8 Things I Always Buy at Thrift Stores

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You know those bumper stickers that read, “I brake for yard sales”? Well, mine says, “I brake for thrift stores.” And I do. Over the past three decades, I’ve thrift-shopped my way across the Midwest, Northeast and from L.A. to Seattle.

Thankfully, I’m too picky to be a hoarder. I buy only what I need or what I know I can sell for a profit online. And though every secondhand store is unique, there’s a standard set of items I’m always on the lookout for.

Here are things I always buy at thrift stores.

1. Jeans

Shopping for jeans
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Hands-down, jeans are the best bargain in any thrift store.

Where I live, high-quality used jeans sell for $7.99-$12.99 a pair. And though that may seem high for “pre-loved” denim, consider this: According to Statista, a consumer market research company, the average retail price of women’s jeans was $165 in 2018. Men paid even more — a whopping $210 per pair.

Think all thrift store jeans are junk? Think again. There are loads of high-quality clothes in thrift stores if you know what to look for — which I outline in “11 Secrets to Finding Quality Clothing at Thrift Shops.”

2. Tools

Asian woman with hammer
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Tools are go-items at thrift stores and something I always buy at estate sales. I’m not talking about circular saws and welding torches here, just basic tools everyone should have.

Since much of what gets donated is older, it’s easy to find used tools that are well-made and proven by years of dedicated service.

Look for genuine made-in-America stuff, like your parents or grandparents had. And don’t let a little surface rust discourage you. With just the slightest TLC, most old tools can go for another generation or two.

3. Totes, trays and baskets

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Sure, Amazon sells countless products to organize your home. But, again: Why pay retail?

Canvas totes are always on my shopping list (seriously, I think I may have a “tote problem”). They’re handy for stowing items in the trunk of my car, packing for an overnight trip and shopping at garage sales and flea markets.

Trays and baskets are my other go-to items. Trays are perfect for displaying cologne, organizing TV remotes or storing craft supplies. Use baskets to store pet supplies, winter gear and bath towels.

4. Holiday decorations

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Psst: When you pay less for holiday decorations, you’ll have more money to spend on gifts.

Over the years, I’ve built a handsome collection of handmade Christmas tree ornaments — all purchased at thrift shops for about 50 cents apiece.

And, like clockwork every year, I find a box of brand-new holiday greeting cards for a dollar or two. (Sorry, retailers, but spending $6 to $12 a box just doesn’t work for me.)

But why stop there? Thrift stores sell artificial trees, tree skirts, wreaths and wrapping paper. Best of all, when you buy from charity-related shops, you’re directing your dollars toward worthy causes. And that’s a good idea every season of the year.

5. Art and craft supplies

Man painting a picture.
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Thrift stores offer limitless options for artists and crafters.

Besides old canvases that can be painted over, I look for vintage photographs, wallpaper samples, fabric, yarn, pottery and silverware.

With a little inspiration, nearly everything in a thrift shop can be reimagined and repurposed. And since the raw materials are so inexpensive, you can let your creative spirit run wild.

6. Dishware

Man in thrift store
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I’ll say it loud and proud: “I buy all my dishes at thrift stores.” Sure, nothing matches in the strictest sense, but that’s part of the fun.

Creative designers make an art form of setting tables with highly curated “mismatched” sets of dinnerware. You can copy this great look for pennies at a thrift store. Here’s how:

  • I choose a main color family (classic whites and creams) and an accent color (navy blue).
  • Next, I let my creativity take over, buying interesting pieces that fit within my chosen palette.
  • Every plate, bowl, cup, and saucer is different, yet it all works together.

When a cup breaks, I pick up a used, unique replacement. Stress level? Zero. Cost? Practically zero.

7. Perfume

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Though I’m not a big fan of perfume, many of my friends and family are. It’s a treat to find a bottle of Burberry or Dior mixed in with thrift stores’ standard fare of Avon and Charlie.

And it happens more often than you might think. Most major department stores donate their perfume testers. Look for the telltale missing cap. (Caps are removed so used bottles can’t be returned as new.)

The best part? Many thrift shops aren’t familiar with high-end fragrance brands. Some bottles sell for $3 or $4 apiece.

8. One-of-a-kind items

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I’m always on the lookout for the weird and wonderful.

Kids’ pinch pots with wild glazes, threadbare silk rugs, a stack of black and white snapshots — these one-of-a-kind items make our homes unique. And they can all be found in thrift stores.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a hand-painted image of a sleeping dog. It’s primitive, but done with such care that I couldn’t pass it up. Today, that $4 find is one of my most treasured possessions.

The lesson? Thrift stores are filled with the humble and handmade. When you see something you love, buy it. Heck, turn 10 pinch pots into a windowsill herb garden. I did.

What do you love to buy at thrift stores? Share in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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