7QT: Beginner Thrifting Tips

Coat from Goodwill

Months ago I was charmed to read Jen’s early forays into the world of thrifting. It was fun to see someone’s first foray into secondhand shopping, because I grew up that way. Glamorous as it sounds, taking people’s old used stuff home with me is in my blood. It’s a way to save money, sure, but also a way to help the planet and to avoid supporting unethical business practices. And don’t get me started on the thrill of the hunt!

  • 1. Don’t buy toys at Goodwill. At our local Goodwills, the prices aren’t actually that great, usually, and the condition is mostly awful—broken, important bits missing.
  • 2. If you’re with your children, don’t even browse toys at Goodwill. You’ll end up guilted into stuff you don’t need, which isn’t saving you money even if the toys are cheap. We do have one Melissa and Doug house with keys and a doorbell that’s been a big crowd pleaser with all of my kids, but even at the low price, if I take into account the dumb junk I’ve had to buy while browsing to get out of the store calmly, it’s probably not actually a deal. Other friends have better luck at our local charity thrift shops, but I’m ready to give up on the quest myself. Toys: that’s what grandparents are for.
  • 3. For clothing, especially secondhand shoes, keep a list on your phone. I use the boring old Notes app on my phone, though my mom and I just started a shared Google doc for the things she’s helping me look for. I prefer to list what I already have rather than what I’m looking for, with a separate list for each child. Then buy in advance, as you come across good quality shoes. Sometimes I can waltz straight into a children’s consignment shop and emerge with exactly the shoes we need right this very week, but most of the time I have to be patient to get shoes that are a good price, good quality, and good condition.
  • 4. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at gift shopping at the thrift store. I know it sounds grungy or cheapskate-y, but for the cost of a birthday card (often a lot less), I can find something lovely and thoughtful for a friend for whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a gift. It requires a major mental shift, though. You have to abandon the idea that you can substitute niceness for thoughtfulness — in thrifting, you can’t. No longer can you fall back on a nice gift basket of generic fancy soaps, or save yourself browsing time with a gift card. Instead, you’re putting all the emphasis on thoughtfulness, and that takes being on the lookout in advance. For kids this is easy: I just keep a stock of books in my office, books I pick up thrifting that are in excellent shape, titles we’ve loved ourselves. For grownups, it can be harder. A well-chosen book is often good for my bookish pals, and I also love gifting little things like milk glass vases, which you can often find for a song. Or you can pair a cookbook with a particular grocery store ingredient or an unusual kitchen tool.
  • Schoolbooks a combination of thrifted, gifted and bought online
  • 5. Librarian pro tip: If you buy secondhand board books (and I think you should, although I didn’t always feel this way), you can allay your germ phobia by wiping each page down with a disinfectant wipe before handing it over to your drooler. Certainly don’t buy ones that are already ragged with teething marks, but a lot of people receive board books at their baby showers and then (I hope) just never let their babies touch them or worse (I fear) don’t touch them themselves, either. And board books are expensive!
  • Thrifted chain mail hood and tunic

    6. When shopping for your own clothes, really insist on perfect fit. Unless it’s a dress for a special event, once you’ve factored in alterations, it’s not a deal anymore. If you can only wear it with some of your wardrobe, it’s not a deal, either. (I struggle a lot with finding shirts that are just a little short, because I have a long torso.) But if it’s dry clean only or has a small stain, it might be worth hazarding in the laundry — you’re only out $5 if it self-destructs. And be sure to look really carefully for sneaky holes.

  • 7. Other things I haven’t (yet) bought secondhand and wouldn’t recommend thrifting: underwear; socks; bras (although I 100% will buy a rare-size nursing bra off a craigslist rando); wooden kitchen stuff I don’t feel like I could clean to my satisfaction. Limits must be respected—once in the throes of pregnancy misery I tried to buy (prohibitively expensive!!) anti-night sweat sheets secondhand on eBay and my sensible husband firmly put his foot down.
  • What’s your all-time best secondhand find?

    (I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum’s 7 Quick Takes. Find other posts here.)

    6 thoughts on “7QT: Beginner Thrifting Tips

    1. It regularly sends a thrill of delight through me that the most ethical and sustainable choice is actually buying used (and that, therefore, I don’t need to feel guilty for not buying “bespoke”). And I love your tip about buying milk glass vases or a cookbook as gifts!

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      • There are so many arenas where cheaper isn’t more responsible (I’m looking at you, factory-farmed beef) and so many places where I make uncomfortable or just lazy compromises, so that yeah, it’s purely delightful, as you said, to be able to go with my gut!

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    2. We’ve actually had good luck with Goodwill toys, so your milage may vary with that. My 4 year old is getting a set of Lincoln Logs for Christmas this year we found mixed with a bunch of random plastic junk in a bag for $6. The amount of logs we found after we sifted out the junk is worth at least $40 new.

      I will say that if you’re going to give thrift find toys as gifts (I have a SIL who does this, with success), make sure they’re clean and repair them. Please. We got a doll gifted to us one Christmas that had a stain on it’s cloth body of mysterious origin and a grubby outfit. It was gifted to us by a child, so not a big deal given those circumstances, but if you do the same or let your kids do it, it’s worth it to take a few moments to make sure it’s presentable.

      Now, I have to keep myself away from the books…I’ve definitely walked away with books I don’t need, lol. That’s also gonna be a huge part of my kiddos’ Christmas.

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      • I wonder if it’s because we live in Mennonite country that pickings are often so slim in the used toy department – my friend hypothesizes that in general accounts for our lower quality thrift merchandise compared to the DC are, as people are frugal to start off with here, prone to thrifting, and prone to using things up thoroughly before they wind up at a thrift store. We’re all competing for the same well-loved stuff! (I write a little about my admiration for Mennonite frugality here: https://katherinegrimmbowers.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/a-catholic-in-mennonite-country/)

        That said, I spent many hours (like, a lot a lot) this Christmas each evening of break going through my husband’s childhood LEGOs at my in-law’s house, weeding out all the non-LEGO junk, putting them in a pillowcase and running them through the washing machine to remove years of grime and dog hair. It was disgusting, painstaking work, but it was also like finding gold!!

        Thanks for stopping by!

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    3. Ooh, what a great tip about keeping a list on your phone! I really need to do that. And I legit never buy toys at thrift stores…but I have let my kids pick a book just to stop freaking out.

      My sister lives in North Carolina and their Goodwill prices are SO MUCH more expensive than ours. It’s crazy! And I just need to share my recent find for $2.49 – a dress clothes set for our 3yo with khaki pants, khaki vest, dress shirt, and tie…which is perfect to wear for his big brother’s First Communion this spring. It looks new! 🙂

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