It’s no secret that I love thrift shopping. I prioritize buying used so that I can live a greener, more earth friendly life. And I run a side business flipping thrift store finds for profit. But I wasn’t always good at it. It’s taken years to develop techniques for finding great stuff and having fun. So I’ve collected all of my best tips and tricks for this article, in the hope that they will get you to thrifting bliss much more quickly!

Goodwill is not always the answer

When I first started thrifting in Los Angeles, with the help of my college friends, we always went to Goodwill. So when I moved to another part of the country, I continued shopping at Goodwill there too. But after several more moves I landed in a state where the Goodwill was pricey and lackluster. And this may be the case in your area too. If you’ve been to Goodwill and found your thrifting haul to be less than inspiring, there are loads of other stores to try. Take a look at Savers, the Salvation Army, church shops, hospital thrifts, 2nd Ave Thrift, St. Vincent de Paul, Sunshine Thrift, and anything else that comes up on google.

Explore stores outside of your zip code

It’s easy to go to the place nearest you. But no two thrift stores are alike. Even stores that are part of the same chain can be wildly different on opposite sides of a city. And if you live in an area where thrifting is practically an Olympic sport (like my current city of residence, Philadelphia) you’ll probably need to branch out. In every place I’ve lived, it’s taken a few tours to figure out which stores are my real honey pots. And currently none of those are the stores closest to me. Of course there will be exceptions, and it’s very possible that you are living just around the corner from a really great thrift, so be sure to check that one out too.

Plan to spend some time

This might be true for any shopping experience (I confess I’m not very good at any other kind of shopping.) To find the best stuff, and actually enjoy yourself doing it, you should plan to allow some real time at the shop. Popping into a charity shop 20 minutes before closing doesn’t usually have the best payoff. Have I done it? Absolutely. Have I found great stuff? Yes. But I also know that it’s likely I’ll walk out empty handed. And that I’ll feel rushed the whole time. To truly enjoy thrifting, you have to give yourself time to find things, time to explore, and time to discover. That’s really where the fun starts happening.

Go without expectations

Truth- I don’t usually find what I’m looking for at the thrift. At least not when I’m specifically looking for it. If I go into a store looking for black pants, I won’t find the black pants. But I will find the backpack I really need for next month’s camping trip, or the Sodastream machine I’ve been dreaming about for the last three months, or an amazing top I wasn’t even looking for. I try to go into secondhand stores with low expectations and just a general checklist of things that I might be excited to find. If I’m on a tight deadline, I might check thrift stores for what I want first, just in case I get lucky, and then buy in a more targeted way on eBay if I strike out.

Look at everything

Your ability to do this will vary depending on how much time you have. But the thing about most thrift stores is that they’re not organized. So you may find a great size 2X top in with the smalls. Or you may find an amazing woven basket buried behind the china. I think some of my best finds happen simply because I’m willing to bend down and look at the bottom shelf. Picking through things, moving giant piles- these things are annoying but worthwhile. (They’re also another reason you’re going to need more time.)

Trust your instincts

If you think that little speck of gold hiding under a pile of ugly costume jewelry is something, it probably is. Trust your instincts and look at anything that catches your eye. Similarly, if you have a feeling that something is cheaply made and will fall apart in two months, it probably will.

Don’t plan to fix things

I can’t even tell you how many times I hear the person in the dressing room next to me saying, “It’ll look great if I just…”. The fact is, it won’t be great because it will never happen. You know what I’m saying is true- You won’t mend it. You won’t fix it. You won’t alter it. You’ll just end up with a bunch of crap you never wear. If it doesn’t bring you joy when you look at yourself in the mirror, if it doesn’t fit well, and if you don’t know that you must take it home with you, leave it. Thrifting is only fun when you find things you truly love.

Relax

I’ve already touched on this in a few other pointers- it’s pretty much impossible to have a good time thrifting if you’re in a hurry. The ticket to success is relaxing and enthusiastically embracing your inner explorer. Thrifting is a process of discovery. It is alternately unexpected, bizarre, funny and serendipitous. It is also an amazing exercise in watching the universe bring to you exactly what you need. So just relax and breathe into it and trust that something amazing will happen. It usually does. And if not, that’s ok too; it will next time.

Keep a reference list

I keep a list of things I’m looking for. I add anything to it that I realize we need around the house or that we’ve discussed investing in. Obviously some things are really time sensitive and need to be purchase more quickly. But if it can wait a bit, I’ll put it on my thrift list and see if I can find it somewhere. Then I like to glance at this list while I’m shopping to help me decide what section to start in, or to just keep fresh in my mind what I need. Sometimes the sheer volume at thrift stores can be overwhelming so this helps me to focus.

Bring bags and packing materials

Obviously reusable bags beat plastic every time. I have a tendency to purchase breakables, so I also bring extra bags, fabric bags, and sometimes extra fabric as well. That way they don’t have to wrap everything in newspaper for me and I create less waste.

Shop different stores for different things

Some thrift stores have an amazing selection of clothing. Some specialize in furniture. Some are the go-to spot for basic household goods. If you’re usually shopping for clothing, then you’ll probably choose to spend most of your thrifting time at stores that have great clothes. But whenever I pass a new thrift store I like to at least pop in to see what they have. That way I can make a mental note in case they have amazing vintage furniture and I know I’m going to be looking for a couch next year, for example. If you’re looking for something specialized, you can check out this list of places to shop secondhand that I put together.

Hopefully these tips have got you super excited to get out there and make your first big score. Good luck! And be sure to let me know what you find!