When I discovered the thrill of thrift store shopping when I was a teenager, I thought I had cracked the code to putting together an awesome outfit at a fraction of the cost my peers were spending. I don’t know about you, but the “dress code” at my high school was peer pressure-implemented , with the “cool kids” wearing the popularity “uniform” of Nike Shox, Aritzia’s TNA athleisure track suits, Lululemon and Triple Five Soul hoodies , and Kappa soccer wear. All of this was pretty pricey ($100 hoodies for a 15 year old?), and definitely outside of the range of clothing my parents would purchase me during our the once-a-year back to school clothing shop. My pocket and babysitting money could only get me so far, and even when it would, it hurt my frugal little mind too much to drop several months of savings on one item of clothing.
But. Then I discovered thrift shopping.
There was something so satisfying and exciting about walking up to a huge long rack of assorted used clothing, not knowing what it held, and pushing all the hangers to one side so I could quickly flick through the hangers. I would scan over the items, in search of high quality fabrics, non-faded colours, and, if I was lucky, those all-so-precious familiar labels that all the cool kids at school were wearing.
Most of the time, the items that ended up being my favourite were from brands that were completely unknown to me – unique, fun, well tailored pieces that I would never have seen if I had only looked in the popular shops that sold the brands that were in style at school. Those grey-wash jeans with the pink stitching… that flowy boho blouse edged in lace… those red, pointy-toe flats with the little straps. Thrift shopping helped me define my personal style, outside of peer pressures, because it offered so many alternatives to what was on offer in the general market.
But, being a teen who also wanted what other teens want (ie. to “fit in”), this budding sense of personal style was usually also tampered with whichever labels I could find during my thrift store shopping sprees – and I could usually find quite a few! I got pretty good at knowing the types of fabrics and locations of the labels for a lot of the in-demand branded items, and zipping through racks of clothing searching for them became pretty easy – which meant Lululemon hoodies, Triple Five Soul shirts, and TNA track pants slowly also joined my closet alongside the boho lacy shirts and flowy, bright scarves.
If you love shopping, then you might understand what I mean when I talk about that frisson of excitement you get when you find an amazing, must-have item at an incredible price. Thrift shopping provides this in droves: a store full of complete unknowns at super low prices makes it all that much more exciting when you find something you love because there is no way you could expect it to be there.
While I pretty much stuck to the clothing and shoe sections when I was a teen, I’ve branched out to the Home Items sections since moving into a place of my own, and I have found that a lot of the little tricks I used to snag myself an awesome closet definitely apply to creating a gorgeously curated kitchen and home. Thrift shopping has allowed me to outfit my home with pieces of decor that would look at home in a Pottery Barn catalog, and to supply my kitchen with second-hand luxury kitchen items, including Riedel, WMF, Rosle – items I would never be able to buy on my limited budget.
Although there are a few potential negatives about thrift store shopping (which I’ll address right away in this post), there are also so many positives: it’s easier on the environment than buying new, it often contributes to charitable causes (such as charity-run thrift shops), it saves you a whole lot of money, and it’s just plain fun! Read on to learn my tips for helping you find awesome, thrifted items (including those from the top Home brands) at your local thrift shops!
1. Be proactive in not bringing home unwanted “house guests”.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. I don’t know if your city is anything like mine, but Vancouver has really been having some problems with bed bugs. I’ve heard some horror stories, and my parents’ home has now pretty much become a “thrifted-item free zone”, in an effort to avoid buggy situations.However, there are some methods that you can use to help lower or eliminate the risks of bringing home little bonus “friends”, which can include extreme temperature treatments (such as freezing, oven “baking”, or tumbling in a hot dryer for a lengthy period), thorough washing, or chemical treatments (which are definitely less favourable). All of these types of treatments have specific directions though, so I would urge you to check out some different prevention/treatment methods before you hit the store, and have a gameplan in mind for when you bring home whatever treasures you find.
2. Commit to spending a LONG time in a thrift shop.
Because thrift stores often have so much variety, it usually takes a lot longer to actually see all of the products. You’re not looking at a shelf of 100 glasses where there are only 4 types – in those cases, a quick glance will do (seen one, seen ’em all). Instead you’re looking at a shelf with 100 glasses where almost every single one is different. So make sure you’ve got enough time to spend, or you might miss something you’d love!
3. Look with your eyes AND your hands.
I know, this is not what most of us learned while we were growing up – no one wants to be the proverbial bull in a china shop. But one things I’ve learned if that if you’re looking for quality, you can often tell by feeling an item’s weight, or its delicacy. For example, a heavy knife often means it is contains a full length of forged steel, rather than a light weight chrome plated dollar store knife. For wine glasses, the more delicate they are (think thin glass and absence of a “rim” or lip) often means they are made with more skill or with a higher quality glass (or even crystal). Running your fingers over the product will give you an edge over just using your eyes. However, a lot of second hand items are donated/dropped off not in the cleanest condition (ie. a lot of pots and pans might still be kind of greasy) so having some hand wipes in your purse is always a good plan.
4. Learn the logos of your favourite brands, and where they locate them on their products.
For me, shopping in the kitchen sections of thrift stores is like playing a game of “I spy with my little eye”. I have a few favourite brands that I find I’m pretty lucky with finding at second hand shops, including Riedel glassware, Le Creuset pots and pans, Spiegelau glassware, Royal Albert china, and WMF stainless appliances. I know what their logos look like, and where they tend to locate them on the product (ie. Ridel always has an etching of its name on the bottom of the glass, and Le Creuset has the iconic black round handle with a “C” on top). Knowing where these logos are definitely helps me when I’m sweeping an eye over a chaotic mountain of products. But, be careful not to rely only on brand! See the next item for a tip on this.
5. Google on your Smartphone: a Thrifter’s Best Friend.
There have been a few times when I’ve come across an item that I’m not so sure the value of, but seems to have been made well. If you don’t know the brand and you’re not sure whether it’s a good product, try typing a description of the item into Google on your phone (ie. a search for “pear shaped wine glass Schott Zwiesel brand”). Often you might have to click onto Google image search and browse through for awhile until you find something similar to your product, but if you’re able to find the product name or model number, you can use that information to then do a item review look up on Amazon or the product’s website. This will give you a better understanding of the original cost of the product, whether it even is a “good” product or not, and whether the pricing of the item is fair. I’ve done this type of search with relatively plain looking wineglasses priced at around $3 each, and was amazed to find out they were made of crystal, and worth a whole lot more than the asking price. If the logo is not a name but is instead a picture or a letter, try googling a description of what the logo looks like first to see if you can find out the name of the brand (ie. “glassware brand logo pig with wings”). Once you have the brand name, you can search a more specific description of the product, or look at that brand’s catalogues.
6. Know the types of products that survive thrifting.
While it’s all well and good to buy thrifted products, some types of items just don’t stand up to having more than one owner. For example, I often see a ton of non-stick pans heaped in the cookware sections of thrift shops. While non-stick can be useful in some situations, it doesn’t stand the test of time very well, often with the coating peeling due to age or poor care. They also tend to be pretty inexpensive to buy new, so it just isn’t worth it to buy it when you don’t know the history of it. On the other hand, a cast-iron frying pan (either non-enameled, or without peeling of its enamel) is something that will last forever, and can be treated back to new condition through a little bit of care and “seasoning” of its surface. They can be pretty expensive to buy new, so coming upon a nice one in a thrift shop is usually a good find. Other home products that stand the test of time are non-chipped glass ware, china (there are often sooo many cute tea cups and saucers!), vases and planters/plant holders, solid construction cookware (such as stainless steel or stoneware), and silverware (ignore tarnishing, with the right polish it’ll shine like it’s new!)
7. Keep an eye out for items that can be “Upcycled”.
Upcycling is when you take an old item, revamp it into something even better than it was before by fixing and/or altering/ adding to it. For a better example of an upcycling project, see my post on “upcycling” an old bench I was given here. Items are often overlooked if they’re a little broken, or out of style, and can be priced even cheaper due to these reasons. But keep your eyes and mind open, put on your creative lens, and try to look at products with option of upcycling in mind. Lamp bases, small figurines, picture frames: these items can be easily spray painted and given new life.
I feel like I could probably go on forever about the joys of thrift shopping, but maybe we’ll cut it short here. I hope these tips bring you a bit of thrifty success, and I’d love to hear stories of your favourite thrift shop treasures in the comments below!
Until next time,
Urbanista At Home