The Ultimate Guide to Thrifting

Last week I went thrifting. After the birth of baby #2 (8 months ago!), I realized that I have virtually no postpartum sized clothes. So, I’m in the middle of a wardrobe revamp.

When I showed my mom the burgundy moto jacket I found for $8, she said, “You’re always so lucky! I can never find anything good.”

But she’s wrong.

Anyone can learn to thrift. I’m not lucky.

So today I’m breaking it down. My exact method for finding quality goods at the thrift store. Here we go!

The leather jacket in question. Actually, this entire outfit is thrifted, right down to the accessories!

1. Finding the Best Spots

Thrift stores run the gamut. I’ve been to two thrift stores half a mile a part. One was brightly lit, well organized, and had clean fitting rooms. The other was cramped, messy, and dimly lit, with everything jumbled together.

Want the easiest way to find some good thrifting spots? Search for the richest county in your state, then visit all of the thrift stores in that county–especially Goodwill.

Why Goodwill? Despite what you may feel about the company, Goodwill is the best-known thrift store. That means they get the most donations and the “cream of the crop.”

But don’t stop there! The richest county may be a long drive (well worth the trip!). But there are many gems in other neighborhoods too.

Check out the thrift shops nearby too. Google reviews can give you a good sense for the place–clues about cleanliness, management, and pricing.

It’s always worth going in person. When you visit a thrift store in person, you want to pay attention to three things: cleanliness, organization, and selection.

Cleanliness

Let me start by saying, we’re not looking for spotless here. Every store has foot traffic and will have a little dirt and dust. But a clean thrift store is a well-run establishment that you want to shop at.

First, pay attention to the floors. Especially right under the bottom shelf of the aisles. Is there visible dust built up there? billowing, stringy dust bunnies? If so, that’s not a great sign. Just a little grit? Great! Again, we’re not looking for spotless.

Next, visit the dressing rooms. Again, is there visible dirt and dust bunnies? Is it well lit? Do you have enough room to move around, or are you cramped? Is it closed with a curtain or a door? Was there a fitting room attendant or were you able to just walk right in?

Organization

All thrift stores are disorganized to a point. With so many items of varying shapes and sizes, it would be impossible to maintain unity organization.

That said, there should still be some level of organization–especially in the clothing racks. Some thrift stores organize by color and clothing type, but not by size (No good!). Others organize by size but not by type/color (better). The easiest to shop at thrift stores organize by size first, then by type, then by color.

So visit the clothing racks to get a feel for the organization. Are there sizing tags? Is the clothing organized within a system? Flip through a few sizes. Do you find extra larges in the smalls section? Jeans with the tops?

Selection

I like to visit the housewares aisles first when I go to a new thrift store. This gives me a great idea of the type of neighborhood I’m in.

I focus especially on pots, pans and small kitchen appliances. Why? Because I know kitchen brands best. If you know your quality fashion brands best, or have a knack for picking out high quality, lasting furniture pieces, then feel free to visit those sections first.

If I’m in a good neighborhood, I might find quality kitchen stoneware, Keurigs, SodaStreams, and S’Well bottles. I also tend to judge a thrift store by how many cast iron pans I can find on the shelf at a time.

Not so great spots generally have a lot of Dollar Tree containers, Rubbermaid, and a lot of broken plastic containers or dispensers.

When judging a thrift store’s selection, keep in mind: Quality is greater than Quantity.

Pricing

No matter what the selection, pricing is one of the most important factors that determines if I will keep revisiting that spot.

Goodwill is always the most expensive prices. They range anywhere from $0.99 to $15. Those prices are worth it for me at the best thrift store in the state, where I can find Land’s End, Eddie Bauer, and other high quality brands.

For another Goodwill that’s full of Merona and Forever 21? No way.

If you want the best pricing, check out the non-Goodwill thrift shops near you. A local thrift store sells womens tops and vests for a flat $2 each. Blouses and jackets are a flat $3 each. I’m willing to go more frequently and search harder there because the pricing makes it worth it.

The Best Spots

Even the best spots will fail to hit something on this list. The best Goodwill in my state can’t seem to keep all of their clothes organized well.

The local thrift store that has great selection and dirt cheap prices? Those dressing rooms are tiny, dimly lit, close-with-a-curtain cubbies that wouldn’t even qualify as a closet.

Just as long as a thrift store hits three out of the four criteria on this list, I promise it’s worth going back to.

2. Staying Focused

It is really easy to make impulse purchases at the thrift store. Because you never know what you’re going to find, many people fail to go in with a plan.

I keep a running list in my phone of household goods that we want. Anytime I think, Hey, it’d be nice to have THAT! I add it to the list.

As a result, I always have a list of 10-20 items to search for whenever I enter a thrift store.

However, it’s important to manage your expectations here. You may not find anything on your list. Do NOT buy random junk you don’t need just for the sake of walking out with something.

We seem to be conditioned to this expectation that just visiting the store means we need to take something out. You don’t. You will strike out sometimes, and that is okay. In fact, its to be expected! Its all part of the hunt, and makes the thrill of finding the perfect item that much more special.

3. In the Store

Sometimes I’ll go to the thrift store for a specific reason. We need frames, or I need to replace a cardigan. Other times, though, we are just in an area with a good thrift shop and it’s worth it to stop in.

When this happens, I take out my phone and skim through my list before I go in.

Once inside, I avoid the clothes. Clothes shopping at the thrift store requires an hour or two, so for a quick trip I don’t bother.

I generally hit shoes first. My boys are always growing so I look for the next size up.

Then I move on to the housewares aisles. Sports equipment, small electronics, kitchen goods, and home decor. Last, I check the furniture section, then jewelry and accessories, then I’m done!

4. Tips for Practicing Patience

Thrifting is a long journey that requires patience, tenacity, and just a touch of stubbornness. There have been many, many times when I’ve walked out of the thrift store with nothing.

You may need to use what you have to make do until you can find what you’re searching for. For example, I would like a sling bookcase for my son’s reading corner. I’m making do with this green milk crate until I can find one secondhand.

You may need to borrow an item from a friend until you can find it. Unless it is a true necessity or is costing you money NOT to own it, you don’t need to buy it new.

Do you thrift? What are your ultimate tips for beginner thrifters? Tell me below!

Comments 2

  1. Love thrifting! Most of the good thrift stores are 2 hours away…but we deal. Great suggestion to go to the richest counties in the area. Totally get it, but never made the connection. 😀

    1. Post
      Author

      Living rurally can be tough, but we always try to hit the bigger thrift stores when we go to the city. I don’t get there as often as I would like, but it works!

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