But as a result, there are two good rules that can help you survive merrily in the competitive world of thrifting:
- Never step away from an item you think you might want
- Until you've paid for your treasures, be prepared to defend them. (Within reason, of course. Please: there's no violence in the world of thrifting, 'kay?)
Now you probably can imagine where the first rule comes from. You don't make up your mind quickly enough about a potential purchase (BIG mistake!). You leave just a moment to make your decision. And you return, only to find it bought out from under you...
(Just accept it gracefully, my friends, and move on. Such is the way of thrift store life.)
The fact that there's even a need for the second rule, however, leads back to my primal hunting-and-gathering theory. It just seems like-- for a small percentage of people-- an item in someone else's possession becomes automatically MORE DESIREABLE than the item ever was on the shelf. And they feel compelled to make you, er, AWARE of it.
Now most of the time, people are lovely. I've had pleasant conversations with older ladies who see something I have in hand, and it leads them down memory lane. And I've had nice chats with others who simply want to discuss a good find.
I love that.
But I've also seen people rummage through other people's unattended carts and remove choice bits for themselves. And about once a year, I will have a fellow thrifter actually get vocal with me because he or she never even noticed the item in the store before, but now is annoyed because I have it.
The last time I had this happen, I was at the Red, White and Blue. I had just found this nice pair of vintage gold-toned candlesticks. I had them in my hands and was finishing my perusal of housewares, when a man stopped me and said in an accusatory tone:
"Where did you get those?"
I was three feet from the shelf. I blinked confusedly. "Er, here... in the store... ?" (Was he a house detective? Were these somehow not for sale? What did I DO, Officer?! I planned to pay for 'em, sir! Honest! Don't send me up the river on a bum rap!")
But the man just scowled from the candlesticks to me and said, "I didn't see those when I went through!"
Clearly his eyesight was becoming my issue.
Realizing he was just a somewhat over-passionate shopper and not some angry store security guard, I smiled politely and gave him a shucks-sir-them's-the-breaks kind of shrug. Most people openly acknowledge that thrift shopping is based on the highly sophisticated principle of First-come Finder's Keepers. I figured that was the end of it.
But the man was noticeably more annoyed: "And I was looking for brass!"
And here's me again, pretty sure they were gold-plated white metal but afraid to say so now, because this gentleman wasn't exactly proving himself to be Captain Rational.
I was starting to get just a LITTLE BIT WORRIED.
Also, I still really wanted the candlesticks.
So I tried to be upbeat. "Ah! Well, there's sure a lot of good stuff here today! So, er... I hope you find something really great!"
But now the man was reaching to take the candlesticks from my hand: "Can I see those?"
This was more surprising than the accusatory tone. "Well, sure, I guess, uh..." Me, stammering, looking around thinking, 'Help? Is anyone else seeing this unconscionable breach of inter-shopper protocol?'
In a last-stitch effort to keep my little find, I added, "...Er, as long as I get them back, of course."
I did get them back, by the way. And then the guy just went off grumbling about how they were good candlesticks and he'd been looking for brass.
Maybe he had mental problems. Maybe he'd been one of those kids who Doesn't Play Well With Others. Maybe it was a rough week for him selling on Ebay, I don't know.
At least he wasn't waiting outside in the parking lot for me.
The point is, thrift shops have their own unique culture. So if you're new to thrifting, don't be scared off. Just be polite, expect to meed the occasional interesting character, keep your treasures close, hone your decision making skills, and have fun.
And if, in your thrifting delight, ancient hunting-and-gathering instincts begin to overwhelm you? Please keep your hands to yourself, okay?...
People are trying to shop here.