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Six tips for shopping thrift stores once they're open. Are you ready?!

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

On any given day I’ll walk into my garage and notice a pile. It’s growing by the day and its growth is directly correlated to the number of days we’ve been on a Stay At Home Order by the state government. I would imagine that many garages throughout America have similar piles. The piles may be there because we’ve managed to watch every possible thing on Netflix, including Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. Maybe the piles are there because you’ve needed to clear out space to store your toilet paper. Or maybe they’re there simply because the kiddos are outgrowing their clothing at a rate that rivals Jack in the Beanstalk. Whatever the reason - there are piles and a lot of them. This is great news for people like me (and you?) – DIYers who sometimes start a project with a proverbial piece of junk. Those piles will go to thrift stores and those thrift store doors will open sooner rather than later. I’m ready – not only to relieve my garage of the piles it’s accumulated, but I’m ready for the hunt of something ‘new.’ There’s a thrill there and, if I’m honest, a bit of a strategy, too. So today, I’m teaching you the strategy I use to shop thrift stores so you’ll be prepared for when they reopen.

1. The number one, and most important, strategy: Manage Your Expectations

My poor kiddos - this is a phrase I use often with them when their expectations are set unrealistically high. “Oh, we have two soccer-free hours on a Saturday and you think we’re going to drive two hundred miles to pick up that Star Wars toy you wanted? Manage your expectations buddy.” 😊 But the same is true with thrift store shopping. If you head out with the expectation that you are going to get the exact piece that you want so you can finally redo your spare bedroom, you are heading for disappointment.

A few of my finds when I wasn't expecting them!

2. Make a list!

Hold the phone and wait just a second. Didn’t you just get done saying expect not to find the thing that you are hunting for? Why on earth would a list be helpful? Hear me out. Say you’re reading a magazine and you notice some decorating trends that you’d like to try. For simplicity sake, we’re going to pretend that the item you notice is a brass bird that would look lovely on your bookshelf. You know that you can get a brass bird at Target, World Market or even on Etsy, but you also know there’s no rush and you would rather spend $1.99 than $29.99 for the brass animal. Also, you’re not quite sure you’re going to like the brass thing even when you do buy it so you’d rather not over-invest. Put it on your list. Do the same thing with other items that you’ve been wanting to DIY or décor-experiment with. Before heading in to a thrift store read your list so it’s fresh in your mind and keep your eyes peeled. You might not find something from your list on day one, but I bet you anything you WILL find it. Especially if you follow the next strategy.

3. Go often!

Now, I don’t mean daily. I don’t even mean once a week, though that’s what I do. I go once a week because that’s what fig & farm is about – curating vintage items that would look lovely in your home. Pair them with modern furnishings and viola, you have a storied look in your own home. You’re welcome! But I digress. Say you have a thrift store down the street from your kiddo’s preschool. After you drop him off, pop in and take a spin around. My spins can literally take two minutes. I know the areas where I want my eyes to linger and the areas where I don’t. Because I do this regularly, I generally know the circuit I’ll take within the stores that I frequent. It’s no different, really, than shopping the perimeter of a grocery store before heading inward. In one store, I walk in, turn left and head straight back to the art. Shuffle them around a little and move on to the lamps. A quick spin through the big furniture then on to the littles – the glassware, the candle holders, the…brass birds! Then out I go. Sometimes I find nothing. Other times I spend a whopping $30.

4. Reference the show Price is Right

Remember that show? I think I’d be pretty good at it – especially the games where you need to guess the prices for the items. But at thrift stores the prices are listed on the items, so why do I need to play a guessing game? Here’s why. DIYing is not new. Upcycling things is not new, but as they started becoming a bit more of a mainstreamed hobby, prices in thrift stores started increasing. Some, in my opinion, are increasing their way out of business. Paying $19.99 for a used lamp that the thrift store got for free, for example, when I could buy a brand-new similar lamp for the same price makes me a bit grumpy and I won’t do it. $9.00, maybe. You need to know what price is fair to you and ask yourself these questions: how much work are you planning on putting in to it and how much do the supplies cost to make the changes; can you buy the same item new for the same price? Please note: I’m not advocating for buying new over used. I’m a bit of a hippy and would rather give an old item new life before buying something new. Sometimes, however, you need to choose a new location for buying used.

5. Ask the right questions!

Don’t only ask: ‘Is the price right?’ and ‘Do I really need it?’ If your intent is to upcycle it, ask yourself this: ‘When am I going to do it?’ Then ask yourself, ‘No. Really. Do I have time this weekend?’

A precautionary tale: you go thrift shopping several weeks in a row and find wonderful treasures that are prime candidates for painting, sanding, adding bits and bobs to but haven’t quite found the time to get around to them, so they sit in a sad corner of your garage. Over time that sad little corner of your garage grows into a heap. The heap not only becomes home to spiders, but is the bane of your clean garage aspirations and then…the unthinkable happens. A pandemic hits our world, causing everyone to slow down and stay at home. Staying at home is great until you start staring your sad little heap straight in its sad little eye. The heap becomes bigger day by day because you have more time on our hands than you ever thought possible and you have managed to clean every last inch of your home, which brings you joy while simultaneously adds to your heap. But by now you’re so tired of looking at those inspirational projects living withing the heap that you just want to dump the whole idea of getting started. Sound familiar to anyone? No? No one? Me neither.

6. Prepare to be surprised!

Because you’ve followed the first strategy so well, you know that when you go thrift store shopping you’ll have removed any expectations of finding specific items. But is it ok to go shopping with hope? Absolutely. Go with hope that you’ll find something unique, something useful, something inspirational. Prepare to be surprised. Like I was the day I found a 12’ tall Jar Jar Binks. Did he come home with me? Heck no, but I snapped a picture because it was quite shocking and I needed proof to share with my Star War fanatic boys.

Our world is different right now and until we can safely apply these strategies and go out thrift store shopping, you’ll find me wishing you health, happiness and courage to dive into that heap to finally tackle that project that inspired you in the first place. We'll talk about that next week. Until then...

Be well,



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