My Best Advice For Actually Finding Success At Thrifting
You might not know this, but back in my early 20’s I was a DIY home blogger. I was a stay-at-home mom of 3 and was finding my way in the world trying to help myself and other live on a single income and still have a creative outlet.
Really, I just needed a creative outlet, but I had no money.
So I started a blog called The Frugal Mama, that name lasted maybe a couple months before it became The Birds Papaya (naming it after my two young daughters before my son was even born).
My blog revolved around inexpensive crafts and DIY inspired by things I’d seen on the internet, and a lot of spray paint. Spray paint was my JAM. Spray paint was my bread and butter too.
But all that DIY also required a lot of thrifting. Finding pieces old and making them new again. I was all about decorating my home with minimal spending. I wasn’t just trying to save money, we just literally didn’t have any extra to spend, but I didn’t want that stopping me from having a space that felt like home. And of course, fill that need for a creative outlet.
I wanted to dress my home with my personality.
But when I began to lose weight, I quickly realized that I needed to find new clothes. Again, no money. Again, trying to figure out how to outfit myself with an ever changing size, and yeah, that need for a creative outlet.
I wanted to dress my BODY with my personality.
I sold my clothes that no longer fit. I was ready to move on and move forward and the money earned was enough to buy an entire new wardrobe, thrifted. I did this every single season. Piece by piece, for around $100 each season, paid for by the sold clothes. It was the perfect system.
Thrifting as I lost weight helped me stay with my identity, or maybe even find it a little bit, too. It helped me learn how to dress my ever-adapting shape and it helped build my confidence, when I wasn’t sure I had any to start with.
The notion of buying clothes only when you “lose the weight” was pointless to me. I mean, it was 2 years of that journey, and my body deserved to be dressed for it’s size, every step of the way. Putting style on hold for 2 years wasn’t an option while I transitioned. You are worthy of feeling good, every step of the way.
And through all these years of thrifting, I’ve learned a lot.
It’s also not like me AT ALL to shut up about something that excites me, which is why when I’m rocking a $5 dress or an entire outfit under $20, I’m going to talk about it. But I’m also going to share some key things I’ve learned over the years of thrifting so that hopefully you too can find some new things for yourself. And maybe, just maybe, fall in love with the process.
So buckle up, because I’m going to break down some things that you need. to. know. from what you wear, to decorating your home and some bits in-between.
By the end, I hope you feel inspired and challenged to go outside of the mall and big box stores, and into a thrift shop to meet your need, revive your creative spirit, and keep more money in the bank!
Let’s get started…
START BY UN-TRAINING YOUR MIND
The biggest hurdle in thrifting is getting over how you’ve always shopped. Every store you go into has a display of styles, and then racks of those styles in every single size and colour. You get inspired, you find what you want, you grab your size, you walk away.
Thrifting doesn’t allow for that. Which, is where inspiration comes in! Take time on Pinterest or IG and find styles you like and take note of them, save them, pin them, whatever. When you’re thrifting and you see some random faux fur vest on a rack, you’ll now know exactly how to style it, because you’ve seen this styled before (long sleeve white tee, jeans and booties, maybe a hat - you get the picture). Style isn’t something that needs to be sold to you, you can create it. When it comes to personal style, it’s all you. Don’t forget that.
YOU NEED A FOCUS
When you walk into a thrift store, depending on its size, you’re facing an entire store of individual items. You are not going to get through them all. Most likely, you’ll get overwhelmed at the sheer volume of everything and browse quickly through it all, falling completely flat and walking away in utter defeat, deciding that your thrift store just must suck.
When I go thrifting I usually go with one thing I need/want. This will be my focus. Most recently it was for some cozy sweaters. So, I walked it and that’s where I went. I browsed the entire series of racks of sweaters, from small to plus size (for both fitted and oversized). When I say “browsed an entire series” I mean every.single.item. Yes, it may take a while, which is why the rest of the store will be secondary, but you are more likely to find the items you were looking for!
KNOW YOUR BRANDS
It’s a lot less about the label game, and more to do with how that item will stand the test of time, making it worthwhile to buy used. When it comes to thrifting, I tend to skip the generic brands and look for mid to higher end items.
This especially rings true for kid’s clothing (if that happens to be your focus). Kids clothing arguably will get more wear and tear than anyone else's in your household. Not to mention since kids tend to, you know, grow like weeds… a lot of newer items end up donated after just a couple of wears. Trust me, a lot of our stuff ends up in the thrift store after short stint in their wardrobe when we’ve experienced a sudden sprout up.
SIZES MEAN NOTHING, OR AT LEAST, LESS THAN NORMAL
When it comes to shopping in a thrift store, you’re shopping a variety of brands, and a variety of laundering habits. Meaning, a large size labeled item may be more of a small if it was put in the dryer wrongfully in the past. Regardless, each brand has it’s own measurements, and if you’re open to trying things on, you may be surprised how many sizes fit you, all the same.
It’s the most important to remember when looking at jeans, and jeans are one of my favourite things to thrift. Because, as you know, jeans take YEARS maybe even decades to wear out. But the staff at thrift stores don’t always realize that a size 6 is a 28 waist, NOT a 26. Which means, you usually have to go through the racks and look and see if they’re your size. Jeans, btw, are another “most likely to find something” at the thrift store. And it makes sense, I mean, how many times have you bought a pair of jeans just to find it’s not the right fit, but you’ve torn off the tags? Those, end up at the thrift store. Bless.
SHOES SHOES SHOES
Have you ever bought a pair of shoes in your size for a single occasion only to have them sit in your closet for a long time? Or how about that pair that just didn’t fit right, or gave you blisters? Those minor trauma makers have no space in your life, so off to donation they go.
Which is why there are so many shoes in thrift stores. Especially women’s shoes, because while men tend to have like 3 pairs, women have like, 30. When I have anything upcoming, before dropping dollars on anything new, it’s a few rounds of the thrift store before I’ll succumb. Usually, the thrift store provides.
LOOK FOR THOSE SPECIAL OCCASION THINGS
Okay, so mainly - dresses. We women tend to do this thing where we “don’t want to wear the same dress twice” unless it’s black, because a LBD will get you through decades if you let it.
In the day of everything being documented in a social media photo, it’s rare we double up a dress between two occasions. That means, a lot of them end up in a thrift store. It also means, you don’t have to feel so guilty buying a dress for one occasion.
KNOW YOUR RETURN POLICIES
In my town, there’s 3 major thrift stores I like to circuit. 2 of them do not allow returns, and one does. The one that does has a 7 day return policy on most items. Meaning, I can skip the change rooms and come home and style before heading back to return if needed. More often than not, I’ll usually hand them off to a friend they would work for.
For the ones that you can’t return to, sucks to say - you gotta take the risk or take your butt into the change room.
But it’s not just clothes. There’s a whole other part of the store, too.
ALL THE KITCHEN APPLIANCES
One of the other places of success for me, is kitchen appliances. They’re an often-purchased, often-donated item because well, someone thought they’d use them, and they ended up not. Or, they’re a wedding gift they just didn’t want.
I have bought 4 coffee makers, or replacement carafes, a steamer, and even a storm trooper toaster one time. All of these things often come with brand-new high ticket prices, but you’re going to get them at a fraction of the price. Thrift stores have “testing stations” where you can make sure the appliances work before you leave.
TOP SHELF, BOTTOM SHELF
Do you know in regular retail stores the items at eye level have paid a premium rate to be placed there? I found that out from my days in a pharmacy. Things at eye level catch your attention first so that’s prime real estate. But thrift stores don’t work that way. They just place items on the shelf, often based on height or weight.
When it comes to housewares, decor and more, you need to keep your eyes on all levels. Top shelf, bottom shelf. Some of the best stuff is there!! Don’t be left at eye level only to miss out on all the things hiding just slightly out of sight.
FINALLY, HAVE FUN
Like I said, it can be overwhelming. Try not to feel that way. Treat it like the hunt it is. Don’t expect you’ll walk out with everything you need, but hope you manifest that one thing you’ve been looking for.
There’s nothing better than finding something you wanted or needed, and knowing you saved money while you’re at it. Not only that, it’s environmentally friendly! So feel good about it. Don’t be ashamed if you go thrifting. While there was a time that I had to, financially, it’s still a choice for me because I enjoy the process and of course, that “hunt”. Plus, everyone likes saving money.