My “Black and White” Thrifting Rule Makes Secondhand Shopping So Much Easier

published Mar 9, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Modern living room with beige leather sofa, graphic black and white accents

Thrifting and antiquing can be overwhelming for a number of reasons — there’s always so much to choose from, and the items aren’t always organized in a logical way. This is why I follow some simple tips every time I go shopping. First, I set a cap: Only one item per market or store — no questions asked — which forces me to rank my findings so I only leave with my favorite. Second, I eliminate anything that can’t fit in my arms or hands. And lastly and most importantly: I stick to simple color palettes or combos to curate my shopping picks, like black and white. 

Credit: Joey Skladany

The first two limitations are purely for practical purposes — there’s only so much that can fit in a bag or suitcase, and, as a food and travel writer that likes to overpack, I’m likely already hitting Delta’s generous 70-pound weight restriction when I’m on a trip. The black and white motif, however, is an intentional design decision. 

Credit: Joey Skladany

The foundation of my apartment is modern, primarily neutral, and already leans into a black and white-inspired color story, so that’s why I choose this palette as a guide for thrifting. This classic color duo (and its derivatives — hello, gray!) never clash, despite each individual shade’s contrast to one another, and pieces in this palette can accent an already busy or more streamlined, simple living space. 

Credit: Joey Skladany

Not only has this shopping rule saved me from overbuying, which I had the tendency to do before, but it also can work across different design styles and in more colorful settings, too, thanks in part to black and white’s simplicity, especially if you apply this rule to smaller items. Nothing black and white will ever truly overpower a room; for example, guests are typically drawn to my oversized camel couch, but my tiny black and white objects — an onyx turtle from Cancun, a vintage piggy bank from Lucca, Italy — fade into the background. And intentionally so — I want guests to only notice them 15 minutes into the conversation. I want them to ask me about their significance and the mystery that surrounds them.

Turns out this shopping rule makes sense to designers, too. “I am obsessed with bold and bright colors and patterns, as well as collecting items from all over the world,” says interior designer Anthony Gianacakaos of Anthony George Home. “But following a specific or muted color scheme, at least when it comes to accent pieces, will allow you to bring more mementos into a room without it feeling too crowded or chaotic. It also allows bigger statement pieces to shine.”

That’s exactly the effect of this shopping rule in my home. Smaller, black and white thrifted pieces or items I’ve picked up traveling play supporting roles, so that I can invest my money and precious wall or floor space on larger, more eye-catching furniture. A room with too many “statement-makers” vying for attention, after all, makes each item feel a whole lot less special. 

So the next time you find yourself panicking over whether or not one or a dozen baubles are worth lugging back from a trip abroad, limit yourself to a size and specific color scheme — maybe even my black and white palette, since it’s so easy to decorate with. This will help you go in with an agenda, part with the frivolous, and ensure that you’re filtering your finds with things that will resonate most and quietly complement what is likely an already full home.