How to Thrift Like an Expert

Fashion & Style

Photo by Chelsey Werth

Editor’s Note: Readers, meet Meggie Maas, vintage and thrift shopper extraordinaire, and recent thrifting partner to Kate. Meggie will be writing for W&D on all things related to buying secondhand. She has a wealth of knowledge on the topic, and if you have ideas for specific content you’d like to see from her, please let us know in the comments!


I started my thrifting career like so many: looking for old, ironic t-shirts in college. Then, a friend introduced me to the art of garage sale shopping. We made a trip to her hometown for a citywide sale, finding tiny bud vases for the windowsills in our apartment, macramé plant hangers and printed skirts from the ‘70s, and interesting oil paintings of cats. We didn’t have any cats at the time, but it fit the aesthetic. Thrifting and buying secondhand became a big part of our friendship and began to shape my personal style.

I’ve also gleaned many thrifting skills from my mom and sister. We used to meet weekly at the Bloomington Savers (RIP) on senior day. (Thanks for all the discounted goods, mom!) I bought most of my clothes and home decor secondhand. I found all the place settings at my wedding at a thrift store. I’ve shopped at thrift stores professionally for shops and sets for plays. I’ve looked to thrift stores for friends’ work wardrobes when they’ve started new jobs, and I’ve found loads of birthday and baby shower gifts at thrift stores. (If you want to win the next baby shower you’re invited to, bring a teeny, tiny Levi’s jean jacket and some vintage kids’ records. It’s a sure bet.)

I feel good about buying clothes in a way that doesn’t contribute to fast fashion. I like the unique style that develops when I reimagine things from past decades in a fresh way. I like the story of new and old in our home, side by side.

Over the years, thrifting has become more than a hobby or an extra source of income. I feel good about buying clothes in a way that doesn’t contribute to fast fashion. I like the unique style that develops when I reimagine things from past decades in a fresh way. I like the story of new and old in our home, side by side. I feel good knowing that I’m doing my part to keep things out of landfills. But, this post isn’t about all that. It’s about how to incorporate thrifting into your own life.

What to Do Before You Go

Keep a list of things you’re looking for.

I keep a list on my phone of some items I’m looking for. Currently on my list are things like: enamelware, colorful art for our bare walls (I love vintage paint by numbers paintings), blazers, vintage Levis (always), extra pajamas for my 17-month-old, and a welcome mat for our front door that isn’t Christmas themed. Some of the items on my list are for myself and some are for friends who’ve requested I shop for them. (If you hone your thrifting skills, people in your life will notice and ask you to search for them.)

The extra fun thing about thrifting is: you never know exactly what you’ll find! . . . Look around! There are gems! Sometimes there are literal gems! If you’re hyper-focused on one thing, you might miss the silk kimono of your dreams.

While I have this list and I look for these specific things, I also think it is hugely important to be open to whatever the thrifting gods have in (the) store for you that day. The extra fun thing about thrifting is: you never know exactly what you’ll find! You (mostly) know what you’ll get when you go to Target or Madewell. The thrifts are different. Your perfect pair of Frye motorcycle boots might be waiting for you inside! A gorgeous vintage coat you can wear to brunch and to your friend’s winter wedding might be hiding out in there. Look around! There are gems! Sometimes there are literal gems! If you’re hyper-focused on one thing, you might miss the silk kimono of your dreams.

Some of our finds—home goods and kids’ toys.

Eat a snack and make sure you’re hydrated.

That said, thrifts can be overwhelming. The lighting is fluorescent. There is often Christian rock playing at high volume, which is great if you’re into it and weird if you’re not. They can have a musty odor. Thrifting isn’t for the faint of heart. Before you dive in, I highly suggest eating something in your car. I keep Luna bars in my glove box and I rarely go anywhere without a can of bubbly water. Smells, sounds, and light are more likely to overwhelm me if I have an empty stomach. If I’m hydrated and have something in my belly and am also, best case scenario, caffeinated, I’m going to live my best thrifting life.

Find a go-to thrift store that works best for you.

Finally, location is key. Find a thrift nearby. Go a few times. Get to know it! I’ve talked to many new thrifters who say something like, “There’s a Goodwill by me, but it sucks.” I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. You just haven’t looked hard enough.

Did you know Goodwills have 50% off kids’ clothes on Thursdays? Did you know I have found so much cute kids’ vintage mixed in with all that Target deadstock? Did you know I get most of it for $1.00 an item? Wherever you thrift, make it convenient. If your favorite thrift is in Blaine and you live in South Minneapolis, you’re not likely to tack that random stop onto your quick list of errands.

Try a routine to get the most out of your thrifting experience. Every few weeks, stop at the thrift you pass on your way home from work. Drive to Elk River (there are lots of thrifts in Elk River) every other month with your best bud, then go get Mexican at the strip mall across 169. (Truly, my ideal friend date.) It takes some of the pressure off if you don’t have to find everything in a single trip.

How to Navigate a Thrift Store

Focus only on the targeted sections where the items on your list will be found.

You’ve got your list in hand, so you’ll want to head to the primary sections covered on that list, being open to things that might pique your interest along the way. The thrift store can seem massive, but you’ll break it into chunks. Don’t get lost in the book section unless you came for books. Don’t look through blankets and bedding unless you’re there for that. You’re moving to targeted sections, not meandering through the whole store. I often start with homeware and art because I’m able to swiftly walk through those aisles and then I’ll head to kid’s clothes, which requires more digging.

Photo by Chelsey Werth

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ask a clerk on your way in if there are any deals that day. There often are. Maybe pink tags are 75% off. Maybe winter stuff is on supersale. It’s nice to know before you start shopping. If it’s a new thrift, ask if they have a bathroom and where it is.

Always grab a cart.

It’s hard to shop when your arms are full. Throw things you’re considering in the cart as you go and make final decisions when you’re ready to check out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, park your cart by the dressing rooms and go outside for a couple of breaths.

Bring earbuds.

Try earbuds for tuning out the hubbub around you.

Lastly, try setting a timer.

When I’m shopping, I often give myself an hour. When the timer goes off I can reorient myself. Sometimes my sense of time can wander when I’m in a huge, yellow-lit warehouse looking for treasures. A timer keeps me from shopping too long, getting too tired, and perhaps buying things I don’t actually want because I’m confused and hangry.

What to Do When You Get Home

Each thrifter has their own practices for cleaning and storing items. When I get home, I typically throw everything that can be washed into the washing machine. Thrift stores often spray their clothes with strong-scented deodorizers, like Febreeze, or they simply smell musty. I’ve found adding white vinegar to my wash helps knock out the smell and makes my new (to me) feel really clean.

The final haul after my recent thrifting trip with Kate.

Each thrifter has their own practices for cleaning and storing items. . . . The important thing is to quickly wash your items and start to incorporate them into your life.

For books and shoes, I’ll spray and wipe them down with diluted rubbing alcohol and a few drops of lemon essential oil. The important thing is to quickly wash your items and start to incorporate them into your life. Sometimes the washing can seem daunting (but it doesn’t need to be), which can lead to a bag of things remaining in a closet or in the trunk of your car for months. And that’s no fun.

With those tips and tricks, I’ll wish you luck on your thrifting adventure. Give yourself a high-five for trying something new (!!) and get ready to enjoy the thrill of scoring things cheaply and sustainably.

BY Meggie Maas - February 18, 2020

10
Leave a Reply

I recently decided to try and buy most of my clothes from secondhand and vintage shops, so this article is coming along at just the right time. Thanks for the tips! From now on, I’ll make a list on my phone and I will only shop on a full stomach – I never thought of it, and yet I’m very sensitive to the musty smell that some thrift shops can have.

Have a lovely week,

Renaud
http://blogbyrenaud.wordpress.com

m

This is awesome! I hope more people take up thrifting! It is genuinely like a treasure hunt, and can be SO exciting when you find something cool! I once found a genuine Hermes scarf still in it’s box! :O

Nikki E

Hi, thanks for the great post! Im a first-time visitor to W&D—this article just popped up in my feed. Even though I’ve been thrifting for years, there were definitely some useful tips for me here. I am really intrigued to learn more about thrifting as a potential side gig—not reselling items on Etsy or Poshmark, but shopping “at thrift stores professionally for shops and sets for plays”—I’ve often thought I’d love doing that.

Teri

Just called my nearest Goodwill store and was told, “no children’s clothes are not 50%off every Thursday!” I am crushed!! Lol!! But she did say every week a different color is 50% off and it includes all store items with that specific color dot attached to them. I did not know that! I’m excited for my next shopping trip as soon as I get over this awful cold!

I’m so jealous of these mega thrift stores you have in the US. In the UK, I do love a charity shop binge but they are often small – these type of huge shops look so much fun!

There are three different Goodwills within 10 miles of my home and they’re all SO different because the demographics of the area varies so widely. I know that if I want more casual and “fast fashion-esque” stuff to hit the Goodwill near University and Lexington in Saint Paul, but if I want more “bougie” stuff then I’ll venture out to Woodbury!

But I absolutely agree with being caffeinated and fed. Going into that kind of chaos without being fortified is a nightmare!

Great post! Ever since I started a trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I decide to try thrifting… And fell in love! It is so fun to try to find some treasures – and I now only shop secondhand when it comes to clothes. These are great tips; thanks for sharing!
Jenna ♥
http://www.lifeofanearthmuffin.com

I feel like the person who wrote this is me and I am them and I enjoyed every second of reading this! I am an avid thrifter, but thought I would check this out to see if there was something missing in my routine. I agree with everything, except I don’t wash my stuff usually because I’m lazy! Which is bad especially now, but perhaps I will introduce some of the cleaning practices into my thrifting habit…

Martha Gotwals

I’m retired from Goodwill NYNJ after almost 23 years, and have also worked with other NYC and NJ nonprofit reuse organizations. So I can tell you there are true and false things in this and other articles. Contact me if you seriously want to know more.

Sherl Foster

A must try for every Thrifter is the Goodwill Outlets. These are places you go an you shop in bins and pay by the pound. Second hand shopping has always been a love of mine. I so enjoy a great deal and finding quality items at discounted prices.

Most-read posts:

Did you know W&D now has a resource library of  Printable Art, Templates, Freebies, and more?

take me there 

Arrow Alone

Get Our Best W&D Resources

for designing a life well-lived

MORE STORIES

Arrow Alone

the latest

Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

Hi, I'm Kate. Welcome to my happy place.

follow  @WITANDDELIGHT

ELSEWHERE

PINTEREST

FACEBOOK

351k

3m

12.5k

INSTAGRAM