Thrift Store Shopping 101 – 10 Tips

There are few things I enjoy more in the world than scouring the racks at my local secondhand store. There are so many treasures to be found! What’s more, shopping secondhand is about as green as you can get — reusing old products is far better for the environment than buying new. Cost, too, is a really great aspect of thrift stores; savvy shoppers can save hundreds of dollars on almost-new items by shopping secondhand. Not sure where to start? Well,†check out some of my tips below for navigating thrift stores, and feel free to add your own tips in the comments.

Want to show off your best thrift store find? Send me an email with the story/description (and a photo if you have one!) of your item and I’ll compile them for a future post!

Related: Dollar Stores: What to Buy and What to Avoid


1. Size doesn’t matter. Unless you can tell that a piece of clothing was made very, very recently, don’t bother looking at the size to determine fit. With all of the size inflation that has happened in the past few decades, it’s impossible to tell if a size 12 at the Gap is the same as a size 12 at the Goodwill. †And, even if it was made in the past few years, it’s still worth trying on an item — you never know!

2. Feel the material. Knowing what quality material feels like is a great way to find, well, quality products. Since I have honed my ability to find quality materials, I’ve found vintage HermŤs scarves, cashmere sweaters, and sturdy 1960s dresses. What’s more, if you are keen on vintage, having a sharp eye for quality really pays off — older clothing is often better made than clothing produced more recently.

3. Figure out the demographics of the area you are shopping in. It’s amazing the stuff rich people donate, for instance. In exclusive enclaves, you’re likely to find brand name clothing manufactured in the past decade. As a vintage lover, I’ve also found that thrift stores on the outskirts of cities, and small town thrift stores, are the best bet. My ultimate favorite time to shop at thrift stores is on road trips.

4. Don’t be squeamish — but do pay attention to rips and stains. In most areas, clothing has to be washed and anything torn or severely stained cannot be sold. But that said, things can always slip through the cracks, and customers may have already tried on an item. Inspect items for rips, stains, and wash clothes before wearing. Pay attention to smell, too! I can’t even count the number of times I put something back because it smelled like it had been marinating in cheap perfume for decades.

5. Be realistic about what can be fixed. Are you really going to turn that ugly muumuu made out of beautiful fabric into a pillow (I can speak from experience here — no, you’re not!) Are you really going to fix that zipper or get that stain out? Make sure to know how far you’ll actually go to make the item wearable/useable.

See Also: 12 Uses for Wire Hangers


6. Figure out the sale days. Get to know what day tag sales start, what days stores offer senior discounts, and what holiday weekends offer great savings. Go early on the first day of a sale for the best selection.

7. Check out areas of the store you wouldn’t usually go to. I often find that certain parts of thrift stores area always the least picked-over: linens, belts and scarves, books, etc. My friend that loves to knit, for instance, often finds huge bags of yarn for cheap. I always find beautiful vintage bedding and gorgeous afghans, too.†Children’s clothing is also a really great section.

8. Check out the kitchen stuff. I’ve never been so sad as when, a week after I bought a set of three plastic bowls from a big box store, I saw the same three bowls for 1/4 of the price and still in the packaging at a thrift store. Indeed, from newer, barely used plastic bowls o high-quality pots and pans, thrift stores are perhaps the best place to shop for kitchen stuff. Older pots, pans, and utensils are usually better quality, and made with fewer creepy materials, than new stuff anyway!

9. Go with a friend that knows your style. Not only can shopping companions give you feedback about your potential purchases, they can also spot items you may have overlooked!

10. Don’t just buy, donate too! It’s easy to fill your closet or cupboards with fantastic and cheap thrift store find — a little too easy. Make it a habit of going through your stuff and donating what you no longer wear/need.

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Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly2 years ago

Whenever we were living in a temporary domicile-like an apartment the company had rented for the period before our house was ready to occupy. The last move,I set aside a pile of toys for my 4 year old and of course they were packed by the movers by mistake-including the note."Please don't Pack." I picked things up from the Thrift shop for toys, taped her artwork to the walls, found "no reason" gifts for the kids to make up for the move.I hate moving. It looks like I have 2 more moves before I can rest so thrift stores here I come.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly2 years ago

When my middle child was a teen,she liked finding T shirts there.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly2 years ago

I used to go to thrift stores to look for used books.Great prices. I like Sci-fi.

Tammy Baxter
Tammy B4 years ago

thank you

Dale Overall

Many fascinating things can be found at both thrift stores and garage sales, certainly a fabulous seasoned cast iron pan is a wonderful find. Many things are in reasonable shape and some can be given a new coat of paint.

Certainly sizes have changed and one can never go by what the size says, so many variations!

There are times when a visit to the thrift store is an interesting and intriguing one and sometimes one does not even have to buy anything.

Mara C.
Past Member 5 years ago

I get all of my collectible ebay items at thrift shops. I go to different ones each week and have supplemented my income quite nicely by reselling them yet again!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

thrift storing is my FAVORITE thing to do! giving new life to abandoned and unwanted treasures. I buy yarn, some clothes, books, toys for my son, little "just because" gifts... love it all!

Rachel R.
Rachel R5 years ago

I love thrift stores, and I figure even if I only wear something once and then put it back in the donation bin, if it cost me $5 then it's ok! (Having said that, I have bought several things which cost me $5 or less which I still have many years later, or which I wore until they wore out!)

Mis M.
Mis M.5 years ago

Hi Katie,
I love shopping at thrift stores too, mainly goodwill, but recently i've become concerned about the chemicals that they spray on their clothing, like deodorizers and disinfectants and ive been wondering about the possible health hazards. What do you think?

Sheri P.
Sheri P5 years ago

i love thrift stores...should go more often!