I love thrift shopping and antiquing and well, any type of second hand shopping! Why? The thrill of the hunt, the character the peaces add to my home, the amazing deals I can score, how good it is for the environment. There’s honestly nothing better than finding the exact special item I needed. Because of all these reasons and more, I thought I’d share how to get started second hand shopping.
If going into a thrift store and finding something you’ll actually use and love in your home is scary for you (which I totally understand), this post is for you!
how to get started second hand shopping
When I was little, my family had to be frugal to make ends meet. I remember shopping at the thrift store for my clothes when I was really young and being embarrassed about it. But I am now SO grateful that I was raised learning how to make the most of every dollar. It forces me to be more creative and means that my money goes further.
how I got started with second hand shopping
After my early childhood, when my family thrifted a bunch, my parent’s careers advanced and we no longer needed to save as much money. So we started shopping at department stores. It wasn’t until 2009 (when I was in my early 20’s) that I dipped my toe back into vintage.
Here’s what I did- I spent one day and I went to 5 antique/thrift stores in my town. I made a Saturday of it and browsed each shop.
This worked because I was able to see which stores I felt the most comfortable in. I could see the ones who carried stuff I was drawn to.
Finding a favorite store is key to being a happy second hand shopper! You need to feel free to pop in and see if they have anything new. If you keep going back you’ll become friends with the employees and that connection will make the shopping even better.
When I was pregnant with Don, I was on a tight budget and got lots of his baby clothes and books thrifting. I found the MOST beautiful baby clothes- little leather shoes (like in the picture below), knit baby outfits, really special things that I still remember fondly!
how to find second hand shops near you
First of all, pull up your GPS and just type in “antique store” or “thrift store.” Pay attention to how many stars/good reviews each place has. And look at the pictures. Lots of thrift stores only carry clothes, so you’ll want to make sure that you see furniture/decor in the pictures or reviews if that’s something you want to buy. Find one close to you with good reviews.
I also have a blog post here with over 1000 thrift stores across the USA (and a few across the world). These are all places I’ve shopped or my readers have been to and love.
easy second hand items to start shopping for
head straight for the book section and looks for kids books or a book you want to read or home decor books. Or just get a book because it has beautiful binding! My built in shelves are 95% from the thrift store and they’re mostly vintage decor books. They inspire me and it feels good to be literally surrounded by what I love.
If you’re a music lover, pop by the record aisle. These take forever to dig through, but you might get lucky and find one you love! Plus they’re usually $1 and you just can’t get music that cheap anywhere else. You can get a cute record player for around $50 and then it’s a beautiful tactile way to listen to music.
One of my favorite aisles at the thrift store is the tchotchkes! You know, the pretty figurines and vases and ceramic items. Do any of them speak to you? Is there an animal you love? Is it there a color you’re using in your house that you can keep an eye out for?
I love looking if there’s an end table or stool or single chair that I love. These are easy to throw in my cart and redo in a few hours. They’re relatively inexpensive ($10-$15), but can make for a fun project.
Everyone uses baskets, but the thing is that they’re usually so expensive! Go to the thrift store and buy a cute basket for throw blankets next to your sofa. Or pick up one to hold your curling iron when you’re not using it. I just grabbed one to use as I prune my roses. All the dead roses go in the basket so I can compost them all at once. And just like that, the job is more glamorous with a pretty basket!
Usually all of the wood items are kept together. These are especially easy to repaint and customize! I like looking for small wood boxes, or picture frames, or wood figurines. I’ve bought wood shelves and candle sticks. There’s so many good options!
If a holiday is coming up, I breeze through the seasonal decor and see if there’s anything that catches my eye. I’ve found some really fun items that are vintage and quirky that add a fun element to my holiday decorations!
One big tip I wanted to add is to go frequently. I go weekly (on Thursdays! Make sure to watch my Instagram stories for my shopping trips). You’ll train your eye to find the good stuff if you keep going. Plus, you’ll see the new, and usually the best stuff if you’re a frequent shopper.
second hand shopping online
I know that not everyone feels comfortable to thrift shop in person right now. I’m sure not all shops are open yet either. If that’s the case, you can still second hand shop online! Etsy or eBay or Goodwill are all great options. There’s also Instagram accounts who sell thrifted finds like Wickerpickervintage or Regency_revival.
I personally love vintage shopping online! If there’s a super specific item I want, I can search for it and have my pick of great items! That’s how I got my Lenox Spice Village!
make a list
I keep a running list of items I want to find at the thrift shop in my phone. For example, right now I’m planning a play house for Don. So I have a small chair for that on the list. That way, right before I go inside, I look at my list and mentally prepare myself for looking for those items. If something needs to be a specific size, I write it down and keep a small measuring tape in my purse.
On the flip side, I also try to be open to whatever I happen to see that’ll be amazing! You never know what you’ll find and that’s part of the fun!
take a second look around
The more time you spend in a thrift shop, the more you’ll see! If I’m on my own and have lots of time to shop, I’ll take a second look through each of my favorite aisles. There’s just so much on the shelves, your eyes can’t take it all in the first time around. I’ve found some of my best finds this way!
For example, once I was looking for a stool for my plant. I hadn’t found anything I liked and was making another lap around the store. Then, a lady held up a little stool and showed her friend. They ended up passing on it and I was so excited! I swooped in and added it to my cart! It was exactly what I needed and I would have missed it if I hadn’t made my way through the store again.
tips for shopping with kids
I actually like thrifting with my son! I once read a story about how Nate Berkus and his mom spent their Saturdays when he was a kid antiquing. He loved the quality time and it helped shape his eye for finding beautiful items.
I’ve been vintage shopping with Don since he was a baby. When I bring him, I always let him pick out one toy and one book. That’s about $2-$4 worth of stuff. He knows he gets one item and so he has to choose wisely. After he’s picked, he lets me look around and sometimes helps me pick out stuff too. He’s actually the one who fell in love with our ceramic Persian cat!
the cat on top is my latest thrifting find. I got her for $10 and think she looks perfect on top of the fireplace! Or should I say “puurrrfect?!”
be aware of sales
When you first walk in the store, slow down! Stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill always have a sale item of the week that they have on a sign by the front door/ cash register. It’s usually a color or letter that will be 50% off! Make sure to note what it is so that while you’re shopping, is you see anything you like that’s half off, you grab that item.
it’s ok to leave empty handed
The great part about thrifting is you know what you’re going to find! The hard part is that there might not be anything for you the day you go. That’s always a bummer, but it’s all part of second hand shopping. Some days I find LOTS of amazing items and it’s the most fun! Other days I can’t seem to find anything I love, but it’s all part of the highs and lows of thrifting.
Before you thrift shop, make sure to be prepared. I like to bring an empty canvas bag I save just for thrifting. There’s one store I go to that charges for bags, so I always bring my own (plus I hate to use plastic bags). I also always bring my mini measuring tape. Last, I make sure to bring cash if that’s all that’s excepted. Most places take cards, but a few don’t so I like to have cash just in case.
all these books were thrifted as was the kid’s table that I painted!
I wrote this blog post specifically for those who haven’t thrifted before, but would like to dip their toe in. I hope it’s helpful for anyone though! Second hand shopping is SUCH a great way to buy home decor that is unique and affordable. Let me know if you have any questions is the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.
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