August 19, 2013

How to Shop at Thrift Stores

Being a student and only working part-time means I don't have much to spend (though my VISA would disagree...) and I love saving money every chance I get. One of my favourite places to visit are thrift stores. They're where I can find quality, cost-effective items that have stood the test of time! There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to thrift stores as opposed to vintage stores. Sure in vintage stores everything is meticulously hand-picked, and it's all nice and neat, but the selection is minimal and tends with be overpriced (Etsy really isn't all bad though, it's the shipping that will get you). Also, I can guarantee that there are vintage stores that actually source their items from thrift stores, so you're not only saving money, but you're buying stuff you would've probably bought anyway if it was in a curated mid-century wooden showcase, tastefully displayed next to a deer antler.


First things first, bring hand sanitizer. You can't do this right unless you get down and dirty. You could even bring gloves if you're particularly opposed to dust and grime, but I just do the hand sanitizer thing until I can leave and properly wash my hands. 


Also, I recommend you use the bathroom before you leave home. I'm usually perusing the store for a good 1-2 hours, and unless my boyfriend is accompanying me, I have no one to watch over my cart if I have to go. A lot of thrift stores don't even have washrooms, and if they do... well, you really won't want to be using them. So go before you enter the store!


Bring a bag, trolley, whatever you think you will need to bring back your haul. I frequently bring an oversized backpack, but if I know I'm shopping for furniture, I'll bring my KSP Shopping Trolley. That way I can either fill the bag with goodies, or remove the bag and use it as a small trolley that can easily handle side tables, small shelving units, and even our TV stand. I know that a lot of stores offer plastic bags, but they tend to rip and definitely hurt your hands after awhile. I recommend lining the bag with a garbage bag (as not to get the lining of the bag dirty, damaged, or accidentally stained by any grease or grime remaining on whatever you bought), and pre-packing the bag with newspaper (just grab a few from the newsstands on your way out), a flashlight, and possibly a magnifying glass. The newspaper is so you will have no trouble wrapping delicate/fragile items (the thrift stores I visit tend to be high volume and frequently run out of their own wrapping paper), the flashlight is so you can see in every nook and cranny of furniture or even store shelves (you might end up in a store with quite a few dark corners, come prepared! I like to use this Free Flashlight app I downloaded on my iPhone:!/id429177928?mt=8), and if you don't have particularly detailed eyesight abilities, a magnifying glass will help you read brands, names, signatures, serial numbers, maker's marks, etc. 

Chris with our KSP Shopping Trolley & our new TV stand.
TV Stand: Only $5.05 at Goodwill!

If you like something or are considering it, put it in your cart. You can always put it back later, and I can guarantee that there is someone else in the store who'd consider it too. If you can't put it in the cart (the item is in a showcase), then ask if the cashier/showcase manager can set it aside for you or hold it until you are done making your rounds of the store.


Always do a quick once-more-over of the store before cashing out. People frequently put things back, move things around (which can often reveal hidden gems!) or new stock is put out on the shelves, and sometimes you just plain miss things the first time around due to excitement and distractions. Check out your favourite sections one more time to make sure you didn't miss anything - Recommended for any accessories, furniture, art, and home decor/kitchenware. I don't bother with clothes because you usually get a pretty good idea of what's there and what isn't (there's nothing to hide), and same with the books. I especially recommend doing the twice over when you're looking for something specific.  "Pretend you're a pirate combing the beach for treasure, you would be very thorough aye? That's what thrift shopping is. Pirates looking for booty." -My boyfriend, Chris.


Always bring your phone with you, make sure it has data, and pack a charger. I can guarantee that you will discover many brands that are totally unheard of on your mystical thrifting journeys. I frequently find things dated from the 40's to the 60's, from brands that have been sold off, merged, or simply gone right out of business within the last 20+ years. With your phone, you can search databases like Etsy and Ebay and get an approximate value/rarity scale for the item in question. If you see it selling for $5 and there are about 10 or more listings, you can gage that the piece is a dud. If you're looking for quality pieces with some history, this is a must. It's better to buy valuable items even if you're not planning to sell them, that way you're not collecting total junk (which runs pretty rampant in these kinds of places). I've also been able to find lots of cool information on the web that convinced me to buy certain pieces I wouldn't have considered, like a hand-painted set of teacups and saucers made in England in the 40s.


Continuing on that point, learn to look for quality. You won't always recognize brands, and if your phone's dead or your quick google search comes up empty, you've got to judge yourself whether or not this piece is worth it.  Try to figure out whether the piece is made of, get a feel for the materials (and do your best to become familiar with different woods, metals, finishes, fabrics, constructions, etc.) Is it leather (if so, does it have a strong smell, is it peeling and dried out), are the seams straight or uneven or torn? Look for cheap hardware, frayed edged, discolouration, visible glue, and all the ugly poor-quality giveaways you can come up with. Give it your best guess; at least you'll have less of a chance of buying cheap junk!


Learn the "fundamentals" of the brand's design. It'll help you spot the fakes, or be able to tell if it's the "real deal" even if the tags are damaged/clipped!  Some vintage pieces might not even have the maker's mark that you're used to, so always double check online if you're unsure, or let the quality of the item speak for itself. For clothing and accessories, look at the lining/buttons/snaps for any indication of authenticity. There are a lot of fakes out there, so try and become familiar with the "authenticity indicators" of your favourite brands! Some fakes even use the "popular serial numbers", numbers known to be on a lot of fakes, so check up on those too. On a recent thrift trip, my boyfriend found a jacket from Hugo Boss's Boss Orange line, but there was no way of telling what it was at first glance as the tags had been clipped. He owns a few other pieces from Hugo Boss, which lead him to the jacket's pocket (his own Hugo Boss jacket has it's information on a tag in there), where he found all the info he needed to determine it was indeed authentic. Now if only it fit...


Demographics that is. Consider the area you're shopping in as well, as it can give you an idea of what kind of things you should expect to find. A thrift store in Oakville might have more valuable items than something in Scarborough, but there are always exceptions!  Just take it into consideration when you find brand name items, or those questionable finds. 


Be careful when you fall in love with something and it's a fixer-upper. A dress with a stain, a pillow with a hole, a table with a cracked leg, a TV stand with a scratched topped. Don't underestimate the work you'll have to put into it; it can be daunting, time-consuming, and you'll probably procrastinate the hell out of it. First ask yourself if you can live with it in its current condition. If not, ask yourself if you're willing to fix it and take the time (or spend the money) to do it right. Be honest with yourself about whether or not the fix is even possible. If you can't totally justify it, don't worry. Just don't waste your money, and remember to be patient. There are plenty of other thrift stores to visit, and tons of new stuff coming in every day, you don't need to buy every little thing you find! Remember the piece, be on the lookout for something similar, and keep a space open in your home for when you do find it!


Before you visit the stores, do some research online too! Websites like Yelp can offer lots of helpful reviews of store specials and discounts (student discount days are great), and visiting the stores' websites might tip you off to super sales (I know Value Village sometimes does 50% off days) and members-only discounts and E-mail offers. If you're looking to donate, visiting the websites provides you with a guideline of what's acceptable, the dates and times you can donate, and even the perks of donating (I got a coupon for 30% off my next purchase at Value Village for donating some of my old clothes!) Also, you could use the site's store locators to find locations near you, and Google can open your eyes to some of the smaller thrift stores that might not be as big, but that can still offer some pretty cool things! 

Some of my favourite thrift stores to visit are: Value Village, Goodwill, and Salvation Army.

Just remember to be open minded; you never know what cool treasures you'll dig up next!

Got any other tips? Lemme know!

Stay thrifty my friends,


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