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Thrift Shopping: 5 Essential Tips from a Self-Made Expert

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with thrift shopping. It had been a while of living paycheck-to-paycheck and although I had everything I needed, I missed going shopping. In an effort to break the streak, I walked into a Goodwill one day, feeling hopeful but nervous that this was just a bad judgment call on my part. After over an hour spent perusing the racks, I walked out with eight new clothing items that I loved… for about $50. I was on cloud nine, as you can imagine, and the rest was history.

Since then, I have frequented all of my local thrift stores and have successfully overturned almost my entire closet. Without exaggeration, 90% of my wardrobe today was found at thrift stores and exchanges. Furthermore, practically all of my current home decor was thrifted, if it wasn’t gifted to me from someone else.

So it became a lifestyle for me. I successfully shifted my clothing budget for the better without ever having to compromise style. I still get to enjoy going shopping on a regular basis but I don’t have to stress out about breaking the bank. And my favorite part is that I never feel the dreaded buyer’s remorse that often follows splurging on a jacket I fell in love with in the department store.

By primarily shopping second-hand our environment and communities are benefitted. However, the transition often comes with some resistance and difficulty- I am not naïve to that.

It’s the same story every time. A friend of mine feels inspired to switch their shopping habits, but after a trip or two to the thrift store, they feel discouraged. “There wasn’t anything good there” and “you must’ve got all the good stuff” are complaints I hear often. But I usually don’t buy it.

I think a little insider information could really help shorten that learning curve. Here are 5 tips that I believe will change the game for you:

5 tips every new thrift shopper needs to know:

1. Don’t go rushed.

Ever. It’s not worth it. When I first started thrift shopping, it was overwhelming enough to go when I did have the time. So take it from me. When you’re on your way to meet a friend for dinner, and you drive by a second-hand store that looks promising, you may be tempted to “just run in”… Don’t. You probably aren’t going to find anything you love. Now you’re leaving in an even bigger rush and feeling dejected.

I’ll explain why.

Think about it: You walk into your favorite little shop in the mall and it looks like there are a thousand pieces to look through. But realistically it may be more like a hundred pieces- because of all the duplicates and different sizes hanging behind the perfectly styled mannequins.

At a thrift store, on the other hand, every single item is different. So there really is a LOT to look through. Everything is typically displayed rather inconveniently as well (which is no one’s fault- just the nature of abundance). And sometimes, the racks are even so jam-packed that you need to pull a hanger completely off of the rack in order to really know what you’re looking at. You can see how time-consuming this can be.

So you get it- the shopper is put to work. But that’s not to discourage you. The treasure hunt that lies in my every visit to a thrift store is one of my favorite hobbies of all time. It’s challenging, exciting, and oftentimes highly rewarding (for my closet!).

Oh, and don’t bring your impatient friend along. This one’s important. We love ’em but they `make it even more challenging of an experience and we’re just trying to have a good time.

Playing dress up in the aisles… Audrey Hepburn, is that you?

2. Look through everything

When I first started thrift shopping, I would walk into the store, head towards a rack, and before reaching it, consider running the other direction. The hot-messness of a single rack can be kind of terrifying. I know. And on top of that- most of the items on a rack are going to be duds anyway (to say the least).

But like I’ve mentioned before, the variety will surprise you. A thrift shop is a melting pot of brands and styles. Don’t walk away because the first three dresses on the rack came straight out of the ’80s. Keep looking. Three hangers down, you’ll find a trendy Topshop sundress in your size, preloved but barely worn (or maybe even new with the tags still on!).

My current favorite winter jacket is from a local thrift store. It’s a Tommy Hilfiger and I found it in mint condition. Faux fur that lines the hood, a slightly cinched waistline, the right amount of puff… it’s GORGEOUS. It was a bit of a needle in a haystack of jackets that I wouldn’t give a second look to, but finding it was well worth the search.

This next point is important, so hear me out:

Don’t pass up the shoe section.

I know that it may seem uncomfortable to think about wearing a stranger’s used shoes when you could easily buy new ones. But would you believe that I found most of my pairs barely used, if not brand new? My shoe collection has vastly improved since I started thrift shopping, and it’s so satisfying to think of all the money I’m saving on shoes.

My local Humane Society thrift store. Dressed head-to-toe in secondhand finds!

3. Keep an open mind when thrift shopping

Let’s admit it. It’s easy to be open-minded in Forever 21 or Zara. That’s because we know it’s all on-trend. The whole store has been curated that way and we can trust it. So when we spot something out of our comfort zone of style, we don’t always need someone to twist our arm in order to give it a shot.

However, this concept doesn’t quite translate into the world of thrift shopping. Everyone’s a critic in a second-hand store. And that’s okay. While you should trust your “I’m never gonna wear that” instincts, it’s also important to try and keep an open mind.

Remember my new favorite winter coat? I almost didn’t even consider it, because I’m used to dressing in shades much more subtle than bright red. But I’m so glad I took a chance on something a little different because I’m now wearing that jacket several times a week.

Your style evolves over time too. I dress more modestly than I did when I first started hitting up the thrift stores. I’m also wearing more dresses and heels and fewer leggings and Ugg boots than I used to. I’m not always the trendiest in the room, but my style works for me and I’m proud of it.

There’s a really cool t-shirt that I found last year on the boy’s rack. Actually, my six-year-old friend, Bodee found it and showed it to me. It was way too big for him, so I tried it on. It was a match made in t-shirt heaven: soft and colorful and very me. Some guy’s barely used t-shirt is now one of my favorite sleep shirts!

Cozy t-shirt from the boy section
Vicariously living my dreams of camper van travel through this shirt.
Thanks Bodee!

I may not have loved it so much though, if I hadn’t first tried it on. That leads us to our next point…

4. Try things on (if you can)

I have friends that don’t try anything on when we go out shopping. They find what speaks to them in a store, pick out their size, and head to the checkout counter… confidently. I don’t get it. For me, something can be alluring on the rack, but unflattering when it’s on me. Personally, this is make-or-break. I mean nobody looks great in everything- although I wish it were so.

Sometimes you walk into a fitting room with one item that you’re already sold on, and one that you almost put back on the rack. But to your surprise, you end up changing your mind about the first and going home with the latter. I’ve experienced this a lot- so I’ve come to believe that the try-on is crucial.

But I know, I know. Most fitting rooms aren’t currently open. No fitting rooms are open in the malls, as well as department chains like Target, Walmart, and even Goodwill. It drives me nuts. But, we love small businesses, and thankfully in my town, most locally-owned thrift stores still have their fitting rooms accessible! So there’s no harm in asking.

in the fitting room of a local thrift store
Yesterday, in a fitting room at a local thrift store. This $4 turtleneck was a steal!

5. Browse the home goods

I know what you’re thinking. When you look to the home goods section of a thrift store, all you see is a child’s messy playroom. Rows of shelves full of the most random items- colorful and disorganized. You have a headache just thinking about walking that way.

I want to encourage you to brave the storm and give it a shot.

Tea kettle of my dreams

You wouldn’t believe the gems that I’ve found in these aisles- and for such great prices! I found my dream tea kettle just yesterday for $19 in near-perfect condition. You’ll find Keurigs and curling irons and an abundance of quirky mugs at most thrift shops. This cutie was a $2 steal that I gifted to my sister. She adores it.

Bugs Bunny Mug for my little sister
I’d prefer a wide mug over a tall mug, anyday. Anyone else? (Hi Buster!)

Happy thrift shopping!

Alright, I think I’ve covered my bases.

So finding great stuff in a thrift store (although it is more than possible), takes determination and patience. Thrift shopping is not for the weak at heart, my friends. You are fighting against the grain of a marketing-obsessed culture that loves to remind you of what you don’t have and of all of the shiny (and costly) things that you “need”. But it’s no secret that shopping second-hand helps your environment, your community, and your wallet.

I’m proud of you for even looking into it and I’m so excited about what you will find!

Happy Thrifting!


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Brooke

    I love thrift shopping. Just went yesterday and bought the CUTEST jacket. It was four dollars. I kid you not. What a steal. And yes, definitely agree: do not bring your impatient friends. I usually go with my dad and he’s done in like five minutes. Luckily I just make him stand by the door while I keep looking 😂😂

    1. Ari

      Yes!! I’m so excited to see it. Good job! *thunderous applause*
      Your poor dad! I don’t think I’d dare bring mine haha.

  2. Joselyn Canales

    I enjoyed reading your post Ariana! I’ll follow your tips on my next trip to the thrift store.

    1. Ari

      Thank you Joselyn! I’m so glad you found it helpful.

  3. Aubrey McCabe

    Alright, you have convinced me to give it a try. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it goes ☺️

    1. Ari

      Yes!! Mission accomplished 🙂
      Keep me posted.

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Hey friend, It's just me. A 23 year old female, sharing faith, lifestyle, and light while learning how to follow Jesus and love people well in a broken world. You too? Tag along!