I love thrifting, and get asked questions about it from time to time, so I wanted to make a post that would hopefully answer them. I want to address the idea that you should only shop at thrift stores if you fall under a certain income bracket. I have seen some harsh judgement on thrift shoppers over this, but it is not true at all. Most thrift stores are charity organizations. The profits made from sold items are donated to charities and/or put into community programs. The more that sells, the more the community benefits. Most stores put what doesn't sell into dumpsters. Some things that are never even put out on the shelves are thrown into dumpsters because there is so much donated. Aside from saving some cash, maybe you shop at thrifts for environmental reasons, maybe you just like vintage. There are many reasons to thrift, and anyone is welcomed to.
What I hear most often is 'I don't know how people find all this great vintage stuff. I went to my local thrift store and all I found was crusty old clothes.' When I first got into thrifting I felt the same way. I had gone in expecting to be greeted by a meca of beautiful vintage goodies, and that just wasn't the reality. On my first trip I came away with two pieces of not really that great Pyrex. For every time I find something really great, there are several times I've gone where I've found nothing at all. The simplest answer is you have to go a lot, and you really have to look.
Here are a few helpful tips..
Don't feel like you have to go early. Many stores put things out throughout the day rather than stock the shelves early in the morning. Stores will be less busy on weekdays during typical work hours, unless it is a special promotion day (like 20% off for seniors on Tuesdays), so if you don't like crowds and are free during those hours, go then.
Don't give up on a shop if you don't find anything for a while. I have several favourite locations in my rotation where I tend to find more, but occassionally I will find something amazing at shops I don't usually see anything at.
Pay attention to the neighbourhood the shop is in. If I want to find name brand baby clothes in excellent condition for the bird I'll shop at a location near a more upscale neighbourhood. If I want to find antique mason jars for under a buck I'll shop at a location in a smaller town surrounded by farm land. If I want to find mid-century furniture I'll shop in an neighbourhood with homes built in the 1950s/60s where residents may be clearing things out. For the best records and vintage clothing I'll go downtown. That isn't to say you won't find these things at other locations (last week I saw a shelf full of antique mason jars at 99 cents each in the more upscale neighbourhood location), but it can pay to be aware of where you shop. I find that friends who live in the Mid-Western US find the absolute best stuff.
Be open with what you're looking for. I always have a list of things I'm looking for, but I like to look at all the shelves and sections when I'm at a shop because I really never know what I'll find and fall in love with.
Bring a friend and make a fun day of it. Even if you're looking for the same things it can be more fun to shop with a friend. Lucy and I have gone on some great thrifting trips, hitting up several stores in a day, and my mom is a favourite thrifting buddy. It's great to have a second pair of eyes and a second opinion.
If you aren't sure, put it in your cart. You can always put it back later. Most times when I pick an item up and put it back on a shelf, someone else grabs it before I've had much of a chance to step away. If I think I may want something, it goes in my cart. Now, if you are trying to avoid buying things you aren't completely in love with, putting it back can be a good strategy. If someone else picks it up, you can't buy it.
Don't buy something just because it's inexpensive or you think it's worth a lot. If you won't use it and you won't see that money, it's not worth anything. Only buy things you actually like.
Don't be afraid to ask for discounts on poorly priced items. Some thrift stores fancy themselves boutique vintage shops lately with how popular thrifting has become. Prices can get pretty outrageous. Let a manager know that something is priced poorly.
Go when you travel. You never know what you'll find at a new to you location. Just be aware of how much space you have in your luggage.
Do an online search for locations. There may be stores near you that you never even knew existed.
Some other places to look for great vintage items: antique malls, estate sales, church sales, flea markets, garage sales, craigslist/kijiji, etsy/ebay. Do an internet search to see what's in your area, check craigslist/kijiji for garage sale/estate sale/church sale postings, check your local newspaper's 'what's going on this weekend' section, and use the saved search function on ebay.