8 Essential Thrift Store Tips
Green Living,  Sustainable Fashion

How to Shop at a Thrift Store: 8 Essential Tips

Thrifting is one of my favorite things.  I have found some amazing deals on new items while thrifting (price tags still on!) and I have also found unique and vintage items that have stood the test of time and are still going strong.  I am excited to share with you the benefits of thrifting as well as how to shop at a thrift store!

Why Shop at Thrift Stores?

Thrifting for our Planet

When you shop at a thrift store, you are giving those items you purchase a chance at a second (or third, or fourth) life, rather than dooming them to the landfill.  According to the EPA, Americans generated 292.4 million tons of waste in 2018, with 146 million of that ending in landfills.  This is not sustainable.  This gives me a flashback from the movie Wall-E, a world so full of garbage that people relocate to a ship in space and leave robots to clean up their mess. 

If we want to ensure our planet is still here and inhabitable for future generations, we are long past a time to start taking action.  Thrifting doesn’t seem like much, but for every item you purchase second-hand, you save one from the landfill and reduce demand for another that purchasing new would have created. 

Click here for my post on The Basics of Living a Sustainable Life!

Thrifting for your Budget

Do I really have to comment on how expensive things have gotten these days?  Eggs are $5.99 a dozen!  Thrifting is a great option if you need to squeeze a little more out of your money.  Thrift stores carry clothes, kitchen items, housewares, decor, tools, crafts, books, electronics, furniture, and more.  Basically…everything. 

Sure, some things are not a great value and you can definitely end up wasting your time searching the thrift store abyss.  (That’s why I’m going to arm you with some essential tips for thrift store shopping in a moment.) But most things that you buy new can also be purchased second hand. 

Looking for more ways to save? Check out this post on Eco-Friendly Cleaning Routines that save time and money!

Thrifting for Vibes or Collections

One of my favorite reasons for thrift store shopping:  the vibes.  If you’re looking for a certain aesthetic – whether it be in house decor, furniture, or clothing – thrift stores are a fabulous place to start piecing things together.  I’ll share some of my favorite finds below!

If collections are your thing, thrift stores are a treasure trove of possibilities.  Books, vintage toys, old school telephones, 70’s style serving platters…there’s something for everyone. 

Essential Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

Make a list

This seems like shopping 101, but it’s so easy to get sucked into every great deal or vintage find in thrift stores.  Something colorful catches your eye and all of the sudden, you forget exactly what you went in for!  Make a list of not only what you’re looking for, but also include some characteristics that can help weed out what you’re NOT looking for, like colors, size, style, etc. 

Stick to a budget

Once again, because you know you’re getting a deal on everything, it’s very easy to spend more money than you initially planned to spend.  If you already know what you’re looking for and jotted down a few characteristics, why not add a price point you’re going to stick to per item?  For example, if you’re looking for baskets for a toy room, your list may look like this: 

Baskets – 4 to fit in shelving unit

  • brown or neutral colors
  • Square shape preferably
  • $3-5 per basket, max

Use your thrift store sale schedule

Most thrift stores have a discount schedule.  Some are storewide and others are tagged by different colored stickers.  Both save you money!  You may also be able to get an additional discount by donating items on the day of your shopping trip. 

Know your store’s return policy

Knowing your store’s return policy before heading to the checkout may help you make purchasing decisions on items you’re uncertain about.  Most thrift stores have a limited return policy so it’s worth checking before shopping.  This is a good place to note utilizing dressing rooms, too!  

Be prepared to wait

If you’re looking for something specific, be prepared to wait for it.  Don’t settle on something that may work for you when the perfect find may be coming during next month’s shopping trip.  If you’re looking for a shelving unit to fit a certain area and style in your home, check regularly but don’t forget your list to narrow down your options.  If you settle on something and then find your perfect shelving unit the following week, you will definitely be disappointed!

Shop in the morning

Shopping in the morning is the best time to have eyes on new pieces that were just put out.  It’s also a chance to go through the store before shelves and clothing racks are picked through and disheveled, making it easier to spot things you’re looking for. 

Read tags

Obviously, if you’re looking for a certain brand, you’re going to be looking at tags.  I always check tags and garment fabric when shopping for clothes.  I live in wool in the winter and I find all my 100% wool sweaters at the thrift store.  They last forever and hold up really well if you know how to take care of them!  The thrift store I frequent hangs all their jeans with inside tags prominently displayed so you can see them at a glance.  This is a huge help if you’re looking for a certain brand or size.

Tag check for quality.  What’s the point in buying that Forever 21 shirt for $5.99?  It’s probably just going to fall apart the first time you wash it and it was most likely around that price when purchased new at the store.  If you’re unsure of the brand, do a quick lookup.

When looking at tags and brands, it helps to have your phone out and ready to do some research.  By entering a brand name you’re unfamiliar with, you can pretty quickly and easily find where it was made and a rough idea of when.  This can help influence your final purchase.  

Online thrift stores

Online thrift stores are everywhere and offer a lot of advantages.  You can shop purposefully with keywords instead of walking through each item in a store.  Also, your possibilities open up when you are searching a market that offers available shipping from all over and you’re not confined to the specific thrift store you’re standing in.

Online thrift stores include:

Thred Up
The Real Real
Don’t forget about Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist!

That being said, if you’re seeing a product right in front of you, you have a better understanding of what you’re purchasing.  Just like with regular shopping, you can’t inspect the quality, feel the material, and match the color when you’re shopping online.  I recommend a little bit of both online thrifting and in-person thrifting for a well-rounded experience.

Some of my favorite thrift store purchases

Just for fun, here are some of my favorite finds!

Welcome Friends Vintage Sign
vintage sign

This sign has adorned our last couple of homes and I love it dearly

Cheese Board
Dolphin Teakwood Cheeseboard
Vintage cheese board repurpose

I found this Vintage Dolphin Teakwood Cheese Board on a quick walk through of Salvation Army and couldn’t pass it up.  I don’t entertain frequently enough to have a use for a cheese board, but it gets daily use as our Waldorf-inspired weekly calendar.  Adorable, right?

Wool Sweaters
Thrift store wool sweaters
Favorite thrift store sweaters

I can always find 100% wool sweaters and a few of these are even 100% cashmere.  I’ve never spent more than $8 on a single sweater. 


These mugs I picked up for my college dorm room oh-so-long-ago.  I love how petite they are.  They’re the perfect size for afternoons of hot cocoa with the kiddos.


When my kids started to graduate from baby dishes, I took them to pick out some special bowls and plates just for them.  These are some of my favorites – very durable, too. 

Couch & Love Seat
Thrift store find
Thrift store vintage couch

I wish I could find a better picture, but to be fair this was 2011. This amazing couch and love seat set was without a doubt the best thrift store purchase. I got both pieces for $75 and it fit our first apartment perfectly. They were super comfy and held up to our animals and lifestyle. I miss those couches every day!

Check to see what’s near you

Salvation Army
Habitat For Humanity

If you don’t already frequent thrift stores, I hope I convinced you to take a look.  Use these 8 tips to help get you started on your thrifting journey and show me what you find in the comments!

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