NaBloPoMo #4: Thrifting Tips Tuesday

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I've been asked, quite a few times, whether I think my success in thrifting comes down to luck or skill. Honestly, I don't think it has a whole lot to do with either one. It's something else entirely. Or, actually, a combination of things. So today, for our first Thrifting Tip Tuesday, I am going to tell you what I think you need to be a good thrift shopper.

To Be a Successful Thrift Shopper, You Need...


  1. Good thrift stores: Often, people will say that there just aren't any good thrift stores in their areas. This may or may not be true. I think that there really are some areas that don't have good thrifting. More often, though, folks don't know where to look. In general, it has been my experience that you find the best all-around thrifting in mid-sized cities with large college populations and stable economies. Austin, of course, fits this bill perfectly. In big cities, it sounds as if (my personal experience with this is actually limited) the better stores are found in the suburbs. I'll do a whole post about the types of stores you may encounter and what you might find there later in the month, but for now, the #1 thing you need to be a successful thrifter is a place to do it.

  2. Time: Thrifting is not a quick process. It is very difficult to make it work for you if you are unwilling or unable to put in the time it requires. For some people, this may mean visiting the same store or stores several times a week. For others, it means garage sales every Saturday morning. For me, what it means depends on how seriously I am thrifting at a given time, but lately 1-2 trips per week to the bins. And it's not just about going often, it's about willing to put in the time while you are there. It takes a while to sift through mounds of useless crap to find that one worthwhile thing, and you have to be willing to do that sifting or you aren't likely to score many great purchases.

  3. Patience: This kind of goes along with time. If thrifting is about anything, I'd say it's about patience. You may not find anything you even remotely want for hours, days, or weeks. You have to keep going out and looking, or it won't work. This, I think, is why most of the best thrifters are people who get off on the process itself. I like looking through other people's trash. And when you aren't finding anything fantastic, looking through other people's trash is exactly what thrifting is. So, if you don't already really enjoy that, then you have to cultivate amazing patience.

  4. A running list: It is a common mistake of beginning thrifters to go out one day with a list of things to find and then be disappointed if they don't find anything from their list (or if they only find one thing). This is a new store mentality, and it must be erased. By all means have a list, but it needs to be a running list. Whenever you think of something you'd like to find used, add it to your list. Every time you go thrifting, keep your eye out for all of the things you've listed. Don't expect to find all, or even any, of them. The list here isn't a tool to tell you what you need to buy before you stop, it's a guide of what you should be peeling your eyes for. Finding something from your list, especially something that has been on your list a long time, is cause for celebration, not a routine event.

  5. Willingness to compromise: As well as looking at list-making as a long-term, rather than immediate, venture, you also need to look at it as a more general venture than you normally would with first-run stores. For example, my current list entries include "something to use for a bathroom trash can" and "containers for sugar scrubs." Were I planning to buy these things new, I might have "small lidded stainless steel trash can" (my ideal for the space) or "16 oz glass jars with hinged lids" (again, my ideal). Putting a priority on buying things used has many advantages, but it has disadvantages as well, and one of the biggest ones is that you sometimes need to compromise on getting exactly what you had in mind. This can be a good thing too, though, as it can help you to be creative and consider using things in ways you wouldn't have considered if finding just what you had in mind was easy.

  6. A creative eye: On a somewhat related note, another thing you need to develop if you are going to thrift shop successfully is a creative eye. The majority of the things I bring home from thrift shops have been passed over by tens of other people. Why? Well, either they don't need that item, or they don't see the potential in it. You want to become someone who sees the potential. This can be tricky, as you end up with way too much stuff and no money if you see too much potential, but it's important also to have an open mind. Some people have this naturally--you know these people, they're the ones who can see a pile of popsicle sticks and honestly see a sculpture or whatever. I'm not like that naturally. In me, as, I suspect, in most people, the creative eye has developed over time. And I still mess up, a lot--I bring home lots of stuff that is just, in fact, crap, and I likely pass by great stuff. But the more you do it, the better it gets. This is also a place where I think reading thrifting blogs and seeing the cool stuff other people pick up helps.

Those, in a nutshell, are the things I think you need to be a good thrift shopper. Obviously there are other things that help as well, but those are the big ones to my mind.

Now that you've read this little intro, tell me--what other thrifting topics would you like to see me address on Thrift Tips Tuesdays? I can think of a lot of different things to talk about, from more general stuff like this post and my thrifting philosophy post, to more specific things (like the post I did a while back about thrifting for clothes while plus-sized). What would you be interested in reading?

4 Comments

WOW, I am learning so much right now. My brain hurts and my eyes are dried out from reading. I read through the plus size post also and thought it was just excellent and so true! It's so hard to find my size in thrift stores that I don't really bother.

I'd love to hear about some of your favorite finds and also general stuff and tips. This post has been incredibly helpful to me.

Good list! For me, a lot of it boils down to--you have to show up. Then all your other points--patience, creativity, the running list--come into play. But first you have to open yourself to possibility and just show up. Which, since this is so darned much fun, is easy!

I think it comes down to luck and getting "that feeling" -- I just know when something good it there... Great post.

These are great tips!Something useful I've found is...a lot of items on shelves that are in boxed packaging aren't necessarily what is pictured on the box. Sometimes when I open them I find something really good inside and vice versa. In other words, look in the box!

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