Navigating Your Local Thrift Store, the Land of Misfit Toys

by Kim   |   July 17, 2008

You could say that there is an upside to our culture's never-ending hunger for the new: the "old" ends up in thrift stores, where it may be found by conscious consumers with a little patience and effort. 

About 99% of my wardrobe came from yard sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops. Nearly everything in my kitchen: plates, pots, and silverware, once belonged to someone else. Thrifting fits in with my ideals: it makes sense to reuse these perfectly good items rather than fit in with the throwaway culture that sloughed them off. The practice also fits my pocketbook (which was bought at a thrift store). Hand-blown wineglasses, designer threads and antiques all are within reach on the second-hand store shelf.

One of the drawbacks of thrifting is that it is also possible to buy too much just for the sake of a bargain. In the heat of the moment, in a crowded store with other thrifty hands reaching for the same item, I've been known to bring home something that didn't fit me (or didn't fit in my closet).

Here are some tips for shopping second hand


    • Avoid crowds--go on off hours when there may be specials.
    • Look for deals on seasonal items out of season.
    • Bring a shopping list--First tier items you actually need, and second tier of what you might want at the right price.
    • Bring a tape measure--know your measurements and those of your home.
    • Bring a friend who will tell you when you should just back away from that pair of quirky plaid pants.
    • Bring a color sample-when trying to match something you already own.
    • Bring reusable bags to haul your stuff home.--or buy some sturdy bags you can later use for groceries


    • Does it fit? If you can't try the clothing on, hold it up to you and to other articles marked as the same size. If it's true to size, it shouldn't be much smaller or much larger than the others.
    • Can you wash it? That fancy blouse may seem like a great deal but will it look as good on the way to the dry cleaners?
    • Does it go with anything else you own? Anything that requires a whole new outfit or major redecorating to match is best admired from afar.
    • Check for flaws. Many second-hand stores are poorly-lit, compounding hasty judgments. Some flaws commonly overlooked are shoes that squeak, furniture with uneven legs, and clothes or curtains with a musty smell.

Thrift stores are like a dumping ground for misfit toys, whose slight flaws make them charming and unique. Fixer-uppers that require significant repairs before they are useful, however, probably will end up costing you more than the item is worth. On the other hand, some junk that is no longer good for its original use can be repurposed as art supplies or taken apart and put into do-it-yourself projects like reconstructed clothing made from t-shirts.

Shopping at thrift stores is a fun way to reduce your environmental impact, often by helping a charitable cause. Good luck, happy hunting, and remember that you don't always have to buy something to be a conscious consumer.