Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thrifting for the Reluctant Rookie

Until very recently, I was a non-thrifter. No. That's not true; I was actually an anti-thrifter. Here's the thing..I'm a terrible shopper in general. Unless it's a holiday time of year, I can barely force myself into the mall and in any circumstance, I have to hold myself to a three-stores-per-trip maximum before the sensory overload takes me over. I'm kind of a baby about shopping.

So the idea of taking on a more complex and intense form of shopping, which is what I considered thrifting to be, left me cold. I thought of wading through garage sales full of old treadmills and castoff toys from Happy Meals, or flea markets overflowing with 80s finds like wooden cows and baskets with ruffled liners. Really, I wanted no part of it.

Then Apartment Therapy entered my life. What's this? As I feasted my eyes on all those interesting, inviting, individualized rooms, of an amazing range of taste and style, I noticed that I was especially drawn to spaces that boasted at least a few thrifted items. These things were not tacky or dated; there were some beautifully designed, classic pieces as well as funky, off-beat treasures. The more blogs I read and images I analyzed, the more I realized the whole world was thrifting without me. Hmm, maybe it was time to rethink my stance.

books, typewriter. 
globes, dishes, chalkboard frame.
crocheted throws.
door, typewriter, table.

So, last summer, I quietly decided to give thrifting a go. I had good days and bad days, and I learned a lot. Operating under the premise that there may be other timid anti-thrifters lurking around out there, I offer the following encouragement:

Six Thrifting Tips for the Reluctant Rookie

1. Choose a venue that makes you comfortable.
Some people are completely at ease at estate auctions, yard sales or flea markets, but I'm not. I need a thrifting experience that feels like a "regular" shopping trip to me, and I found exactly that at Value Village. The inventory is organized into predictable departments, non-negotiable prices are stickered on every item, the return policy is fair and debit cards are accepted. Yes, this feels like familiar terrain to me and gives me a boost of confidence.

2. Maximize your energy.
Some women can shop for endless hours, powered only by a chai latte and a white chocolate macadamia Luna bar. This is not me. I need to go when my mind is fresh, my body is fed, my patience is maximized and I feel no pressure from the rest of my day's activities. Many women prefer the companionship and sociability of shopping with a companion but I shop best when I'm alone. Do what works for you.

3. Know what you want.
A clear plan of attack saves me from being crushed under the tsunami of stuff that hits me as I step into the store. Usually, I go straight to the housewares department and scan for white salad/dessert plates, classic tea pots, and globes. Having that list of must-sees in my head helps me narrow my focus and stay on track.

4. Be open to serendipitous finds.
This, I now understand, is the magic ingredient of thrifting. One minute, you're innocently milling down an aisle of random stuff and the next moment, your eyes land on The Perfect Find. You didn't even know you were looking for it, but suddenly, you can't live without it! I met a huge iridescent turquoise vase in this fashion, and every time I glance at him, sitting in a place of honor on a red cupboard in my kitchen, I marvel at the gifts of fate.

5. Look for quality. 
Just like any form of shopping, I truly believe that we should buy only what we love. The guiding principle behind any secondary market is that one man's trash is another man's treasure, so your opinion is the only one that matters. At the same time, there is a special rush that comes from peeling back the sticker on that little white teapot and finding the Le Creusat label, or Googling the name on the bottom of the silver bowl to learn that Reed & Barton is kind of a big deal. 

6. If you love it, buy it NOW.
This is one of the principles that scared me most about thrifting: if you see something you like, you better snap it up immediately. Because once this item is gone, it's GONE..there's no calling to another store to see if they have it, or buying it online next week. For a devoted IKEA and Target shopper like myself, this was very unnerving. I like to take my time considering a potential purchase, and usually wait overnight if not several days before actually buying something I see. Interestingly, once I grasped the idea that thrifters must move quickly, I found the immediacy quite freeing. It's the low prices that make it work for me..most of my purchases are less that five dollars, and if I decide I don't love something after I buy it, I can always return it or even donate it back to the store. 

See? I get it now! I'm still just a rookie but my early efforts at thrifting have paid off nicely. Here are a few of my recent finds:

Crate and Barrel classic white teapot. 

The glazing is fake but I love the shape and color. 
Small cake plate with several cute little bubbles trapped in the glass. 
Hand-hammered aluminum tray. Feels nice and heavy.

Teak tray. It's nice wood but I'm seriously considering painting it red. 
Pottery Barn vase. Not real silver but I love the funky fake tarnish.
Mercury glass style candleholders. Love.
Charming small white pitcher that says "Made in England" on the underside.
Small silver bowl with some stubborn tarnish. I like it that way.

How do you feel about thrifting? Do you have any tips for a rookie like me?


  1. I am so with you about not loving shopping, but it turns out I'm just anti-mall and anti-mass produced, same-as-everyone else merchandise. Greg and I stopped in at Value Village when he wanted something for his desk and found a cool vintage clock that got me hooked. Just yesterday I went to Goodwill on the Ave (U-Dist) and that's my new favorite for clothes. Right now I'm wearing a sweater that I bought for $12 and Greg walked out with a pair of vintage Adidas Sambas in white with green stripes for $5. Our favorite for vintage/used housewares, jewelery and kitsch is a store on Main Street in Bothell. I have an old-school runner sled decorating my porch from that store.

    1. It's so surprising what can be found,isn't it? Your stuff sounds really great; I'm going to summon up my nerve and try out some of the spots you mentioned. Wish me luck!

  2. You have never discovered the joy of manifestation at the Goodwill. I haven't bought clothes in a regular store in years, but I wear only Land's End, Chico's, Coldwater Creek, etc. It is amazing to me the money people waste each year, sending new clothes to the Goodwill. I love treasure hunting but I hate shopping.

    1. Yeah, I am going to need more time to work up to thrifted clothes, although I totally agree with you that there are fabulous treasures to be found.


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