How To Find The Best Stuff In Any Thrift Store

Want to find the best stuff in the thrift store? Looking for thrifting tips or budgeting tips? You're in the right place! Tap through for my best tips on second hand shopping! #thrifting #budgettips #moneysaving #secondhand

It brings me an immeasurable amount of joy to tell people how much my belongings cost.

Like my sofa? I’ll fall all over myself to tell you that it was $90 on Craigslist.
Those brass bookends? $5 at Salvation Army.
My red velvet flats (which are, amazingly, Crocs!) I got ’em at Goodwill for $7.
One of my biggest not-so-secrets to living the proverbial champagne life on a beer budget is buying many, many of my belongings second hand.
There’s an art to thrifting but there’s also an art to finding things that you really, really love … not just stuff that’s pretty-cool-it’s-cheap-and-funny, which then gather dust and suffocate you.

Here, are my best tips for creating a gorgeous space filled with wonderful, cheap things  – but not dying under a pile of bad oil paintings.

7 tricks to finding the best stuff in the thrift store

1. Keep an on-going list of wants/needs and measurements

Thrifting is not necessarily for you if you’re trying to fill your closet and furnish your apartment, like, yesterday. But if you’re willing to relax into the search and enjoy the process you can find so many amazing things.
Want to make things easier for yourself? Set aside an hour or so and pad around your home with a measuring tape and your phone. Create a memo detailing all the things you’d (eventually) like in your space, along with measurements and details.

Things like:
Chest of drawers for living room – around 35 x 16 x 24
Hanging shoe rack for closet
Slipper chair for bedroom – neutral color, no taller than 30″
Vintage round table cloth – at least 50″
4 white saucers

And then if you’re reallllly serious, you get a tiny tape measure key chain so you’ll be able to measure all the slipper chairs you encounter.

2. Honor the ‘immediate yes’

Really, I think this is a good practice for, um, everything ever, but it’s particularly helpful when you’re convincing yourself that a $4 sweater would be a good investment. Because it’s warm and work appropriate and, sure, it’s not really your color and the buttons gap, but it’s $4!

Dude. You deserve clothes you lovelovelove and that make you feel like a gee dee super hero. It doesn’t matter how little the piece costs. If you don’t want to wear it out of the store or immediately rearrange your living room to accommodate it, leave it alone.

3. Practice one-in-one-out

Want to keep your closet relaxingly clear and your shelves not-overflowing? Each time you bring in something new-but-not-totally-necessary, swap out something else.

If your bookshelves are holding all they can and you really “need” that Little Women collection, maybe it’s time to get rid of those college textbooks. If all your hangers are occupied but you just found three vintage wiggle dresses, get rid of those sweaters you never wear. You get the idea!

4. Keep a donation bag going at all times

One paper bag in your front closet for catching all those duplicate vegetable peelers, the mismatched pillow cases, and the heels you never learned to walk in.

When it’s full, drop it off at your neighborhood thrift store, then come home and start a new bag. Each time you see it, you’ll think about winnowing and narrowing what you own down to only the best things!

5. Use IFTTT for Craigslist

Craigslist isn’t quite the same as Goodwill, but it scratches the same itch. IFTTT allows you to receive notifications anytime a new item is posted on Craigslist that matches your search. So go ahead! Set up a search for “midcentury coffee table under $50 within 15 miles of 55406” and wait for the notifications to ding through.

It works like magic, especially if you set your own work hours and own a hatchback so you can drive to the suburbs at the drop of a hat to pick up that recliner.

6. Go thrifting with an open mind

Thrifting is a bit like going to the farmers’ market. You usually have a loose idea of what you want to buy when you head there – some tomatoes, some fruit for your breakfast smoothies. But you’re open to seeing what looks good, what’s in season, and what opportunities present themselves. You want to be surprised!

The same goes for thrifting. If you need a pair of size 10 black cigarette pants by tomorrow afternoon, your local Goodwill is probably not the place to go. But if you’re approaching it from a ‘I need more sweaters’ perspective, you’re a lot more likely to find what you want.

7. Natural materials age better

To be filed under ‘duh,’ but worth a reminder: wood, brass, leather, wool, linen, silk, and pottery age beautifully and hold up forEVER. The 1970s wool blanket will last decades and the brass planter will develop a nice patina. The fiberboard desk and the secondhand Forever 21 dress won’t age as nicely.

Also, FWIW, things made with natural materials just looks … fancier. So if you’re hoping to fool people into thinking you spent a lot of money, leather, wool, or brass will do the trick!

Are you a thrifter? Tell us your best tips!

P.S. How to purge your closet and 4 things you always find at thrift stores + cool DIYs to make with ’em

Photo by Grovemade on Unsplash

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  1. Kate

    Such good tips. I can't agree with the 'immediate yes' more.

    I use Google Keep for my list!

    And I would stress going when you're in the mood to shop. Then those yes' come easier.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Thrifting can be a bit draining. I usually can only go to two stores in one day and I have a specific 'thrifting outfit' I wear – pullover knit dress and ballet flats. So I can try things on super easily!

  2. Manisha

    I totally have CPD. I'm so proud of my cheap finds. I have a clothes fetish so thrifting is the only way to sustain my habit. These are all good tips. I'd add that it is important to be realistic of what you can accomplish if you happen to find something that needs a little fixing up. And I believe that if you really want something and you pass it up because of price, there is no doubt that that object/piece of clothing will show up in life again (and probably cheaper and in the case of boots, probably Italian-made). Oh, and I never ever buy a bag/purse full-price. There is always a great selection at the thrift store!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I've totally stopped buying things that "just need to be hemmed"

  3. Erin

    I super want to buy a couch from the thriftstore/craigslist/side of the road one day, but I have no idea how you go about cleaning a couch! I know you can take off the slipcovers on the cushions and wash them, but what about everything else??
    Part of me is like "bleach…lots of bleach"

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I've never cleaned any of the couches I bought second hand …. which is all of them. Just vacuumed and lysoled and I never had any problems!

    • Margie GillmanWolfe

      Steam clean!

  4. katielookingforward

    I need to get better about the one in one out. Instead, when I wear something and pull at it all day, I wash it and give it away.

  5. Stacia, Paper Swallow Events

    Number 2 is my favorite. It's a rule my mom ingrained in me as a child (brilliant woman) that I am so thankful for as I live my adult life!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It took me a looooong time (and many mediocre sweaters) to figure this out but I'm so glad I finally did!

  6. Francine from Callaloo Soup

    I so love this post. I am all about thrifting! I had an "immediate yes" experience just yesterday while buying shoes at my local thrift store. The first pair I tired on was a YES! Just from putting on one side. The second pair I hemmed and hawed over it being a bit hard to put on, and a bit tight around my toes, wondering if they would stretch over time. Finally I decided not to take them even though they were only 6€!

    And a kind of related tip: if you leave something at the store but can't stop thinking about it 24 hours later, then you should go get it! Like that sweet silver grey sweater dress I saw yesterday. I hope it's still there!

  7. Mary

    I like to go to thrift stores on their 50% off days! It turns things that are already a great deal, into amazing deals! Some stores don't have everything at 50% off but it usually about 75% of the store! And yes, only buy what you LOVE!

  8. Lisa Edward

    Hey that's looks really beautiful..And I love the uniqe style..Thanks for sharing the wonderful post

  9. Lillian Tanguay

    Love your ideas. I find one of the best things about Thrift Stores is that they often do not know what they are selling. I have bought two sets of cultured pearl necklaces for $4.00 each. I took them to a jeweler who told me they are worth about $250. So I now have pearls for all my grandchildren. We are also building a house from scratch. The best way to get wood for counter tops is from old dressers and headboards. Solid wood, and at great prices.

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