10 April 2012

Efficient Thrift Shopping

This post is written by contributing author Paige Ronchetti. 

Guys, I love thrift stores. There's almost nothing I won't buy there. Well, not undergarments, but for just about everything else--furniture, decor, clothing, DIY materials, books--thrift stores are amazing. We all know the reasons to sing their praises (better for the planet, easy on the wallet, etc.), but I also like them for the thrill of the hunt. Every shopping trip is like a little adventure.

I've been thrifting for about a decade, and at first I was that person who would come home with 600 items just because they "looked awesome." But over the years I've developed some guidelines to help me be more efficient and more selective at thrift stores. Hopefully they'll help you too!

assorted vintage dishes
Assorted dishes: $1 each

1. Make a list
If you wander into GoodWill without a clue, you'll get overwhelmed and end up buying a bunch of stuff you don't need. (I speak from experience.) So make a game plan before you go and try to be as specific as possible. For example, my most recent thrifting expedition was for "flat metallic sandals and casual summer dresses." And that's exactly what I looked for.

2. Stick to said list
Much like a calendar won't help you stay organized if you never use it, a list won't work if you decide to ignore it. Sure it's tempting to wander by the purse racks--we all love a good purse!--but if it didn't make it onto your list in the first place, you probably don't need it. So just keep moving and only look at things you plan to buy.

flat metallic sandals
Metallic sandals: $6

3. Try everything on
I follow this rule at "regular" clothing stores, too, but it's extra important while thrifting because not everywhere (like an estate sale) accepts returns. A vast majority of thrift stores will have fitting rooms, and even if there isn't an official one at an estate or garage sale, I've never had anybody say no when I ask to try something on in the bathroom. Definitely take a few minutes for this. Not only does it ensure that everything fits, but it can help you weed out items you're on the fence about.

4. Don't get blinded by awesomely low prices
Just because something is cheaper than you expect does not automatically make it a good deal. In fact, it's only a good deal if you actually need the item. Yes, that ceramic elephant collection is adorable, but what are you going to do with it? Even when prices are ultra affordable, only buy things that will serve a legitimate purpose.

Vintage suitcase: $5

These guidelines have definitely helped me become a better thrift shopper. I used to be embarrassingly bad. I was that person who'd wander around buying things willy-nilly, and then wonder how my apartment was so full of crap. Lesson learned! Now I get in, get what I need, and get out. And my life has way less clutter.

What thrift shopping advice do you follow? Do you have a favorite tip? Maybe you're like me and had to learn things the hard way? What's your favorite thing to buy secondhand?

All photographs are courtesy of Paige Ronchetti.

Paige Ronchetti lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband. They have no kids and no pets, which gives them a lot of time for eating spicy food and looking for bargains. Paige's blog is Little Nostalgia is a collection of projects and pretty things. There you can find DIY tutorials, home decor inspiration, and affordable fashion ideas. When she is not blogging, Paige is working on her vintage-inspired jewelry lines, Little White Chapel and Oh Nostalgia. Connect to Paige via twitter or pinterest.


  1. I love to buy old china at thrift shops - mismatched cups and saucers or cute butter plates but I do have a rule about no chips, cracks or bad crazing! Happy thrifting!

    1. Your rule is pretty sensible and a good way to stay focused :)

  2. Tips for clothes:
    1.I don't buy clothes that have a funny smell, I'm sure you can get rid of some but in my experience, those that smell a bit 'funny' and tend to always smell that way.
    2.Always check closely for stains etc.
    3. Find a cheap local seanstress (if you don't sew yourself)and ask for a rough price on shortening pants, taking in a jacket etc- make a note of these costs. That way, if you find something you love but it doesn't fit, you can have those extra costs to hand straight away and factor them in when deciding if the purchase is worth it.


    1. Clever! In what way is thrift shopping for clothes different than regular shopping, do you think? Apart from the funny smells of course? I am asking because I myself have never ever bought a second hand piece of clothing. I may have to ask Paige too, because she has so much experience :)

  3. Such self-restrain, Paige! :)
    You're right. The first step towards buying less stuff is not even browsing for it!

    My tip applies to shopping in general: if I fall in love with something, but I know I can probably live without, I carry it with me while I wander and browse through the store, then put it down before check out.
    Somehow, spending that time with it appeases my yearning, even if I don't end up buying it. It works like a charm!