Thrifting Tips

By now, many of you know that I’m a thrift store junkie. Many of the items in our home have haled from one thrift store or another. However, I’ve learned over many a casual conversation, that a large portion of people get overwhelmed by the prospect of thrifting. Various friends and family members have admitted that they’ve tried to thrift, but became frustrated in the the process and left without a single item. Truth be told, most of the time I don’t find anything either. So, I thought I’d discuss my rules to thrift hunting. These help me from becoming discouraged and also reign me in so I don’t end up accumulating a bunch of stuff I don’t need.  Everyone’s different, so what works for me may not for someone else. It’s totally to each his/her own. Whatever works for you is right.

With that said, here are my rules…

1. First, frequency… I’m fortunate to have several thrift stores on my way home in a few directions, so if I have a minute I swing by. Most if these trips are quick and dirty. I literally walk in, cruise down all the home aisles. And only stop if something really catches my eye. I usually go down each aisle twice, once to see if anything is interesting and a second time to make sure. Most days I leave with nothing. And that’s fine. I go in expecting to find nothing. So, if I do see a great item, I’m pleasantly surprised. Most of these quick trips take about 5-10 minutes a pop.  It was one of these quick trips that yielded my beloved desk chair


Occasionally, I’m in the mood to really dig. I’ll spend an hour carefully going through the racks. Thinking about different uses for items that I might have overlooked on my quick trips. This is how I came across my wood box that I turned into a candle holder…


And this candle stick. It’s actually upside-down. I liked it better than right-side-up. It was a mottled red and black color so I spray-painted it yellow….


Now, I’ll tell ya, these longer trips only happen occasionally. We have a two-year-old.  Therefore, I only go when he’s with Joey or his grandparents and I don’t have other errands or obligations to accomplish.  So, it’s pretty rare. And that’s okay. I do alright with my quick trips.

2. Instinct… You know what you love. When I see something, I ask myself if I would regret leaving without it. If the answer is yes and the price is right I take it home. If I’m a little “meh” about it, it stays at the store. Thrifting to me is about good finds, things I LOVE, not creating clutter. This rule also incorporates the sub-question… Do I have a plan for eliminating duplicates? In the instance of the desk chair, I absolutely despised the utilitarian black jalopy of a desk chair that I had bought in college and had been using ever since. Once I found My Beloved, I put that fake-leather excuse for a desk chair on Craigslist. POW! Done.

3. Keep an open mind… When thrifting, you never know what you’re gonna find. Cheapo Christmas ornaments in May? Done. I’ve stocked up nicely on such items as they’ve come along. I was looking for a coffee table when I found our media cabinet. It was $25, solid wood and had AMAZING tarnished brass hardware, but it was ugly as sin aside from that. It was badly painted with different colors of lumpy paint. The polyurethane around the outside was peppered with yellow drip marks. I forgot to take a true before pic.  The pic below was taken after I’d added legs so picture the cabinet sans legs, but with an additional 3 inches of solid wood kick-plate on the bottom. It was a boring, heavy rectangle.


But, I had to buy it. The hardware and simplicity gave me a midcentury modern vibe. And I immediately pictured it with tapered legs in a warm stained hue. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a media cabinet at the time, but we weren’t happy with the one we had and I immediately envisioned what this colorful mess of a cabinet could be. The character it could lend to our living room. After spending another 20 minutes hemming and hawing, I asked myself these questions:

1. Do I love it? Yes. The hardware rocks my world, it’s solid wood, and has the potential be incredible when it’s done.
2. Would I hate myself for leaving without it? Yup. Pretty much.
3. Do I have a plan for our existing furniture? Yes, our current media cabinet will go in the front room.

I had acceptable answers to all, so he came home with me.

Fixing him up went swimmingly. My father-in-law chopped off the kick-plate and reinforced the bottom so I could add tapered legs. Then, I refinished the cabinet by sanding it down to raw wood, staining and polyurethaning it. I drilled large holes in the back for cords and ventilation so it could safely house our media equipment. And today it looks like this….


And our previous media cabinet lives here….


Done and done. All parties are ecstatic.

4. Comfort Level… Lastly, I only buy furniture that requires alterations that I’m comfortable doing myself. Simple tweaks. A coat of paint. Hardware swaps. I’m fortunate enough to have a father-in-law with a wood shop, who will help with changes such as removing the aforementioned kick-plate, but for the most part I try to buy things that I can alter on my own. If I want to refinish a wooden piece with stain and lacquer, I try to choose pieces with straight planes that are easy to sand (see this post if you’re curious as to why). If you aren’t comfortable with refinishing, but are willing to apply a coat of paint, then choose pieces in good condition that don’t need a major overhaul or structural changes. Buy what you feel comfortable with so it doesn’t end up being a piece of furniture that lives in storage indefinitely because the undertaking seems too overwhelming when push comes to shove.

So, those are my thrifting rules that I try to stick to.   In the words of Señor Gump, [thrift shopping] is like a box of chocolates. Being patient, going frequently, only buying things you love, and keeping an open mind to items that you weren’t expecting to find can make it an easier experience. Choosing items you’re comfortable with tweaking and simply knowing that you don’t necessarily have to spend hours digging to find something great can both make thrifting feel more successful. The majority of items I’ve purchased from thrift stores were found during quick thrifting trips which consisted of only sweeping glances of the inventory available. If you love something, it’ll catch your eye. And you’ll know.  These principles keep me wanting to thrift and make me excited about it.  So, go with your gut and enjoy yourself!

Also, if there are any other tips that work for you, please share!!  I’d love to hear about them.


7 thoughts on “Thrifting Tips

  1. I’m one of those people who are never successful when thrifting, as you know. You would walk out with a brand new top label sweater for $5.00 (tags still on) and I would walk out with….zip and I would think, “How does she do it!!” Your tips will definitely help with my thrifting challenged brain! Thanks

    • Agreed! You can find so many quality/unique pieces that just need a little love. For super cheap, too. And thanks on the chair! I continue to serenade it with 80’s love songs to this day (much to my husband’s dismay. Heehee!). 🙂

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