I wrote 7 Tips for Successful Thrift Shopping as a follow-up to my post The Joy of Treasure Finds by Thrift Shopping about all the treasures I have found by shopping at garage sales, consignment stores, rummage sales, and thrift shops. I wanted to share here what I have learned from a nearly life-long career as a thrift shopper.
#1: Don’t keep your shopping list in your head; create a Pinterest board focused on accessories or décor items that you are drawn to, or that you know would add to your home’s overall feeling of welcoming and warmth. That way, when you find yourself unexpectedly in a thrift shop, you’re not wandering around aimlessly! And just because the treasure you find is not being shown on all of the on-trend blogs and Instagram feeds you read, buy it if it speaks to you.
#2: If you come across something that makes you go weak in the knees, but the price does too, hold off. Drop by periodically, as many thrift shops mark items down the longer they sit on the shelf. This is a bit of a gamble, but it can pay off. While wandering the aisles of my favorite consignment store I came across a beautiful wrought iron and wood corner shelf unit that was marked down but still seemed a bit pricey. Against my better judgment, I took it to the cash register, and when they rang it up, the final price was lower than what the price tag showed!
#3: Focus on 2 or 3 thrift shops in your area. Depending on where you live, there could be as many as half a dozen thrift shops within a few mile radius. Take time to visit them all over the course of a few months. Eventually, you will be able to identify the ones that carry items most in line with what you are looking for, and offer quality and fair pricing as well. I have come across an astonishingly wide variety of quality, organization, cleanliness, presentation, and pricing in the various thrift shops I have visited. If a thrift shop is a bit of a drive, but you routinely find treasures you love there, it may be worth the time and gas.
#4: Look beyond the surface of an item you are considering. What may not look appealing at first glance may have greater value upon deeper inspection. I bought a miniature wicker chest that was propped open by a very odd type of a Christmas ornament. I pulled out the Christmas ornament, along with a very messy amount of Styrofoam, and closed the lid. With the lid closed, it is now both beautiful and functional.
A bad color or an uneven finish can be fixed with a bit of spray paint. I spotted a petite birdcage that stopped me in my tracks, but the finish was a damaged gray mess. I bought it anyway, sprayed it with Antique White spray paint and now it holds shells, candles, wine corks, dew-drop lights, even miniature Easter eggs.
A not-so-attractive pillow cover could be zipped open (and re-donated), and the down-feather pillow insert can be used to fill a custom sewed or hand-picked pillow cover. The painting itself may not be your style, but the frame may be perfect if it’s spray-painted and hung as a framing piece for a display of plates, postcards, or miniature watercolors.
#5: Always check for watermarks, stamps, or any indicator of origin or workmanship. I walked out of a garage sale carrying 4 Certified International plates for $10.00. After checking their value on the Internet, I calculated I bought them at a 66% discount!
#6: I have heard recommendations for making friends with the staff at a thrift shop. In theory, this leads to a relationship wherein the staff will call you when an item arrives that they know you will like or are searching for. I’m not sure that this actually works in practice, but it is definitely worth considering.
#7: Lastly, keep an eye out for brand new items in thrift shops. I picked up a window valance done in pillow ticking that was still in its original packaging. (I use it as a runner!)
Just because someone else owned it doesn’t mean that it’s old, dirty, worn-out, or tired. (Although, sometimes it IS ALL of those things.) And bless those people who buy something, decide they really don’t want it, and donate it, with the original price tag still attached! There’s nothing like coming across an item on your wish list, finding it in perfect condition, and nearly brand new, at a price that feels like a steal! That is the joy in thrifting!
BONUS – If your favorite thrift shop sends out emails, sign up for their emails. You will be up to date on sale days, special event days. These are days when perhaps the whole store is marked down 20%, or the special focus is on jewelry or pillows. Maybe they are trying to kick-off an upcoming holiday season and ALL of their Christmas items are on display. Additionally, ask about Senior discounts (if you qualify), Military discounts (again if you qualify), and birthday discounts (pretty sure you qualify!).
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