Ninety percent of what I own is second-hand. Possessions that I’ve acquired from thrift stores, antique stores, yard sales, eBay, etc. Here are some of my best thrifting tips and lessons learned from my many years hunting for treasures in thrift shops.
1. Dress the part.
Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. If you’re going for clothes and want to limit your time in the dressing room (or standing in line for the dressing room), wear a thin t-shirt or tank top so you can try on shirts and jackets in front of any mirror without added bulk. A pro tip for quickly trying on jeans or pants is to wear a loose fitting skirt and you’ll be able to slip on pants modestly under the skirt.
Be sure to go in hands-free. I bring a cross body bag or backpack so my hands are free to browse. Also, don’t forget your glasses if you wear them. You’ll want to closely inspect items and read labels. I’m always annoyed at myself when I forget my glasses.
2. Bring cash.
Most chain thrift stores like Savers, Value Village, and Goodwill accept cards but not all of them. Additionally, some smaller, community-based thrift shops are cash only so be sure to hit the ATM first thing.
3. Keep wet wipes in your car.
All experienced thrifters do this. You’re going to want to wipe your hands in between shops to remove that old dusty feeling and avoid catching a cold or flu as is possible in any store.
4. Bring your phone.
You may want to do a little research if you’re interested in the make or origin of something. It’s also good for taking pictures of any items you’re not sure about. Text them to a friend for feedback.
5. Find out what is on sale as you walk in the door.
Many thrift stores offer daily deals by discounting certain colored tags or dates. Keep this in mind as you’re looking for bargains.
6. Get a cart.
Put anything and everything that you are interested in into your cart and make final decisions later. This is vital. If you leave something on the shelf or rack while you think about it, chances are it will be gone by the time you circle back.
7. Don’t show your hand.
If someone has got ahold of something that you want, play it cool. Stalk them inconspicuously and wait and see if they put it down and walk away. People will naturally want something more if they know you want it.
8. Look for quality pieces.
Now sometimes, you just need a thing and you don’t want to spend very much money on it. Thrift stores are great for household bare necessities at cut-rate prices. However, I always look for quality, craftsmanship, or distinctive features on anything that I’m considering to buy and bring into my home.
If its furniture, look for high-quality, custom-made, vintage furniture with unique shapes and lines. For housewares, flip items over and find out their origin. Look for quality items made from wood, glass, crystal, silver, copper or brass. For clothing, read labels and inspect closely for holes, tears or stains. In the jewelry case, check to see all the parts are intact and working. In the electronics department, you’ll usually find an outlet so you can plug in lamps or small appliances to make sure they work before you buy. Most thrift stores don’t accept returns so check things over thoroughly.
9. Have vision.
If you find something that you love but something about it just isn’t right, consider any small upgrades that you’re willing to customize yourself. You can always paint a great piece of furniture, re-wire a vintage lamp, alter a dress, polish metals, or reframe art to fit your home style or aesthetic. Just be honest with yourself about what you’ll actually do. You don’t want to be bringing home a bunch of projects that sit around as daily reminders of how you are failing at life.
10. Go easy on yourself.
As much as I love foraging for vintage clothing in the racks, some days I’m just not into it. Be open to whatever inspires you on the day you’re out thrifting. Some days, I’m focused on furniture, other days, jewelry or books. Thrift stores can be overwhelming. Don’t feel like you need to comb through it all at once.
11. Buy it when you see it.
If something strikes you as unique, high quality and you love it, buy it. See an amazing cashmere sweater or vintage coat in the summer? Buy it. I’ve done it. You’re at the thrift store and chances are high that there is only one of that thing you’re holding in your hand. If it’s something you’ve never seen before and don’t think you will again, snag it now. You’ll be happy that you did.
12. Don’t get discouraged if your experience is a bust.
Some days, I don’t have any mojo. It’s a bummer but it’s okay because the next time you go thrifting, you could hit the mother load and find great stuff all day long. Thrifters know this. The key is to go regularly and keep checking back for treasures at your favorite honey holes.
13. Leave the junk behind.
Don’t buy anything damaged, worn, faded, broken, sticky, reeks or smells like smoke. The second-hand “thrift store smell” will wash out but leave the gross stuff behind and only fill your home with beautiful things. You’re worth it.