How to thrift shop like a pro

Senior woman going through clothes in second hand thrift charity shop, detail on her moving hands..

MOTHER EARTH NEWS – Unlock the secrets of savvy shopping with our guide on how to thrift shop like a pro! Make the most of your trip to the thrift store with these tips, ideas, and inspiration.

Thrift stores can be an amazing place to find bargains of all kinds, from the practical to the whimsical. One of my favorite finds is an authentic 1980s Gunne Sax prom dress. It’s wispy, floor-length, and ethereal–now if I only had an event to wear it to! I have a friend who collects dinner plates with cats on them and jello molds. You can imagine my surprise to see his jello mold of Queen Elizabeth II.

Most of my finds are far more practical, though: shirts, jeans, skirts, and even a cute pair of shoes. Some clothes fit well off the rack, while others I have to make small alterations to. Adjusting thrifted clothing to fit you can be a great place to start your sewing journey.

Thrifting is also environmentally friendly. According to Walter Leal Filho et al. in the academic journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, the textile industry is estimated to contribute 8 percent to 10 percent of global carbon emissions and 20 percent of the global wastewater. Thrifting clothing can help reduce this impact by prolonging the lifespan of clothing, instead of sending it to the landfill.

If this is your first time in a thrift store, check out Chad Sophia Suiter’s tips to maximize your experience and your finds. Suiter recommends deciding ahead of time which thrift stores to visit, knowing the size of your living space if shopping for furniture, having a friend tag along, sticking to your budget by carrying cash for your purchases, picking items that speak to you and your personal style, and going during off-hours. Furthermore, you may wish to pass up items that are stained or heavily damaged. A small tear can be repaired; a structural issue may take more effort that you’re willing to put in. Personally, I also always wash clothing items before adding them to my closet; you always want to avoid bringing in moth eggs or other potential pests.

Mary Ekstrand “https://www.motherearthnews.com/sustainable-living/slow-fashion-is-ethical-fashion-zb0z2001/?utm_source=OgdenNews&utm_medium=article&utm_campaign=Syndication” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>offers more specialized tips for enjoying ethical fashion by thrifting clothing. She got into thrifting as a way to offset the cost of her children’s clothing, and eventually began to think of the process as akin to a “lending library” situation; she’d purchase thrifted clothing and keep a bag of unused clothing or household items to donate when she went back to the thrift store. She recommends purchasing seasonal clothing at the beginning of the season, rather than the end. That way, the racks will still be full of relevant items. Take your time while thrifting: Finding that perfect piece may take a bit of time. And lastly, sometimes you’ve got to ignore all the thrifting “rules” when you find that ideal piece. She recounts how she found a raincoat that’s served her well, despite the general rule to avoid used rain gear.

Misty Mcnally has a few more guidelines to help you bring home treasures and not clutter. She suggests skipping on unwashable linens, pillows, and upholstery, unless you have access to an eco-friendly dry cleaner. Be careful: You may come across things with leaded paint in them. Stick to your budget and purchase with a keen eye for quality and usefulness, but keep an open mind on what could be repurposed to fit that household need in your life. An iron grate, for example, could have a second life as a dish rack.



In that same vein of thrift-store creativity, Susan Melgren suggests several ways to transform an unconventional find into a bedside table. Turn an apple crate on its side and cover with a table cloth, or keep uncovered for a charming rustic look. Alternatively, stack antique suitcases to a suitable height. (Confession: While growing up, I actually had the stacked-antique-suitcases-as-bedside-table. It was delightfully whimsical.) An antique or vintage desk makes the perfect low-effort bedside table that’s also highly practical in its own right. Tall stacks of thrifted books can also work as a bedside table; look for large or oversized books. Those with a higher bed than usual may find that a bar stool is the perfect height.

For those with a craving for making something really unique, reader Jeff Setaro recounts how he assembled a recumbent bike from a thrift-store find. He assembled it from a pair of crutches, an old exercise bike, and a mountain bike. The sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. While on the bike trails in Davis, California, I once saw a person riding an elliptical machine that had been refitted to be mobile. It was like something out of Dr. Seuss! While Setaro’s creation may be for the expert inventor, it’s still a good place for starting to consider what you can do with that special thrift store find.