Five Tips for Successful Thrift Store Shopping

published Apr 18, 2011
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(Image credit: Amanda Johnson)

When people step foot into my funky home, one of the first things they ask is, “Where do you find all of this stuff?” After I tell them that most of what we own has been found at thrift stores, they then beg me to take them with me next time I go. But I assure the visitors in my home — just as I assure you now — that successful thrifting doesn’t involve any black magic or top secret tricks. Just a few practices that when used consistently, pay off over time.

  1. Go early and often. I have set days where I head to the local thrift stores, and usually have a route that I travel, so I can efficiently get the most shopping done in one day. The biggest and best shops are first on my list. And you might be surprised to find a line outside the door, especially on sale days. When I set a schedule for myself, it keeps me motivated to head out and see what there is to find. Consistency is what results in great finds.
  2. Make thrifting pit-stops. If you have a busy schedule and can’t arrange your time around arriving at the thrift store on certain days or when the doors open, then try to find gaps in your day where you will have time to stop in and quickly browse on your way to your next destination. I have map searched all of the thrift stores within a 50 mile radius of my home, and if I have some extra time between appointments, I always pop in and see if there are any treasures to be purchased. This is how I have come across some of my best finds!
  3. Be efficient. If you’re in a hurry, or are worried other shoppers might find treasures before you do, quickly browse the shop upon entering, and if you have a cart, throw anything that strikes your fancy inside. Then, after you’ve covered the whole store, look through your cart and narrow down your findings to things you really truly love. This is the time to be selective. Edit! Put anything that you don’t really love back onto the shelves. If you have extra time, really dig through the bins and study the shelves, because you never know what kind of treasure you will miss by quickly browsing.
  4. Be selective, but don’t overthink things! Momma always said, “If in doubt, don’t.” But I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve taken to the thrift store where I have found something I loved, only to talk myself out of it. I always return for it the next day, and, of course, it is never there. So my rule of thumb is that if I am really tickled with an item, and it is only a few dollars, I will buy it. If in a few months I decide I don’t like it, I will end up donating it back to the store. (By the way, I believe thrifting karma is real!) A great thing about thrift store shopping and donating, is that it is part of a cycle that simply redistributes things that are already in existence.
  5. Master the art of editing. It’s always funny going thrifting with friends who rarely thrift. You hear things like, “Wow! This is so cheap, we should get it!” I gently ask them if they have room for the item, what they would do with it, if they really like it, and then I remind them to be selective in what they bring into their home. Anyone can go thrifting and fill their home with stuff, and believe me, it’s a slippery slope. But after a few months of practice, it’s pretty easy to develop a sort of trained eye. Be willing to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Don’t keep something in your home just because you used to like it or once spent money on it. If you’re not happy with it, then donate it. And who knows, maybe your thrifting luck with improve with your generosity!

Image: Amanda Johnson