What to Look for at Thrift Stores: 20 Items You should never pass up

thrifted frames with a bird painting in them

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Ever wandered through the aisles of a thrift store, wondering which hidden treasures could transform your space without breaking the bank? In today’s article, we’re diving deep into the world of thrifted home decor, shining a spotlight on those often-overlooked gems that can add a touch of charm to your home.

Thrifting is a world filled with potential treasures that await those with a keen eye and a bit of patience. As you meander through the aisles, remember that this is more than just shopping—it’s a sustainable choice that breathes new life into pre-loved items. Thrift store finds often come with a history, adding layers of depth and character to your home that simply can’t be replicated with new purchases. Let’s get started!

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What to Look for at Thrift Stores

From vintage frames to quirky candlesticks, we’re here to guide you through the must-have finds. Here’s what to look for at thrift stores that will infuse your space with character and style.

For some of these items, I give my expert tips as to what to look for. This are things I’ve learned through years of thrifting and research. BUT – and this is a big but – don’t get hung on fancy names and origins. If you love it – buy it! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s all part of the fun.

1. Frames

Don’t walk past that pile of old frames! Don’t worry about the art inside of it, that can be ripped out and replaced. These old frames are like blank canvases waiting for your creative touch. Whether you’re into the rustic charm of distressed wood or the sophistication of ornate metal designs, frames offer endless possibilities. Get my step by step tutorial for revamping these frames here.

Audobon Bird Painting in a Thrifted Frame
This frame was $3 at Goodwill. I swapped out the artwork and spray painted the mat white.

Use them to showcase art, fabric samples, or even pressed flowers for a personalized wall gallery. Mixing and matching sizes and styles can create a visually intriguing display that speaks volumes about your unique aesthetic.

I have found some amazing, heavy weight frames for a song. And it’s so easy to remake these frames into something beautiful. You can also turn any old picture frame into a rustic, antique mirror with a little spray paint and vinegar.

2. Pottery / Vases / Pitchers / Stoneware

Sometimes you can find a gorgeous vase aged to perfection with texture AND in the right color.  Most of the time though, you will find something that looks like it was found in the back of a pantry in the 80s.  And that’s ok! These vases can be made to look old, it’s easy to give them character.  

vintage pottery - what to look for at thrift stores

There’s something inherently comforting about thrifted pottery. Each piece tells a story through its texture, color, and shape. Keep an eye out for unique ceramic vases, bowls, and pots that can serve as statement pieces on shelves or coffee tables. Not only do they add a pop of color and texture, but they’re also perfect for housing plants, serving snacks, or simply acting as a beautiful focal point in any room.

Entertaining Essentials - barware
This small gold bowl was a thrift store find!

Make sure these items are not chipped or broken (unless you like that look).  I tend to skip the really small items – too many small items together can look a bit cluttered.  I like a variety of heights and sizes to keep it interesting.  I’ve also been able to find cool bowls.  I use these as little accents on tables.  They are great on a nightstand to hold earrings, lip balm, or small hand cream.  

Expert Tip: You can usually tell it’s old by the weight (tends to be heavier) and the glaze is somewhat cracked. Sometimes you can tell by the coloring too – yellow ware, browns, creams, and those brown top/tan bottom crockware are popular! Look for blue or brown striped bowls. Take a glance at the bottoms and see if you can make out the company or potter. Anything marble falls in this category, too!

3. Wood Bowls / Bread Boards

Those old wood turned bowls and antique bread boards are such a GEM!! These are great for decorating. Lean a few vintage bread boards up against your kitchen backsplash, and use the old wood bowls as catchalls, on your coffee tables or as a topper on a stack of books. You can also use them as a dining centerpiece – fill them with moss balls or faux pomegranates or artichokes.

The more you thrift, the better you will get at recognizing these items. Vintage wood turned bowls are not symmetrical and they sometimes have markings on the bottom. European boards and bread boards look worn – these can be pricey but worth the buy as they tend to hold their value.

4. Copper Kitchen Items

There’s something magical about finding those gleaming pieces that add warmth and a vintage charm to your kitchen. Here are some copper items to keep an eye out for on your next thrifting adventure: tea kettles, utensils, cookware, measuring spoons and colanders. A copper tea kettle can be a stunning centerpiece on your stove. Copper cookware and utensils, like ladles and slotted spoons, add a touch of elegance hanging from a kitchen rail.

5. Serveware / Dishes

Elevate your dining experience and entertaining essentials with vintage serveware. From silver platters and timeless transferware to valuable Spode dishes, these pieces bring a touch of elegance and history to your table setting. I’m a huge fan of Erin French (The Lost Kitchen) who uses vintage plates and dishes in her restaurant and it’s so incredibly charming.

vintage dishes from thrift store

These thrifted gems are not just for special occasions; use them to add a dash of glam to everyday meals or as charming decor on open shelving. Mixing vintage serveware with your current pieces can create a curated look that’s both chic and inviting.

Expert Tip: I don’t know all the fancy names but I know a few. Look for Blue Ridge, Lenox, Spode, and McCoy. Transferware, vintage Pyrex, and vintage Corningware is always pretty and popular

6. Stools

Whether it’s a rustic wooden stool or a mid-century modern gem, these versatile pieces can serve multiple purposes in your home.

Shiplap Bathroom with gray cabinets and ruggable rug
Vintage Stool I found Thrifting

Use them as extra seating, a plant stand, or even a unique stool side table. Stools are easy to refurbish with a lick of paint or some new upholstery, making them a budget-friendly option for adding personality and functionality to your space.

7. Candlesticks

There’s no easier way to add ambiance to a room than with a collection of eclectic candlesticks. Look for various heights, materials, and designs to create an eye-catching display on your mantel, dining table, or entry tables.

thrifted gold candlesticks on a fireplace mantel next to a framed picture

Whether you prefer sleek and modern or ornately vintage, candlesticks are a thrift store staple that can beautifully illuminate your home.

8. Books

Beyond their literary value, books are a decorator’s secret weapon. Stack them on coffee tables, use them to elevate other decor items, or load up a bookcase with some interesting spines. Vintage and antique books add a layer of intrigue and warmth, inviting guests to browse and admire.

9. Wood Chairs

Wooden chairs from thrift stores can easily be transformed into statement pieces with a bit of TLC. Look for solid construction and interesting details. I personally love the old wood chairs with spindles. You can set them in a corner to stage a charming little “moment” in your home.

Farmhouse Accent Chair in a corner of a room
Thrifted Wood Spindle Chair

A new finish or upholstery can breathe new life into a dated chair, making it the perfect accent for your living room, bedroom, or home office.

10. Wood Headboards

While I would avoid any upholstered headboards, a wooden headboard can anchor a bedroom with its presence and they are easy to clean and revamp. Thrifted options often come with beautiful craftsmanship and unique designs not found in contemporary stores. And you can usually score them for a song.

With a sanding and a new coat of paint or stain, you can customize a thrifted headboard to fit your bedroom’s theme perfectly. Don’t forget your tape measure to make sure it’s the perfect fit!

11. Wood Dressers

If I had my way, I would fill this whole house with vintage wood dressers with the bid wooden knobs. To me they are so charming. Don’t underestimate the potential of a well-made wood dresser.

Often available at a fraction of the price of new furniture, these pieces can be restored to their original glory or updated to match your current decor. They offer practical storage and can serve as a base for decorative items, enhancing the aesthetic of any room.

12. Wood Desks

A solid wood desk from a thrift store can become the centerpiece of your home office. Look for classic designs that offer both form and function. A little refurbishing can turn a neglected piece into a stylish and functional workspace that inspires productivity and creativity.

13. Mirrors

Mirrors are not just practical; they’re also a fantastic way to make any space feel larger and brighter. Look for unique frames and shapes to add character to your walls. A strategically placed mirror can reflect light and beautiful views, transforming the ambiance of a room.

distressed antique mirror in a dining room
Thrifted Large Mirror that I distressed

You can also make your own distressed mirror with this tutorial. I found this large mirror for next to nothing at a thrift store, revamped the frame and mirror to look antique.

14. Lamps

Lighting can dramatically alter the mood of a room, and thrifted lamps offer a unique way to do so. I look for lamp bases in cool shapes that I love. I don’t worry about the color or shiny look – as you can completely redo a lamp base.

DIY lamp base makeover
Thrifted lamp makeover with new lampshade

Adding a new lampshade or rewiring an old lamp can be a simple way to customize these finds to your space’s lighting needs.

Expert Tip: Don’t forget your spare lightbulb when you go thrifting so you can make sure it is working before buying.

15. Old Boxes and Crates

These can be repurposed into charming storage solutions and planters (even charging stations)! You can also use these on bookshelves on top of a book stack or as a bookend to add interest.

Their rustic appeal adds texture and interest to any decor style, making them practical and decorative assets for organizing or displaying items in your home. I absolutely love the old bottling crates with the worn lettering on the sides, it’s these pieces that you just can’t find anywhere.

16. Cabinet Hardware

Swapping out cabinet hardware is an easy and inexpensive way to refresh your furniture or kitchen cabinets.

Close up of thrifted cabinet knobs.  
Thrifted Brass Knobs

Thrift stores often have a wide array of unique knobs and pulls that can add a custom touch to your pieces, providing a quick decor facelift with minimal effort.

17. Jars

Glass jars of all shapes and sizes are a thrift store mainstay. Use them for storage, as vases, or to create DIY mason jar candles.

close up of a blue mason jar filled with epsom salts on an antique mirror
Vintage Mason Jar (1910-1923) holds Epsom Salts

They’re a simple and sustainable way to add functional decor to your home, perfect for a rustic or minimalist aesthetic.

Expert Tip: Look for old mason jars – you can usually tell by the old zinc lids, the logo (Mason jars had different logos throughout the years and you can use this as way to date them) and distinct aqua blue coloring. Old French canning jars are attractive as well and good buys!

18. Seasonal Decor

Thrifting for seasonal decor not only saves money but also gives you a chance to find unique and vintage items that set your holiday decorations apart.

King of Christmas Tree Scarlet Fir
This Brass Star was a $3 Thrift Store Find!

From spooky Halloween accents to festive Christmas ornaments, keep an eye out year-round for cool figurines and seasonal decor. A simple can of spray paint can totally transform them for the better.

19. Baskets 

I can always find a way to use a basket, whether out in the open as decor or tucked away in a closet as an organizer.  I’ve been able to score some really cute baskets at thrift stores! I skip the ones that look really beat up, but if it’s just a bit worn I’m ok with it.  Again – it’s character.  

porte and hall rug runner in a laundry room
Thrifted laundry basket I found for $5

On a recent trip, I got this Kooboo rattan basket in a large size for $5! I’m using it in my laundry room to hold all the random laundry that seems to make its way in there.  

20. Vintage Silverware / Utensils

Vintage silverware is like the cherry on top of your table – it’s just so pretty. You can find some beautiful silverware out there with intricate designs. Also look for bone handled utensils. Besides your standard utensils, you can look for cake servers, butter spreaders, tongs, carving knives and little oyster forks. All of these are conversation starters and add so much character to your tables.

Items you Should Avoid

Thrifting can be a treasure hunt full of unique finds and hidden gems, but it’s also wise to know which items might be better left behind. Here’s a friendly guide to help you navigate the aisles of your favorite thrift store with confidence!

  1. Mattresses, Pillows and Upholstered Furniture: Mattresses and upholstered furniture can harbor bedbugs, dust mites, and other allergens. Unless you’re ready for a deep clean or reupholstery project, you might want to skip these.
  2. Helmets: Safety first, thrifters! Helmets, whether for biking, skating, or any other activity, are designed to protect you in the event of a crash. They’re not always designed to withstand multiple impacts, and it’s hard to know the history of a second-hand helmet. Better to buy new and stay safe.
  3. Electronics: Old electronics might not only be out of date but could also be unsafe due to frayed cords or outdated wiring. Plus, you might end up with something that doesn’t work at all. Unless you’re a collector or know how to safely refurbish them, it might be best to pass.
  4. Non-stick Pans and Cookware: Non-stick surfaces wear out over time and can start to flake off, potentially mixing into your food. If the coating looks scratched or worn, it’s a good sign to let it stay at the store.
  5. Baby Gear: Items like car seats, cribs, and strollers are subject to safety recalls and improvements in safety standards. Buying new ensures you have the latest safety features and recall information.
  6. Shoes: Worn shoes can be molded to the previous owner’s feet, potentially causing foot problems for you. Plus, worn-out soles or supports might not be visible at first glance.
  7. Swimwear and Personal Items: For hygiene reasons, it’s best to buy swimsuits and personal items new. You never know how well these items were cleaned, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Best Way to Clean Thrifted Items?

Sanitizing wipes and sprays usually do the trick. This is why I personally stay away from upholstered items (they are hard to sanitize!) If it’s dishware or glassware, you can run wash in hot, soapy water or run it through a hot or sanitizing cycle of your dishwasher. If you are unsure if it’s dishwasher safe – better to hand wash.

What about Clothing and Jewelry?

Yes and Yes – but avoid undergarments and swimwear. Thoroughly inspect jewelry before buying and sanitize earrings before wearing. Inspect clothing for stains, rips and tears and wash before wearing. Enjoy!

What are some Tips for Successful Thrifting?

Yes, be sure to check out my best thrifting tips to make each and every thrifting trip a success.

Where are good spots to Go thrifting?

Do a local search in your area. Habitat for Humanity Restore, Antique Malls, Goodwill, Flea Markets, and Garage and Estate Sales. You can also search online; Chairish, Elsie Green, 1st Dibs, eBay, Food52, Etsy and more carry vintage items. Plus – you learn a lot this way about vintage items.

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