12 Must-Know Thrifting Tips for the Ultimate Finds

vintage pottery - what to look for at thrift stores

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In this article, we share our best thrifting tips and practical advice to help you make the most of your thrift store experience. These are the things you need to know before you go! Whether you are brand new to the world of thrifting or a seasoned veteran, this article will offer you nuggets of thrifting wisdom.

From understanding the benefits of thrift shopping to learning how to spot quality items amidst the chaos of the thrift store, you’ll gain valuable insights that will enhance your thrifting skills and help you score those amazing finds.

These days, I don’t usually let a week go by without stopping in my favorite thrift stores.  It sounds crazy, but they are not far from my house and the inventory changes so often – I have FOMO.  Fear of Missing Out.

Thrift with Me!  I'm sharing my best thrifting tips and what I love finding at thrift stores - like this rattan laundry basket!  

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Why Thrift Shop?  

Besides the thrill of the hunt, there are a few other reasons why I think you should consider thrift shopping.  

It supports your community.  Salvation Army and ReStore (Habitat for Humanity) use their proceeds and donations to support their causes.  Salvation Army uses some of their donations for rehab centers and shelters, and they also use the store as warming centers during winter storms.  ReStore helps build homes for families in need; so they can get back on their feet and start building a better future.  

It’s better for the environment.   I’m not a scientist so I won’t go into details, however buying used furniture, clothing and other goods reduces pollution, landfill waste, and saves resources. 

It helps you save money.  Not everything in my house is thrifted, but a lot of it is.  Thrifting helps me save money to buy the pricier, store-brand things I want.  And saving money is always good in my book.  

It gives your home character.  You can’t buy some of the patina and charm that you can get from thrifted items.  There’s more of a story behind these items, and filling your home with pieces like this gives it character and charm.  They almost mean more to me because I discovered them and my kids will get these items handed down to them when they’re ready.  

Thrifting Tips And Advice

I’m excited to share these tips with you – I hope they give you some inspiration and help with your thrifting.

Thrifting Tips Infographic for beginners

1. Thrift Often

If you want to get the best stuff, you gotta be available to get it. If you are serious about thrifting, you should go often because the inventory tends to change quickly. New stuff is always coming in and you never know what you’re gonna find (or miss finding).

2. Thrift at the Best Times

Yes, there is a best time to thrift. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) A good rule of thumb is to thrift early.

The early birds always get the worm. Less competition, more time to make a decision. You also may start to recognize when “new things” are added, some stores have a set day for going through inventory and restocking.

3. research the Best “Spots”

Do a bit of research to figure out the best places to thrift. Make a point to visit the local ones and see which ones are worth revisiting. For example, I’ve found that Goodwills in my area are all over the map on pricing, but since I’ve visited all of them, I know which ones offer true bargains and which ones are worth skipping. These are some of the most popular thrift stores that you can google for nearby locations:

  1. Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  2. Goodwill
  3. Local Flea Markets (a quick google search will bring up options close to you)  
  4. Estate Sales
  5. Antique Malls

As spring and summer roll around, keep an eye out for local garage sales too.  You just never know what someone else might be getting rid of.  

Expert Tip: Google these words to find some hidden gems: “vintage resale shops”, “consignment shops”, “antique malls, “antique depot”, “flea market”.

4. Have a Plan (Somewhat)  

While I tend to stop in thrift stores on a whim, I always kind of know the items I’m looking for.  I usually keep a small list in the Notes Section of my iPhone that includes the items I’m looking for and the sizes I need.

Sometimes an item that was never on my radar jumps out at me and I just have to have it — that’s just the nature of thrifting.  You never know what you’re going to find!   

Girls room with a wood mirror and books and an old thrifted lamp.  

Having a plan helps to keep you from picking up items you have no use or space for. Even if it’s cheap, I find it’s not worth it if I can’t give it a good home.

5. Come Prepared

What do I mean by “come prepared?” I mean be ready to make a purchase! That means have everything you need with you to make an education decision. Tape measure, light bulbs, measurements from home.

Expert Tip: Always keep a tape measure and a spare light bulb in your car.  Keep a running list of items you are looking for the measurements you need on your iPhone.

It’s much easier to test lamps this way (other than unscrewing and screwing in light bulbs all over the place).  The tape measure will help you ensure the items will fit – not only in your car but in your spaces at home. You never know when you will find that perfect piece – better to be safe than sorry.  

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Ugly Things

When thrifting, I look at the “bones” of the item and overlook the color and other details.  Don’t be afraid to buy something ugly.  Most things can be cleaned.  Most things can be fixed.  Most things can be painted or re-stained.  You can add new hardware to it.  Check out this ugly bar stool that I turned into a diy side table.

close up view of a rustic side table - full tutorial in post

You want to ask yourself the following:  

  • Is it in good shape? (Not broken, scratched, or dented badly or wobbly?) 
  • Does it operate properly? (Light turns on, Drawers open and close, etc.) 
  • Can it be repurposed in some way? 
  • Is glass broken or stained? 
  • Is the mirror warped or cracked? 
  • Do you LOVE LOVE LOVE it?
  • Is it worth the price? I trust good old Google to search for similar pieces online.  What are they selling for? Does this item seem like a good deal (even with the work you need to put in)? 

At my thrift stores, I usually find that the prices are well worth it even with the work that needs to be put into it.  Sometimes these things are easy fixes. That broken lamp can be fixed with a new light kit.  Those wobbly tables can be evened out.  Those ugly framed art can be revamped!

7. Inspect Carefully

I don’t want you to be afraid of ugly things, but I don’t want you to buy a piece of junk either. Failing to thoroughly inspect items for damage, stains, or missing parts can lead to purchasing items that aren’t in good condition.

I once bought a shelving unit that was painted bright robin’s egg blue. I loved the overall size and shape of it and had dreams of sanding it down and staining it a rich wood tone. When I brought it home and started to sand it, I realized it wasn’t wood at all – it was particle board, which can’t be sanded.

I ended up repainting it with a matte milk paint and using it as toy storage for a year before I decided it was mistake and I hated it. Rookie mistake – but I should have known better and inspected a little longer before impulse buying.

8. Think Outside the Box 

Sometimes you find something you’re drawn to, but you have no idea what to do with it.  You can repurpose it!  Here are a few examples. I found this wood caddy and I loved the shape and overall style of it (but not so much the glossy wood).  So I sanded it down, restained it, and drilled a hole in the back.  

Now I have a charging caddy! This keeps phones, kindles, and other electronics stored and charged without ugly cords hanging out everywhere.

Another example is with vases. If you find a decent-sized vase – they can be made into lamps with a simple lamp kit. Furniture can also be repurposed. That gorgeous farmhouse table? Cut the legs down and now you have a coffee table. It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box.

9. Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it deserves a space in your home. If you allow yourself to grab every cheap item “just because”, you’ll have a cluttered mess on your hands and no real purpose to the items. Be strategic. Stick with your plan. Ask yourself: will I really use this?? And be honest when answering. You know the truth.

10. Don’t Forget Online Thrifting

Did you know you can buy vintage and thrifted stuff online? Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Facebook Marketplace
  2. Nextdoor –  neighborhood app that also posts sales 
  3. Chairish – pricey, but you can shop by price range and it can be fun to peruse this site.
  4. First Dibs – again, pricey but so fun to look!
  5. Goodwill Online
  6. eBay.com
  7. Etsy – lots of vintage resellers here.
  8. Elsie Green
  9. Food52
  10. Deborah Hall

Expert Tip: You can find some online thrift stores by googling an antique item, such as “vintage bread boards”. What pops up is usually online shops that sell these things and more vintage items.

11. Be Patient

That’s the toughest advice of all. So many times I just wanted to make something work and buy it, but in the end, I’m glad I was patient. The thrill of buying is tempting! But you will end up spending more in the long run. You won’t really be happy with that piece and years down the road you will want to replace it. I’m not saying you can’t buy a filler piece, but sometimes the wait is truly worth it.

12. Have fun

Above all, remember that thrifting is meant to be a fun and rewarding experience, so don’t stress too much about finding the perfect item—enjoy the thrill of the hunt!

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is Thrifting?

Thrifting involves shopping for secondhand or pre-owned items, often at thrift stores, garage sales, or online marketplaces like eBay or Poshmark.

Is thrifting Cheaper than Buying New?

In most cases, yes! Thrifted items are often significantly cheaper than their new counterparts.

Is thrifting the Same Thing as Antiquing?

Thrifting and antiquing, while both involving the pursuit of secondhand items, have distinct characteristics. Thrifting encompasses a wide array of pre-owned goods, spanning clothing, furniture, home decor, and household items, typically found in thrift stores. It’s about discovering unique and affordable pieces, regardless of age. In contrast, antiquing is a more specialized endeavor focused on seeking out antique items—those over 100 years old—such as furniture, artwork, jewelry, and collectibles. Antiquing often involves visiting antique shops, auctions, and estate sales in search of rare or valuable items. Antique items tend be a lot more expensive than thrifted.

I never seem to have much luck Thrifting. What am I doing Wrong?

Thrifting can be hit or miss, so don’t get discouraged! Try visiting different stores, exploring different sections, or even consider altering or upcycling items to suit your style.

How should I sanitize Thrifted Items?

You can clean and sanitize thrifted items using methods like washing clothing in hot water, running through a sanitizing dishwasher cycle, using disinfectant wipes on hard surfaces, and steam cleaning furniture.

Is thrifting considered Eco-Friendly?

Yes, thrifting is considered environmentally friendly because it reduces the demand for new products, thus decreasing the need for production and minimizing waste

What should I look for when Thrifting?

Keep an eye out for things you might want/need in your home, like furniture or decor items. I also love to thrift lamps, frames, stools and chairs and books.

Are there any items I shouldn’t Buy when Thrifting?

I recommend avoiding upholstered items, mattresses, pillows, anything baby related, helmets, electronics, shoes and personal items (such as swimwear and undergarments). You should also avoid nonstick cookware because the coatings flake off over time (cast iron is ok in my book).

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