Whether you’re looking to save a bit of money or find something really unique that can’t be purchased in a store, thrift shopping is the perfect way to furnish your house or closet. While it can be a lot of fun to just go and look around, if you want to get the most out of your thrift shop experience, these tips will help you secure the coolest deals and the best items.
1. Learn to look at the potential, not the item
People who are not thrifty by nature tend to forget that items can be easily updated with a coat of paint, a little love, and some creativity. When you’re looking at an item, make sure to look not only at the item itself, but also how it could be updated or changed to fit you. A coat of paint and some new fabric will go a long way.
2. Wash everything before you use it
I worked in a thrift store for a year, and the first thing that I learned is that people donate gross things. Seriously. Ew. I know you’re probably excited about your new item, but you should wash everything before you use it. I’m talking hot water and soap, and scrub as much as you can. Besides, you’d be amazed how much a good wash will change the look of an item, or how easily that stain you didn’t notice in the store will come out with a bit of elbow grease.
3. Only buy things you really love
It’s easy to become a hoarder when you’re thrift shopping all the time, so if you’re not really excited about the item (or its potential) in the store, then walk away. Don’t buy something simply because it’s there or because you’re afraid you’ll regret not buying it. There’s always something else. Make sure that every item you buy has a place, too, or else you’re simply purchasing a problem and that love will quickly wear off when you realize you have no space for a third desk.
4. Look for particularly unusual items
Thrift stores are the end of the road for the most unusual items, and if you live for strange conversation-starters like I do, then thrift stores are the best! The items my friends comment on the most almost exclusively were found somewhere at a thrift store.
5. Shop frequently
Inventory of thrift stores changes out daily. Talk to the employees and find out when they get their new inventory in, and when things are discounted. The thrift store I worked at, for example, got in several thousands of items daily, but if you wanted the best deals, then you were better off to come on Wednesday, when the store was restocked from the weekend sales.
6. Keep an eye out for sales
Most thrift stores will go through and discount items weekly, and then whatever doesn’t sell after a few weeks is moved from the shelves to a different charity or the dumpster. Check and see when things are discounted, and keep an eye out for sale days to get the best deals!
7. Look at the quality
An ugly quality item is way better than a pretty item that is cheaply made. When you’re shopping, look for names that you trust, and for well-made objects. Solid wood tables can be sanded and repainted dozens of times, while pressed board has a limited life. Name brand clothing, generally speaking, will also wear longer and look better used than off-brand clothing.
8. Shop when the seasons change
Fall and spring are the best times to shop because people are clearing out their old junk in order to make room for the new stuff. In the fall, you can sometimes find both Christmas and summer items as people clear out the previous season and the unwanted items for the upcoming season. In Spring, you’re more likely to find old sweaters, fall items, and swimwear.
9. Keep an eye out for out-of-season items
Remember that thrift stores are still shops. While you might find really awesome Christmas decorations around November and December, you can usually get the same things much cheaper in January or April. Shopping off season is a great way to save money, and it gives you time to get it all ready for the next season!
10. Make a list of what you want
It’s easy to go overboard. Make a list of things that you’re on the lookout for, and keep it with you. This way when you’re out and about, you won’t buy the same things twice.
11. Bring cash, not a card
Some thrift shops still don’t accept cards (or they charge a convenience fee), so make sure you have cash when you go shopping. This can also help keep you on track budget-wise, as it’s easy to buy more since it’s so cheap.
12. Better locations have better items
Generally speaking, you’ll find better quality items in nicer neighborhoods, since people won’t travel across town to donate things, generally speaking. However, you’ll sometimes find older and more vintage items in cheaper neighborhoods–just be prepared to do a lot of sifting through cheap quality items.
13. Inspect it before you buy
A lot of times items will end up at the thrift store because someone didn’t want to take the time to fix it, or because it was broken/stained beyond repair. Be smart and take a good look to make sure that it’s still got some life left. There are just as many gems and lemons, so be thorough and check all electronics, look for stains, check chips, and inspect for overall quality.
14. Know your repurposing limitations
1) You’ll buy it because it’ll be awesome if you can do this one complex thing.
2) You’ll set it somewhere to gather dust for a year or more while you tell everyone how cool it will be when you finally get around to fixing it.
3) In a year or so, you’ll get tired of it sitting around making you feel guilty and taking up space.
4) You’ll donate it right back to the place you bought it from, hoping someone more determined than you can enjoy it.
5) You’ll pretend it never happened (or maybe that’s just me…).
We’ve all done it, so don’t worry. The key is knowing your DIY limitations (and how much work you realistically will put into an item) and stick with it! There’s nothing I hate more than having piles of half-finished DIY projects lying around the house.
15. Compare price to value and work needed
Sure, you can probably find a dresser for $4 at the thrift store… but if it’s going to need $50-$60 worth of work to even be usable (much less nice to look at), is that something you’re willing and able to do? Take the state of the item into account before you buy, and make sure that it’s something you’ll actually fix and that it’s worth your time.
16. Donate frequently
Don’t become a hoarder! Thrift stores have the coolest stuff, and you can pass it forward by donating your old things for someone else to enjoy.
17. Don’t get upset if you make a mistake
We’ve all done it. You bought something that looked awesome, only to find that you can’t DIY it the way you wanted. Don’t stress it out. After all, you only paid a few dollars for it, so you’re not actually out that much. Learn from your mistake, and be more careful next time.
Thrift store shopping can be extremely fun; you just have to take your time with it. Do you have any awesome tips you want to share? What’s the coolest thing you’ve found at a thrift store? Tell me in the comments below!!