retail me not: thrift store strategies


Last week I stopped into one of my local thrift stores.  I like to pop in every couple of weeks to check out if there are any gems waiting around to be picked up that can be incorporated into my wardrobe of 33 items or less.  I didn’t find anything worth buying, but I still had fun.  A fellow thrift store shopper, a young guy in his twenties, struck up conversation when he asked me for my opinion on an outfit he was putting together.  He was assembling a costume for a party of sorts (he called it a “Tree Planter’s Ball”) and he had picked out a pink and orange boucle jacket (think Chanel on the cheap) and asked me if I would give him my opinion on what tie would go best with his outfit.  Of course, I selected an equally hideous pink and grey argyle tie.  He thanked me, and was happy with my selection, as he mentioned the tie was actually one he would wear again after the party.  I thought that was pretty brave of him.

You don’t often find too many friendly, chatty folk at the mall or in some of the higher end stores in my neighbourhood.  Heck, I’d venture to say that most of the time I am in any conventional store in my neighbourhood store, the only people who say hello are the salespeople.   And let’s be honest – they are being paid to be friendly. It’s a nice change to chat (even briefly) with locals in my neighbourhood who I probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to strike up conversation with otherwise.

I’ve decided it’s important to have a good strategy for shopping at thrift stores, otherwise, it can be too easy to buy many things simply because they’re cheap.  Here’s a few things I like to keep in mind while shopping at the thrift store, but they’re also good reminders of what I should be looking for when shopping at other conventional stores too:

  1. I am learning to be patient.  There are always lots of items at the thrift shop that either aren’t the right size, style or condition.  For some reason, I’m finding it easier to forego making purchases when at the thrift shop – if something’s not quite right, I’m happy to leave it for someone else who will treasure it.  I know that if I’m patient, any item that I’m looking for will eventually find it’s way to me.  If not, then it probably wasn’t meant to be.
  2. I am looking for quality over quantity.  Of course shopping at the thrift store means shopping through gently used items.  Or sometimes very used or even trashed.  I’ve discovered it’s easier to look for one item that will be the perfect addition to my wardrobe, rather than trying to find a handful of items that suit me perfectly.
  3. I am looking for perfection, or as near to it as possible.  As hard as it is to find excellent quality things in good condition at the thrift store, it’s even harder to find them in the right size.  That’s a good thing, because it means I get to hold out for things that are not only perfect for me in style, but also in my size.  This translates to less buying, and less owning.
  4. I am doing my best to support a good cause.  Whether I’m shopping at Value Village (which benefits the Developmental Disabilities Society) or the Wildlife Thrift Shop, a lot of the profits from thrift shops benefit a good cause.  If you are interested, inquire whether your local thrift shop is a not-for-profit organization and where the proceeds of sales are going.
  5. I am looking to recycle.  I’m happy to send my family’s unloved clothing back to the thrift shop when we’re done with it.  Doing so is an effective form of recycling, as donating to a thrift shop is a good way of ensuring your unwanted things re-enter the stream of clothing available to others.  This benefits all of us, as it ultimately prevents useable things from entering the waste stream and ending up in your local landfill.
I’m going to stick with buying only from thrift shops for the remainder of the year, and I am even going to pledge to buying anything I want to buy for my children for Christmas this year from the thrift shop.  Stay tuned and see what I can find – I’ll keep track of the cost too and see if I can keep to a budget of $25 / child for the Christmas season.

Do you have a great thrift store near you?  Or any good experiences at the thrift shop?  I know some cities have better thrift shops than others – if you have an awesome garage sale story, I’d love to hear that too!


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