Thrifting 101: Respecting the Process

You've been in a thrift store for forty-five minutes. Your shopping cart has a wobbly wheel and the overhead stereo is playing Christian rock at a decibel so grating you're certain only dogs can hear. It's hot. There are no open windows nor functioning air conditioner. A tired overhead fan circulates air so stale you can practically see through it. A older gentleman with the aroma of urine lurks in the back. You came in search of a cream cardigan, but your nerves are so frayed every cardigan looks reasonable. So you plunk down $9 for a burgundy wool version and leave.

You begin to drive home, thrilled to leave the stuffy confines of the store. But on close inspection, you notice there's a missing button on your cardigan. And a fraying hem. And a certain unidentifiable mustiness that's polluting your car. And, come to think of it, the cardigan isn't even in your size. Not only are you out nine bucks, but you now believe that thrifting is a useless endeavor best left to someone else. Thrifting sucks.

For me, Sundays are about thrifting. Well, Sunday nights are, anyway. On Sunday nights I bid adieu to my husband and children, slip on comfortable shoes, and excitedly jaunt over to one of my favorite thrift shops. While the store teems with customers during the week, it's blessedly quiet on Sunday evenings. There are no screaming infants, no slowpokes clogging up the narrow aisles, no preschoolers running in between the racks, no customers plowing through with overloaded carts. On Sundays it's just me, a few lonely cashiers, and racks and racks of clothes.

Some Sunday night thrifting excursions don't work out so well. Sometimes I roam the aisles and don't find anything interesting at all. Sometimes the store is a disorganized and disheveled mess. Sometimes it's too hot, or too cold, or downright smelly. And those are the nights I return home empty handed and a little heartbroken with my misfortune.

Thrifting is a game of patience and chance. The unpredictable nature of thrift stores, with their revolving merchandise, eclectic customer base and somewhat chaotic environment make it much more likely that you'll leave empty handed than with an enticing new purchase. And it is this very unpredictable nature, and unknown possibilities that thrift stores offer, that makes thrifting such a challenge.

I believe that the only way to find real thrifting success is to embrace the process. That means we accept the possibility that we might find failure. We welcome the notion that we could be in a store for an hour (or more.) We face the likelihood of long lines, of sneezing fits, of indecipherable stains on clothing we may come in contact with, of close quarters with people we might be uncomfortable with.

We accept it, and come back for more.

So allow yourself to walk away empty handed. Ending a long thrifting excursion without a purchase smacks of defeat. But it's important to keep in mind that this is not an  indicator of overall success. The store that leaves you high and dry one week might provide an epic score the following week. Furthermore, even a nine dollar purchase  is wasted money if the item wasn't what you were looking for in the first place.

And be patient: Yes, today's effort might have been for naught. The store may have been crowded and hot, items scattered and disorganized. But this is not a sign that you should stop thrifting. Take a break, but come back.

Have you ever gotten discouraged while thrifting? Has this prevented you from coming back? What are the worst challenges you've faced while thrifting?


    1. What a great comment, Elissa! I've had this happen so many times. I thrift less now but try to do it with an open mind. I find that eating and using the bathroom before entering the store eliminates some of my usual jitters, and making sure I have at least a couple hours to spend helps as well.

      Recently discovered a beautiful 100% cashmere sweater at Goodwill for $5. Oh man!


    2. My biggest question that i ask myself when thrifting is, "Will I fix this?" if a piece has a hole or missing button. The answer is most always no.

      Most of my wardrobe is second hand, but it's not cheap. I've found near-new Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Tahari. People give away good stuff!

    3. I love to thrift, but only go 3 or 4 times a year when my sister is in town. I always find interesting items even if it's just a belt or a scarf, but I think that's because I go so infrequently. If I shopped more often I'd probably come up empty occasionally.

    4. This is a great point... there definitely are good days and bad days at the thrift store, which have nothing to do with whether or not you should keep thrifting!

      I think the fact that one can have totally unsuccessful and discouraging thrifting days is actually part of what makes the successes so exciting. If every time you went to the thrift store you found exactly what you were looking for/some perfect item...well, that'd be nice, but it would eventually take the excitement out of it, right? (That's what I tell myself, at least...)

    5. I am almost always discouraged when thrifting. But I really like the idea of it and so try to go back at least once every few months. I scored some nice finds when I was in college (my favorite sweatshirt all through college and grad school was $3 at a goodwill), but lately it's been more misses. I like your outlook, though! Very encouraging to inexperienced thrifters like me.

    6. Yes--just right.

      I thrift on Tuesdays and/or Fridays, promptly at 9:00, when my favorite store opens. Sometimes it's a total bust, but at least once or twice a month, I make a serious score.

      That is part of the fun of it. Beyond the fact that I have a very nice wardrobe for a pittance, it's a treasure hunt--an Easter egg hunt for grown-ups!


    7. Yeah, till recently I haven't done much thrifting. I ran screaming from the last thrift store I visited. However, I discovered a couple of cute resale stores nearby and scored some awesome finds. You're right about patience and checking back for new stuff. You never know what you'll find.

    8. I used to thrift in H.S . but haven't done it in a loooong time.It can be very tedious. BTW that is the coolest looking Goodwill I've ever seen.

    9. After a couple of dead weeks at my favorite thrift store, I just found a Coach shoulder bag in excellent condition in a perfect British tan color, just what I needed. I'm convinced it's authentic . . . and I paid $8.99. Hang in there, ladies, and keep trying!

      Velma again

    10. The experience you described was definitely common for me in high school in San Antonio, but Dallas seems to be in the upper eschalon of thrift stores (though I've been to the smelly ones too). I've only been here 2 1/2 years and find myself consistently going to the same thrift store every Tuesday (for 40% off clothes, of course) and, lawd ,has Dallas thrifting treated me well. But I'm with you, patience is definitely key.

    11. Enjoy reading about your adventures!

      Just remember to bring your hand wipes!
      Keep up the good search!

    12. I look for old mirrors,they are usually well-made. I tape the mirror with newspaper and then spray paint the frame the color I want. Sometimes I gorrilla glue oyster shells around the frame or stencil paint the frame. the mirrors are never more than 5 or 10 dollars!


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