7 Thrift Takes

The other night while feeding the kids and early and ambitious dinner of gluten free grilled cheeses and uncooked green beans (I roll high and heavy in the culinary department), Joey looked up from his plate and nonchalantly stated “I’m gonna pop some tags, Mommy.” before dropping his eyes back to his food. I guess that makes me an awesome parent? Or a really, really truly negligent mother, because this song is full of f-bombs. Now, in my defense, it was playing on constant repeat in every bar and restaurant in Rome for a good 2 months of this summer, so he heard it plenty without my queing it up on the Youtube, but still.

Poppin’ taaaaaags.

What I really want to communicate to you, fine readers, is the deep and abiding love that I (and my innocent young children) have for thrifting. It’s truly my competitive sport of choice in this season of my life, and the way my heart rate elevates at the mere sight of a “Goodwill” logo tells me there is at least a minimal amount of cardio benefit to be had.

Various frames, Goodwill via Target, $2-$4

Like any other sport, there are ground rules which are critical to the success and enjoyment of the game. Imma lay a few down for you, because if I’ve perfected anything over these past 10 months of purging, donating, purchasing, packing, and than hitting ‘replay,’ it’s the art of the thrift.

Pottery Barn espresso cups, $.99, Rainbow plate, $2 via Saver’s.

And so, here you have it:

1. Don’t go in blind. This is the first and foremost rule of thrifting, and it is one I didn’t fully understand until somewhat recently. Saver’s is not Target, and the Salvation Army is not laid out by the same people who stock Anthropologie. 19 times out of 20, you are not going to happen upon some treasure ala Antique Roadshow that is beautiful/functional/valuable just because you happened to wander in to a secondhand shop. Oh no, no no. You need to have a vision, a laundry list of needs and wants, and one that is broad enough to leave room for interpretation but not so broad that you end up buying some crap that is probably only 20% marked down from it’s original retail value. I call that getting swindled, and so does Joey. So do your research, make a list of what you’re looking for, down to color and cost, and don’t settle just because you find something that ‘might do.’ Trust me, once you get it home, it won’t.

I went in looking for a couch, I left with a couch. Tan microfiber couch, Goodwill, $40

2. Which brings me to my next tip: if you don’t love it, don’t buy it. I’m not saying that piece of beat up furniture you’re going to refinish has to be swoon worthy at check out time, but if you don’t feel that thrill of excitement when you load that puppy into your cart, don’t do it. You wouldn’t do it at a full price store, so why would you do it when purchasing other people’s discarded crap? If anything, be more choosy when you’re thrifting; you can afford to be! At the same time, if you are conisdering something…throw it in the cart and drive around with it a while. You can always put it back (and I do this multiple times in a successful trip) but you can never wrest it from bargain grannie’s fingers once she has snatched it up.

Espresso wine cabinent, new in box, Target via Goodwill, $30

3. Don’t buy a brand you wouldn’t gladly pay full price for. I heed this especially when clothes shopping, because it’s important to value cut and quality above all else, especially when it has already been loved once by someone else. This may sound vain, but I won’t even look at an item of clothing for myself if it doesn’t say J Crew, Banana, Gap, White Black, or Ann Taylor. I have maybe strayed from this rule a half dozen times, and I can tell you, I’ve got a half dozen mistakes in my closet that never see the light of day. Don’t spend your money on second hand ‘value’ brands, because it isn’t a value. Not by the time it gets to you.

(For kid’s clothing, my go-to’s are Gap, Janie and Jack, Crew Cuts, Children’s Place, soooooometimes Old Navy if it’s in awesome shape, and Stride Right)

Espresso folding bookcase, Pier One via Goodwill, $15. Random gold mirror, $3.

4. Don’t be afraid to take your kids. If I had to think about when I was going to get to a store without the boys, I’d do a lot of thinking and very little actual browsing. The awesome thing about a thrift store is that they are without exception interesting and engaging to little people. Most have a book section, some are even set up like a cafe with tables and coffee. And the toy section: it’s a train wreck. So, I park my kids happily in the wreck and, keeping them in eye/ear shot, I shop. They play, I browse, and nobody raises an eyebrow. Because again, we’re not at Target here. These teammembers are just trying to stay sober and make an honest buck, they aren’t going to look twice at your kid digging happily through piles of grimy toys. Nothing a little Clorox can’t handle…

Pottery Barn kids kitchen via Saver’s, $8. Tea kettle and various kitchen tools, $.50-$2, Goodwill.

5. Use your imagination…but don’t stretch it too far. This kind of goes hand in hand with 1 and 2, but don’t fancy yourself some kind of avant garde hipster just because you’re standing in front of a pile of ‘retro’ dinner plates and suddenly envisioning your kitchen looking like a loft in the East Village. But, do take risks. You can afford to be a little more interesting than usual, because if it doesn’t work, you can usually exchange the offending item for store credit or simply re-donate it. I took a chance on a pillow that wasn’t strictly up my alley and needed a little laundering, and now it’s one of my favorite details in our living room.

I love you $30 Target chair, and your $2 World Market pillow pal.

6. Shop early and shop often. Do not make the mistake of hitting up Goodwill one Saturday morning every two months and thinking you’re ‘doing’ this thrifting thing. Part of the reason I find some of the crazy deals that I do is because I go often. These days, that looks like once and sometimes twice per week, because we’re trying to put an entire house together, and also because I’m gestating a Christmas turkey here and I need to get my nativity affairs in order. I definitely don’t always find something, and I am NOT afraid to walk out emptyhanded, because I know that I could come back in 4 days and find something just perfect waiting for me. Timing is everything, and so is persistence. Find one or two or four stores in your area that you regularly see good merchandise at, and then hit them up. Regularly.

The beige wasteland that is our current family room: couch, kid’s rocker (PB kids, $8), IKEA table set ($8), and lone wall decor, all thrifted.

7. Don’t be afraid to bargain. While a thrift store is not a garage sale, it’s also not the mall, and the employees and managers actually do have the ability to mark down your item if you can make a good case for it. If something is damaged, missing an element, or just plain seems overpriced, ask if they will come down in price. The worst thing you can hear is ‘no,’ and it’s not embarrassing in the least. Because hello, it’s a thrift shop. People made one teeny stretch of effort further and dropped their castoffs here instead of the dump. So ask away!

Dave calls this my “mirror mirror.” Whatev, I love it. Saver’s, $5.

The moral of the story is this: if you love fashion, design, or DIY, you need to accquaint yourselves with this way of life, because it is so much fun and it is so possible to do it well. If you’re in Denver, I can point you in the direction of a few of the most lucrative hot spots, but then I will have to kill you 😉

Genevieve’s nursery, in progress. Nate Berkus for Target curtains, $10 via Goodwill. Anthro pillow, $6 via Goodwill.

(hint, hint: Cherry Creek Goodwill. Super Target dumps their off-season merchandise there every Wednesday morning.)

Now get out there and start thrifting. And be sure to take thyself to Jen’s on your way out.


  • Kati

    ummm, my sister and I need more detail – like what time, exactly specifically to be certain, would one arrive at the Cherry Creek Goodwill in order to find the best selection on a Wednesday?

    PS – you are the BEST for giving us the tip. And if we see you at the store we promise we will let you have first dibs.

  • October Rose

    My problem is the “go often” bit. I’m not a recreational shopper by a longshot and the idea of going someplace once or twice a week with no guarantee of finding something is so frustrating to me! But I have friends that find awesome things while thrifting all the time, so … I am going to give it a try someday. Maybe after we move. 🙂

  • Lisa

    First of all, I think I want to re-read this before every trip to a thrift store. These words are gold! And second of all, I think 99% of the thrift stores in my area are the thrift stores for your thrift stores- like I don’t think anything Pottery Barn has ever made an appearance in them, unless it’s truly a small barn made out of pottery.
    But I love seeing all of your finds! Keep posting them!

    • thisfelicitouslife

      “A small barn made out of pottery”! LOL! Love. It.

      And Jenny: love all of these, esp. #5: ” don’t fancy yourself some kind of avant garde hipster just because you’re standing in front of a pile of ‘retro’ dinner plates and suddenly envisioning your kitchen looking like a loft in the East Village. ” Yes! I make this mistake often. And kudos to you for bringing the kids. I can’t quite manage that yet.

  • Megan

    This was SO helpful! Ohmygosh, I need to bookmark this. My biggest problem I think is that I go in blind. I can not tell you how helpful these were. I read it after I got home from a huge kids consignment actually where I got easily overwhelmed and came home with a few things I definitely didn’t need. Dang girl, you have got this thing figured out and down to a science. And your house is looking fabulous.

  • Elizabeth

    Color me inspired. I have to go to the fabric store for Halloween costume supplies tomorrow, and there’s a Salvation Army really close – I’m going to go in and see what I can see! 🙂

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