The 6 Things You Should Always Look for When Thrifting for Your Home

published Sep 12, 2023
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Woman browsing tablewares at outdoor market.
Credit: Jennifer Prince

I’ll just go ahead and admit that thrifting is a part of who I am. Scouring for preloved items at secondhand shops is both exhilarating and relaxing to me. Whether I’m up early with my husband perusing Saturday morning yard sales or running my weekly charity boutique route with my daughter, I look forward to and enjoy the prospect of finding something unexpected.

Although I’ve been thrifting since I was five (at that time, it was involuntarily, as my mom owned an antique shop and toted me along to flea markets and thrift stores), I’m still honing my craft. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’ve had a lot of secondhand scores, but I’ve also had a few duds. If you’re trying to curate a home filled with thrifted things, you can learn from my successes and failures as you build your collection. Here are six tips to remember the next time you head out thrifting.

Check for a maker’s mark.

Clothing lines are known for the quality of their pieces, and the same reigns true for housewares. Because I’m familiar with some brands — such as Fiestaware, which we use as everyday dishes — I can spot mugs, plates, and serving pieces from afar. However, I’ve also found some vintage pieces of Fiestaware. Although they don’t look exactly like the company’s modern lines, I recognized the brand name.

Part of thrifting is finding luxe pieces on a budget. I like to know that a modern brand is durable and well-made, so I keep my cell phone close by to research names. For example, if you need to refresh your cookware, you may recognize companies like Le Creuset and All-Clad, but an internet search will tell you that a Demeyere pan is a secret score.

However, just because something doesn’t have markings doesn’t mean it isn’t a great find. Factors like weight, how an item has worn over time, and style can make an item from a lesser-known maker worth the purchase. Many great, unrecognizable artisan and vintage goods are available at secondhand stores.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Inspect for mold and pests.

First, let me preface that the worst thing I’ve brought into my home by thrifting was a spider — so far. But that doesn’t mean the potential for worse isn’t out there. Rare, soft goods can harbor pests, such as flea eggs or moths, so I thoroughly inspect and wash items before integrating them into my home. I also avoid books and artwork that have mold, as spores can quickly spread and ruin other things in your home. Moldy, dark splotches are usually easy to spot on wall art, but don’t forget to open books and inspect bindings.

Test electrical devices.

Ask your local thrift store if they have a policy on testing electronics before placing them on the sales floor. Many shops will have an outlet (hint: they’re often near a water fountain) where you can plug in devices to ensure they operate correctly. One of the small charity shops I frequent doesn’t have a power source available, so they allow returns within a week for electric goods that aren’t working correctly.

One area where you can score big with thrifting is inexpensive lamp bases — a bonus if it includes the shade. If the one I want to test doesn’t have a light bulb, I’ll scan other lamps to see if I can find one for testing (although if it doesn’t work, keep in mind that it could be a faulty bulb and not the lamp itself). If you’re specifically on the hunt for a light, bringing a fresh bulb for testing lamps is always a good idea.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Be open to the unique.

You never know what you’ll find when thrifting, which is part of the thrill for me. It’s also true that someone else’s castoff could be your next treasure. Having an open mind ready for discovery can help you find things you may otherwise overlook. For example, even though your home has a neutral color palette, that eye-catching, hot pink sculpture may be the color infusion your living room craves. Every time I notice the quirky pieces in my house, I smile, knowing I was brave enough to take the plunge and add something unusual to my room.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Scan for flaws.

I’ve brought home a few items that either had imperfections or poorly completed repairs. Chalk it up to excitement or haste, but I’ve since learned to give everything a healthy once-over before purchasing. Check soft goods, such as placemats, rugs, and blankets, for stains and rips, but also inspect seams and bindings to see if they’ve been repaired. Purchasing a flawed item is ultimately up to you. If you are a pro at stain removal, take a chance on that gorgeous tablecloth. If you’re a seamstress, you can easily doctor up table runner hems to make them as good as new. 

When done well, it can be challenging to see repairs with porcelain and pottery, but imperfections could impact the piece’s integrity, usability, and resale value. If you know a flaw will irk you every time you use or see an item, it may be best to skip the purchase. You should be thinking about your celebration every time you reach for your glass cake stand — not the fact that it has a chip on the underside. Flaws bother me (a bit too much, unfortunately), so I pass on things that will show a repair.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Go with what you love.

Remember that you are thrifting things for yourself, so the ultimate indicator is that you love the item, no matter what, unless someone in your house consciously objects. Case in point: I love painted portraits but refrain because my husband finds them creepy. Other than that, what does it matter if you find an unmarked, repaired item? Part of making your house a home is surrounding yourself with things that showcase your personality and are meaningful to you. As long as you adore it and it makes you happy, it’s a thrifting score.