Everything You Need to Know About Thrifting in 2022

published Mar 7, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Getty, Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

Secondhand sales have been around since, essentially, items have been bought and sold. All the way back in Elizabethan England, buying up the noble class’ discarded belongings was common practice, especially for people looking to bend consumption-based class norms.

In the U.S., secondhand shops like Salvation Army and Goodwill came about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and “seized the moment” in American history when materials were abundant, throngs of new immigrants and the working class needed clothing, manufacturing was improving, and American consumerism was burgeoning, writes historian Jennifer Le Zotte.

Now, in addition to (or maybe, thanks to) meeting consumer demands and offering a low cost barrier, thrifting is a full-on aesthetic trend in fashion and in homes. The secondhand market is projected to double in the next five years and become a $77 billion industry, according to the annual Resale Report published the secondhand clothing company ThredUp.

One of Lauren Johnson's rattan shelves has a meaningful story behind it and came with a handwritten note. "I like giving a good home to things that meant something to other people," she says.

Lauren Johnson, owner and operator of the secondhand business and account @soulflower_thriftfinds on Instagram, says part of the reason she loves thrifting so much is “a little bit of ego.”

“I don’t like to be the same as everyone and wear the same things as other people,” she says. “And I like to stand out even if it’s just me in my own home. It doesn’t have to be for anyone else. I just like being different, and having my own flair.”

That, and “it’s giving new life to things that would otherwise be in a landfill,” she says. “You know, we’re not feeding into this, like, machine of corporate America. I like giving a good home to things that meant something to other people.”

Johnson's advice for scoring great furniture at thrift shops? Don't be afraid to drive a bit to find what you're looking for. She's from Chicago and likes to drive a bit further south where the market isn't so saturated with thrift and vintage shoppers.

Philanthropy was a big part in Salvation Army and Goodwills’ initial popularity in the U.S. more than 100 years ago, and it still is, with environmental benevolence now also at the top of thrifters’ minds.

Although a small handful of corporations are responsible for more than two-thirds of historic global gas emissions, thrifting is a way for individual consumers to lend a small hand with and cope with environmental anxiety. 2021 was filled with historic and devastating climate change-related disasters — wildfires, record high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, a bitter freeze in Texas, to name a few — which caused a renewed, wider reckoning with sustainability and its impact on the environment. Personal choices alone can’t slow or stop climate change, but every little bit counts, especially when things feel out-of-control and overwhelming.

Disrupting the manufacturing cycle to find ways to reuse is a part of that. EPA spokesperson Robert Daguillard says continued use of a piece of furniture will “in most if not all cases, result in lower emissions than disposing of it and buying something new, taking into consideration that new furniture also must be transported to be sold, and its production generates additional emissions.”

Plus, it’s reassuring in the midst of the climate crisis for people to donate and purchase gently worn clothing, furniture, and media, writes Adam Minter, author of “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.”

ThredUp’s Resale Report states that sustainability matters to consumers more than ever: 51 percent of consumers are more opposed to eco waste, and 60 percent are more opposed to wasting money than before the pandemic.

When you’re buying something from a thrift store, it’s very likely that there’s only one of that item in the store and that the reason it’s in a thrift store in the first place is because someone thought it was worth saving instead of throwing away. Not only that — but you’re circumnavigating supply chain delays and environmental production impacts from big box furniture brands.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Habitat for Humanity Restore network in the U.S. saw a 117 percent increase in its reported sales, reports Mande Butler, senior director of special programs at Habitat for Humanity International. “This is a result of people taking on home improvement projects, such as reorganizing and remodeling, while staying home,” she says.

Goodwill, too, generated its highest revenue ever in 2021.

Aarica Nichole mixes small business, big box, and thrifted finds in her space. (Her rug, for instance, she wanted to buy new because of is material and high traffic.) Nichole's all-time favorite thrifted home find is her scroll-top coffee table. She considered painting it, but she wanted to maintain its original buttery yellow.

Not only is in-store thrift shopping seeing a rise in popularity, so is thrifting on social media. (Heard of thriftfluencers or Thrift Tok?!)

Aarica Nichole, owner and operator of Aarica Nichole Vintage on Etsy and Instagram has over 37,000 followers on her account where she shows off her thrifted, vintage aesthetic, and she points to social media as one of the ways that thrifting is catching on in 2022. It’s now easier to order a secondhand item from an online seller even if you don’t have great thrift stores in your area, Nichole points out. You can see how items (whether clothing or household items) can be styled before you buy them.

Even if you’re going in-person to a thrift store, it’s helpful to use social media as a tool to know what you like or what you want to find, Nichole says. (A search of #thrifting on Instagram will garner 8.2 million results and has 3.4 billion views on TikTok, whether you’re searching for decor or fashion inspiration or just to participate in the thrift shop hunt vicariously.)

Nichole's cesca dining chairs are a "thrift flip;" she removed white crocodile-y fabric from the seats and reupholstered them with a green and orange retro fabric.

“A lot of the times when I show reels or my stories of what I’m finding people will say, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m shopping with you,'” Nichole says.

Whether you’re shopping the aisles IRL or scrolling online, Johnson and Nichole have some great, practical tips for scoring the best thrifted finds 2022 has to offer: Get to know your local thrift stores near you and their restock days. Don’t be afraid to drive a little out of town where the thrifting market isn’t so saturated if you live in a bigger city, and don’t be afraid to pull over to the side of the road if you see something promising — just make sure you have room in your car or a way to get it back to your apartment.

And most importantly, “keep an open mind,” Nichole says, when it comes to color, styling, and giving an old piece new life in your space.

“Secondhand just gives you a really unique and different unexpected take on your home decor that people wouldn’t necessarily see every day,” she says.

Happy thrifting!

This post is part of our Thrifting Package, a celebration of all things secondhand. Head over here to read more about everything from how to restore a thrifted item to the best thrift shops in the U.S.