How to Find Good Stuff When You Thrift Shop

It’s National Thrift Shop Day! Sometimes I feel like everyday is National Thrift Shop Day, but whatever. LOL I started shopping at thrift stores when I was in high school. At that time I was mainly looking for vintage clothes. Now, I rarely look for clothing. Instead I am searching for vintage and antique home decor, dishes, and vinyl records.

No matter what you’re looking for when you shop in thrift stores, sometimes it feels like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. It can be overwhelming and frustrating, which is never fun. And thrift shopping is supposed to be FUN.

I’ve put together a few tips for finding good stuff when you thrift shop. But keep in mind, even with these tips, thrift shopping is a lot like treasure hunting. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, and sometimes you strike out.

Tip #1 Know What You’re Looking For

If you already have in mind what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to find it. For example, if I am looking for jadeite, then I am constantly scanning everywhere my eyes land for that telltale green color. If you go in with a focus, it’s a lot easier to find something than if you don’t.

Tip #2 Take a Thrifting Buddy

I like to take my husband or kids with me when we shop at thrift stores. By now, they know what I like to buy. If they spot something I’m interested in, they’ll either pick it up or tell me about it. If I don’t think that they know what I’m looking for that day, I’ll tell them specifically. For example, “I’m looking for milk glass today. Milk glass looks like _____.” Or maybe I’ll say, “I’m looking for an old radio today, but only one that has a ____.” The more eyes that you have looking for something, the more likely you are to find it. (Just be careful about taking someone who is looking for the same thing as you.)

Tip #3 Consider if Damage Matters

Sometimes you might be looking for something that you’re willing to put some work into. Decide ahead of time what kind of damage you can work with, or if you are looking for something damage-free. Can you fix the dresser drawer? If it’s not what you’re looking for, move on quickly. Don’t waste your time.

Tip #4 Try Again

If you’ve heard that a certain thrift store has good stuff, but you aren’t seeing it, try again on another day. Try a different day of the week or a different time of day. Maybe someone else regularly checks that thrift store on Thursdays during their lunch break. If you switch it up you may find something.

Tip #5 Stains and Smells

Don’t always be intimidated by a stain. There is a lot of advice on the internet about getting rid of hard to treat stains. I have worked wonders on vintage tablecloths with a paste made out of baking soda, dawn dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide. There are a thousand things to try. If the price is low enough, it might be worth trying to get a stain out.

Smells, on the other hand…Did you know there is a “thrift store smell”? Yes, there is. And that smell will certainly come out of whatever you’re buying. But smells like urine, pets, body odor, and cigarettes are very difficult to get rid of. Those are a hard “no” for me.

Tip #6 Can You Change it to Make it Work?

Spray paint and glue are very cheap. If you find something similar to what you need, but it’s the wrong color, consider if a can of spray paint will make it work for you. Is something cracked or broken in two? Glue + Spray Paint are your best friends.

Tip #7 Don’t Get Sidetracked

Know your aesthetic. Imagine you see a stunning Blue Willow plate, but you don’t collect Blue Willow. You know you came in looking for a macrame plant hanger, so while you appreciate the Blue Willow plate, it’s not your style. Stick to your style.

Tip #8 Shop After Holidays

A lot of people like to shop after Christmas, because everyone is donating for the tax write offs. But many people purge after any holiday or in the spring. (“spring cleaning”) I think good stuff can be found after any holiday. People get started by gathering unwanted, old decorations to donate, and they’ll start adding to their donate pile since they’re making a trip there anyway.

Tip #9 There is more to thrift shopping than a Goodwill

Don’t stick with one kind of thrift store. There are some very well-known thrift store chains, but there are just as many small independently run thrift stores. Some chains may ask their employees to hold certain items back to sell in online auctions or private sales. Others may put everything out to earn money for charity. Try different kinds of thrift stores.

Tip #10 The Rich Thrift Stores

Some people like to shop in thrift stores in affluent parts of town because they feel like there will be higher quality items to choose from. I personally feel like that depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for clothing, that theory may work out for you.

Do you have any other tips? Was this type of post helpful for you? Please share in the comments!

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