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A Complete Guide To Thrift Store Shopping

Thrifting can be rewarding on many levels. I always love a good find and thrifting means prices way below retail. Styles are always recirculating. Mid-century has had an established return to popularity as you’ve probably seen here, here, and all over the pages of a West Elm catalog. Other styles are not so far behind - think memphis 80’s, or the earthy, Scandinavian inspired colors of the 70’s. Amazingly, there are literally tons of incredible finds hiding in plain sight. Granted, there are (likely) 50 abominations for each score but that keeps the hunt interesting, if not outright comical. On top of finding an authentic piece for pennies on the dollar, you’re getting footprint points keeping it out of the landfill. Icing on the cake.

For nearly a decade, we lived in a series of studio apartments in New York. The concept of furnishing an entire home, consisting of defined spaces, wasn’t exactly lost on us...it just wasn’t realistic. When we landed in North Carolina our home was essentially a blank canvas. Being budget conscious does not mean you have to sacrifice style. Our home style is a conglomerate of “found” pieces and DIY’d personal touches. The home and (likely) your perspective style is constantly evolving. Thrifted goods provide a rewarding value while giving you the flexibility to experiment.

And since today is National Thrift Shop Day, you know where to find me.

Our living room furnished for under $500. 

Our living room furnished for under $500. 

Living Room Breakdown

Would you have guessed most of what you see here was found in a thrift store? See the breakdown below and some of the INSANE steals we scored (most of all this rug).

  • Restoration Hardware linen slipcovered sofa and ottoman: Purchased for $200, retail value $6,145
  • Marble Coffee Table: Purchased for $45, retail value range $500-2,000
  • Teak 9-Drawer Dresser/Credenza: Purchased for $50, retail value $900
  • Tufenkian Hand-knotted Wool Carpet: Purchased for $85; retail value $23,000
  • Lee Industries Club Chairs: Purchased for $150, retail value $3,000
kids_room_thrifted.jpg

Kids Room Breakdown

I want to show you one more room in our home, our daughter's room. Most of the rooms in our home would breakdown in almost the same way with an even mix of found, newly purchased, and family hand-me-downs throughout. While the purchased value to retail value isn't as staggering here we managed to pull off acquiring the major pieces in this room for under $200.

  • Mid-century Bookshelf: Purchased for $10, retail value $250
  • Floral Oil Painting: Purchased for $5, retail value unknown
  • Stuffed Animal Stools: Purchased for $15, retail value unknown
  • Round Side Table by Lane: Purchased for $30 , retail value $250
  • Cast Iron Bed Frame: Purchased for $85, retail value $300
  • Brass Swing Arm Wall Lamp: Purchased for $5, retail value $120
  • DIY Wood Bead Chandelier can be found in my new book

I hope some of the above information inspires you to get to your local thrift store! Below find my tried and true tips for getting started and making it a successful trip.

A globe table lamp found for $10 resting on a DIY acrylic table (instructions included in my latest book).

A globe table lamp found for $10 resting on a DIY acrylic table (instructions included in my latest book).

The Essential 10 Tips for Thrifting 

  1. Keep an open mind - Don’t let your search become too narrow. That doesn’t mean lose focus, just keep an open mind. Some of the best finds are the ones you aren’t looking for. It’s easy to miss a golden opportunity when you are laser-focused on one specific need. Don’t step over that under-appreciated rug or miss an amazing frame because you’re too busy looking for a specific chair or table.
  2. Get outside of the big city - any road trip or thrift adventure should include some geographic exploring. It takes a little more effort and planning but prices and value shift  dramatically in smaller towns.
  3. Go to the source - We are fortunate to live in a state with deep roots in textiles and furniture making. That means there is an abundance of supply and general malaise in terms of demand. Lots of people offload older furniture, with no regard to provenance or resale value. If you’re on a road trip, do a little digging into what products or textiles that area is known for. This should point to an oversupply and increased odds of finding a gem.
  4. Shop early and often - While there’s not too much competition out there, some people make the loop daily. I can’t even begin to tell you how many rugs I’ve seen in thrift stores that pop up on craigslist a couple days later. There are resellers out there and the best pieces don’t often last more than a day or two. If you have the time and are really on the hunt, check early and often.
  5. Know the deal - Lots of thrift stores have a moving price scale and discount days. Most will reduce prices based on how long the item sits on the sales floor.
  6. Look it up - If you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking at, pull out your phone! If you’re not sure you’ve found a value buy, flip it over and look for a brand or marking. A quick google search will let you know if you’ve struck gold. Word to the wise, 1stdibs.com, while awesome, will likely give you unrealistic (or ego-inflating) results when it comes to pricing.
  7. Have your measurements - while this may seem obvious if you’re searching for a particular nook or space in the home, it never hurts to have general measurements for your whole space. Like we said, you never know what will pop up and nothing is worse than rolling the dice only to find your new score doesn’t fit where you thought it would.
  8. Learn common vs. unique - With some practice, you’ll quickly see a lot of the same things surfacing in thrift stores. 90’s light fixtures and pedestal sinks are everywhere! If something catches your eye that you’ve never seen before, it likely won’t last long. Always aim for quality as the benchmark. Solid composition and craftsmanship usually stand out from the pack.
  9. Transport yourself - It can be a challenge to envision how something could fit in your home when you’re under the sterile, fluorescent lights of a thrift store. Remember to take the object out of the room and mentally place it in yours. Furniture and art can strike subtler, less severe tones when removed from a set. Also, think of the possibilities for things that can be repurposed, reupholstered, or altered.
  10. The smell test - Avoid buying furniture that has been neglected to the point where it literally stinks (smoke, mildew, animal fragrances, etc). This smell will (likely) never come out, no matter what you do. This includes wood pieces. Before buying make sure the furniture passes a smell test.

 

Thrifting should be fun and easy. We've managed to fully furnish five rooms of our home, on a budget, all while thrifting. I would love to hear about your most jaw-dropping thrift store score...


Janet Crowther