Learn to thrift shop like a pro with 10 proven hacks that will show you how to find the good stuff every time you shop – plus see them in action with projects for each hack.
If you’ve ever wandered into a thrift store, ambled through a yard sale, or trecked through a flea market or second-hand sale and was intrigued by pieces but not sure how to use them, I’ve got good news for you:
You’re an amazing thrift shopper who just needs a few hacks tucked into your back pocket.
Finding good pieces isn’t so much about talent, knack, or even luck, but more about vision and having a plan. And I’m going to show you how to do it!
Learning to Thrift Shop
When I began thrift shopping, I was skeptical.
I had this idea that thrift shopping was junky and just a selection of a bunch of garbage someone else didn’t want.
To be honest, it even seemed a little cringy.
I felt weird pawing through things that belonged to other people and evaluating them to see if I wanted any of it. It was especially nerve-wracking at yard sales with owners nearby watching.
I also had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to find good pieces, good deals, or what to do with the things I found.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I look back on that naive young shopper with a pitying grin.
I’ve learned a few things since then and now I love a good thrift shopping trip.
It’s an adventure!
How To Thrift Shop Like a PRO
You can skip the years of trial and error and grab the 10 hacks I’ve discovered instead.
I use some of them every time I shop, and every single one serves me well as I plan trips and projects.
Not only have I learned how to shop, but I’ve also learned that I can save a pretty penny by doing it, which isn’t cringy at all, but simply smart!
Here are the 10 hacks I’ve discovered and now use to thrift shop like a pro:
1. Shop for Pieces and Parts
There’s a couple of ways to do this:
One is to look for items that already come in pieces or parts.
The other is to use separate, even unrelated, items to make something totally unexpected and new. These groupings are great for making some fabulous repurposed projects!
You can use several pieces, or just two.
2. Paint is Your Thrift Shopping Best Friend
Almost anything can be transformed with paint!
Paint has the amazing ability to freshen, update, and totally change the mood and feeling of a room. And it can do the very same thing for thrift finds.
In fact, most things you find in thrift stores are desperately outdated anyway.
Paint is your #1 tool for updating these given-up-on pieces.
3. Make a List
One of the great things about thrift shopping is that you never know what you might find. So making a list might seem like a crazy tip.
But it isn’t.
What are the chances that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for when you shop? Well, they might be a little more likely than you think.
4. Keep an Open Mind
Want to know how to thrift shop like a pro?
Don’t be so committed (a.k.a. laser-focused) to your list that you walk right past something fabulous and totally miss it.
Maybe you don’t operate that way, but some of us thrifting hounds chase scents and can blow right past a really good find while searching for something on our lists.
5. Think Outside the Box
But when it comes to stretching those creative muscles and making something different, unexpected, and unique, a repurposed project just can’t be beaten!
And those projects start in your head.
The most important thing about repurposing is seeing things differently.
Just because a piece started out as one thing, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
It may take a little patience if you’re not practiced in repurposed thinking. But take heart – learning to think differently about pieces is a skill you can train yourself in.
6. Make a Criteria List
Don’t confuse a criteria list with your shopping list.
Your criteria list will actually help you build your shopping list! By determining the types of items you want to look for, you can eliminate everything else, giving you a clearer focus as you shop.
This list contains all the characteristics that you find appealing – and that’s what makes them a bargain for you!
Your list will contain at least 3 reasons why you’d give a piece a second look.
7. Don’t Create Regret for Yourself
It usually goes like this: something catches your eye and you consider whether or not you should buy it.
It has enough appeal to grab your attention, and even give you pause for consideration, but you just don’t know…hmmmmm…
And you look.
And think – if only for a few seconds.
That’s your flashing light of warning.
Don’t want regrets later?
Don’t walk away empty-handed!
Thrift shop like a pro instead.
8. The Used Furniture Hack
If there’s one thing you can consistently find at thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, and sales groups…it’s used furniture!
In fact, you can sometimes even find it for free – when you scout curbs and local papers. People are often more than willing to get rid of pieces they no longer want in their way.
You’ll never be at a loss to find some when you thrift shop or scout, and a series of hacks on thrift shopping wouldn’t be complete without including it.
But before you run off and snag the first piece you see, there are a few things to keep in mind. These tips make all the difference in how well your used furniture project will turn out.
9. Watch out for Unique Shapes and Sizes
Of all the hacks I use when I thrift shop like a pro, this one takes the least amount of thought or effort.
It’s pretty easy to spot something with an unusual shape or size. Deciding what to do with it is where the effort – and thrill – comes in.
At the end of the day, a unique shape or size is really a matter of opinion and style, but here are a few general things I’ve learned to look for in pieces that really stand out:
10. Know Your Store’s Sales Cycles
With all the other hacks under your belt, you’ve got everything you need to find the goods every time you shop, and with a little inside information, you can get them for less!
I’ve never been to a thrift store that didn’t have some kind of discount system.
And it isn’t just thrift store either. You can find them at yard sales, flea markets, and even consignment stores.
All you have to do is ask.
And there you are – all 10 hacks so that you can thrift shop like a PRO yourself!