06 June 2011

tips & pointers // thrift stores

i've had a few comments, e-mails, and face-to-face questions about thrifting and estate sales, so, even though i am definitely not an expert (like, at all), i thought i'd do a quick round-up of tips that work well for me.

because thrift stores and estate sales are two different creatures, i think it'll be easiest to split the pointers into two posts and, when possible and when pertinent, i'll sneak in some advice about buying for reselling. i think that's it... so, let's talk about thrift stores today!

if you are shopping to resell, keep up with design trends. i read a lot of vintage, design, and lifestyle blogs for inspiration, which makes spotting upcoming trends in vintage wares easier (hello, old thermoses, chevron patterns, and floral sheets). if you aren't shopping for reselling, it's still fun to browse pretty blogs and you'll get tons of ideas for your personal style.

keep and update a vintage and/or thrifting wish list. jot down items you'd love to own one day in a small notebook and keep it with you. pull out your list before you go into a thrift store (or while you're standing in the middle of an aisle) for a quick refresher. it's easy to become overwhelmed in a space crowded with junk (and hidden treasures) and, though it sounds odd, a short glance at a list can help focus your search. and i just like making lists.


✧ research thrift stores. checking in at your local thrift store is probably your first stop, but try mapping out thrift stores just outside of your normal route. i am willing to drive about twenty minutes to visit a good thrift store. also, check out thrift stores in or around older neighborhoods. more often than not, the items in the thrift store have been donated from their surrounding neighborhoods and older neighborhoods are more likely to have older (vintage) items.

bring a pen and scratch paper. you never know when you'll want to sketch a potter's symbol for further research or write down the name of a beautiful vintage china pattern (from a chipped or cracked plate - i hate when that happens).

if you have one, bring a internet accessible smartphone. i use my iPhone for instant and basic research literally every time i go thrifting and, if you plan on reselling an item, it's extremely easy to check etsy and/or ebay for comparable pricing.

bring hand sanitizer. trust me, things are dirrr-ty. 

go often. my local thrift store is restocked on an almost continuous basis -- there are always volunteers milling around, stocking the shelves from full shopping carts, so there's always something new. i try to stop at least once or twice a week. the people working there know me; this was something i just had to get over.

if you have the time, go slowly. it's easy to miss a good find when you're just scanning the surface.


this seems redundant, but if you have the time, look again. i usually inspect an aisle or a shelf twice. some of my favorite thrifty finds were missed on a first look!

use your smartphone and/or camera to take pictures. sometimes i just want a picture of the item and not the actual item. sometimes i spot things i know my friend will love, so i snap a picture and send it in an e-mail or a text. sometimes an item is so funny or so weird or so crazy that you just have to take a picture and share it on facebook. this happens.


look through the whole store. so many times, things are misplaced or moved by other customers to a completely random part of the store before they are discarded (or hidden, more like). i found the 1950s pink plastic bread box on the office supply aisle of all places. you're also missing a lot if you limit yourself to the traditional housewares aisle. there are great vintage board games, toys, and books in the children's sections; amazing embroidery in the artwork section; floral suitcases in the luggage section; hand knitted or crocheted blankets in the linens section, etc.

if possible, go alone or with a similarly-minded friend. this sounds totally anti-social, but really, there's nothing worse than worrying if your friend or spouse is having a good time. or knowing that they most certainly are not having a good time. this should be a fun outing for you!

if you have children, frecklewonder has great tips for thrifting with tots - check them out!

if you are shopping with the intention of reselling, keep your profit points in mind. you don't want to pay $10.00 for an item that you can only sell for $15.00. or maybe you do, i don't know. in general, if i buy something to resell in my etsy shop, i'd like to make 3-4 times what i paid for the item to cover the cost of shopping, researching, photographing, listing, and shipping.

($1.49/set of 2)
i hope these pointers and tips are helpful! if you have any of your own tips, please leave them in the comments - i'd love to hear them!

(all the photos were taken at my local thrift store over the past few months. i listed the prices if i actually bought the item. see? wanting a picture, but not wanting the item!)


  1. These are great tips! I am a weekly thrift store shopper and weekend yard sale/estate shopper too. I too am recognized by the staff at the local thrifts, but I think its a good thing! If you are a regular and you are nice to the employees, and chatty, they think of you for certain items. They may say, hey did you see that chrome waffle iron over there? It reminded me of you! Also, they may be willing to give to give out "secret discounts", which are friendly little price reductions at the register! It pays to be friendly!

    The other tip you gave about walking through twice, is a good one too. I try to make a couple of passes before checkout to see if I missed anything or if the shelves were restocked since the first go-round. This is where your Thrift alone or with a like minded friend comes in because it can elongate your visit a bit too long if you have an impatient boyfriend (I love you boyfriend). wink wink!

    Great Post Megs!

  2. Definitely great tips! And you say you're no pro ... ;)

  3. amber - i have a volunteer at the library who also volunteers at the local thrift store, so he always tries to pull items he thinks i might like. it is great having friends who work there!

    mandy - thanks! not a pro, but definitely a lover, haha :)

  4. Great tips! My tip would be to look on the waaaay bottom shelves even if they look desolate and you think that you'll get dirty by getting down there. I have found most of my Pyrex pieces on those bottom shelves - not sure if people are hiding items to come back and get later or what it is but...sometimes prime picking! And you're so right about making a second pass. Sometimes, I've missed some great stuff on that first pass.

  5. eartha - yes! the bottom shelves are a great source for awesomeness! i found (on a second look-through) a 1960s mod black/orange/white psychedelic glass serving tray on the bottom shelf for $1.99.

  6. Gah! I'm so happy you posted this! Hopefully I'll have time to study it soon. ;)