Tips for how to be good at thrifting

Ultimate Guide For How to Be Good at Thrifting

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If it’s one thing that I’ve perfected, it’s how to be good at thrifting. And since I’ve written many articles about different aspects of secondhand shopping, I thought I would tie it all together in an ultimate guide post.

Quote of the day: “Learned that where a person comes from means far less than what she makes of herself.” Elin Hilderberg in Golden Girl

Thrifting can be defined as perusing stores or events where gently used items are being sold at a discount. It would be no different than if you received hand-me-downs when you were growing up. In the past, that idea might have been considered gross or beneath us.
Yet now it’s cool and there are so many reasons to consider it.

How to be good at thrifting
1-Reasons to thrift
2-Tips and tricks
3-Sizing issues
4-What to buy
5-What to wear
6-Online options

Whether you stop at the local garage sales, or scour the vintage markets, there are many tricks that can help you be good at thrifting. And since it’s something that happens a lot in my life, I have become a pro at it.

If you are looking to find the difference between consignment and thrifting, I wrote about that while the three of us showed off preloved outfits.
Even though I tend to focus on clothing in my thrifting articles, secondhand shopping is also a great resource for dishes, cookware, home decor, furniture as well as electronics.

Insider tip: We find cracked pitchers and bowls that are still lovely and use them for our outside patio decor.
Another thing to consider is that many furniture pieces can be restored or painted to make them look new again.

In addition, thrifting can be advantageous for parts, pieces, or things you are just going to get dirty anyways.
For instance, I will buy blouses or jackets just for the buttons. Or secondhand sheets can make wonderful drop clothes for painting. Speaking of painting, why dirty your good clothes? Just buy a $1 t-shirt and pants secondhand and keep them in the garage for those activities. These “dirty clothes” certainly don’t have to fit well, so you can get the cheapest options.

1-Reasons to Thrift

There are so many reasons to either stop at the estate sales in your area or shop at the thrift stores.
A-Reuse. The biggest factor is that in our society of overconsuming, it is a fabulous way to be environmentally conscious and prevent items from being thrown away or sent to a landfill.
B-Cost savings. Thrift store prices are meant to be discounted, so you are saving yourself money.

Insider tip: Many times you can save even more money than what the price tag says. At garage sales, it’s appropriate to ask if you can get a better deal. Some thrift stores have an extra discount on certain color tags.

C-Supporting local. With many of the smaller thrift stores or even your garage sales, you are keeping the money in your community by supporting the small businesses and people that live close.
D-Finding variety. Retailers stop carrying certain items, but you can still find them when you shop secondhand. For me, I find a much better selection of colorful tops at the larger thrift stores especially in the winter months.

Related posts: My personal history with pre-loved items
The ultimate guide to thrifting

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Ways to be good at thrifting

2-Tips for How to be Good at Thrifting

My 2 biggest tips for how to be good at thrifting involve your mindset and your company.

A-Be open and look at everything. Thrifting is not the type of shopping where you go with a list and cross things off as you find them. A successful trip happens when you walk around the entire store and look at absolutely everything. And I mean everything.

You may not have realized that you needed _____ (fill in the blank), but it catches your eye and can be the best purchase ever.

Insider tip: It is good to keep a list of things you are looking for as you thrift, and check it before you go into the store. Even with this list, you have to realize that it may take months or years before you find what you want. Patience is the key.

B-Take a good shopping buddy. Some people say they shop better by themselves, but I am a firm believer that you only buy the same things over and over that way.
Having a second pair of eyes can nudge you to try something you might not have thought to try.

That doesn’t mean you should buy things just because your friend suggested it, but I encourage you to have an open mind. Some of my best purchases were suggestions from others.

Related post: Thrift store shopping tips

How to be good at thrifting

3-Sizing and Measurements

Let’s get one thing straight. Sizes are NOT standard. This is something you probably know in the back of your head. You’ve heard how there is vanity sizing and how one brand’s size 10 is so different from another brand’s size 10.
Yet we all still tend to focus on size when we are shopping. And that isn’t smart when you are learning about how to be good at thrifting.


Because more times than not you can find things that fit you in almost every size category at secondhand stores.
If you need more information, I wrote an entire article talking about 5 simple thrift store sizing tips. There’s a ton more detail in the article, but let me give you a quick synopsis.

  • Sizes get put in the wrong place including kids’ and men’s section of clothing
  • Vintage items are sized very differently
  • Sometimes I prefer a smaller or larger fit depending on how I’m wearing it
  • The material can make a difference
Great reasons to buy used

4-Best Things to Buy (and Not Buy)

I’ve shared my top 5 clothing items to buy when thrifting in an article. You will find more details in that post but here’s a breakdown of the first things I look at in the clothing realm.

  • Belts
  • Coats & Jackets
  • Shoes
  • Special occasion or situational dressing (for example we found amazing pieces that would work for a night on the town)
  • Hats

How to Be Good at Thrifting By Not Buying This

I bet you were thinking I would list certain items. But no. There really isn’t anything, in particular, you shouldn’t buy. Instead, what you shouldn’t buy is more of a concept. Remember these are how you get good at thrifting.

  • Smelly items. There are some fixes to get the smells neutralized, but it’s not easy, and not for sure. This is one time, I wouldn’t try to take it home.
  • Broken things that you can’t fix. Notice I qualified it with “that you can’t fix”. Just because it’s broken doesn’t mean it’s not a good buy, when there’s an easy fix.
  • Similar to what you already have. Most of us like what we like, and will end up buying the same items over and over. Trust me. If you already have 10 pairs of black pants, you don’t need another pair. I don’t care how this or that detail is different. Instead, opt for the bright pink pants or go for a black skirt instead. Because the prices are so low, this is the time to try something unique.

I DO NOT include stained items in what NOT to buy. There are many fixes for stains including those below.

  • Many stains will come out after I use the tips I learned from the book, Laundry Love
  • Depending on the material, stains can be covered with paint (see insider tip below) or appliques.
  • Where the stain is located is key. For example, I bought a maxi skirt that was incredibly dirty along the hem, but since I was going to chop it off to make it shorter, it didn’t matter.

Insider tip: For instance in my coat in the photo below, I found it had some stains on it when I took it home. But after adding dots of paint to it along the seams, you didn’t notice the stains and it became a unique item.

5-What to Wear When You Shop

Any successful shopping can be made easier if you are dressed correctly. This is true whether you are shopping for clothes or anything else.

The biggest factor is you don’t want to be dressed in your finest. Thrift stores aren’t always as clean as other retail stores, and even the furniture and big items could be dusty.
You also don’t want to have too many accessories to get in the way while you’re searching through things.

If you are shopping for clothes, then you want to pick an outfit that is good for clothes shopping in general. Think easy to get in and out of if you are trying things on.
However, some thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms (just like garage sales don’t usually), so it’s nice to have the option to try things on while you are standing in the store.
For me, that usually means an A-line skirt and a tank top. But another option is a pair of leggings and a T-shirt.

We have showcased outfits worn for thrifting in the past if you need a visual

Buying shoes and boots secondhand

6-Online Options

I’ve heard the comment that some areas don’t have a big selection of thrift stores. Even if that is the case, there are online thrift stores for clothing.

I have written about 4 tips to make online thrifting more successful. The biggest takeaway is to use the site’s search and filter options. Then learning to evaluate it before you click the “add to cart” button is key.

One of the big online clothing thrift sites is Poshmark. It can be very overwhelming to shop on this site due to its huge inventory and variety. I’ve written tips for that site in particular. And my #1 suggestion is to make sure you click the heart on anything you really like.
One reason is you can go back and find it easier. But another fabulous reason is that many times the seller will send a discounted price on that item to the people who have “liked” it.

Online Thrift Stores

Here is a list of the most common online thrift stores.
thredUpthis link gives you $10 (and me in return).
Poshmark — here is the post about how to shop the site.
Uncommon Closet— nonprofit to help women.
Gild the Lily–a local Michigan store that sells online.

Ultimate guide for how to be good at thrifting

Photo credit: Rob Filogomo

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