Our Best Thrifting Tips for National Thrift Shop Day

updated Oct 3, 2023
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six years since Macklemore and Ryan Lewis captured the zeitgeist of mainstream tag-popping and bin-scouring with their runaway hit song, Thrift Shop. But while hippies and hipsters come and go, the joy of thrift shopping and treasure hunting is forever—so I rounded up some of my favorite tips for National Thrift Shopping Day, culled from my decade of prior experience as the editor of budget living magazine Shoestring. Get out there and rock those come-ups like a pro.

Make a day of it—and bring a friend.

Finding the best deals always includes taking your time, digging around, having the patience to push just a little bit farther until the true gems come into view, even visiting more than one store. And as we’ve said before, four eyes are better than two—not to mention, a heck of a lot more fun.

Go in with a DIY mindset to find the best deals.

Many times, the best score in the house gets overlooked because it’s slightly damaged—or its innate potential is just waiting to be uncovered by someone with a little artistic vision. From spray painting ceramic and metal tchotchkes a single bright color to basic repair work—sewing or refinishing—there”s always value to be had in hunting for items with “good bones”. They might be a bit dated for the edgy trend seekers, but we rounded up 10 fun thrift store DIY projects here.

Look for quality materials and construction, not labels.

Designer brands don’t necessarily equate to high quality manufacturing in the way that they once did. Use all of your senses (minus literal taste) to find great bargains, especially in textiles. Run your finger over a rack of blankets and stop when you graze an exciting weave, then inspect. Actually knock on wood to get a sense of whether or not furniture is cheap hollow-core or particle board, or if it’s solidly made. Give a sniff to a pile of yardage or a piece of fabric art (like embroidery or cross-stitching) to check for smoke and grease damage before taking it home to soak that minor stain. But keep your eye on the prize—that item that can so easily be cleaned or repaired to its original glory and give you joy for years to come.

Thrift from your neighbors.

Scouring Craigslist has always been a great way to score deals, but now Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace are becoming even more popular places for local listings—with the added benefit of knowing the owner of that thing for sale that you really want. Join a community group through the Buy Nothing Project to give and get and keep usable goods out of the landfill, all year long, mostly for free. Most of the time, when I search my local boards first for something I need—from a Saarinen tulip table to handmade clay tiles from a local importer—I’ll find them being resold by my neighbors instead of paying full price new.

Find estate sales in your area, typically beginning on Fridays.

Searching newspaper classified listings, EstateSales.net, Craigslist, and Facebook Events are all good places to start. By getting to estate sales on Friday mornings, or even in some cases Thursdays, when resellers and boutique owners normally shop, you have the best chance of getting the most coveted items. Sundays (or the last day of the sale) is always the best time to get a deal, through mark downs or by negotiation.

Redefine your outlet shopping.

Those mega-plaza outlet centers off major highways are no longer the surplus-goods and minor-imperfection stockpiles they once were, but there are still ways to find true “seconds” if you do some digging locally. Many Goodwills across the country now have their own Goodwill Outlets, where goods are sold by the pound or lot instead of per piece—say, 10 pieces of glassware for $1, or 10 for $10 blankets and quilts—and many regional furniture shops or local makers, like potters, will have their own outlets or seconds sales, too.

(Image credit: Federico Paul)

Do your thrift shopping online.

Can’t get away from the office? No worries. Have fun on your lunch break by browsing thrifty listings at secondhand, vintage, and antiques marketplaces like Chairish, 1st Dibs, Everything But The House, and, of course, Apartment Therapy Marketplace (formerly Krrb). To get the best deals, sort the listings by those closest to your area to avoid hefty shipping or delivery charges.

Rediscover the joy of auctions.

While other shoppers are spending their time scouring the myriad trendier online options, visit early digital favorites like eBay or ShopGoodwill.com to turn up some serious bargains—without as much competition. Set up alerts for favorite key words: some fruitful recent searches of my own included Pendleton blanket, paint by number, brass figurine, Turkish rug, crewel work, Girl Scouts, and monkeypod. Just watch out for shipping & handling charges, which can sometimes eclipse the value of the bargain—especially depending upon weight, or if the item is framed and oversized.

Take a chance on an up-and-coming artist.

Art schools are always a great place to find large-format and original pieces for your walls without busting your budget, whether at student exhibitions or regular sales. One new startup called ArtStartArt has brought that excitement online, giving the public the ability to shop student art 24/7 from their own couch—even being able to sort by art school. Other ways to get original art for a fraction of the cost include looking for up-and-coming artists on Etsy and shopping 20×200, a marketplace that launched in 2007 with a mission of making art collecting more accessible to everyone—prices for limited edition pieces start at just $24.

Find hundreds more thrift shopping tips in our archives here.