.
Bonus: if you use a calendar app, add an event down the line to remind yourself that you have the thing. For example, I found an entire lobster boil party set (platters, bibs, tablecloths, the works) and have an alert set for the next time it’s lobster season. I even marked where to find the stuff in the attic.
6. Be ruthless; challenge yourself to walk out without buying anything.
It’s a rookie mistake to leave a thrift store with a ton of garbage. Keep focused on the types of things you’re looking for, and the types of things you need in your house (“I’m definitely going to snag a garlic press if I see a nice one”). Once you happen upon something that catches your eye, look closely. Do you really want it? Do you need it? Is it good quality? Will you use it, for real? You’re telling yourself you’re going to repair that seam or fix that ding, but, be honest.
If you’re not sure, put the thing back and walk away – if you start getting nervous as you walk away, worried that someone else might snag your find, go back and grab it. If you get farther away and feel nothing, well, keep walking. As much as I love rolling out of a thrift store with a ton of goodies, I actually feel more satisfied when I leave with one awesome thing or nothing at all.