It’s 2021. We mostly sort of survived 2020, I guess. Pandemic. Election. Murder hornets. Fires. UFOs. I’m waiting on swamp people and lava monsters honestly. (Insert shrug emoji or the it’s been 84 years meme here).
2020 saw us spending more time at home and spending less on things altogether. Maybe someone lost a job. Maybe someone else had to quit their job to fill the role of full-time virtual teacher. Whatever the case, more people wanted to salvage pieces they already had on hand or DIY something used.
Enter: The Thrift Store.
I run a furniture restoration and custom painting business and while Covid gave my line of work an interesting pivot of its own, I’m still, quite literally, a professional thrift store shopper. I find so much trayyyysure (say it like Karen and Georgia if you know what I’m talking about, murderinos), but honing this skill set took time. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite thrifting tips and tricks so hopefully the next time you want to grab something second hand, you’ll feel a little more confident in your approach.
Know what you’re looking for and have the right tools to do so.
I use this approach mainly for clients, but it’s also useful for my own home. You should always be armed with a measuring tape, a list of the spaces/measurements you’re trying to fill, and photos of the area you intend to put your new trayyyysure in. Keep in mind the overall feel of your home or room. So many times I’ve heard people complain that their house looks like a hodge-podge of thrown together things instead of having a curated look. Having a photo on hand of your existing space is a really great way to check the styles you currently have with what inventory catches your eye. This may seem like overkill, but some thrift stores are huge and most have changing inventory daily so they can be overwhelming once you’re inside. Another tip: if you find something you love that absolutely works, DON’T WAIT. We live in a society driven by creatives and entrepreneurs. I’ve thought “Eh, I’ll come get that tomorrow,” only to find it gone when I returned. Nothing haunts us like the things we didn’t buy, friends.
Don’t be afraid to take up space.
A lot of thrifted furniture pieces are great structurally and just need a little cosmetic touch up, but I’ve come across some pieces that are barely hanging on. Don’t hesitate to take everything off a table or shelf, turn it over, lightly shake it or move it around, crawl under it to see if it’s a quick fix like adding a screw or tightening a bolt, etc. After several pieces made it home with me that should have never been resold in the first place, I learned to put my ego aside and do some investigating in store, however crazy I looked in the process.
Haggle if you can.
Some stores have fixed prices and some will typically negotiate with you. The thrift stores of today are not the thrift stores of 10 years ago. Most places have caught on that people like me turn to their inventory to resell and have inflated the prices to keep up with market trends. But the worst they can tell you is no. A few stores also have a pricing system that decreases by percentage after a certain time. For example, if it came in at $100 on 1/1, by 1/5 it will be $50, and by the end of the month it will be $25. These tags are usually a fixed price since they’re set up to decrease over time, but I’ve had a few instances where a manager let me take something for the very last deep discounted price a few days early.
Make friends and become a regular.
Just like Cheers, you’re going to want everybody to know your name. I have about three stores that I go into 2-4 times a week. The staff know me, know what I do, and know what I’m looking for usually. Speak up if you need a waterfall vanity set or a mid mod chest of drawers. They may have seen one in another store or will tell you when a truck is coming into their store each day with new goods from their main offices. Also by being a frequent flyer, or in this case thrifter, most days I can be in and out of each store in under 10 minutes because I’m so familiar with the layout. I know that realistically, not everyone can pop in like I can, but even a few weekend trips in a row to a few stores is all it takes to familiarize yourself with the staff and the layout.
Don’t be scared of the clothes.
For a really long time, I thought that thrift store clothes were boiled down to grandma dresses and vintage tee shirts that fit funny. I was so wrong. Since I’m in so often for furniture, I usually stop and browse for myself or my three boys. Thrift stores are a gold mine of name brands and most are setting up boutique sections of nicer brands so you don’t even have to dig too hard.
Brands included: Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie, Free People, Loft, Forever 21, Lucky, and a few other boutique brands. I find equally good stuff for my boys, especially the baby who is in bigger toddler sizes. I typically take everything home and wash it immediately, but I’m in the habit of doing that with literally everything anyway (thanks corona) so it’s not being done out of fear that I’m going to bring home some weird thrift store creepy crawly. Also, thrift stores are your destination for Halloween, school dress up days, and tacky sweater parties.
It’s okay if it’s overwhelming.
I’ve been thrifting here and there all my life, but it’s been a career for the last five years and still…sometimes I get overstimulated. There’s one particular store in South Knoxville that I LOVE, but going there turns into an all day event because it’s so huge. In fact, I told a fellow KM contributor just last weekend, “I’m sorry. I just left ____. I’m in my car sitting in the silence because I need a minute.” If thrifting seems like too much or not your bag, but you have a limited budget for your space, there are plenty of people like me who have turned trash into treasure many times over. As I told someone at a small family gathering near Christmas, “I’m a big fan of re-doing other people’s trash. I quite literally built a whole business around it.” Many people will be happy to offer real time advice or can be hired to track down whatever piece you’re imagining and turn it into what best fits your space.