Shopping in Thrift Stores

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Thrift shopping is all about going into the store with no expectation
of what you might find.

Why spend more when you can spend less? We all feel the sting of retail pricing and, if you’re like me, you shop the sales.Sale is one of my favorite four-letter words! I love a good bargain and that’s what you find when you shop the thrift stores. In Florida, thrift and consignment shops are a big industry. There is even a national guide to thrift shopping for die hards.

Thrift shop, thrift stores, thrifting, shopping, saleIt’s the perfect place to prove that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Thrift store shopping is a unique experience, offering a spectrum of possibility—from finding amazing deals to leaving with nothing at all.

Thrifting is recycling at its most basic level. It’s cost effective and environmentally responsible, but it’s not for the faint of heart.  These are not Rodeo Drive stores. They have unpredictable inventory that turns quickly and successful shoppers roll up their sleeves for the hunt. You seldom see the same things twice.

Approximately 20 percent of Americans shop in thrift stores and I’m proud to be one of them.

Be Discerning

Low prices can make for compulsive shopping. A five-dollar pair of pants is too much money if it ends up in your closet, taking up space but never worn.

On the other hand, a five- dollar pair of pants retailing for $89 at White House Black Market at 50% off in a thrift store means I walked out paying $2.50. I called that a score since I needed black dress pants for a work event with no intention of paying department store prices.

Don’t be put off by the store. Often located in a strip mall with bad fluorescent lighting, funny smells and crammed shelves, thrift stores hold hidden gems. I found a beautiful wrought-iron and rattan table for our patio for eight dollars.  It was in perfect condition and the $169.00 price tag from Pottery Barn was still on the bottom.

Be Patient, Think Carefully

Sometimes stores seem to be full of mom jeans and shoulder pads but don’t let it discourage you. Patience and an open mind are key factors in the hunt for a sweet deal. Don’t settle. If it’s not quite what you are looking for leave it for someone else.

If it is dirty or stained, think carefully about the ease of removing it.  I purchased a stunning Nordstrom’s blouse for three dollars that had a small make-up stain on the collar. It was gone in one wash.

I know my way around a sewing machine, so tears and repairs don’t bother me.  Some flaws are easily fixed. Others are more effort than I want to expend. I’ve learned when to walk away and know quality when I see it. When in doubt, put it in your cart until you make a decision.

Know Your Brands, Know Your Limits

Some designers sell themselves into mass merchandising, lending their names to everything from clothing to furniture to food. It is not an indication of excellence but points to a high retail value. Knowing brand names helps identify items that might be a great buy. Your phone is your friend when thrift shopping—when in doubt, Google it.

Pottery Barn Table

Pottery Barn Table

My champagne tastes are at odds with my beer allowance but thrift store shopping bridges the gap. My mom passed the frugal gene to me. I refuse to pay exorbitant prices and enjoy hunting for that steal of a deal.

Dust and dirt don’t bother me if the value they conceal requires minimal effort to restore the items. Vintage glassware sings a siren song. My best finds are in boxes, filled with yellowed newspaper and dust as well as the treasures they hold.

Thrift shops are gold mines for hacks and Pinterest projects. Know your skills and your limits, stick to what you can accomplish. When I need materials like table linens or any kind of home decor, I head straight for the thrift store.

Thrifting Supports Good Causes

Shop for a Cause! Many established thrift and consignment stores are non-profits supporting good causes; your purchases help fund them. Well-known enterprises like Good Will and Salvation Army are in most cities and locally focused thrift stores abound where I live. Thrifting is an industry and Florida takes it seriously.

There are two one-of-a-kind thrift stores near me. One is dedicated to supporting hospice organizations, the other to abolishing human trafficking. Locals love to donate to these stores and I Iove shopping there. It creates sustainable commerce at a local level and every dollar makes a difference.

I discovered the The Human Trafficking Coalition of Southwest Florida thrift store when I was helping furnish our new women’s shelter. We needed small kitchen appliances and I went in search of a coffee maker.  I found a high-end Cuisinart model (retail value $129.00) in excellent condition for $15.00.

Housewares have no pricing—you ask, they tell you.  I’m a kitchen gadget junkie and this is my happy place. One of my prize finds is a hard maple wooden rolling pin.  When I picked it up, I knew I was holding something beautiful and hand-made. The artisan’s logo was on the handle and it had the heft of a professional baking tool.

I brought it to the counter, along with a new-in-the-box Wusthoff knife sharpener, and asked for a price. “How about a dollar for both?” was the reply.  My inside voice was screaming start the car but my conscience made me offer more.

Donate to Thrift Stores

Support good causes, donate, thrift shops, thrifting, saleDonating items you no longer need is easy and it’s tax deductible.  We donated a lot during our recent move and again when we arrived.  It’s a great way to pay it forward and support someone else’s thrift store treasure hunt.

Recycle, re-purpose, refashion, restore, reinvent. Shop fearlessly!

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This entry was posted in Lifestyle & Culture, Susanne Skinner and tagged , , , , , , by Aline Kaplan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

2 thoughts on “Shopping in Thrift Stores

  1. Sometimes my choir director says “Jewel-colored top” for special music Sundays. Five years ago I stumbled on a vintage emerald green polyester blouse at Salvation Army – the style with gathers at the shoulder/sleeve seam and shoulder pads. I took out the shoulder pads – it’s too big. BUT – it’s jewel-colored and I wear it with a black sweater jacket whenever the choir director wants a “jewel-colored top!”

  2. Yeah, we do much of the same, and have been for years. The problem I have with it though is the amount of time that is needed to find anything of value that we may want. This is a “hobby” type thing for my wife, and it is certainly NOT time efficient, so if you don’t mind sinking tons of time into it, then it can be a good thing. I personally don’t have a lot of patience to indulge in it, but my wife doesn’t mind so much.

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