Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tips + Tricks | Thrift Shops

If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably noticed that I've traded my gorgeous photos of the beach for (equally gorgeous?) photos of thrifting. In California, I rarely found anything good thrifting and if I did, it was pricey! Craigslist was ok, but that's another post ..

(based on the survey last week, a lot of you wanted hear more about how I pick things, so hopefully this helps! Let me know if you have more ?s)

Today I'm going to share a few tips and tricks that I've picked up along the way. (Plus you'll get to see some of my favorite finds while in Ohio!)

1. Timing is everything. Think about when you would donate things .. probably on Saturday or Sunday, right? I've picked some of my best finds on Sunday or Monday morning. Going early on the day after things are donated is often your best shot. When I was in Maryland, I missed out on two amazing pieces because I went on Thursday and Friday (faux bamboo dresser and knockoff (or at least it better have been .. I didn't want to look too carefully) Eames lounge chair with the dreaded SOLD sign on them.. This isn't to say that you can't find great things Thursday/Friday, it's just not as likely. *Update: this is what I've found; however, every store is different. Learn when your store restocks. It may be in the middle of the week! 

Also, think about the weather, is it cold, snowing or raining? People are more likely to donate when the weather is nice, so that's when you want to go! Hello, spring cleaning?? Can't wait :) Winter has been extremely slow here, I guess people don't want to drag their old furniture out in frigid temps. I can't blame them ..

2. Frequency. While it's important to think about when people donate, it's also important to go often. My current favorite thrift shop is right down the street from me, so I'll often stop and do a quick scan when I'm nearby.

3. Location. If it's in a bad section of town, it will most likely have junk. Nicer areas (bonus for retirement spots) is where you'll probably find the best stuff. We're currently living in a vacation/retirement area, so the thrifting is a lot better here than 20 minutes down the road where the main town is.

4. Be friendly. Ok, this is applicable for anywhere you go .. but yes, while thrifting too. Becoming friendly with the associates may give you extra discounts, peeks into what they've just gotten in, or maybe even email notifications. This obviously depends store to store, but you never know.

5. Look for sales. My Goodwill colors their tags, and each week rotates a color at 50% off. My favorite is to buy a bunch of mismatched frames at 50% off and then paint them. All the frames that I've gotten in Ohio have been .50 to $5.00.

6. If you like it, grab it because it probably won't be there when you get back!

Now, once you're there, how do you differentiate junk from potential ..

7. Look for lines. Look past the walkers and cheap kid furniture and look at those GORGEOUS arms and the $5.99 price tag!  The back needs a lot of help .. we'll replace the spindles and top piece with straight wood and place a loose cushion on front OR hide it by upholstering it. For the seat, we'll replace it with webbing since it dry rotted .. here's a similar makeover.

The detail on the legs is what sold me on the chair below .. plus I love the arms (which ended up being a major pain to upholster!) 

after here 
8. Look for character. Those arms! Since we build a lot of things, we also think about the ease (and cost) of making it ourselves. I'm not a fan of the front legs, so I have plans to update them with something cleaner lined. But I did take that into account when deciding to purchase. These were $35 each - worth it for me! Note: the upholstery was dated, but in great shape, so I was hoping to reuse the foam .. once we got it in the car, we realized that it smelled like smoke. Since we had to throw it out, purchasing new foam was an added cost. If that's a deal breaker, you may want to get a closer sniff .. if it's in good shape and if you dare ..

9. Look for quality. Is it solid wood? Does it have dovetail drawers? Do all the drawers work? Are there dents and scratches? All these things are relative to the price, but make sure to take into account the time that it will take to fix .. I've gotten a few pieces that took entirely too much time to fix, so make sure to look past the potential and think about what it will take to fix it.

good as is, but the price was a little high considering I didn't have a place for it

good shape, BAD paint job .. you'd probably have to sand it all the way down. $350 for the pair .. too high for me

10. Think about the worst case scenario. If my plan doesn't work out, what can I do with it?

I picked up this coffee table for $7 .. I could easily sell the casters on eBay for $10-20 or use them for a future piece. ($7 is a small investment, but also think about with some pricier, is it easy to re sell if you don't have time to refinish it?) Or this lamp, I wasn't sure about the shape, but the two pulls could easily be used on a piece of furniture. (lamps in the photo were $5 for the pair .. they could be easily updated with spray paint!) 

11. Look for potential. 

Clean lines, but low, so add legs! After here 

Love the clean lines, but the top is laminate. So if painting, make sure to use a good primer for adhesion. I left these since I didn't really need them and the quality wasn't amazing. 

Clean lines! The campaign chest is missing one handle and a little beaten up, but for $15, YES! The top of this $9.99 coffee table is laminate, but since I'm upholstering it, no problem. I love that it's super long, 60".

$3 massive frame. Swap out the art, paint the frame (not the corners) and it's instantly updated!

$65 dresser. I also included a close-up of the leg detail .. this is what sold me on this one! It's is a 9 drawer dresser (the bottom looks like doors) .. still deciding what to do, the bottom 6 drawers, look busy, so I think a solid paint would visually keep it simpler, but I love the veneer detail on the top drawers .. still deciding on this one.

11. Think about time and cost invested. I'm still working on this one .. often I only think about the end result and not how much time it will take to refurbish. I touched on this in 9, but it needs it's own number. Will it need a light sanding or full sanding? How long will it take to fix the broken drawer? I don't like the legs, how easy are those to swap? The corner is broken off? Is it fixable? How long will that take? Probably the most time consuming DIY is upholstery, think about how easy it would be to put back together .. simple is better. Think about cost of supplies and where you'll get them too!

Most importantly, don't get discouraged! I probably only find something 20-30% of the time (less in winter) so it takes persistence :) BUT nothing beats the rush of seeing something from the front door, running towards it, and seeing an insanely low price tag. You never know what you'll find!!

check out The Little Green Notebook and Live Love DIY for their lists!

Do you have any other secrets to share? Leave it below in the comments! 


  1. Great post, Sarah! I would add a caveat to the first point: in my favorite local thrift shop, they run a very popular half off Saturday every week. So if I go in on Sunday, Monday, or even Tuesday, they usually haven't re-stocked the shelves with much yet. They always put the good stuff out on Thursday and Friday to prepare for the upcoming Saturday sale. But I'm sure every thrift store in every neighborhood has it's own schedule. Thanks for sharing your tips! :)

    1. Great point Hannah! Every store is different, so best to learn when your local store restocks!

  2. I love all the tips. Ia m such an impatient thrifter but I am always inspired by the great makeovers!

  3. these are great tips! i lways think about putting together one of these- like what to look for when hunting for furniture.... but i get lazy... or busy hunting for furniture. ;)

  4. I like most people love to find a bargain and have to make my dollars stretch. However I cannot in good conscience support an organization such as Goodwill that exploits their employees by paying below minimum wage. Garage sales or Hospice are an alternative that benefits everyone.

  5. There's not a Goodwill too close to me, which is such a bummer! Still, I loved reading your tips - maybe they'll open one closer soon.

  6. Great tips Sarah! Thanks for the voice of experience. I so agree! Love to just pop in all my 'places' as often as I can. So often nothing, but occassionally BAM! a great find. Have a lovely weekend. xo Nancy

  7. just found you via home depot, and planning to follow forever. awesome post, awesome projects, I've already forwarded on your geometric lamp base DIY to a few friends...nice to "meet" you!

  8. This was such a great post, Sarah!! Wonderful tips and tricks! :)

  9. Such great tips! I have a mid-century modern dresser almost identical to the one you showed. Such beautiful wood. Mine is walnut with rosewood trim. Well, it has been moved dozens of times and the movers always take the legs off. Screw in ones. In one of the disastrous moves, one of the "lost" boxes contained the legs. We've never replaced, them. Hubby uses the dresser inside the walk in closet, so it's been an okay height. I really want to get it out of there, and I love the wooden legs you guys built. Hope I can find someone to make some similar.


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! I love hearing what you think! :)

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