How To Thrift Shop Like A Pro

Times are tight for the majority of people these days, but that doesn’t mean we have to abstain from shopping altogether — as long as we’re smart about it. Thrift store shopping is an activity for people who love the hunt involved in scoring that perfect and unique addition to their home for a great price.

By Robyn Riley4 min read
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In regular department stores, we’re faced with endless shelves of mass-produced, cheaply manufactured kitsch, which is offensively overpriced. Why pay more for something your neighbor has too when you can pay a quarter of the price for something special and timeless?

Truly vintage finds also have the benefit of being made decades ago and with a higher standard of quality. Not everything you find at the thrift shop will be authentically vintage. For something to be vintage, it has to be at least 50 years old but less than 100 years old. Lots of clothes and furniture you find that are truly vintage were made to last and likely have many more years left in them.

For something to be vintage, it has to be at least 50 years old but less than 100 years old.

A huge disadvantage of shopping at Ikea or Walmart is that most things there are designed with planned obsolescence, meaning they’re made to break and need to be replaced. Due to the need to replace items regularly, buying cheap is ironically very expensive in the long-term. You will always save money by focusing on owning things that are made to last. 

Here’s what you need to know before hitting the second-hand shops in your community to make sure you come home with quality pieces instead of junk.

Know What Fabrics To Purchase 

Cotton, leather, linen, wool, and blends are the best things to purchase from the clothing section because these fabrics are likely to age well, and in some cases look even better as they age. Check the tag for composition. Make sure to also check along the seams of the garment to avoid purchasing clothing with holes or breaks in the fabric that aren’t easily mended.

Seek out name brands and high-end pieces. Some second-hand clothing stores specialize in the resale of designer pieces, saving you hundreds. If you don’t live near a second-hand shop that carries designer pieces, you can check online at websites like Rebelle, where you find everything from Louis Vuitton handbags to Chanel wristwatches for up to 50% off.

Stay Away from Colored, Embossed, and Vintage Ceramics 

Many vintage dishware sets you see at second-hand shops are contaminated with lead or cadmium in their coatings.

Restrictions on using lead in dishware have tightened over the last few decades, but anything made even 40 years ago, or in modern-day to “look” vintage in China, could be unsafe to eat off by U.S. standards. 

Many vintage dishware sets are contaminated with lead or cadmium in their coatings.

Furthermore, due to the wear and tear of vintage dishware, exposure to lead could be even higher than normal. As the glaze wears off a plate from being run through the dishwasher or repeatedly washed over the years, your exposure to lead will increase. No exposure to lead is safe. So despite the cute vintage plate’s aesthetic appeal, please skip buying dishes from vintage stores.

Go on the Day New Stock Is Put Out 

Chances are you won’t be the only person in your town thrift shopping like a pro, and you’ll need to have good timing in order to score the best things before other people snatch them up. Competition is steep for the best finds, so it’s important you check with an employee at your favorite shop to know when they put out their new stock. Arriving two or three days after a shelf restock could mean the difference between finding that special thing you’ve been after and missing it.

Learn Skills Like Sewing and Refurbishing 

Sometimes while thrift shopping you may see something that looks perfect but has minor defects. If you have the skills needed to fix it yourself, you may save yourself even more money. Often times things that are “broken” are further discounted but take only a little elbow grease to repair. 

Often times things that are “broken” are further discounted but take only a little elbow grease to repair. 

Try to see the potential in items you’re scanning over as much as you are looking for things that are in good shape. It’s often the case that some things just need to be cleaned or polished properly and then they look like new again. Don’t skip over items just because they have superficial and fixable defects.

Buy Ugly Art for the Frame 

Large frames are expensive, and we all need good frames for statement art in our homes. You can get amazing deals on vintage, wooden, and even modern picture frames by looking through the art section. Most of the time when we scan this area we just focus on the art itself (which is usually hilarious). Don’t forget to check out the frame — it could be worth three times the price of the art alone.  

Never Buy Something “Because It’s Cheap” 

When you’re walking around the thrift shop, you will undoubtedly come across something that you weren’t looking for, don’t actually want, probably wouldn’t use, but is an excellent price.

This is a common trap we all fall into, and we just end up spending more money than we intended and cluttering our homes with things that’ll sit in storage collecting dust. Avoid getting sucked in by a low price. Ask yourself, would I ever buy something like this if not for the low price tag? If the answer is no, then put it back. 

As you bring things into your home, purge what you no longer need to avoid clutter. 

As you bring things into your home, purge what you no longer need to avoid clutter. When regularly going to the second-hand store, we can get addicted to finding a bargain and end up with a closet full of things we never wear.

Once every 6 months you should go through you closet and get rid of things you haven’t worn for at least a year. It’s a good idea to bring these things to your local thrift shop to give back to your community.

Buy To Sell

If you see something that has value that you wouldn’t necessarily use yourself but still is a great find, consider buying it to flip. Fix it up and resell it on Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace. The only time I would recommend buying something that you don’t need for the low price is if you see value in the item for resale. You can add a lick of paint to a dresser, sew up a hole, reupholster furniture, and add value back into items with very little effort.

By opening a little online shop or making posts on Facebook Marketplace, you can even earn a decent amount of money which you then can reinvest back into your home and wardrobe. 

Closing Thoughts

The more you frequent second-hand and vintage shops, the more you will become familiar with where to get the best quality products for the best price. The best thing about learning how to thrift shop like a pro is that you will likely end up with home décor and a wardrobe that is eclectic and completely unique to you. By avoiding fast fashion and mass-produced décor, you can more easily express your individual tastes without having to break the bank.