Now I know many of you who visit this site are veteran thrifters... garage sale mavens... and flea market officianados. You already know how to spot a bargain at sixty paces, and find just the right thing for any occasion.
And that's why I'd love to hear anything you have to contribute to the list of tips I'm about to share for better thrift store shopping. In a time when gas prices are soaring, thrift store shopping makes a lot of sense for the average household. And there are some general guidelines to use that can help make it more effective, fun and economical.
1.) Know the thrift stores in your area. Every thrift store has its strengths and weaknesses. Some are better than others for certain things. And prices can range broadly, even between stores of the same chain. A good place to start is at TheThriftShopper.com, which maintains a database of charity thrift stores for the entire United States, searchable by zip code. Attached to these entries, are visitor reviews-- and by simply registering with TheThriftShopper.com you can add reviews of your own. This offers are really solid starting point. And if you know of a thrift in your area that's not listed in the database? Let 'em know about it. They're looking to make their listing as complete and accurate as possible.
2.) Thrift regularly. Once you find the stores in your region, keep in mind that going regularly really increases your chances of finding some treasures. Merchandise moves quickly in many thrift store locations-- it's a little like shells that wash up on a beach. So by visiting your favorite thrift one or more times a week, you're much more likely to find real goodies. Also, don't be disappointed if you don't find something you can't live without the first time you go. It's all subject to what and when people decide to donate.
3.) Know what you like and can use. The better you know your own taste, the better you're going to be able to find thrift store items you're really happy with. If you're decorating using thrift store items, keep in mind the colors and styles of the rooms you'll be working with.
4.) Don't forget some helpful tools of the trade. It may sound silly, but it's not a bad idea to carry with you a small tape measure, as well as a notebook and pen. I can't tell you how many times the tape measure has come in handy for measuring small furniture. (No fun buying something if it doesn't fit in the car, or won't be useful in the space you have available at home.) The pen and notebook is great for marking down the books you may have found in a series, pieces of glassware you have, or are still looking for, sizes of spaces, or sizes of clothes. Thrift store shopping can get overwhelming, but a notebook can be a handy asset for your quests.
5.) Know your prices. Thrift store prices vary a lot. And while you can get some great bargains, some items end up being on the high side. Also, for newer items, you might be able to get the item new, cheaper than the price the thrift is charging. So it really helps to know what the things you want cost, and what you're willing to pay for them. Be strong about it, unless you need the item right away. I have this theory that eventually EVERYTHING shows up at a thrift store. If you're willing to be patient, you'll very likely be rewarded.
6.) Don't put an item down if you're still deciding you want it. I've mentioned this before, I think. Thrift store shopping can be rather competitive. So if you're not entirely sure you want an item, don't walk away from it. Take it with you until you decide, and then put it back if you determine you don't want it. This will eliminate the regrets. I can't think of how many people have said, "Oh, I was going to buy that" when I'd be in line with something. More often that not, that person was mulling it over in some other part of the store. While I can certainly sympathize, thrift store shopping is a first-come, first served sort of process. And as there is often only one of a particular item, it's better to be safe than sorry-- hold onto your treasures. And hone your decision-making.
7.) Think of what an item COULD be, and not just what it is. Certainly when decorating with thrift store finds-- particularly furniture-- it's helpful to think creatively. Paint, stain, decoupage, reupholstery-- all of these things can really change the basic look of an item without a lot of pain or expense. For instance, mismatched thrifted furniture can be tied together easily with a good lick of paint-- particularly if the styles are similar. So if a chair or table is in good condition, but isn't quite the color you'd want, consider how it could be changed. Often it's absolutely worth the effort.
8.) Knowledge is power. For collectibles, know the going rate in antique stores and on Ebay. For decorative items, know generally what the styles are and general time periods. This will help you a lot going forward to make good decisions on your purchases. I know this might seem like a lot of trouble. But by knowing that a style of a table is, say, the streamlined art deco from the 1920s and 30s, you'll be able to avoid trying to put it with, for instance, an elaborate French roccoco piece which might make your room look disjointed. By knowing that a certain milkglass vase came from the 70s and is pretty commonly found at thrift stores, you'll be able to price shop a bit, and ensure you get that vase for something you feel comfortable with.
9.) Thrift with serendipity. While it's always good to keep in mind the items you're looking for, there's a certain amount of serendipity when it comes to thrift store shopping. It's very hard to thrift on cue for something, and I almost would recommend not being too specifically goal-oriented when you shop. Some of my more favorite thrifted items were not ones I set out to find that day-- they just showed up. And I think that's one of the most enjoyable aspects of thrift store shopping. You just never know what's out there, waiting.
10.) Have fun with it. I've heard some folks speak with frustration, saying they never find anything when they've gone to thrift stores. Thrift stores do vary a lot by region, and some areas are just better for finding certain things than others. But that said, it really helps to just be a bit fancy-free when you go thrifting. Don't take it seriously. Have fun. And I guarantee, the more you understand yourself, your own interests and the creative possibilities of even the more mundane-looking thrift store items, the more you'll begin to feel there's just no end to what you can do on the cheap.
Do you have a tip you'd like to add? Just leave a comment and share your wisdom! And for newbie thrifters?-- Questions are always welcome.
- PS-- For readers who missed last Treasure Box, er, Thursday (I was totally off my game last week), you can see a posse of posies from the garden here-- one of the best treasures I can think of.
- And for folks who missed last Sunday's post (this one tickled me quite a bit), you can check out Strange Salads of 1940 (oh, this cookbook was a scream)... by clicking here.
Thanks for joining me today, dear friends!