Hello and welcome to the Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our 1906 vernacular farmhouse. I’m Paige, your host as usual. And today we’re gonna talk about thrifting. So, I thrift a lot, I antique a lot. It’s no secret. Let’s see, looking around my room. I can see two things, three, no, five, five things in this entire room that I bought new that’s it.
And because I find so many things at thrift stores, and I love to share the things I find at thrift stores. I get a lot of questions of how do you find good stuff? Like how do you go out there to a thrift store, full of mostly junk and come back with literal treasure. So, today I have a list of 10 little tidbits and tips that you can follow and use and apply that will hopefully bring you some better luck on finding your heart’s desires in thrift stores, antique shops, Craigslist, Facebook, marketplace, anything like that.
So, here we go. The first tip and honestly, if you listen to no other tip, you listened to none of them. This is the only one that you retained, the only one that makes it into your brain, this is really the only one you need to know. And that is to look all the time. That’s it, that’s the whole tip. That’s the thing, that’s the entire secret.
Everything else is just icing on the cake, but the real meal, the meat and potatoes of thrifting and getting good at it, look all the time. So, I don’t necessarily go to a lot of places just because I don’t have a lot of places around me and can’t usually be bothered to drive 40 minutes to find a thrift store.
So, I tend to swing through my little local thrift store. Every single time I drive by it. That could be once a week, that could be four times a week. It really just depends on how much I’m going out. But if there’s a thrift store or there’s an antique store and I drive by it, I’m gonna just swing right through.
And this isn’t like examine everything in the entire store, very carefully and assess its value type thing. No, I can be in and out of that thrift store in five minutes, because I’m familiar with the kinds of stuff they have. I’m familiar with where the good stuff usually is. I can recognize shapes very quickly and because of all that I can go through it pretty darn quickly.
But if you think about a thrift store, they have a lot of turnover. They don’t keep the same stuff all the time. So, if they’re always getting in new things, then they’re always gonna have new stuff. And if you go less often, the chances of you finding something excellent are just lower. So, this also goes for looking on second-hand sites like marketplace, or like Craigslist.
I usually kind of have a list that I… Is that’s one of the tips, okay, that’s tip number three. We’ll get to that in a second. But I have a list of what I know I’m looking for. And I just spend five minutes, 10 minutes a day, browsing the listings, seeing if anything new popped up, seeing if it’s a good price.
And I just do that frequently, and you wanna do this because you wanna be the one who snatches that item, the second it’s listed, you don’t wanna anybody else to get it. So, looking all the time, going all the time, working it into your schedule to actually make time to thrift or to check the listings or to check eBay or whatever, that’s really just gonna improve your chances of finding good stuff.
Second, know where to look. The second tip is to know where to look. So, like I said, I don’t tend to hit a bunch of places. I just don’t like keeping that much information in my brain. Maybe if I lived in the more populous area that had more thrift stores, I could actually hit more of them at a time, but I have one thrift store and I have Craigslist and I have Facebook marketplace and that’s pretty much all I look on.
And I just prefer to keep it that way for my own personal sanity. But that also makes it easier for me to look more frequently when I just limit my options, limit where I’m looking, I’m looking in the right places. I’ve just had very, very good luck doing things that way. Now, the thing to know about thrifting and antiquing and finding anything second-hand, is that you can get things that are very good quality, very cheap, or you can find them very quickly.
And in general, you can only pick at most two, most of the time, it’s one, but sometimes it’s two. So, if you want something very good, very quickly, you are going to pay quite a lot for it. If you want something very good and very cheap, you’re going to have to wait a long time for it to come up because those go quickly.
If you want something very cheap and very quick, it probably isn’t going to be very good quality. So, just understanding that, knowing that these things take time, knowing the places that you look and where you typically want to look and kind of knowing your thrifting route, that is the second tip that I have nowhere to look, make sure you kind of have your stuff down, make sure you have all your ducks in a row and you know, where you like to shop.
And then just wait. Now, tip number three, we kind of touched on a little bit earlier, but having a mental or physical list of the things you’re looking for. I tend to not look for more than about five large items at once and by large items I mean, I need a table for the kitchen. I need a rug for the bedroom, I need a mirror for the hall, large things that are probably gonna be a couple hundred dollars to find.
I only try to find about three to five of those at a time. And I will actually put a note in my phone that reminds me of the things that I’m looking for so that when I have five minutes to look all the time, that I don’t have to sit there and think, okay, what do I need? What am I looking for? I write down what I’m looking for.
Some of the attributes I want, the size that I want, put that on the list, keep that in your phone. And then you will be able to reference that, whenever you are looking or whenever you are out shopping. So, you know exactly what you’re looking for. You can find the perfect thing and you don’t end up buying the wrong thing.
So, keeping that list on hand, knowing what you’re looking for, it helped me so many times and I do it mostly for large pieces, like I said, but if I’m looking for a specific art piece, I might just write in there something for over the mantle in the bedroom, and then maybe take a picture of what it looks like with nothing over it, so that you can carry that around.
And if you find a mirror or you find a painting, you can say, “Is that gonna go where I want it to?” And just do a little bit of planning ahead of time and prep work so that you can be very efficient when you actually are out thrifting and are out shopping. Number four, this is a really, really, really fun exercise.
Okay, this is an exercise to figure out your personal style because I’ve had a lot of people say, “Okay, Paige, “I see the stuff that you buy at the thrift store, “but I would never buy that stuff “because it looks so bad in the thrift store.” I don’t know that it would go with my stuff and then I get it home and I put it up in they’re like, “Oh, that actually looks really good, “but how did you know it would look good?”
So, I did this exercise on Instagram once with a bunch of people and it was so much fun. So, what’s, you’re going to do, is you are going to go around your house and you’re going to pick 10 to 15 items that you absolutely love. Like no second guessing, no questioning, no wondering if they’re all gonna go together, you’re gonna pick things that are your hands down favorite items that you have.
So, I’m sitting here in the bedroom, recording this as usual, and I’m looking over here and I have this brass candelabra that has three arms on it and it’s gorgeous. I love it, I loved it when I saw it I love it even not in my house. So that would be something that I would grab and take and put in my pile of this something I really like.
So, you go around your house and you find all of these things that you like, and you put them together and you arrange them on a table or on the floor or something. You put them all kind of in the same area. And you take a picture of that.
When we did this on Instagram, something very interesting happened is that, even people who weren’t sure what their style was or what they liked, when they put everything that they love together, they realize, oh, these are all pieces. Like, “This is my style. “This is what I love.” So, when you collect all of these pieces that you like, you put them together and you take a picture, one, you now have a pretty good idea of what your actual style is.
And then two, you have a picture reference so that when you’re out shopping and when you see something, you say, “Man, I really like that, but is that my style? “Would that go with my house?” You pull up that picture and you see if the thing that you’re looking at, fits in with your style, it might not perfectly match everything. It might not be exactly what’s going on there It might not be totally, completely correct.
But if it would coordinate and go with the pieces that you picked, it might be a good contender because I have definitely had it where I love something and I got it home and I’m like, this is the wrong style. This is not fancy enough for my house, the house doesn’t like, it he’s very grumpy at me. And now I have to give it back to the thrift store.
Which usually isn’t too big of a deal because thrift stores by nature are kind of inexpensive. And someone sent a dm to me once that she thought of thrift stores as renting items, which I love. It’s like I can buy this picture for a dollar and rent it and put it on my wall for a year. And when I find a better picture for $2 and I take the $1 picture back and give it back to the thrift store, I love this idea.
But this fourth tip, is to gather up all of those things that you love and take a picture of them, so, you have a physical reference when you are out thrifting to make sure you aren’t wasting your money, to make sure that when you see something and you like it, it will go with your house before you even bring it home. The fifth tip, this really pertains to finding things on Craigslist, or finding things second-hand from an individual seller.
And it’s that your best deals will come when you find this specific type of seller. And that seller is someone who either doesn’t know what they have. And so, prices it very inexpensively or has to get rid of it quickly. And so, prices it very inexpensively. If you can find that seller, you will more than likely get a good deal. And the best way to find that seller is to search for things, using words that somebody who doesn’t know what they’re selling might use.
So, a lot of times, when I find my rugs, all of my rugs are wool, I’ve found them all either at antique fairs or on marketplace or places like that and when I searched for them, I don’t search antique rug, because someone who I would list their rug as an antique rug is probably going to know that it’s antique. Which means they’re probably going to know it’s worth a little bit more money.
Now, I will still look at what the search antique rug gives back, just because I wanna make sure that I’m not missing anything, but then I will search for things like large rug, old rug, big rug, wool rug. All sorts of other things that might be listed by someone who doesn’t exactly know what they have. And I actually got a $100, nine by 12 wool rug exactly this way. This guy, I guess he bought, or the owner bought like an old factory building.
And this rug was up in the rafters and the owner was just like, “Just sell it I don’t care.” And so, the guy pulled it down, he laid it out and he was like, “I don’t know, $100 dollars.” And I saw it and I went and picked it up. And it literally is a beautiful pink, nine by 12 wool rug, for $100 dollars.
So, you’re looking for that seller that needs to move quickly, which you might be able to find something that like moving sales or garage clean out or something like that. Or you’re looking for a seller who doesn’t know what they have, which you will find by searching terms other than exactly what you’re looking for for.
Now, the sixth tip, this is really a tip, this is more of a plea, okay? And that is to haggle, but within reason, because here’s the deal. I fully believe in anti-karma and thrift store karma. I believe that it is completely real. And if you are a jerk and you try to low ball everybody, it will eventually come back to bite you.
And I can say this because I have gotten some of the most ridiculous sales and prices and items for things in this house. For example, probably one of my best sales was in this renovation. We are putting back a lot of what was taken out obviously, and that includes a lot of doors, but make this house a little bit more accessible and a little bit more up to date, we needed eight interior doors to complete the renovation.
But the thing about our doors is that they’re one of the few things in this house that were left unpainted. They are 120 year old shellac and they’re specific five panel style, but they are also very small. They are about 32 by 80, before they were cut down for carpet. Now, they’re about 32 by 78, 79. So, I needed eight, five panel, unpainted, very small doors. Unbelievable, like I thought I was gonna have to search high and low and piece them together and just work really hard to find. I didn’t think I’d find them.
Lo and behold at this one antique fair. This particular vendor usually has a lot of architectural salvage. They’ll have exterior trim pieces and cornices and brackets and all sorts of things like that. And it was pouring rain at this particular antique fair, which means most of the vendors weren’t there, but these guys were. They had eight, eight, exactly the number I needed, eight doors, five panel, unpainted four, they are 30 by 82-ish, 81-ish.
So, almost exactly the right size that we needed and they were $27 a piece. So, I say that to say that anti-karma is good. And if you find something where the seller’s price is exactly what you’re willing to pay, don’t haggle, I don’t. I know what I’m willing to pay. If it’s above that, I will ask it to come down a little bit. If it’s right at that, I don’t even haggle because they’re here trying to make their living or trying to make their money back on something.
So, I understand that, but I try to be respectful, I really try to not low ball. I antique a lot so I have a pretty good idea of price. I know how much things should be. So, if you’re going to haggle, do it respectfully, do it within reason and be willing to walk away, which I’ve done before. When people ask too much for stuff, I’m like, sorry, I’m just appreciate it. But that’s out of my budget. And then they get kind of offended, “You look, we have to make a living.”
I’m like, “I know you have to make a living, “but I don’t want to spend that much.” Now, as far as actually tactically, how do you haggle say something is listed at $65 you can say, what’s your best price, which they tend not to like that because they then have to pick a price or you can go up and say, “I see you have 65 on this, would you take 55?”
And then they’ll say, “I do 60.” And you can say, “Okay.” Or you can say, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” Now, I tend not to go below about 25% less than the price that’s listed. So, if something was on there at $30, I would never go up and say, “Would you take 10?” Because that’s just rude. I assume that the vendors priced their things a little bit higher than they actually want to get for it and so, if we end up about 10 or 15% lower than the listed price, we’re gonna end up being happy.
Haggling is good, haggling will get you good prices, but just don’t be a jerk about it because that puts bad antique karma out in the world. And we need all the good antique and thrifting karma we can get. Tip number seven, put as few restrictions on what you’re looking for as possible.
Now, that means if I’m looking for a chair or I’m looking for a table, or I’m looking for a wardrobe, the more once I have out of that piece, the harder it’s gonna be for me to find something that I like. So, if I want a wardrobe that is 12 inches deep and six feet wide and seven feet tall and antique, and in great condition with legs and drawers and a mirror and all of this stuff, you might be able to find it, but the more you restrict yourself, the more expensive it’s gonna be.
And also the harder time you’re going to find something that really works for you. So, I try to make the categories as broad as possible. And if I like it, then I’m good. So, instead of saying, I want a 16 by 20, gold frame painting of a fish or whatever, I’ll just say, “I want something in a gold frame up there.” I don’t really know what it is. We’re just gonna go look and see what we can find.
And if I find something I like, awesome. If I want, like right now, I’m for some reason collecting paintings, which I’ve said this before, I didn’t use to be an art person. And it’s because I don’t look at like prince and think, “Oh, I really want to print that out “and hang that on my wall.” It just doesn’t do anything for me typically. But I love seeing the workmanship and the brushstrokes and like the hand of the artist in all of these oil paintings that I’ve acquired.
So, when I go out looking, I say, “I’m just gonna see if I can find any paintings, “any physical paintings.” And sometimes I find physical paintings that I don’t really like, and I leave them. And then sometimes I find paintings that I think are really pretty. Another example is right now, I’m looking for another set of China. Do I need another set of China?
No, not even a little bit, but I want something that is a little bit more dramatic. Maybe something with black or gold or black and gold or something like that. But my only criteria is that I want something that’s pretty and dramatic. That’s my whole criteria for China. And we’re just gonna wait.
So, if you can limit your restrictions, to only the things you actually have to be restricted by like size or height or something like that, you will generally find much better options and a lot more out there. If you can kind of just expand the possibility of what you can get. Tip number eight, be willing to work.
And this is probably coming from my love of DIY and my willingness to just make something function no matter what, because I want it, but I will buy the most horrendous, broken down, desperately rickety thing, just because I love it. And because I know that it can be beautiful. Now, I’m not suggesting you be like me all the time, because I have one, two, three, four chairs.
No, three chairs, a settee, nope, four chairs, a settee and a couch that only to be a re-upholster that I bought, because I just knew that I could make them beautiful one day. But if you are willing to look past some imperfections, if a table’s a little bit wobbly and then you look underneath it and see it has screws you can tighten, if a finish on a wood is a little bit dull because it’s dusty.
If you can just look past some dirt and some grime and maybe some stained upholstery that could be steam cleaned. If you can look past all of that, you can get some truly, truly amazing pieces for not very much money, because a lot of people either don’t know how to do the work or don’t wanna do the work.
And in that lies opportunity, because that means that you can get something for next to no money and with an afternoon and a good audio book, you can bring it back to life. Now, I’m not necessarily saying to buy things that are in pieces or have pieces missing or any of that kind of stuff. But if you can find things that are a little bit dirty or maybe have cracked glass, or maybe you’re a little bit rickety, or maybe need just some wax and a Polish, that’s where the gems are.
That really is and with a little bit of elbow grease, you can have some one of a kind pieces that are spectacular that will last you a lifetime. And that brings us to tip number nine, which is to resell things that don’t work. There is a phenomenon, once you start learning about antiques and you start liking antiques, and it’s happened to everyone that I’ve seen go from not liking antiques to liking antiques, this is inevitable.
So, when it happens to you, don’t worry, you will go through a phase where you don’t really know what your style is. And because of that, you kind of frantically purchase antiques without really understanding whether or not they’re rare. And I did this at first, because when I first started getting into antiques, I would see all of these Eastlake chairs everywhere and Eastlake chairs are extremely common.
Those square backed parlor chairs with a square seat at some upholstery, very flat, minimal relief carving, very, very popular, very easy to find for 35, 40 bucks at pretty much any antique fair. But I would see these and I would think, “Oh my gosh, look at that chair, “that is so fabulous. “I need that chair and I would buy it.”
And then what started to happen was that I found American empire style from the 1830s to the 1850s. And I was like, “Oh, this is much better. “This is far superior to Eastlake.” And then I frantically at one point bought a Rococo revival chair. And it was actually a reproduction, but I didn’t know that at the time.
And I thought, “This is such a beautiful Victorian chair, “I love it so much.” And then like I was home and I was like, “I don’t think I do. “I don’t think I love it.” So, what’s going to happen is that until you become more familiar with your style and until you become more familiar with what the market has to offer out there, you’re gonna buy them wrong thing.
And that’s okay because the thrift stores giveth and the thrift stores taketh away. If you bought something for $100 on Craigslist, chances are pretty good that you can resell it for 75 to $100 on Craigslist. So, I am not super attached to some of the pieces that I have, but I’ve now been doing this long enough that I have traded in some of those initial purchases for other chairs and other tables that I love so much more.
Now, if you aren’t like me and you don’t happen to have an absolutely freakish memory for how much you paid for each and everything in your house, you can get yourself a little pack of dot stickers, or you can use painters tape or duct tape, take a little piece of something sticky, write the price that you paid for it on that sticker, and then stick it to the bottom of the piece of furniture or to the back of the picture or the lamp or whatever it is.
That way, if you decide in the future that this isn’t really serving my house anymore, it’s not really my style anymore. And you want to sell it, you will remember how much you paid for it, so that hopefully you can get somewhere around that amount of money back out of it. It’s okay if you buy the wrong thing that is of the thrifting adventure. Sometimes you see things in the store and you’re like, “I don’t know if that’s gonna work, I’m not sure.”
And you get it home and it’s absolutely fantastic. And then other times you buy things and you’re like, “I don’t think I like that. “I think we’re gonna do something different.” So, don’t feel bad if you have to resell something or if you fall out of love with a piece after a year, that’s another one of the great things about thrifting and about antiquing, about buying things second-hand is that you’re not out all of this money up front if you end up not liking something, you can buy something different, you can replace it, and it’s no big deal.
And that brings us to the last tip, which is, drum roll please, have fun, seriously. Some people get coffee every day. Some people go out on Friday night, some people buy books, some people buy shoes, I thrift. And so, I look at my thrifting budget and the amount of money that I spend at thrift stores. And it’s not much, I think the last time I went, well, the last time I went, I bought a full chair and a painting.
So, it was like $30. But usually when I go to the thrift store, it’s $7 here, $12 here, not really that much. And I do try to take things to the thrift store when I go. So I’m not just continually adding to my house. But the thing about thrifting is that I find it incredibly relaxing I love the hunt, it thrills me to dig through all of the stuff that’s there and see what people have and see how I could make something work and see how the inventory has changed over and to look at all the baskets and to look through the romance novels.
If you’re like that and if thrifting is something that is emotionally fun for you, not just physically fun and not just a way to furnish your home, embrace that because it’s really, really fun. And I have to tell you a story. So, I was at the thrift store two days ago, and I had bought this chair and nobody was really paying attention to the chair.
So, I didn’t say anything about it, that, “Hey, I just bought that chair.” But this woman was in the furniture section and she looks to her friend and she goes, “Oh my gosh, I found one.” And of course, whenever anybody says something like that, I have to stop and watch ’cause I’m like, “Oh, you’re really excited. “And people don’t usually get excited in public. “So what are you excited about?”
And her friend is there and her friend responds, “Oh my gosh, that’s totally perfect.” And where I was standing, I was standing very still so, they didn’t see me. And then all of a sudden they noticed that I was there and the friend goes, “Oh, I’m so sorry “I didn’t notice you were there.” I said, “It’s no problem. “I was just listening to how excited you got “about your furniture piece there. “And that was making me really happy.”
And it’s so interesting because I think people don’t get a lot of encouragement to be excited in life. And so, as soon as the woman saw that I was excited because she was excited, she got even more excited. And I said, what she found was this little, it looked like about a mid century side table that was maybe 18 inches tall.
And it was about two feet round and it had a door on it. So, it looked like a little cylinder with legs and a door on it. And the door open to the whole inside was open. And I said, “Wow that’s a great piece, “What are you gonna do with it?” And she said, “I have been looking for something to turn “into a cat’s litter box.”
She said, “I’m gonna cut a hole in the side “I’m gonna paint it “I’m gonna put the litter box in there “and it’s going to hide it. “And he’s gonna be able to go in there “and nobody’s gonna see it, it’s gonna be so great.” And so, of course, as I do, I started giggling and squealing with her.
And I was like, “Oh my goodness, that’s so perfect. “Could you believe how good of a find that is?” And I was like, “Oh, it’s only $7 and all of this stuff.” And so, then she’s sitting there, like, I don’t want anyone to take it. And I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll stand here, “I’ll stand here and guard your piece.”
But she ended up taking the price tag, which is how the thrift store works. She take the price tag up to the counter and you purchase your piece and then it’s yours. But it was just so fun to meet other people who are in the thrift store doing the same thing I’m doing. We’re all looking for a bargain.
We’re all looking for a hunt. We’re all looking for that magical thing that’s just gonna make our day a little bit better. And is it materialistic? I don’t know, maybe I have a lot of stuff, I like stuff, stuff makes me happy. But while you’re thrifting and while you’re hunting, just embrace that fun part of it, because it really is a very exciting adventure.
And even if nobody in your life is as excited about this as you are, send me a comment on the blog or a DM or an email because it’s fantastic. And it’s so much fun. And I know how excited you are about it. Now, the other thing you could do, is you could join us in the Vernacular Society, which is my membership group.
It is affectionately called our grandma club because we do a bunch of stuff that it seems like grandma’s should do. But a lot of us aren’t grandma’s some of us are, but we do projects every month, we’ve done canning, we’ve done sewing, we’ve done hostessing, we’ve done baking.
We’ve done all kinds of stuff and it’s really, really fun over there. You can share your thrift fines, you can share your, your pets, you can share your projects, you can ask for help. We have a great time over there. So, if you want to check out our Vernacular society, it’s super, super cool. And it’s the best, most fun grandma club on the internet. You can go to farmhousevernacular.com/tvs to learn more about that.
And we would love to have you in there. So, those are my 10 tips on having a successful thrift shop session event. I’m not really sure what to call it. There will be a blog post about this and of course you can always check out the show notes for more resources at farmhousevernacular.com/9 for the show notes on this episode.
Thank you so much for listening. I loved having you here and I will see you next time, bye.