My Top 7 Thrift Store Shopping Tips

It wasn’t until recently that I started shopping thrift stores. The smell kinda skeezed me out, and they are full of discarded junk that no one wants. Broke vases, mismatched glasses, bad holiday decor, old pots and pans, 100s of vases you get from the floral shop, fake Coach purses…shelf after shelf after shelf of down right garbage, right? WRONG!

7 Thrift Store Shopping Tips - how to find the best stuff at vintage shops

You’ve read my estate sale post and online estate sale shopping post…so how do you find the diamond in the rough when thrifting? The hidden gems? Here are my top 7 thrift store shopping tips.


If you walk into a thrift shop looking for something in particular, you’ll come out empty handed every single time. Walk in with a very basic plan. When I’m thrift store shopping, I grab a cart and walk passed the clothes, passed the purses, passed the toys and head straight for home decor. I’m there for one reason, and one reason only…home decor. If your jam is t-shirts, stay in the clothing aisle. If something catches my eye, I pop it into my cart. You can always reevaluate before checking out.

Be sure to walk the aisles multiple times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed something amazing. So now I walk through not once, not twice, but three times a lady. Scan the shelves top to bottom. Look way in the back, and get low. Look all the way to the bottom. If you can’t see, move items in the front out of your way. Don’t be shy, just dig in.

Watch for employees restocking. You’ll see them with big rolling bins or carts loaded up with new treasures. Don’t be afraid of walking over and asking if you can take a peek. Most will let you. Be respectful though. You don’t want to act like a raccoon digging through the garbage bin looking for a midnight snack…although that will be exactly what will go through your mind.

The employees know what’s in the back stock room. If you’re peeking through a restocking bin, chat up the employees and tell them what you like. They might give you a hint or two on what to stick around for.

7 Thrift Store Shopping Tips - how to find the best stuff at vintage shops

Now that you are shopping with an open mind, and you’re chasing the stock boy in a non-stalkeresque way, think of what you can repurpose. The will be a heaping pile of bad art. pick through it all, but pay close attention to the frames. Bad art can be a gold mine for antique gilded frames. An vintage tea cup saucer can make for a whimsical soap dish. Mismatched glasses can be beautiful! I mean look at those pink beauties up there.

I like to go thrift store shopping a couple hours after they open. It gives the employees time to restock from the previous day. By the end of the day, the shelves have been pretty much picked over.

Why go often? Everyday they receive new donations. That means new merchandise on the shelves. Plus the more often you go, the faster you’ll be walking the aisles. Yes, there with be the same 147 glasses vases on the same shelf day in and day out. Get to know those 147 glasses vases well because when a beautiful piece of Murano is stocked, it’ll jump right out and bite you.

If you’ve read my post on estate sales, then you’ll know I always have some essentials.

Tape Measure — even if you find a piece you know you’re going to sell, bring a tape measure. More often then not, a thrift store purchase is final. You do not want to buy a dresser only to find out it doesn’t fit in your car.

Flashlight — You will be looking in bins and kneeling on the floor. It’s much easier when you have a little extra light on hand.

Hand Sanitizer — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked something up at a thrift store and it’s sticky. Even the thought of this gives me the heebie jeebiez. Always, always, always have hand sanitizer on you.

Printer’s Loupe — This is a new one for me. I got burned on a piece of art that I would have sworn up and down was an original charcoal drawing. It wasn’t. When looking at artwork under a loupe, you will clearly see a dot pattern if it is a print.

Because the employees at a thrift shop are not experts in art, a loupe can be very helpful if you’re trying to determine if what you’re looking at is a serigraph, lithograph, or an original piece.

Lightbulb — For obvious reasons you shouldn’t be walking around with a lightbulb in your purse or pocket, but bringing one with you to the thrift store can be helpful if you’re looking at lamps. You don’t want to haul a lamp home only to find out it needs to be rewired…although rewiring isn’t too difficult.

Smart Phone — If you find a piece that is marked or signed, but are unsure of the maker or artist, Google it. You’ll immediately know its worth and quality.

Are you already a thrift store shopping expert? I’d love to know your best tip. Any tips you’d like to add? I’d love to know!


  1. Mary September 26, 2017

    Great tips, Kyla!

  2. Miranda September 26, 2017

    I love these tips! I never thought to bring a Loupe! Hand sanitizer, most definitely

  3. Sara jane September 26, 2017

    Another tip: bend down. Yes, bend down. Most people peruse the shelves at eye level. I’ve found gems that others missed because they were in the back on a bottom shelf. So bend and move things to get to the back. One amazing find is worth all the bending.

  4. JJ September 26, 2017

    This has happened to me before, but it happened again just a few days ago in a thrift store. I was looking at a jacket (this lesson easily applies to anything you are shopping for-hard goods, decor..) it set off that bit of spark, you know the one, where you’re studying it, you think ‘this has something to it’, ‘I like it’. Well I left it there & thought ‘I can come back to it’. In the meantime, I saw a guy watching me look at that jacket. We made eye contact even. I knew he saw that I saw something in that piece. But I didn’t ‘listen’. After shopping some more, I went back. Guess what? It was gone. Of course it was! Listen to your gut. If you’re on the fence put it in your cart anyway. Carry it around. You can always put it back. Google it. Think on it. Look at in different light in another part of the store. All it takes is for one other person to be in the store!

  5. Kelly Mahan October 2, 2017

    Thanks for the tips, they’re really useful! #6 is one that I’ll sure be following!

  6. mandala tapestry November 7, 2017

    Great tips! love it..


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