Have you ever wanted to thrift like a pro, but had no idea where to start? Well it’s your lucky day! I would love to thrift with every single one of you, I mean it is my FAVORITE thing to do aside from snuggling fuzzy baby puppies and binge watching a complete TV series on netflix (can I get an “Amen”?). Unfortunately, we all have jobs and co-thrifting isn’t always a possibility. That’s why I created this little guide to share a few tricks of my trade, so you can thrift like a pro on your lonesome. Now you can hear my shrill little thrifty voice in your head every time you pass a neon yardsale sign. You’re welcome.
Know Your Market
There are several different types of thrifting. Some prefer to thrift via the comfort of their own homes (a’la craigslist, etsy, and ebay), while others prefer to roll up their sleeves and dig in to heaping piles of dusty old things in person. I am more of a ‘dig in’ type of gal. I find there’s nothing like the thrill of the thrift when you’re digging through a pile of lost and forgotten mumbo jumbo and the Heavens part to shine down on that glorious holy grail of a treasure. However, I do find that Craigslist, Ebay, and Etsy are just what the doctor ordered when it comes to searching for specific items like a matching china set, specific types of furniture, and certain items you’ve been scouring the earth for. To help understand where to look, I have broken my list in to 7 main categories with varying price ranges, time requirements, and amounts of ‘dirty work’ .
- Estate Sales
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Estate Sales, I suggest you introduce yourself real quick because buy are you missin’ out! If Estate Sale wrote her number on a bathroom stall, it would read “Call For A Good Time”, just sayin she’s a party animal! So what the heck is an estate sale? Well, if someone is looking to sell a large collection, business, or entire personal estate (as in all of their worldly possessions) they will host an estate sale. Unlike auctions, estate sale items are typically pre-priced like a yardsale. Often times, when an elderly person has passed or is no longer able to care for themselves, the family will host an estate sale to liquidate their belongings. Now don’t let this creep you out or make you sad because estate sales can be very happy places 🙂 Family members light up when they see someone love their grandmother’s milk-glass collection as much as she did, and they will sometimes even give you a great deal because they know it’s going to a great home. I have found some of my favorite items at estate sales, and some of my fondest thrifting memories are of reminiscing with family member about the special moments they and their loved ones shared. Here’s a bit more about how to thrift Estate Sales…
How To Find One: Try Craigslist, AuctionZip.net & Your local Weekend Paper
When To Go: The early bird gets the worm. Be the first one there when the door opens & make sure you go the first day (often times they’re at least 2 days long) to get first pick. If there’s something that catches your eye but leaves you with sticker shock, return the next day. Usually, estate sales reduce their prices the last day of the sale.
Key Tips: Remember this was often a family member’s home, don’t insult the decor or furnishings in front of those operating the estate sale. Don’t be afraid to barter, but don’t offer an insanely low amount on the first day. If a family is smart and they are liquidating a large estate, they often hire someone to appraise and organize the event (i.e. ‘Cash & Carrie’), so those people typically aren’t sticker price illiterate. Also, check the basement & garage if they are open to the public, sometimes they hold wonderful treasures!
- Yard Sales & Garage Sales
Hello weekend warriors, can I get a “Heck Yessss”? Listen, for those of you who haven’t yet jumped on this band wagon let me tell ‘ya, yard sales are not just for those back-woodsy, penny pinching types any more. I mean when a Good Morning America host writes a book titled ‘I Brake For Yard Sales‘, you know they must be pretty darn good. So what’s so great about yardsales? Unlike estate sales, auctions, thrift stores, and all the virtual marketplaces; people hosting yard sales are typically trying to just get rid of their unwanted junk, instead of looking to make a huge profit off of it. This is GREAT because those people typically just want to see it GONE, and they are more likely to take lower offers or price an item well below its value. Here’s a bit more about how to thrift yard sales…
How To Find One: Try Craigslist, The Local Paper & Neighborhood Yard Sale Signs
When To Go: The early bird gets the worm, I always try to start at 7am or earlier (sometimes people aren’t set up until 8am, and some even start at 6am). Sometimes yard sales start as early as Friday and last through Sunday, but typically Saturdays are the best time to hit the road!
Key Tips: If you think the price is a little high, make an offer. People often over value their items, they may have paid a lot for it when they bought it in the 80’s but that brass vase full of dusty silk magnolias just ain’t what it used to be. Just remember, your motive is to barter, not offend them with a ridiculously low offer.
Oh boy, do I have a bad case of trigger finger! At my first estate auction, I bid so much that I ended up with two truck loads! I mean everything was so cheap, why wasn’t anyone else bidding? Don’t even get me started on the rush that comes when you’re in a bidding war. It’s addictive! So what exactly goes on at an auction, we’ll it’s pretty much like thrifting at a live rap concert. An auctioneer stands on a stage and someone hands him an item. He then poetically describes the item as if it was the most beautiful thing he had even seen, all while spitting out verbage at the speed of Iggy Azalea. You’re hooked, you didn’t think you needed an old potato sack but OMG he just sold you on it and next thing you know you’re swinging your numbered auction fan harder than a pro-leaguer and his Louisville slugger bat. So how do you get in on this action? Well here’s the scoop…
How To Find One: Try Craigslist, The Local Paper & AuctionZip.com (also ask around and google your zip code, there are often local auctioneers and auction houses that host weekly or monthly auctions)
When To Go: Get there before the auction to scope out the loot, auctions can be long events so you want to make sure you’re not just waiting around for a bunch of things you aren’t even interested in. Also, you will typically have to wait in line to sign up and receive a bidder’s # before the auction begins. Allow yourself plenty of time to sign in and scope it out.
Key Tips: Scope out your wanted items & then PAY ATTENTION! Remember, these guys are bustin’ out items & spittin’ out words faster than a Kardashian marriage & divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed out on a great item because I was yakking away with someone next to me or staring down at the screen of my iPhone. Know when to pull the trigger, and know when to back out of a fight. When you scope out your wanted items, assign your top dollar amount before hand so you know when to back out of a bidding war, then stick to your guns! Your top dollar may not be someone else’s, so know when to give up the fight. P.S. Many auctions will post their items online prior to the auction via their website, facebook, or instagram to allow for absentee bidding. With absentee bidding you can call ahead of time and assign a price and during the items auction someone will stand in for you to bid until that max amount is reached. This is great for out of towner’s who just cant make the trip unless they know the item is a done deal!
- Thrift Stores & Charity Stores
Thanks to Macklemore, Mad Men,Wes Anderson, and hipsters everywhere; thrift store’s are no longer just for die hard vintage enthusiasts, home-schoolers and the homeless. This is a 2 sided street for lifelong thrifters like me. In one respect I’m thrilled that others are enjoying the thrills of poppin’ tags, color coded weekly discounts and dirty ‘fur fox skins’. Yet on the other hand, it kind of sucks. Gone are the days of dirt cheap prices as these stores wise up and hire managers that actually post items to ebay. I mean what? As interest and pricing wisdom have escalated, so has my sticker shock. Yet, I still LOVE my local thrift stores. Here’s how to shop, despite the rising tag prices…
How To Find One: Keep an eye out as you drive around town, ask around, and look online for tried and true stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat For Humanity’s Re-Sale stores.
When To Go: Go early to mid week and GO OFTEN! Once you’ve found your favorite honey holes, visit them weekly to stay in the loop. Also, many thrift stores have a weekly color (or sticker date) coded discount. When an item comes in to the store’s inventory, it is assigned a tag or sticker showing the date it was placed into inventory. Each week a color or date range is discounted to move through older items and make way for newer items.
Key Tips: Sometimes thrift stores are all business in the front & party in the back, meaning their back room is stocked full of items to rummage through. I visited my local Salvation Army for almost 2 years before I realized that they had an ENORMOUS airplane hanger sized back room just waiting for me to get my thrifty little hands on. Dig in, sometimes you’ve got to dig through piles of grubby clothes and dingy dishes to find that needle in a haystack. Super pro tip: I carry hand sanitizer with me to use in between thrift stops because nothing makes me feel ickier than someone else’s dirt under my nails!
- Flea Markets
Flea Markets are like the County Fair of thrifting; come one, come all. It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock & roll. You may find a Velvet Elvis next to a $3,000 vase (and that’s just one booth). There are several types of Flea Markets. First you have your traditional outdoor flea markets held weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or annually. For instance the Nashville Flea Market is held one weekend per month, while The Fall Flea is held annually. Outdoor Flea markets may be my favorite. Okay, I know, I’ve already said that twice but seriously…. Outdoor Flea Markets Rock! Sunshine, crappy fair food, insanely cool junk, it just doesn’t get any better!
How To Find One: Follow thrifty bloggers in your area (like me), and follow the flea markets they frequent on social media or sign up for the market’s newsletters. Often times flea markets will promote one another, because they’re just ‘good peoples’. Also, check with your local state or county fairground, as they are typically the locations that host such events (however, some are also held on farms or at roadside attractions).
When To Go: Go early in the day! Beat the heat, outdoor markets can really suck the life outta ‘ya when high noon hits, it gets all ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’ real quick. Tumbleweeds start rolling, you start seeing mirages of cool pools of water as you lose consciousness from heat exhaustion (read below to avoid this).
Key Tips: STAY HYDRATED! Bring bottled water, nothing is worse than getting dehydrated in a sea full of vintage treasures. It’s a little like Aerials treasure trove meets Old Greg’s cavern when you try to thrift an outdoor market without water; you go a little cooky and start brushing your long locks with silver forks and wearing seaweed as a weave. How are you going to cart your water around? You need a market cart! Make sure you line yours with a market bag or liner full of snacks as well, you will definitely work up an appetite!
- Peddlers Malls
I’ll be honest, peddlers malls are pretty much an easy egg hunt. Every time I go to the peddlers mall I leave with at least 3 things. Milkglass (check). Brass (check). Lucite (check). They’ve got it all. Peddlers Malls are a lot like indoor Flea Markets, except they’re usually a little less curated. A vendor pays a monthly fee to haul all of their treasures in to a booth, and a really good vendor will actually replenish and curate their booths. Some do it to make money, some do it to mark up their items at incredibly high prices & hoard their collections, and others use it as a 24/7 yardsale where they dump all of their old underwear and tupperware. It’s a really a free for all in there, but you’ll rarely come out empty handed!
How To Find One: Drive around town. I’ve spotted most of my frequent stops while running errands. Often you will find them in strip malls or old run down former department stores. Occasionally you will find a HUGE peddler’s mall off the interstate, super thrifty little roadside attractions. Again, ask around town & google your zip code. Super pro tip: If you’re new to the area (or even if its your neighborhood) stop in a local coffee shop & ask them where to find a good thrift stop. All of us coffee lovin’ hipsters typically thrift ourselves, or we know a local Macklemore who rocks those fur fox skins like a pro.
When To Go: Try to go during the afternoon, and go often. Sometimes you will even find vendors at their booths, you may even be able to talk them down on that bar cart you’re eyeing.
Key Tips: Canvass the joint. Peddler’s malls can be pretty big places and they usually don’t have shopping carts. Make your first pass of the mall and look for bigs (furniture, wall art, lamps, BIG pieces), when you find a piece you love take a picture on your phone of the item & booth number to remember where it is. Go to the front desk and tell them you want the item. Sometimes they will grab them for you, and sometimes they will want you to get them yourself. Make a second pass and look for smalls (glassware, trinkets, and if you’re like me tiny little brass accessories), then take your entire loot to the front to purchase. Most peddler’s malls allow you to make an offer on a item, don’t completely low ball them because they typically have to call the vendor and that’s just a waste of everyone’s time. Make sure you make your offers to vendors after your first pass around the place, so they have time to make the call on your second pass. P.S. Peddler’s Malls are always more fun with a friend (that way you can inappropriately scoff at funny nude paintings & giant Jesus blankets).
- Antique Shops
Oh little shops of antiquities, how I love/hate thee. Sometimes, for a thrifter, antique shops are a little like window shopping at Saks with an empty bank account. Thrilling, inspiring, and all together depressing. I still love them, despite the ridiculously accurate market value prices. You see, I don’t like market value, I’m cheap (thus I thrift). Antique shops are still super fun, and they’re also a great way to learn the current value of your collected treasures. Here are a few tips…
How To Find One: Google search & word of mouth are your best bet. Also, a lot of antique shops tend to be in the heart of town squares or quirky neighborhoods. It’s pretty much a sure bet to find at least one antique shop in a midwestern town square or around their “Main Street”.
When To Go: Try to visit on a weekday, you will often find the owner there and they offer a wealth of knowledge (as well as full bargaining power).
Key Tips: Don’t scoff at the prices and yell out to your thrifting buddy across the room “Did you see how much this is? That’s CRAZY!“. A.) That’s offensive to the owner, B.) It makes you look totally uneducated on market value and current vintage & antique prices, and C.) You have lost all bartering power on any purchase. Who would want to accept a lower offer from someone who completely scoffs at their prices? not me!
Oh Craig, you are my cyber lover. I’m pretty sure we are going steady, I mean we hang out at least 3 times a week and we’ve even pulled a few all nighters. Here are a few reasons why you rock my socks. 1.) You are a cheap date, I mean sometimes you’re even FREE (talk about a good time). 2.) You post so many pictures, I felt like I knew you even before I even met you. Granted, sometimes those photos were taken in a creepy unfinished basement or a hap hazard garage, but at least I know what I was getting in to before going to meet you. 3.) You are only occasionally a murderer.
When To Go: DO NOT MEET A CRAIGSLISTER AFTER DARK. I don’t care if they’re selling freaking gold bricks for a dollar, nothing is worth risking your safety. On that note, meet somewhere in a public place with one to two other people with you. If you must go to their house use your best judgment. If you’re going down a rural dirt road, with no one to be seen for miles, and you hear a chainsaw in the distance just turn around and leave that gold brick in the dust.
Key Tips: Looking for something specific like a tulip dining table, lucite coffee table, or Eames chairs? Check several times a week. These things go fast! Also, expand your search to surrounding areas (for instance I search both Louisville & Cincinnati on the regular).
- Etsy & Ebay
These are two TOTALLY different sites, but I have a similar approach to both. I visit ONLY if I am in the market for something totally specific that I haven’t found anywhere else, or if I’m looking for the current market value for one of my items I may be looking to sell. Why am I not visiting these sites more often? They re just way too addictive! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited etsy to purchase a very specific vintage item and come away with 2 glittery headbands, a kleenex box cover, and a collection of handmade unicorn necklaces to only wonder “Oh dear Lord, what have I done?” an hour later. Don’t even get me started on Ebay. Remember how I stated earlier that I have tripper finger, well turns out online auctions are even worse than live auctions. I leave the online auction portion of our business up to my Mother, because the first step is admitting you have a problem…
Key Tips: Don’t fall into the rabbit hole, go in knowing exactly what you want and don’t come out with an unplanned collection of kleenex box covers (true story). Also, beware of WHERE exactly these vendors are shipping from. I once bought a vintage mailbox on etsy and in a moment of excitement overlooked the fact that the vendor was located in Bali. I paid double the item’s cost in shipping fees and four months later guess what, no mailbox.
Photo: Aubrey Renee Photography