Intentional Living

Thrift Shopping – A How to Guide for Beginners and Enthusiasts


I will declare up front that I LOVE thrifting! I am an enthusiast. I have been thrift shopping since I was a young teenager and it continues to be one of my favorite things to do. There is nothing much more exciting to me than finding a new thrift shop, or even just a trip to my local thrift stores and consignment shops. To me, a how-to guide to thrift shopping is really a how-to guide to having more fun, saving money and upgrading your life.

Big promises – I know! Lets get into it!

Thrift shopping
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Table of Contents

Why Thrift Shopping is the Best

Unique Items

While small business and eco-friendly small batch production is starting to make a comeback, our retail world is still largely dominated by giant mass production machines that compete with each other to be as trendy and on-brand as possible – often resulting in every store selling slight variations of the same designs – whether it be home decor, clothing or gadgets.

Be a Thrift Store Rebel

Thrift shopping is a great way to subvert the capitalist hamster-wheel that can have us chasing the next trendy thing only to end up with a home and wardrobe that is facsimile of everyone else’s and no sense of our own style or what we actually like.


Most thrift stores have a constantly changing selection of clothes (rack after rack of clothing!), furniture, vinyl and other items – meaning you will never run out of inspiration as you explore your own style and sense of fashion.

Secondhand is Your Best Bet

Shopping at secondhand stores and consignment stores will allow you to explore diverse styles and build a timeless and unique wardrobe that combines vintage clothing with high quality staples from designer brands that would otherwise be out of reach from a cost perspective. Finding high-end pieces is the ultimate thrifting boon – you’ll get longer wear out of high quality items, meaning less need to replace items which is good for both your budget and the environment.

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Use To

If you’ve purchased anything for your home in the last 15 years, you have no doubt run into the ‘they don’t make ’em like they use to’ phenomenon. In the past, home and kitchen appliances and gadgets were made to last – think cast iron pots and pans, heavy duty baking sheets, your grandma’s olive green oven-stove that’s been working perfectly since the 60’s.

Corporations Just Want to Keep You Shopping

At some point, companies figured out that they could make more money by decreasing the quality of the items they produce, and while some of those savings were passed onto the consumer, the consumer ultimately ends up spending more in the long run because lower quality goods need to be replaced more often – this is great for a big corporation’s bottom line, but NOT for yours!

Old Timey Quality

Some of my favorite thrift store finds have been home gadgets that continue to work as well as they did when they were made 50 – 60 years ago.

My favorite Chemex-style pour-over coffee maker is from a thrift store and it works better than all of my other coffee gadgets. Cast iron pots and pans that would cost you hundreds of dollars retail can be found for a FRACTION of that cost at your local thrift store. Even if a cast iron item looks well-used and abused, it can be cleaned up and re-seasoned and used for years to come. I use mine to make sourdough bread and it works like a dream!

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The below info-graphic from Goodwill tells part of the story about the environment impact of clothing production.

Infographic from Cincinnati Goodwill

Fast Fashion

I am not one to demonise anyone who buys and wears fast fashion. In the current economy, fast fashion is the only thing that feels financially feasible for most of us. However, the fact remains that when we purchase new merchandise, we are playing a role in the environmental impact of mass production.

Thrift Shop for Planet Earth

Every time you purchase something secondhand, from a thrift store, instead of purchasing new clothes or household items, you are lessening your participation in the mass production and consumption cycle that threatens our planet, reducing your carbon footprint – AND you are eating away at the massive power being accumulated by large retail outlets.

Save on Essential Purchases

Not to save the most obvious for last, but thrifting is an amazing way to save literally hundreds of dollars on the things we all need to buy.

Thrift Shopping Tips – What to Buy at Thrift Shops

Here is the list of items that I always try to purchase at thrift shops first before considering buying new or retail:


I have found SO MANY great deals on shoes at thrift stores. Many stores sell a large selection of shoes. My daughter has a very stylish collection of sneakers and booties that have been sourced from one thrift shop or another. With the same budget I would have used to buy one pair of shoes at retail, she now has a selection of footwear to choose from to match her look on any given day.

Recently, my husband found a pair of Jordan’s for my son – they were in near perfect condition and cost us less than $20! My husband and I have also had a lot of luck with finding footwear at thrift stores – including indoor soccer kicks, vintage Adidas and gorgeous heels. Not all shoes at a secondhand shop are going to be in great shape, but MANY look nearly new with barely any wear!

Kids Clothes

Almost all of my kids’ clothes have come from thrift shops. Kids grow so fast. When kids are growing out of their clothes as quickly as you buy them, buying secondhand can really save your budget. Kids clothing at thrift stores are often in really good condition – again, because kids often only wear things a few times before they grow out of them!

Supplies for DIY Projects

Thrift stores are a holy grail for DIY projects. As you scroll through Pinterest and collect ideas for DIY projects, keep a mental list of the supplies you need to tackle all of your fashion, gift and home décor projects. If you’re looking for thrifting DIY and home décor inspiration, these books are absolutely PACKED with ideas and inspiration. Invest in a few of these books and you will save money while upgrading your life in a eco-friendly way.

Big Thrift Energy: The Art and Thrill of Finding Vintage Treasures

Wise Craft: Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects Into Stuff You Love

The Whimsical Home: Interior Design with Thrift Store Finds, Flea Market Gems, and Recycled Goods

New Dress a Day: The Ultimate DIY Guide to Creating Fashion Dos from Thrift-Store Don’ts

Creole Thrift: Premium Southern Living Without Spending a Mint


This one might surprise people, but thrift stores are a great place to find unique and special gifts for those special people in your life. The great thing about gift shopping at thrift stores is that you can find such a variety of items at one store and you can rest assured that the gift you find will be absolutely unique. Thrift shopping can be a life saver during the Holidays. Check out our post, Frugal Strategies for Celebrating a Stress Free Holiday Season for more Holidays on a budget inspiration.

Below are a Few of My Favorite Thrift Gift Ideas:

Crystal Ware

You can often find real crystal in thrift stores! A set of crystal wine glasses, a crystal vase, a crystal bowl – these pieces paired with some wine, flowers, or Holiday food-goods makes for a very elevated gift that the giftee can use for years to come.

Here are some tricks for determining whether something is real crystal:

  • Give the the piece a (not too hard) flick with your finger, using your nail. If the piece is crystal it will make a clear ringing sound that continues to ring for a at least a few seconds. If the piece is glass it will make more of a ‘clunking’ noise
  • Crystal will feel heavier than a glass piece of roughly the same size
  • Hold the piece up to light. Crystal refracts light into a prism – so if you see a rainbow, you’ve got crystal!
  • You can also take a picture of the piece and use Google Lens to search the internet for a similar image. This trick might also help you identify the type and brand of the crystal which is information you can pass on to the giftee.
High Quality Sweaters

You can often find beautiful and comfortable sweaters at thrift stores. This is a great option for Holiday shopping because who wouldn’t love to receive a cozy sweater in the dead of winter?

Here’s how to search out the perfect sweater:

  • Touch and feel and check those labels! I have found more than a few beautiful cashmere and silk blend sweaters in nearly perfect shape at thrift stores. While there is some skill-development to do here – it is not complicated. Run your hands along the sweaters while you look to see if there a color or texture or something interesting that catches your eye.
Novelty T-shirts

Your average local thrift store will have approximately 1 million t-shirts for sale! Or, at least quite a few”

Rifling through t-shirts can be really fun. If you are buying for someone with a boho, casual, trendy or hipster style, chances are you will come across a t-shirt that reminds you of your person. It might be humorous or beautiful or quirky, but it will always be a great way to tell someone that you see them and understand who they are. Is there a better gift than that?


Old, solid wood or metal, high-quality side tables, shelves, bar carts, buffets etc., etc. are never hard to find at the thrift store. If you are someone who likes the ideas of up-cycling furniture, you are nearly guaranteed to find something that you know your friend or family member is looking for, which can then be customised to perfectly fit their style.

Home Decor

Many thrift stores have a massive home decor section. If you take your time shopping this selection, you will surely find some gems that with a quick clean or coat of spray paint can be easily transformed into a unique and personal gift.

Practice Makes Perfect!

Some final tips to get you started with thrift shopping:

  • Search through all racks – who knows where the treasures are hiding!
  • If you’re buying clothing or an outfit, make use of the fitting rooms – don’t worry, even if the clothes aren’t perfectly clean, a quick try on won’t hurt you!
  • Wear a form-fitting undershirt under your clothes in case there aren’t change rooms, this will allow you to quickly try on shirts or sweaters if needed
  • Avoid impulse buys. Even if something is a great price, if you don’t need it, it will just be another thing cluttering up your home and defeat the money saving point of it all
  • Use Google – take pictures and use google lens, or search brand names to identify which items are high quality, have good reviews, etc.

The more you thrift, the better you get at it. You’ll more quickly identify high-quality items and get better at keeping gifting opportunities in mind.

Get out there and try your hand at thrift shopping! Leave us a comment to share your thrifting tips or to share your thrift shopping experience! What’s your favorite find?!

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