I often say to people that I’m not as interested in thrifting home decor as I am in thrifting other items like clothing for myself and my kids, and yet, as I look around my living room, 90% of the decor I see was purchased at a thrift store. The decor in my kids’ rooms is fully thrifted. When I got married, I thrifted all the table settings for the reception. (I was very proud of this! We had mismatched china, painted tin trays, vintage salt and pepper shakers, vintage juice glasses for wine, cutlery, milk glass vases, and a wild array of napkins on every table.) But, somehow, I don’t consider myself a thrifter-designer-y person.
I haven’t previously considered myself a designer because I never stopped to recognize that my home decor is unique to me and my aesthetic is my own. Since I don’t quite fit into a style mold, I didn’t consider my style to be a style at all.
Writing about thrifting home decor has made me realize I actually love design! And I have a lot to say about it! And I have a personal style I can embrace!
Maybe this is you, too. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a “high design” person. Perhaps you don’t see your aesthetic featured on Pinterest or Instagram so you think, well, decor isn’t really my game.
I’m here to tell you, it might be! You just have to allow yourself to be you in this new arena! And thrifting home decor is the perfect way to get into it. Today I’m sharing my top tips for finding home decor at thrift stores.
To begin, keep a running list of home decor items you’re looking for on your phone (or on paper!). Whenever a need or design idea arises, get it on the list.
For instance, I’m currently looking for:
Items that are always on my list are paint-by-numbers paintings and other vintage art that speaks to me, cute flower pots, enamelware, small, colorful Pyrex bowls for containing things, and big art books.
When the time comes to thrift (yay!), run through your list and try to strike a mental balance between sticking to the list and keeping an open mind as you walk through the store.
After all, thrifting is a treasure hunt! You never know what you’ll come across! You’ll get the most out of your thrifting experience if you are open to whatever you might find inside. However, it’s also helpful to keep an eye out for the specific items you’re looking for. That’s why I read my list over first, to keep those items front of mind, and then put the list away, as a reminder to stay open to other treasures as I walk through the store.
Thrifting is a treasure hunt! You never know what you’ll come across! You’ll get the most out of your thrifting experience if you are open to whatever you might find inside.
A few other helpful tips? Before heading inside, you might want to eat a quick snack and drink some water, because thrifting on an empty stomach is not that fun. I’d also recommend setting a timer on your phone for the amount of time you have to shop. (Trust me—time flies when you thrift.)
Once inside, head straight to the home goods. You have the most mental clarity and energy when you begin shopping, so start with your highest priorities. In this instance, you’re all over home decor!
Take note of the separate sections throughout the decor area and as you walk through each of the aisles, remember that there’s no harm in filling your cart with the items you’re considering. Here are some specific things to consider as you make your way through a few of the sections.
Art and Frames
Walk the art aisles and put whatever grabs your attention into your cart. Don’t be afraid to separate frames and get all up in the art section. Oftentimes, pictures are stacked a couple deep, and you won’t want to miss any hidden treasures in the middle of the display.
Another tip: Frames can be repurposed. If you find a lovely frame with not so lovely art inside, look at how the back is attached and how difficult it might be to swap out the art for something else.
Walk the nicknack aisles. Take your time! The shelves might be laden or there might be a sparse array of tchotchkes. Either way, these little items can easily be glossed over.
As you go, pick items up to get a sense of the materials they’re made with and how substantial they are. If you allow yourself a little time to hunt here, you might find some lovely brass animals to populate a shelf, or a hand-painted wooden loon, or some heavy bookends to hold up your pretty, thrifted art books.
The kitchen goods area can be a true treasure trove. And as with every section, it’s important to keep an open mind while browsing here! Below are a few suggestions of what you might look for as you browse this area:
Sometimes your juice glasses are so cute, they’re worth displaying in a hutch or setting on a tray on top of your sideboard. Thrift shopping in this way reminds me that anything can be decorative if it looks appealing and special to you.
Miscellaneous Decor Items
Find the wooden section for ‘70s items to hang on your wall. There’s normally a basket aisle as well. Lord knows we use all the baskets in the house for containing kid stuff. Picnic baskets are generally also easy to find at thrift stores and they’re excellent for storing items and organizing closets.
Another great thing about picnic baskets is this: Since they have a flat top, they’re great for stacking. All the pieces of our hand-me-down train set have been hidden away in two cute picnic baskets, stacked in a corner. Voila!
Don’t forget the linens section for things like curtains or crocheted blankets or colorful vintage bedspreads. It can sometimes be easy to overlook the linens area, but this is also a great place to find things to spruce up your home, so don’t turn past it so quickly!
Pro tip: Sometimes, there are wall hangings tucked in with the linens. Don’t forget to dig!
The important thing is to have fun with your finds. If something is cute, aesthetically pleasing, funny, or interesting to you, that’s what matters most!
When your cart is full and your time is winding down, take a moment to go through your items. The process of deciding what to buy and what to leave can be a bit mentally exhausting, so find a quiet corner, take a deep breath, crack your knuckles, and get into it.
Look over the quality of your items. Some things look great with a little patina and others don’t. For instance, scratches on a brightly colored vintage bowl don’t bother me at all, but a basket with a broken handle or side is most likely unusable. I don’t need my things to be perfect—in fact, I like items with some story to them—but I’m not super handy, so I’m not one to bring things home that need repair.
I’m not one to buy things for later projects. It is *very* tempting to fall down a craft rabbit hole and convince yourself of all the wonderful and unique things you could do to decorate your home. I don’t want to squash your dreams. You can do all the crafts if you want! However, if you haven’t completed a craft in, say, the last year or a couple of years, I’d take a realistic approach and avoid the craft section for now.
Speaking as a gal who bought all the things to tie-dye, all the cool vessels to paint a terra cotta color, some amazing floral stencils in frames that she wanted to paint gold and never did, and even a quilt to make into a quilted coat without actually knowing how to sew (!!), I ask that you learn from my mistakes and leave the crafts for the crafters.
And if you really want to craft, approach your crafts with an action plan. Attack a craft with a friend to help ensure it gets done. Or have an end goal in mind, like a party or an event before which you need to finish the project.
Once you’ve culled your cart and separated the items you’d like to keep from items you’re leaving, check out and get home.
Get those items on your shelves. Hang your pictures. See how they fit and feel. (Editor’s note: You can find Meggie’s detailed tips on leaning thrift store finds here!) It might take a bit to get everything organized, but feel free to be playful. This is your space, so have fun with it. And enjoy the moment of a friend asking, “I love this little collection of brass figurines over here! Where did you get them?”
Isn’t thrifting the best?
When not caring for her two small but weirdly strong kids, Meggie enjoys all the thrifting, teaching barre and kids’ yoga classes at Blooma Yoga, reading fiction, watching Shrill, hanging out with buds and/or her husband, and laughing at her own jokes.
BY Meggie Maas - July 24, 2020
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.