How to be a Successful Thrift Store & Secondhand Shopper

Happy Earth Day! In celebration of today, I'd like to share tips for a way we can all enjoy a greener lifestyle: using thrifted and secondhand items.

How to Be a Successful Thrift Store and Secondhand Shopper The Decor Guru tips

In my last post, Why Thrift Store Items, Like, Totally Rock… Plus My Secondhand Finds and Reincarnations, I discussed the various benefits to using secondhand items. One of those benefits is that used goods help decrease our carbon footprint. Less energy is expended to create additional items, less packaging is produced and disposed, and less garbage goes to the landfills. Ready to shop? Now that you know the many benefits to secondhand shopping, arm yourself with my personal pointers for thrifting success.

1. Let go of your ego. There was a point in time as a child/pre-teen when I was embarrassed to use secondhand goods. If we focus on all the positive aspects of thrifting, that egotistical, judgmental side of us is less likely to thrive. You can feel good knowing you’re not only helping Mother Earth by using secondhand items, you’re also helping your wallet. Also, some thrift stores are set up to assist others, like the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.

2. Make a game plan. Knowing in advance what you’re looking for will save you oodles of time, allowing you to make stops to multiple locations if necessary. This is especially helpful with the summer coming soon and all the garage sales that will be available. If you’re a list person, jot down what you want.

Bring along photos, pages from magazines, paint cards, etc. The more you can visualize that item being in your home before purchasing it, the easier your shopping trip will be.

If you’re making your rounds to the weekend yard sales, go when they first open. Your chances of scoring a great piece are greater the earlier you go. Scope out the classified ads for all the dates and times. Bonus green points to you if you choose sales all the same area.

Research the sale days for your local thrift stores. Some Goodwill locations feature a percentage off certain items, so you may wish to plan your shopping on those days.

3. Shop often & spontaneously. I know, I just told you to plan ahead. But you should also take spontaneous trips for what you’re looking for. I’ve been searching for an end table to make over recently. One afternoon I had a few extra minutes in my schedule and found this MCM end table on an unplanned visit to Savers:

How to be a successful thrift store secondhand shopper garage sales estate sales Thrifted MCM end table The Decor Guru

I don’t believe in coincidences, so I believe the universe guided me to go there. If you have that sudden urge to make a quick stop at a thrift store or garage sale, GO. There may be a great reason for it. I’m frequently asked, “How did you get so lucky at the thrift store?” Honestly, it’s not luck. It’s good odds. The more often you go, the better odds you have of finding a treasure.

4. Scope out new areas. If you’re used to going to garage sales and thrift stores in your city, travel to a nearby city for to maximize your options. Make a day trip out of it and be sure to plan ahead by getting hours and directions to those locations.

5. Do you gotta have it? Did your heart flutter when you came upon this item? When you saw it, did you forget to use your inside voice and squeal in delight? I’ve bought so much stuff I only kind of liked or bought things I really dug but wouldn’t work in my decor. Now, I consider how much of a pull I feel towards that item. If I gotta have it, I snatch it up. If I’m undecided, I don’t get it. If I’m gonna be on a reality show, I don’t want it to be for hoarding.

If using such a drastic philosophy isn’t your thing, hold on to the item until you’re ready to check out so you can weigh the decision. This way, you won’t risk losing it to another shopper if you do decide to purchase it.

6. Measure. This is essential because you don’t want to purchase an item that ends up being too large, too awkward, or too large for your home. For instance, when I was looking for an end table, I measured the height of my couch–this way I’d be sure to pick a table that wasn’t too tall or too short.

Measuring your vehicle and the item is also key to ensure you have enough room to transport the item home. If your car is too small, ask the store or home owner if you can buy the item and arrange to come back with another vehicle to pick it up—they will likely be accommodating.

7. Inspect, inspect, inspect. This is important because some thrift stores won’t allow you to exchange or return an item, so you have to be okay with knowing the sale is final. Flip it over, open the doors, run your hands across it, smell it, sit on it. You want to look for scratches, snags, tears, dents, stains, odors (like cigarette smoke), bedbugs, etc.

8. If there are damages to the item, weigh the cost of the repairs and work. For instance, minor damages in a piece of wood furniture are easy to fix with some wood putty and sandpaper, so don’t let that deter you from something you really enjoy. However, if the damages are more extensive, consider if the cost of repairs and the work you’ll put forth are worth the decreased cost of the item. Even if the used item is free, the better bargain may be to buy the item brand new.

Do you have any other tips or pointers that help you when shopping for secondhand items? What is the most beneficial tip for your thrift store, garage sale, and antique fair shopping? What are your favorite places to shop for secondhand goods?

Thanks for visiting! Let’s stay connected!

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28 Comments on How to be a Successful Thrift Store & Secondhand Shopper

  1. Good post. I also shop at thrift stores – have done so for years. I use to be embarrassed about it, but I got over it. I had to cut corners somewhere. As well, I do enjoy the “stuff a bag” events that are popular at thrift stores. There is nothing like grabbing clothes (you have to grab as other women are elbowing you for the same clothes) and stuffing them. I got a pair of new jeans in one of these grabbing events and when I figured out the cost with all the other items I grabbed and stuffed, I got those pants for about 25 cents.

    • Thanks! I appreciate you stopping through & leaving a comment! Seems we can appreciate thrift items more now that we understand the value of money. Now I’m proud to talk about my thrift store scores—and great job on yours too!

  2. Great tips! ~M.

  3. They are really good tips – thank you for sharing.

  4. Great Post! I love shopping second hand, thanks for all of your useful tips. ;o)

  5. ntcreations // 04/24/2013 at 7:58 AM // Reply

    fun! I miss living in the US when I could shop thrift :o) Thanks so much for taking the time to link up to the Tasteful Tuesday party Make sure to follow my blog via bloglovin, GFC or facebook so you don’t miss out on my features posts… it could be YOU :o)

  6. Great guide! Thanks for putting this together 🙂 I’ve definitely taken the “go often” approach because I’m on the lookout for a coffee table and you never know when the right one will pop up!


  7. mishmashmamablog // 04/24/2013 at 4:00 PM // Reply

    I am planning on using some of these tips ASAP! We just scored a Burberry suit for my husband for $75! Any hints on shoes, specifically?

    • Wow, NICE score! Hmm, for shoes, definitely make sure they’re in good shape… I’m a little funny about where some used items have been on a person’s body, but would buy shoes if they were gently used. Also, be on the lookout for anything that can be made over with Mod Podge, embellishments, markers, etc. You could get really creative that way.

      Thanks for stopping through & commenting!

  8. very well said! I go monthly sometimes more, its where I get my clothing, shoes, jewelry, my kids clothing, housewears, books etc…Im all about thrifting

  9. I really appreciate that you addressed the issue of hoarding or buying too much or the wrong thing. That is so tempting for me when something is a “deal” but it is no good having too much junk!

  10. No#1 is definitely most important; letting go of the ego. Whether or not you can afford to shop somewhere else is not important. The thrift store is a store for everyone. You never know what goodies that you are going to find there. Love the surprises that I find.


  11. Great tips! I’m an avid thrift store shopper and I definitely agree with your advice. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing with us at Much Ado About Monday. We hope to see you back next week!

    Have a great weekend. 🙂

  12. These are great tips! I definitely want to be a second hand store shopper especially as I start looking for furniture when we get a house. I’m pinning this so I remember! Also, you were the most clicked on link at my link party! I’m featuring this tonight!

  13. Great tips!

    I would love for you to link up at the Empty Your Archive link party – we’ve got a special link up this week on budgeting and thrift, Alice x

  14. Great tips angela! I’m always stuck not be able to shop often enough to find the really good deals! Thanks so much for sharing at the Humble Brag and hope to see you back tonight!

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