How to Shop at Thrift Stores
and what to look for

June 30, 2014

Although I was forever getting dragged to antique stores, garage sales and thrift stores as a kid, I never fully appreciated second hand items until it was time to furnish my own house. Thrifting is a learned behaviour- it takes patience and knowledge of what is "good" and what isn't. You can haunt thrift stores and garage sales for weeks and never find a thing, which can leave you wondering why you bother going at all! However, with perseverance you can also find some awesome treasures. You can also save a lot of money!

There is nothing more exciting than snatching up a sweet find for less than $1- they do exist! But paying a little more for authentic "vintage" can also be fun too. You just have to know where to look and what to look for!

I regularly go to garage sales on Saturday mornings. It's fun to find someone who is also into bargain hunting and go together. You can gab in the car from place to place, grab coffees to go and marvel and gossip about all the ghastly things people are selling as well as the steals and deals! If you are planning to hit garage sales, make a plan: check your local paper on Friday night and write out a list of the sales you'd like to hit in order according to their addresses.

In Invermere, the thrift store is only open from Thursday- Saturday. On Thursday mornings when the store opens at 10, it's a mad rush of people running in to see what the week's newest donations are. The place is packed and after trying the Thursday morning rush in comparison to leaving it to later on in the weekend, Thursday mornings are really the best time to find the good stuff. It is all gone after Thursday! When it works, I pop down there on Thursday mornings at 10.

I also belong to a couple of Facebook groups for local second hand buy and sell. One is strictly for kids and baby items and another is for everything- both are like online garage sales. When someone posts an item for sale, it comes up in my news feed and then people comment on the item to claim it, or contact the seller to arrange the sale. I have purchased a number of great items this way. Search Facebook groups in your area if you are not familiar with this yet.

As well as these three local thrifting options, I like to visit thrift stores when I am in new towns and places on holiday and I also regularly browse Kijiji in Calgary to see what there is. Both my sisters live in Calgary, and of course, are ready on a whim to pick up my finds for me! ;) One of my favourite bloggers, Emily Henderson, has a segment on her blog called "Trolling Craigslist" where she posts things she finds for sale on Craigslist in different American cities. I just love seeing what she finds.

So, the question is, how do you know what is junk and what isn't? I inspect everything I buy closely and only buy things if I know I am going to use them. It's easy to just pick up things because they are a cheap, good deal, but then you start getting the dreaded clutter and it all ends up back at the thrift store anyway. Often I have a list of things I am hunting for in thrift stores or garage sales and I try to stick to my list, just like I would grocery shopping! Other useful steals always arise, but I will only buy something if I am sure it is clean, in working order, and useful to me immediately.

Here is my current list:

1. Baby/Kids Toys and Clothes- As I have said before, thrift stores are gold mines for really good, like new brand name clothes and toys. It takes some combing, go through the kids racks one by one and check all clothing for stains, wear and tear. I check the tags for brands- the reality is that brand name clothing often holds up better. I have found several Baby Gap items at thrift stores for a few dollars each.

Some of my latest finds!

2. Women's Clothing- I don't often find my clothes at thrift stores as I am picky about fit and material, but I always search the women's racks just in case. Last week I scored a pair of Rock and Republic jeans in my size for $2- new, they cost over $200! I also look for clothing that can be up cycled, or cut up for crafts.

3. Men's Clothing- I always scan the men's clothing for Tom. I specifically check for vintage western shirts with pearl buttons as he likes them and I like it when he wears them too. I recently found two good ones at our local thrift store for $2 each.

4. Milk Glass- This is super trendy right now, but fairly easy to find. Every little old lady has a milk glass vase they are getting rid of. It's really pretty stuff. I am currently on the hunt for a milk glass cake plate. I have been looking for over a year now and I am about ready to buy a real vintage one when I see one at an antique store.

Turquoise would be even better!
5. Craft Items- Every thrift store and garage sale always has a large selection of yarn, knitting needles, fabric remnants, buttons, thread, etc. All these things are right up my alley and quite expensive new. I love it when I find a good fabric remnant!

6. Kitchen Items- There are always PLENTY of kitchen supplies at every second hand shopping destination. My kitchen is quite stocked, but I am currently on the look out for a bundt pan, tart pan and a waffle iron. I wouldn't buy any of these things new as I know I wouldn't use them very often, but all three are those things that you kinda need once a year or so (usually the reason they end up in garage sales to begin with). I take a quick inventory of the kitchen section of thrift stores, but don't stay long!

7. Vintage Items- Of course, everyone is always on the look out for the valuable vintage treasures that are overlooked. These are the hardest things to find, as thrifting has become so popular and people are more in tune to what vintage things are trendy. I look through the home decor, art work and linens in hopes of finding vintage sheets (my latest obsession!), tablecloths, embroidery, etc. or things like the rotary dial telephone I found the other week.

Vintage sheet finds that will eventually become part of my embroidery hoops.
One of Mama Tweedle's vintage tablecloth finds. 

8. Small Furniture- I love to envision a place I can put all this furniture I see in thrift stores. I also like to think of ways they can be upcycled, painted, reupholstered, etc. It is rare that I actually buy furniture as I have no where to put it right now, but I always look anyway for ideas and inspiration, and because it's fun. I am on the hunt for a child's rocking chair and a night stand I can turn into a play kitchen for Nora.

Remember this awesome re-do I did a couple of years ago? 
9. Royal Family Memorabilia- No explanation needed!

10. Ornate Frames- As you well know, I ALWAYS look at the frames and art work and I am still actively feeding my ornate frame obsession!

I would love to hear about your thrifting adventures and if you'd like to hear more about some of my thrifted finds- click HERE to see all my past posts on garage sales and thrift stores!



  1. Oh I am so with you on garage sales! I always used to go garage saling (is that even a word?) with my parents on weekends and still love doing it to this day. You never know what you are going to find!

  2. Thanks for this post Katie! I know we chat about it from time to time, but I really appreciated reading about what I can look for specifically!!


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