It’s no secret I’m a thrift store junkie, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve read every article on Pinterest about thrifting. Some twice. Most offer tips for a successful shopping trip and others, my favourites, show inspiring ways to transform your finds. So why do I keep clicking on these articles when I’ve seen it all before? Because I keep thinking someone is going to share a fresh idea that will help me do it better.
I may not be the amateur I was when I started, but I’m still trying to improve my game. I made plenty of mistakes in the beginning: I bought this fabulous MEC Merino sweater with a hole in it (to my credit I did try it on), I picked up a jewelry box with some dust on the velvet that turned out to be mold, and I’ve paid two dollars for Improved Gem Jars that I eventually learned I could get for fifty cents somewhere else. So when I say I’m trying to improve my game, I mean I’m trying to reduce my margin of error. I’m trying to bring home hits with no misses.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the process: If you never leave the store empty handed, you’re doing it wrong. So if you’re new to thrifting–and not completely repulsed by the last paragraph–my advice to you is this: Edit your basket. Was it Coco Chanel who said you should always remove one accessory before you leave the house? Replace accessory with item and house with store and it’s not a bad philosophy for thrifting too.
Thrift stores can be hectic places at times, so my first suggestion is to find a place where you can stop with your cart or basket and pick up and evaluate each item away from the crowded aisles. You should be inspecting the item and asking yourself questions like why did it I pick this thing up? What purpose will it serve in my life? Do I already have one? One of my favourites, would I buy this new for retail? If you’ve picked up something to flip, use your phone to look it up on E-Bay and see what it’s going for. If you’ve found something to up-cycle consider the potential profit margin. Is it worth it?
Inspect your goods like a security officer performing a drug search at the airport. If you’ve got clothing in your basket, pick it up and run your fingers on the underside of every seam. This will help you discover flaws, fraying seams or any pinpoint holes that may be starting. Don’t forget to give just as much attention to the body of the piece. Check for pilling and stains. I like to pretend I’m a detective who is trying to solve the mystery of why someone donated the item. Of course it could be something that doesn’t fit, or that was a gift that didn’t suit, or something that person fell out of love with, but sometimes the reasons are more obvious. If you’ve got hard goods, open every door and drawer, check the hardware and the hinges, walk around it from every angle, and if size permits, turn it upside down. I don’t expect you to find stuff that’s perfect, but you shouldn’t be finding surprises when you get home. Everyone has different capabilities when it comes to fixing stuff, and you need to make sure that you’re not exceeding yours, or spending more than the effort warrants.
The hazard with thrift shopping is that the low price tags tend to lower the quality of our decision making. While logically it’s true that a three dollar purchase is less important in terms of our budget than a thirty dollar one or a three hundred dollar one, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should give the three dollar purchase less consideration. When you’re thrifting, consider the item you’re buying and not just the price tag. Say you’re buying a lamp. When you shop for one in a big box store you compare a few styles in terms of features and benefits. At a department store the information you want is all written on the box, but you can figure stuff out for yourself pretty easily at a thrift store when the product isn’t hiding inside that box. You can lift it to see if it’s actually made of something solid, check the length of the cord and inspect for damage, and try the switch to make sure it’s the type you’re looking for. Does it really matter if it’s only three dollars? Absolutely, because if you’re not satisfied with the features, you may just end up replacing it in six months. Ultimately, ten poor three dollar decisions will add up to thirty dollars down the toilet.
Some of my thrift store trips are quite short, but those are the ones when I don’t pick anything up. I spend a lot of time in the store not because I’m looking for more goods, but because I’m thinking about what’s in my basket. I forget where I read this tip, and it was years ago, in a magazine I think, and it said the best way to prevent impulse buys was to leave the store when you find yourself attracted to an unplanned purchase. After a solid 24 hours of distance from the object of your affection, you can always go back if it seems like a legitimate purchase and not just retail therapy. Going back later and expecting to find something is pretty unrealistic in the thrift world. The good stuff doesn’t stay on the shelf long, which is why you put it in the basket first and reflect on that decision while you wander the store.
I don’t think you can always tell what the best bargain will turn out to be when the cashier rings up your bill. Sometimes you save a lot off the retail price, but you don’t use the item as much as expected and other times the thing you weren’t sure of becomes indispensable. The real value of your thrift store finds is something only time can tell.