How to Hunt a Thrift Store

I know, I know…you have to do a lot of digging before you find anything fantastic, but swallowing your pride and combing the shelves of a thrift store will absolutely be worth it once you find a treasure for a mind-blowingly low price.

I was raised with a mother and a grandmother who know the value of a good bargain.  Whenever we’d visit my mom’s parents, all the girls would go to the Amvets, Salvation Army, or FAITH (Fight Abuse In The Home) thrift stores, where we would spend hours browsing every rack in the store.  My mom and grandmother have the most beautiful homes, and many of their pieces were found at thrift stores.

Here are some rules on how to hunt a thrift store.  They work for me, and they are sure to work for you too! 

1.  Have a general plan.  I typically head to a thrift store with a few general themes in mind.  For example, right now I always keep an eye out for blue and white pieces (ginger jars especially), anything brass (it’s made a huge comeback and most people that own old brass things don’t realize it’s cool again so they get rid of their pieces!), tiny mirrors, old hobnob pieces,  serving trays, lucite, glasses, etc.

Brass AND lucite candle stick!  A winning combo in my book!

2.  Be open-minded.  Pick things up and study them and think about where you could use them.  Tabletops and bookshelves don’t need to be sparse, so get creative!

Ginger jars can be used just about anywhere, and always make lovely vases.

3.  Be patient.  I searched for my new dining chairs for about 10 months.  I knew I wanted well built, unique chairs at a good price, so I had to wait until I found the perfect ones.  I’m glad I didn’t spring on a set of chairs I didn’t truly love a few months ago.  That would have been rushing the process. 

I can’t wait to make over these chairs!  I have the fabric (so fun and I can’t wait to share it with y’all) and the paint, now all I need is some space to work!

4.  Be imaginative.  If you see a piece that may need a little TLC, don’t be afraid!  Getting something reupholstered or painting a piece of furniture isn’t as expensive and doesn’t take as long as you might think.  Plus they will be one of a kind pieces once you’re done with them!

This was actually at my neighbor’s yard sale (and she gave it to me for free!).  Good thing I have an imagination, otherwise I would have thought this was a lost cause.

Now this same sofa looks amazing.  Just a simple fabric change made all the difference!

5.  Be wary.  Make sure to try out thrift store lamps before you buy them.  You never know if their wiring works until you try it out.  Also check the craftsmanship of any furniture.  You don’t want to waste your money on something made from particle board.

I made sure to test out this lamp first before I committed to it.

I’ve had great luck with thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets, but it’s because I put in the effort and don’t mind spending lots of time looking at everything.  One last hint is to choose a decent area of town to browse.  Thrift stores in nice areas will usually have a better selection simply because the local residents will be getting rid of higher quality stuff.

So to recap, here are the rules again, surrounded by an assortment of items I’ve found while hunting at thrift stores over the years.  My home wouldn’t be the same without all my eclectic second-hand pieces!

Happy hunting!

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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Leave a comment

  1. July 16, 2014 / 4:10 pm

    Borderline obsessed with your couch! If you don't mind me asking, did reupholstering it cost you an arm and a leg? I

  2. July 17, 2014 / 10:54 am

    I've recently had more luck in thrift stores than ever before. Virginia is a great place to thrift and I've been a lot more open – minded… and thoroughly inspired by your awesome blog!

  3. July 17, 2014 / 3:29 pm

    I love thrifting, now that Nick is home again, I am going more!! I finally did a thrift post today- my first in sooo long! Another big tip I learned the hard way- if you arent sure about an item or want to think it over- PUT IT IN YOUR CART! decide later if you want it, because it will be gone by the time you decide!

  4. July 20, 2014 / 5:02 pm

    Katie! I live in the DC area also – what are your favorite thrift stores?

  5. July 23, 2014 / 6:50 pm

    Thanks Erika, I'm pretty crazy about it too! I got the sofa reupholstered in Atlanta and it actually only cost me $400 for the labor, which was a steal compared to what they charge here in DC. I think it all depends on where you live. My wingback chairs were $450 each, and the pattern was way more simple than the ikat fabric on the sofa. I think it was totally worth the price for all of it though.

  6. July 23, 2014 / 6:54 pm

    Hi Stephanie! I've had a lot of good luck at the thrift stores at Ft. Belvoir and Ft. Myer. They are open to the public, I believe, you just have to follow the rules to get on post. I also like the Corner Cupboard off of Washington Blvd in Arlington and some of the thrift stores on King Street in Alexandria. I found my "new" dining chairs at Look Again thrift shop.

  7. July 23, 2014 / 6:55 pm

    Yay I bet you missed it! I love the treasures you write about. You come up with the best ideas!!

  8. August 14, 2014 / 8:37 pm

    Oh my gosh that's crazy! Thanks for sharing Amanda! I'm totally going to go watch that on Netflix now ūüôā

  9. August 15, 2014 / 3:00 am

    Tonight while watching Mad Men I saw some familiar chairs! Season 2, episode 12, around 42 minutes – your dining chairs were in a scene. I immediately thought of you!

  10. August 2, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    Hey!! Just found your Blog- I love it. Where are you based out of? I run 6 thrift stores in SW florida and I'd love your feedback!!

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