How to find EXACTLY what you're looking for in the giant sea of randomness that is a thrift store:
1. Be realistic. Come to terms with the knowledge that finding exactly what you're looking for is probably NOT going to happen.
---Thrift store shopping is not very useful for finding a very specific thing. At least not right away. It might take a looooong time before you find something if you have a very particular item in mind. For example, we eat a lot of honey. So much honey that I buy it in really giant containers. I have been wanting a small honey pot for-to-the-ever. It would be so easy to hop on Amazon and order one. But! That would cost a lot more money. And who knows - if I wait long enough, maybe I'll decide I don't need one after all. Or find something else that works in it's place. Plus I love the history behind items that have already had homes. I feel like it gives them a warmth, you know? Like they probably should have a name. Is that just me? Hmm.
---Here's what thrifting IS useful for: finding things that will work even if they're not 100% what you had in mind, and finding things that you didn't know you needed in the first place. :)
2. Be selective. Just because it is used doesn't automatically make it a good deal. I don't know if you've noticed, but thrift stores have wised up to the fact that more and more people are shopping second hand. Since there's a bigger market, the prices have gone up. Also, do you want to know what one thing has single handedly ruined thrifting? A little new fangled fad I like to call the interlines. (Get it? Internet+online? I made that gem of a word up accidentally one day after honestly not being able to think of the right word. Parenting makes me tired.) Anywho, the internet has given thrift stores the ability to look up what gets donated and price it accordingly. So that charming little sweater with the European brand? Yeah, they Googled it. They know it retails for $185. So they've priced it at $40. BLAST. This leads me to...
3. Know your stuff. Whatever you're shopping for, know what it costs new. Even better, know what your stuff goes for on Craigslist and those Facebook buy/sell/trade pages. That way you know if you've got a good price.
---Two things I've noticed and look for on clothing: cuffs and necklines. Stains hide there.
---Be 100% sure that whatever you're buying is actually what you want. I can't tell you how many times I've found fabulous shoes that are just half a size too small, and I think to
myself, "I don't mind that they're a bit tight! I can make them work! Because they are perfect!" But I actually WILL mind, and realize that they're actually NOT perfect, when they're rubbing my tootsies raw and I'm changing my bandaids every 30 min and my brand-new-to-me shoes have a brand new blood stain on them. Be realistic.
5. Practice makes perfect. Thrift store shopping may take a bit longer than buying new, but it is possible to zip through a little more quickly if you know how. Here's how I do it:
---While looking at clothes, I skim the rack searching for three things: pattern, material, and color. This really helps narrow down the playing field. For instance, since I am super boring, I skip over pretty much anything that's not plain or striped. Apparently I would be really good at being Amish. The material is also super important: No need to wear anything scratchy or pilled or threadbare - pay attention to condition. At most stores, the clothing (except for infants) is arranged by color, so go straight to the shades that appeal to you.
---When looking at toys, check for stuff that is in it's original box or at least in a Ziploc bag. If they're contained, you've got a way better chance of all the pieces being there.
---When looking at shoes, always check the sole for wear, especially the toes and heels. If they are velco, check to be sure that they still fasten. Also, if the shoes are a brand that you don't recognize, try to find a pair of Nikes or another well known brand to compare them to in order to determine if they run true to size.
---Look for brands that you don't recognize. Pay attention to the font that they're written in. Did that sound as weird as I think it did? Hmm. Well, at any rate, I've noticed that I am drawn to clothes and shoes that have a certain type of label font. It probably corresponds to what sort of clothes they are - fussy labels = fussy clothes, simple labels = simple clothes, etc. I sound full blown crazy pants here don't I?
---Typically, you get what you pay for, so clothes that are more expensive brand new generally are in much better condition used, because they started out as high quality items. Also, people who can afford to buy expensive things brand new generally...how might I phrase this...have plenty of things. So if they buy a Columbia windbreaker, but don't really love it, they shrug it off, donate it, and buy a new one. I don't even bother looking at certain brands at thrift stores, because I know that I can buy them brand new for not much more than second hand prices.
6. Know what you're looking for. I keep a list in my phone of what my boys have clothing-wise so that I know not to buy another pair of pajamas because we already have a quadrillion pairs of pajamas for pete's sake but we don't have any shorts so unless he's going to rock fleece feeties in the middle of July I better keep my eyes peeled for the shorts! Or whatever. The most helpful list I have is definitely the shoe list.
All hail the shoe list! The way I figure it, living in Oregon means we only really need two pairs of shoes for our littles. A pair of boots for six months of the year, and a pair of Keens for the other six months. So whenever I see an awesome pair of either of those, I check my handy list to see if I have them already or not, and then buy accordingly.
---If you qualify for any discounts (senior, military, etc) be sure to ask about those.
---If you donate at St. Vinnie's, they give you a coupon for 20% off one regularly priced item. This is awesome because you can save money as well as be motivated to follow the all important "one thing in the house, one thing out" rule.
---You're likely to find the best selection when the seasons change and after the first of the year. Those are times that people feel like cleaning house, and thrift stores get tons of great donations. So check your calendar. Hey guess what? It's January right this second! Let the shopping commence!
---Different stores may specialize in different things. Some have great selections of appliances, others have really great book sections. Check it out.
---Many stores have big clearances several times a year. For example, I know that SVDP does a 50% all books and clothing (which HELLO that is such a steal) right around most holidays. This sale is always on Sunday and Monday only, and they never announce it until the Saturday before. I've asked if they can tell me when the sales are and they always say no. Way to play it coy, Vinnie's.
---If you are there often, and are friendly with the workers, some of them are kind enough to keep an eye out for stuff that you are looking for. Isn't that the coolest?
---To move inventory through the store, most second hand shops use a colored tag system.
The longer an item has been there, the cheaper it is. SVDP runs on a three week rotation. The first week, the item is full price, then the next week it's 25% off, then 50% off. Find out when the store turns over the tags. SVDP turns on Tuesdays, so we go every Tuesday morning. Which leads me to...
9. Be prepared to leave empty handed. Some days the second hand deal fairy smiles down on you, and some days she does not. :)
Wowie! That was so good, right?
Thanks, Megan for showing us your ways!
If you enjoyed these thrifting posts, keep an eye out for more through the year. We love to help you!
First Class Second Hand, Part 1
First Class Second Hand, Part 2
Megan Defferding is the mom to two super fun boys who love to find great stuff to do all around Lane County! Check out her blog series, Happy Adventuring, weekly on GoMomGo.