Thrifting and Upcycling

10 Things to Avoid While Thrift Shopping

I love thrift stores as much as the next guy. In fact, probably a little more. I’m proud to say I rarely ever buy new clothes, and I feel that purchasing things from the thrift store both reduces waste (since you’re reusing something rather than supporting the creation of a new one) and gives back to your community. I also feel that thrifted fashion and home decor is the best way to prove you have a unique style, and I’ve truly never felt the same satisfaction from retail stores as I have from hunting for the perfect thing in a thrift store.

But I’ve spent a few years being obsessed with thrift stores, falling in and out of love with them. I’m sure I’ve wasted my share of money in them, donated things back, or ended up just leaving in poor spirits. So for what it’s worth (and half of that amount on discount day) here’s my…

Top ten things to avoid while shopping at a thrift store!

1: Chipped glassware.

The glassware section of the thrift shop is usually over-floweth-ing, and you can find a great deal on quality glass, even sometimes vintage! (I’ve personally found UV reactive uranium, depression, and carnival glass at second-hand stores.) But it’s important that you take your time and inspect the glass closely. Sometimes things get donated for a reason. Inspect the entire glass, but particularly the rim of anything you put your lips on. Run your finger around it to be sure, once you’re checked. If you’re not comfortable putting your hand on a glass, don’t even consider putting your mouth on it.

2: Crocheted goods.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with crocheted and knitted goods. But what I’m referring to is the need to “rescue” these items. People do this with other things too, but I’ve noticed a sudden revival in rescuing handmade blankets. Think of it this way: that blanket brought joy to its maker. They got hours, and hours, and hours (and hours) of entertainment from working on it. As far as usefulness goes, it has fulfilled its purpose and can be let go. You do not need to buy it considering “oh but so many hours of work went into this!” Yes, they did. But so did hours of content joy.

Buying it based on guilt or sentiment will result in it sitting in a box in your attic, unused and dusty, until it gets eaten by moths or ultimately donated again. Why do that when someone else may have come along who actually liked it and would have used it? On the other hand if you really do like how it looks, will use it in your home, or need an extra warm blanket, by all means pick it up!

3: Armpit stains.

This seems like a pretty basic one, but be sure while you’re checking clothing for stains to take a few extra seconds and really inspect the pits. They’re the most likely spots to have holes, too. I try to approach every clothing item with the mantra, “It was donated for a reason.” Whether that reason is that they simply never wore it, or that they wore it so many times it began to fall apart, is for you to figure out before you buy it.

4: Things that might turn a profit.

I’m definitely guilty of this. Remember that if someone has something of obvious value, they likely would have given it as a gift or sold it online themselves. We love to hear stories of unexpected treasures worth thousands of dollars at the thrift store, but believe me when I say this is not the norm. Paintings are almost always reproductions, and are labeled as such. Designer handbags are very possibly counterfeit. Figurines will need to be in excellent condition to be worth your time.

My rule of thumb is, know what you’re looking for when you plan to sell high ticket items. I know I could tell the difference between worthwhile carnival glass and 1980’s reproductions. But I know nothing about collectible figurines and paintings, so I try to steer clear, lest I be tempted to buy something only to have it sit in a box. Caveat being of course if you regularly sell small ticket items and know what will definitely sell at a decent price, go for it. And if you have a spot in your home for something and you know you’ll enjoy it there until it sells, that’s a decent excuse as well (at least if it doesn’t sell, you like owning it).

5: “I can someday maybe possibly probably do something with it.”

As a crafty person I know the feeling, but seriously, think about it. Take your time, walk around the store, don’t give in to the impulse. Thrift stores are great places to start your crafting spree, but it’s important to be realistic. Over committing to a project you aren’t ready for can lead to you over spending and over accumulating, which ultimately overwhelm you and drain you of all potential creativity you may have felt.

Instead, think about exactly what you plan to do with something. Prep ahead by making a Pinterest board for upcycled crafts, and open it on your phone while you’re walking around for specific guides to inspiration. When you’ve found something, carefully examine it. There are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is it made of the correct material? (Wool or polyester? Ceramic or plaster? Real wood or laminate?)
  • Is it in your price range? (How much would you want to pay for the finished product you plan to make? Are 6 pricey sweaters worth one upcycled project?)
  • Do you already have the rest of the supplies you need, or are you going to have to invest more money into the craft? (Jewelry supplies, findings, beads, and tools. Acrylic paint and a brush set. Power tools, sanding paper, paint, and hardware. A DIY lighting kit. Mosaic glue, grout, tools, and tessarae.)

6: Children’s toys

This is just a matter of safety. Babies drool on their toys. The dog gets to them. They get left outside. Unless something is new and in the box, I’d say skip it. This counts especially for stuffed animals. I don’t know if there’s some magical way to clean and disinfect toys that I’m just unaware of, but no amount of warm soapy water seems to stop me from cringing at the idea of a baby holding a teddy bear from a thrift store that someone’s cat may have peed on.

7: Arbitrary collections.

Don’t get me wrong, collections are great. But we should take an active role in our collections, not just clutter a shelf with them. Collections are happiest when they are displayed properly. It’s important to enjoy looking at your collection often. You should touch it, pick up the pieces, rearrange them for fun, display them proudly, clean them regularly. If you collect dishes, use them. If you collect hats, wear them. If you collect gems or trinkets, touch them.

It’s common to see collections begin to overrun a house. I believe this happens when quantity overrules quality. If you collect chickens, do not accept just any chicken. Accept only the finest, happiest chickens. Accept chickens you would be proud to display. A vintage iridescent chicken? Great! A dirty plastic chicken? Pass! It should make you happy when you see it, not make you think “great, another chicken…”

Another method to avoid over-collecting is to significantly narrow your focus. If you collect glassware, only collect glass from a certain time era or in a certain array of colors or themes. Only collect figurines of a certain medium, like glass or porcelain. Only collect lamps by a specific set of designers, or from a specific country.

8: Anything too similar to what you already own.

Something I hadn’t thought about until I’d made the mistake myself. “This blazer is amazing! It’s just my style!” Well duh, that’s why you already have one! When I end up with two of the same thing, I inevitably always choose one over the other. With the exception of things you wear every day like jeans or belts, or basics in various colors, owning multiples just leads to a cluttered closet. If I have two red baby-doll summer dresses, I’m going to wear the cuter one. With two blue blazers, I’ll wear the one that fits better. If you have the perfect one already, don’t bother with another! You’ll enjoy the clothes you already own even more, if you have fewer items cluttering your space and stressing you out.

9: Bringing someone impatient along.

All shopping takes time, but thrift shopping especially. You can’t just assume things will be fine. You need to inspect it, turn it over, try it on, inspect it some more, and consider if it’s worth either your crafting energy or the space in your home. It takes energy and effort to dig through the scores of objects, most of which have almost no apparent value. And it’s a hobby that really requires that you be in a good mindset, otherwise you’ll just get overwhelmed and discouraged. After all, it’s a hunt and a process. Someone who doesn’t have the patience or who doesn’t understand how to find the good amidst the junk will get worn out and bored pretty quickly, and could spoil your time. Go when someone else has the kids, when you’re having a good day, and only with people who understand what you’re trying to do.

10: Shopping after seeing a cluttered home.

It’s another thing something I didn’t really think about before it happened. I spent some time in a cluttered place, and went to a thrift shop on my way home to cheer up. But seeing second hand goods under fluorescent lighting on crammed shelves after spending lots of time in a cramped space? Trust me, it just doesn’t work. I’ve lost my thrifting drive for weeks at a time due to this. You end up just wondering “who buys this crap?” And in that mindset you’re far more likely to overlook anything with potential and end up just hating being surrounded by objects.

The best time to thrift is when you’re feeling inspired. When you feel confident in yourself, and in your ability to make items worthwhile. When you have ideas for projects you know you can rock, or a space in your home that you’re just dying to fill with something happy and personal. The biggest element in flipping or decorating with thrifted items is you.

Well that’s my list! Let me know what you think by commenting below! And as always, if you want to support this site and see more, follow me on Pinterest!

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