If you spend anytime at all shopping at thrift stores, garage sales or an online marketplace you need to have a plan. Here are the top items that I think you should always buy at thrift stores.
I love shopping at thrift stores! I love the thrill of the hunt and although I sometimes leave empty handed I can usually find some great pieces to take home with me.
When my kids were young we would spend a few hours each Friday morning hitting garage sales to look for clothing, toys and books. Boy did we find some great stuff too. Toys and books and all kinds of fun items that we wouldn’t have found in a store.
Now that they’re all grown I spend a lot more time picking up project pieces that I know will spend some time waiting for me to finish them. There are even a few that I’ve brought home and later let them move on to a new home when I don’t get around to finishing them.
Thrift stores are a great place to find unique items to decorate with and you can even find some craft supplies that will cost you a lot less than retail.
When I talk about thrift store shopping I’m also thinking about antique stores, flea markets, garage sales and even some online market places. The nextdoor app even has a free area on it that holds some surprising finds.
Thrift store shopping can be overwhelming if you don’t go in with a plan so here’s my go to list of favorite things to buy at thrift stores.
Thrift Store Shopping Tips
When you’re faced with a thrift store full of goodies it helps to know what you’re searching for so start with this list for your home. It can be exhausting to look at so much stuff so be prepared to not make as much headway as you’d think on your first few rounds.
Another great tip: Take some hand sanitizer and bottled water with you when you head out. I sometimes look up and realize I’ve spent way too long in a shop and I definitely need a drink and clean hands.
Here’s the list:
I love a good book. I love to read them and display them and use them for projects.
Well I want to use them for projects, but I haven’t been able to tear up a book yet to use it so that’s still on my project list.
There are tons of books to buy at thrift stores and if you need hardcover books for a bookshelf you can usually find them for around $1 each. These are great if you’re looking for a particular color of book to use in your home decor.
One of my favorite finds is a set of encyclopedia’s that we bought when the kids were small. They loved to pick one subject and read all about it. Now I’ve got a beautiful set of matching books with green leather covers and they are perfect for all kinds of decorating.
I like to use them on a bookshelf and I also like to use them as risers to stack up and put a small dish or frame on.
Sometimes you may find a beautiful book of illustrations and these can be removed and framed to use as art. I have a vintage floral book that I picked up for that purpose – but it’s still sitting on a shelf. It’s on my project list!
I have to overcome my urge to keep books looking like books!
If you’re in love with a particular pattern or color of dishes it can be worth sifting through them to find those special pieces. My favorite coffee mug broke and the next week at the thrift store I found the same mug!! Now I have my favorite coffee mug back.
When we were wedding planning the girls wanted unmatched china to use for serving and the thrift store was the place to find it all. We hit up several stores over a few months and now own enough beautiful china to host quite a few parties.
Of course if I ever decide to part with it, guess where it will all go?
I’ve also found some fun seasonal pieces to use and I love to check out the selection of pitchers. They are great to use as vases for my fresh flowers.
I cannot imagine paying retail for a frame anymore.
There are so many of them to be found at thrift stores and the prices are just magical. All it takes is a quick coat of paint to make them look amazing.
I am a big fan of more ornate frames so if you’re looking for the very thin modern style you may not have as much luck. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking. You’ll be surprised at what you might find.
If you’re looking for a very large frame don’t forget to check out all the art. You don’t have to keep the art, you can remove it and just use the frame.
Or you can remove it and find yourself with a big canvas to make new art.
Don’t forget that you can also use frames to make chalkboards, pin boards, jewelry holders, etc. They can also be left empty and be their very own art.
Along with frames, mirrors are one of my favorite finds to buy at thrift stores. A framed mirror can run you a solid amount of money, but you can usually find mirrors at all the thrift stores for a fraction of retail cost.
They may take a coat of paint to make them look amazing but that’s an easy fix.
I found this great pair of mirrors while thrifting (in this case it was on facebook marketplace while the thrift stores were closed) and painted them and hung them. They were exactly the size that I’d been searching for and hadn’t been able to find. It was a great find.
You never know when. you’re going to find a great piece of furniture at a thrift store. If you’re looking for a fixer upper piece or something that’s been gently worn then this is the place to find it.
Many thrift stores even carry past season or out of stock items so it’s not always used pieces that you’ll find. I’ve found new furniture with the tags still on it for a fraction of the retail price.
A lot of furniture in the thrift stores will need a new coat of paint or some sanding to rid it of scratches and knicks. Those are easy DIY projects and you should definitely tackle one!
Things to look for: make sure doors and drawers work and are solid. If it’s wobbly let someone else take it or if you’re not sure about how much work it will take it’s probably better to pass on it.
Another tip: Ask customer service reps what days they put out new furniture and when they mark things down. Some stores have discounts on certain days of the week and it helps to know when things might be discounted even more.
This is another area that you might be surprised. I have seen lots of new light fixtures that are still in their packages for a super low price. I’ve also found lot’s of lamps that just needed a new shade to make them perfect for our home.
When you’re shopping for lamps look for a classic shape, or a funky shape that’s unique. It’s also a great find if there are lamps in pairs. Don’t be afraid to use some spray paint to update your finds.
Candlesticks, Vases and Jars
I always see candlesticks at thrift stores and they are fun to paint and use on my bookshelves and tables. I have some beautiful pink ones that I use for holiday’s and they’re such a fun clear pink color!
You can use candlesticks to hold mini pumpkins in the fall or glue a beautiful plate to the top and use them as a display. We all need more ways to display our cookies don’t we?
As far as vases and jars, there are so many to pick from so be sure you have a plan for them. I like to look for certain colors or unique items that I haven’t seen before. Blue and white pottery or white glass usually wins in our house. But I’m also a huge fan of brass and sometimes some gold pieces.
Baskets can be a great find at the thrift store. Many of them will cost you under $5 and just like most things, you can easily update them with a little spray paint on the bottom.
Even smaller sized baskets are great for making a gift basket for a new neighbor or bridal shower. You can put together a nicer gift when you don’t spend much on the packaging.
I love the larger sized baskets for organizing. The natural fibers are much better to handle than plastic. I love the organic feel of the baskets.
Don’t even get me started on what you can use them for – books, blankets, odds and ends. If it’s big enough to hold it you can put it in a basket.
A tray can be a great way to pull together objects and keep things from looking cluttered. You can use trays on your coffee table, your makeup table or in your kitchen. You can find lots of them at thrift stores.
I found a tray with lucite handles that’s finish was peeling so I put some new contact paper on it and it looks like new!
A couple of other items to always buy at thrift stores
If you’re a crafter you might not have considered all the things that you can find at thrift stores to craft with.
Costume Jewelry: This is a great way to find beads, rhinestones and tassels. Broken pieces are even less expensive and sometimes you can purchase an entire bag of broken jewelry.
Leather Belts and Bags: You may find a few great bags or belts to use but don’t forget to check them out for crafts as well. You can make tassels from the leather or weave it into wall hangings or bracelets.
Board Games: If you like to play board games you may find some great prices at thrift stores but be sure all the pieces are there. If you’re a crafter those game pieces can make a lot of fun projects.
Party Supplies: The last few parties that we’ve thrown we’ve picked up punch bowls, colored glass and silver trays for so much less than we would have spent at a party store. Not to mention when we buy at thrift stores we’re finding other items we didn’t expect!
A few more Thrift Store Shopping Tips
Thrift store shopping is not for the faint of heart. You may have to have some vision for what things can be and you’ll also need some patience if you’re looking for particular items.
Here are my tips for thrift store shopping success.
Have a list. I keep a list on my phone of things to buy at thrift stores and photo’s of a shelf or spot that “needs” a little something added to it.
Try different stores. There may be multiple thrift shops all over town and they’ll all have different inventory. One may be geared more toward furniture and home goods, one may be more geared toward clothing and shoes. Get to know which ones carry the items you’re looking for so you know which places to check first.
Get to know the staff. A helpful associate can tell you which stores have what specialties, they can tell you what days items get marked down and when they move new items to the floor. It never hurts to ask!
Take Hand Wipes or Hand Sanitizer. You’ll be digging through lots of pre-owned items and it’s a good idea to clean your hands after each stop.
Take/Tell a friend. Shopping is always more fun when you’ve got someone to share it with. A friend might uncover that perfect item for your home too. If you don’t find the perfect item when you’re together they might keep an eye out for it next time they go out thrifting.
What are your favorite things to buy at thrift stores?
Need Some Ways to Use Your Finds in Your Home Decor?
- When to Save or Splurge on Home Decor
- Quick Ways to Refresh Your Home Decor
- Best Ways to Hang Wall Art
- How to Refinish a Dresser