I share a lot on my Instagram stories about my love of thrifting. It is a passion of mine that has only grown through the years, though it definitely didn’t start that way!
My mom used to drag me to every Goodwill, St. Vincent dePaul, garage sale, and random antique store that she could find. And my mom was a very thorough shopper, often taking hours to look through each store. As you can imagine, thrifting was not an impatient five year-old’s favorite activity. But it turns out I could be easily persuaded into patience with a grape soda from the Lincoln Mall vending machine, or a trip to Taco Bell to get my favorite soft shell taco with a side of cinnamon twists. Clueless as I was at the time, I am so thankful for those countless trips.
I do want to take a moment and recognize the privilege I hold in being able to thrift because I want to and enjoy it. A lot of people thrift because they have to. They have no choice, their budget has left them with little other choice. I have a friend whose husband grew up poor and would no longer thrift because doing so reminded him of that time in his life he wanted to leave behind. Most of us here in this space are lucky enough to not be in that situation, and this is purely a post on how to find unique items at a nice price point. Thrifting to help us to stay within our budgets and create a look we love.
In the past decade or so thrifting has become much more popular, for good reason, but many people don’t know where to start! It can feel overwhelming. And how do you know if something is a good deal? How do you know if it would look good? How do you spot “the piece” and sort it out from “the junk”?
Like most things, thrifting takes practice and experience. I’ve been doing this for almost three decades at this point, if you count my unwilling childhood years of thrifting. But there are some tips to make it easier, and I promise it doesn’t take actual decades to become “good” at thrifting. I hesitate to say it that way because “good” thrifting is so subjective and dependent on what you want out of it. Today I’m sharing my best, tried-and-true tips to help you feel confident in your thrifting experience.
First, define your goal.
Some people thrift to look for buried treasures and resale value. Some people thrift because they love the thrill of it, chasing that unbelievable deal and adding to their “collections”. Some people want to find beautiful and unique items for their homes or closets that would normally be out of their reach within their set budget. I’m assuming most of us fall in that last category, though there is nothing wrong with the previous two either!
I am going to divide this post into three main sections— what to look for, the best local thrift stores, and some tips and tricks I’ve learned.
What to look for:
Brass—One of my favorite items to look for is brass- vases, figurines, candlesticks, and more. Make sure it is actual brass- it will be on the heavy side, and possibly tarnished. If you pick it up and it’s extremely light and thin, it’s likely not the real deal. A lot of people like the aged and tarnished look but if that’s not for you, don’t be afraid of some tarnish! Bar Keepers Friend is a great way to easily clean up and polish any brass finds. Brass items have gotten a little harder to spot, so it’s a nice little treasure to find a piece that you love!
Ceramics—blue and white is *the* hot item, but I also love to look for other pretty ceramic pieces. Small trays or dishes that can be used as holders for a sundry of items, like jewelry, paper clips, or to gather coins in a laundry room. Other items I keep my eye out for—vases for flowers, platters for serving food (ironstone is safe, but not all antique dishware is, so it’s smart to check on this if you’re unsure), and other random trinkets.
Glassware— I love finding unique and cheap glassware at antique stores. And I use it! What’s the point of having beautiful items, just to sit them in a cabinet or on a shelf unused? If one breaks, that’s part of life. An accidental break is also easier to swallow if you thrifted them at a good price. Items I almost always buy when I see them are etched glassware, cake stands, large bowls, and pitchers. I also love finding unique glass vases for my flowers.
Art—something I am always on the lookout for when thrifting is art, whether original pieces or nice prints. Art is expensive and for a good reason. A lot of time, talent, and supplies goes into creating beautiful art. But for many of us, spending thousands on art is not an option. So, thrifting is an awesome way to incorporate more original and unique art (and frames!) into our homes. I look for both traditional and modern art— my favorites are landscapes and portraits. If the frame isn’t in good shape, that’s easily changeable. I do make sure I look for colors that aren’t too yellow/warm which is something you see in a lot of reproductions from the 60s/70s/80s. If it’s an original and reading yellow, this may be due to age or smoke exposure and can always be cleaned. Studio 105 offers these services in addition to their framing and art gallery.
Lamps—not that inflation has left much untouched, but I’ve really noticed the price of lamps increasing. And recently I’ve found new ones in box stores like Target to be slightly uninspiring. I love making a statement with a good lamp and lampshade, and finding unique lamps and shades are relatively common at thrift stores these days. Just be aware some more vintage pieces may need to be re-wired for safety (often a quite easily done, 10 minute project). As with art and frames, if the lampshade is not your favorite, that’s an easy change. I also keep my eye out for unique lampshades to keep on hand.
Books— Books are such good props for staging and styling shelves, entryways, and coffee tables. They can also be expensive when purchased new, especially when you need a lot of them. I actually really love thrifting books because you can find some really cool, unique titles and subjects that make for pretty interesting perusal by guests browsing your shelves or coffee table. Don’t forget to look under the dust over—fabric and linen bound books are way more common than one would think and throwing away the cheap dust cover can instantly elevate a previously generic-looking book.
Thrifted items to be careful with—
Plastics. These can absorb unknown chemicals and previously stored items (unlike glass and sealed ceramic products).
Bed frames. Thoroughly inspect and be sure that all screws, posts, and slats are accounted for. If they are not, can you easily source those parts? Really this goes for all furniture, but I notice these issues more commonly with bed frames.
Light fixtures. I guess being married to an electrician has given me some caution one this one—unless you are very familiar with lighting, it is sometimes hard to know that all of the parts are there. Wires should be in good shape, mounting brackets are there, as well as all screws and bolts. If not, they can sometimes be hard to source or fix.
My favorite local thrift stores:
My favorite quick stops are both Goodwills and St. Vincent dePaul. St. Vincent dePaul, in my opinion, is highly superior in the home decor/items game. They have more and better furniture, and their glassware selection tends to be better as well. While these stores can be very hit and miss, if you’re on a time constraint, they are easy to stop in and quickly spot any true treasures.
The Unique Nest rarely disappoints. I love their store and almost always leave with something, as long as I have time to really look. And their indoor plant selection and cute little planters they all come in is something to truly admire!
Owensboro Trading Post is also great and always fun. This store is pretty much your quintessential, chock full of all the things you never knew existed, thrift store. Though they do lean a little more rustic, they have a lot of cool things to discover.
Also, don’t forget about estate sales and auctions! The owners of Black Sheep Antiques and Owensboro Antiques & More (opening up again in the fall at 2119 Frederica Street!) run amazing estate sales. Kurtz Auction & Realty also does a lot of really interesting auctions, but I will be honest that auctions can make for a long, sometimes anxious day!
And now for the thing that has blown up in recent years: Facebook Marketplace. I feel like this deserves a post all on its own, but I will share a few of the high points. First, make sure you have it set to local and within the distance you are willing to drive. Save pieces you love even if you don’t get them—it will help the algorithm to show you similar items in the future. Make sure to look really closely at pictures. If you can’t be sure of the quality or condition, don’t be afraid to ask for additional pictures/dimensions. Last, if you love the piece, be sure to check out the seller’s profile where their other pieces will be listed. Chances are if you love that one, they will have more items that you will love as well.
Tips and Tricks:
Keep a list on your phone of specific things you are looking for and quickly glance over it before going in. This can be especially helpful if you are easily overwhelmed in thrift stores.
In the same token, keep your mind open and be prepared to find something you absolutely were not looking for. You almost always see something when thrifting that you had no idea existed! That’s one of the beautiful parts of thrifting.
Take a second turn around the store, in the opposite direction. If I have time, especially in particularly full stores, I like to retrace my steps in the opposite direction I took. It is amazing what you missed the first time, only seeing it when walking in a different direction and new angle.
Beware of projects. Unless you have the time, or you really need that item because it would otherwise be out of your budget, beware of the project pieces. I used to struggle with this a lot. I loved the piece, could see the potential, but I just did not have the time, nor was it something I really needed, putting it low on the priority list to complete—enter the thrifted piece that sits in your garage or basement for months/years.
Be okay with some blemishes. Especially if it is vintage/antique, chances are it will have some kind of small blemish. That’s usually just part of it. As long as it’s nothing major, especially structural like with furniture, it can be polished up or cleaned. And sometimes, it’s best to just chalk it up to character and appreciate the charm!
I hope that there was something useful in this post, and that if you’re not already a thrifter, that you may feel a little more comfortable trying it out. It really is a rewarding process, and it can be a fun day out with friends or family!