Thrift stores can be daunting places with their shelves of knickknacks and heaps of clothes. Our designers give their essential advice to survive, scour, and succeed.
“I hear that every thrift shop smells the same because they all use a specific type of laundry detergent that you can’t buy in stores.” That was the rumor going around when I was in high school at least. Whether it be Goodwill, a Salvation Army, or your local charitable thrift store, at first glance, these secondhand shops might appear to be an endless sea of arbitrary belongings, futile and forgotten. For some, they may even be intimidating.
The one singular rule I abide by when it comes to interiors is that your space and belongings must authentically represent you. I believe that the best design happens in layers, over time, like rings on a tree. Thrifting is collecting. It’s practicing patience and honing in on what pieces truly represent your person and aesthetic. New to the idea of old things? Don’t fret! As a life long thrifter, I challenge you to walk through the front door (which most likely will say “no drinks allowed”), take a deep breath, and dive in. To help, Homepolish has crafted your guide to scouring the shelves and pursuing the perfect home décor!
The one singular rule I abide by when it comes to interiors is that your space and belongings must authentically represent you.
GO IN BLIND
The biggest mistake I see made with newbie thrifters is starting with a set shopping list. Thrift stores are not the supermarket. There will be days when you score and days where you walk away with nothing. The worst thing you can do is enter a thrift shopping trip with a list you’re hoping to check off. Chances are you won’t find a single thing you had in mind, and in turn, you’ll miss the pieces that would have struck you, had you not been distracted by that pesky list. What IS okay is to have a running list of items and décor you would love to find somewhere someday. I’m still on the hunt for a Jadite juicer, and the day I find it will be one for the books! Additionally, I recommend popping in and out of thrift shops regularly, for whatever period of time you may have. Don’t feel pressure to look through EVERYTHING, maybe it’s just a shelf or two that catches your eye. Homepolish designer Shannon Tate, who frequents thrift shops regularly, says, “I can’t help myself… every time I walk past a thrift shop, I MUST go in.” And frankly, I can’t blame her. You never know what you might find.
Thrift stores are not the supermarket. There will be days when you score and days where you walk away with nothing.
LOOK FOR WHAT LASTS
The best types of secondhand décor tend to be the oldest. Thrift stores are an excellent resource for high-quality pieces made from authentic materials. Shannon personally loves “finding old kitchenware, glasses and bowls, as well as fun beautiful brass pieces.” But that shouldn’t limit you to just those items! Ever hear your parents say “They just don’t make things like they used to.” Well, guess what? For once, your parents are right! Secondhand furniture is a great asset when looking for quality and cost-conscious pieces to fill your home. You’ll also avoid the trap of “cookie cutter” decorating, where your living room ends up indecipherable from your friends’ places! Through the years, I have learned a lot about my own taste and sense of design through the thrift pieces I gravitate toward. I remember finding a milk glass vase at a local shop a while back and thinking it was lovely without knowing nothing much about it. Fast forward 10 years, and I could practically charge admission to the world’s most extensive milk glass collection! Much of what I see on the market from home décor vendors today are replicas of relics from the past. Why not get the real deal for a fraction of the price?
FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS
Pricing can be tricky when it comes to secondhand décor, so my best advice is to follow your intuition. The cost of any piece is only as much as the value it has to you as an individual. With the rise of thirfting as an urban trend, you are bound to encounter prices that rival retail from time to time. Go with your gut! If you are really drawn to a piece but the price is near what it would cost new, don’t pass up an opportunity for something special just because of an invisible rule that it should cost less. On the other hand, don’t assume that something is particularly unique and rare or feel pressure to buy if the price tag is high. Treat secondhand shopping like you would any other type of purchase. Make decisions within a budget you are comfortable in, and forget about trying to guess “If it’s worth it.” If you want it in your home, that makes it worth it.
The cost of any piece is only as much as the value it has to you as an individual.
HOARDING ON THE OTHER HAND…
Having just given you a heaping batch of encouragement to really go for what speaks to you, I think it wise to counter with a bit of caution. Secondhand purchases will only remain special if chosen above all the rest. The quickest way to burn out in the thrifting game is to over-buy. When everything you see is $1.49, it’s not uncommon to go down a road of “why not?” purchasing. This type of behavior will leave you with a lot of “stuff” and nothing spectacular. For her own home and her clients, Shannon has come up with the “regret test.” “I have a tendency to buy very impulsively, especially in vintage or antique shops because I know they’re often one of a kind. So I started this “regret test” recently. If I fall in love with something, I will take a picture of it and leave the store… go run a few errands, do other things, and then if hours later, I still want it, I will go back. It’s good to take this space before buying, because sometimes the thrill has already worn off. BUT, if you truly love something and it makes you feel really good to have, then you should get it. I have also come to embrace the idea that if it’s not there when I return, that it wasn’t meant to be mine. The right owner found it before I did.” Being a harsh critic as a shopper can lead to fewer but better buys. And it’ll keep you from starring on one of those hoarders shows.
CELEBRATE THE STORIES
My absolute favorite thing about the thrift décor in my own space would be the stories that live in each piece. Stories I know, stories I wonder about, and stories I’ve made up. The same can be said for any thrift purchase. Online consignment store ThredUp Brand Style Manager Lindsay Martinsen says, “Secondhand shopping is the best way to satisfy your craving for unique pieces, try out different styles (fringe anyone?), and be environmentally conscious, all while staying in budget. Bonus: it’s easier to spot quality when the piece has already been broken in by the previous owner!” There is something amazing about knowing that a person with an entirely different history enjoyed a cup of tea just as you are now out of the very same cup.
Thrift shopping is a constant in my world. What I buy now might be different than what caught my eye at seventeen, but the principal is the same. Walking into a shop with not a clue of what you may find and coming out with something you love is, put simply, a discovery. With each piece I learn, and grow, and change, and so does my home. One day I will find that juicer I’ve been looking for, and then who knows? I might just have to re-decorate the kitchen to match.
Secondhand shopping is the best way to satisfy your craving for unique pieces, try out different styles, and be environmentally conscious, all while staying in budget.
Ask a Homepolish designer to be your guide in the world of thrifting! Simply book a designer!