25 things every thrift shopper should know

Oh the things you'll find on National Thrift Day!
Oh the things you’ll find on National Thrift Day!

Today is National Thrift Shop Day. It’s a day to eat cake AND go thrifting. Some of us plan that kind of day every week. But there is a certain amount of extra festivity around the official holiday and official seal of approval from whomever governs such things that comes with it, right?

Thrifting is good for the economy, good for helping others and good for promoting sustainability in a disposable world. It’s also a good adventure sport, akin to rock climbing and spelunking. You need to use all your senses to strategize and evaluate on the fly. Do I love this? Can it be loved back to life? How much loving is it going to take? Is it real or a knockoff? Is it a good value? Will it light up Instagram with the coveted red heart of admiration and envy?

In celebration of National Thrift Day, the Vintage Unscripted team has compiled a list of our best thrifting tips to help novices and amateurs sharpen their skills. And for you seasoned thrifters out there, there’s always room for more. Add your best tips in the comments section!

a collection of thrifted items
A good day to be Dot @ Attic and Barn treasures.

Strategic thrift store shopping tips

Know what days your favorite thrift store adds new merchandise. One of my favorite stores is closed on Monday but they are there adding new merchandise so I try to be there when they open on Tuesday.

Become a frequent shopper. Thrift stores are always adding new merchandise to their shelves – the more frequent you shop, the more treasures you will find.

Location can really make a difference to the kinds of things you can find in a thrift store. Stores that are near more affluent areas typically have higher end labels and designs. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it is definitely worth checking out thrift stores in up-scale neighborhoods.

Watch the calendar. Thrift shops near colleges have lots of great things donated when students leave at the end of the semester. Many people box up donations when their resolution to reduce clutter is still strong.

Shop off season. You can often find things for summer decor in the middle of winter and vice versa – often at better prices, too.

Check to see what’s on sale. Most thrift stores have rotating sales, either based on when items arrived or by item type. i.e. clothing, housewares, sporting goods. Some have a special discount day every week.

Get to know the employees at your favorite thrift. They can alert you to new items before they go to the floor.

Shop the small town thrift stores. The prices tend to be better than the big well-know thrift stores who seem to price collectibles based on a certain auction site.  

Left turn! Most shoppers turn right and are either tired or out of money by the time they reach the end. By starting at the end you may find things that have been overlooked.

Keep packing materials in your car. You never know when you are going to stumble across a perfect mid century bar set that deserves some packing TLC.

Believe in serendipity, particularly when it comes to glassware. If you find a couple of pieces you love in minty good condition snap them up. There’s a great chance you’ll find more pieces in the future to complete your set. That’s what makes thrifting such a great sport.

thrifted items
Tina @ Girl Pickers shares her finds

Thrift Store Caveat Emptor Tips

Don’t make the mistake of finding an awesome piece only to discover when you get home that is has a flaw. Put it in your cart when you find it but look it over carefully before you check out.  

Fall in love with the item, not the price. Even a thrift store price does not make a high end designer shirt that is a peculiar cut or an unappealing color more attractive when you get it home. Even if it’s NWT. 

Give a finger flick to glassware and pottery. If there is a crack, it won’t ring pretty, it will thunk.

That mineralization ring inside the vase? It might be removable. But then again, it might not.

vintage jewelry
Pam @ Vintage Renude is unmatched in her ability to find great jewelry.

Vintage jewelry is always a thrift store treat. Check for loose stones, broken clasps, earring clips that don’t have any spring and anything else that might make it difficult to wear. Broken jewelry can be great for projects, but it’s disappointing if your fabulous rhinestone brooch keeps falling off your lapel.

Check the cord on electrical items. Is it flexible? Does the wiring look like it escaped from a 1950s mad scientist movie? If you’re not able to wire it yourself, will it be worth the investment to pay a professional to do it?

If you are purchasing an appliance or lamp and the wiring looks reasonable, plug it in to make sure it works. If it’s an appliance with multiple pieces, use your phone to look up the instruction manual so you can be sure all the pieces are there.

Flip tablecloths and sheets over to look for stains on the non-printed side. They’re much easier to spot when there is no pattern. Many stains can be removed without a lot of effort. (Check out our series on Cleaning Vintage Linens )

Check furniture for structural integrity and stability. Spray paint and chalk paint can fix a myriad of furniture woes, but they can’t make a table with a cracked leg grow a new one.

Vintage games are awesome fun. Take the time to make sure all the important game pieces are there. There’s about a 50/50 chance that swell jigsaw puzzle is missing a piece or two, but that’s hardly enough to discourage a puzzle fiend who has stumbled on an awesome design.

thrift store rack
An wonderful find by Mary Ellen @Aunt Hatties Attic Vintage. She knew the true identity of the hair net looking thing. It’s a wire bustle and it was sold to a costume designer in St. Paul.

Common Kindness Thrift Store Tips

Donate nice things you don’t need anymore back to your favorite thrift store to complete the circle.

Inform the cashier if an article is way more valuable than priced. This will bring you good karma and the respect of the thrift staff.

Thank the staff for their hard work. Sorting things for a thrift can be tough and messy. Not every donation is carefully packed (think broken glass) or clean (think basement surprises like mold, mildew and mouse poop). 

Many charity thrift shops make money by selling damaged textiles and footwear to recyclers. Do your thrift a favorite by bagging those items separately and label the bag.

thrift store

What’s your best thrift shopping tip? Or the best thing you ever found? Share it with us in the comments section or post it on Instagram with the hashtag #vintageunscripted

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  1. My obsession with thrift stores started as a child. They are still my favorite places to shop! I will be visiting one of my favorite thrift stores today in honer of National Thrift Store Day.

  2. I ditto Dot’s idea. If I have a friend with me I have a more unbiased set of eyes to find flaws because when I fall in love with something, I fall hard!

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