Friday, September 17, 2010

Well-organized stores, lists make secondhand shopping easier

I bought my first pieces of thrifted furniture when I was in college: a small oak table with four matching chairs. Some 15 years later, that table and chairs are still with me, having undergone a few DIY transformations with paint and upholstery and having seen five apartments and three different homes. They’ve stood the test of time, both in their classic style and in the quality of their design.

As much fun as I have thrifting, it truly isn’t just a way to shop, but an entire lifestyle that comes with many rewards. For me, that’s part of the beauty of buying secondhand. Thrifting gives me the opportunity to search for and bring home beautiful and useful things that I love—and that last. And this is all without having to spend more than I can afford.

This isn’t to say, though, that buying secondhand is always easy. It takes patience, mixed with some creativity and persistence, to furnish our home and outfit ourselves with thrift store and secondhand finds. Over the years, I’ve cultivated my “thrifting eye” and developed strategies that help me to maximize my time and money.

For the best finds, I stick to clean, well-organized stores. I generally shop in well-lit stores with a clear pattern of organization. That way, when I get to know a store, I know exactly where to look for craft and art supplies, children’s books, and original pieces of artwork, for example.

Knowing what I’m looking for helps, too. Thrift stores usually have a lot of inventory, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff. If you have a list of items you’re looking for, you can quickly cut through the visual clutter. If I know I’m looking for size 7 pajamas for my daughter and a winter coat for my 4-year-old son, for instance, then I can focus on the clothing racks or bins. I can also plan purchases ahead of time so that I have the right size snow boots tucked away for when my child needs them.

When my needs are so specific, I don’t always find what I’m looking for right away. That’s why I visit my favorite shops often—once a week, if possible. Thrift stores tend to move merchandise quickly, so if I don’t find what I’m looking for one day, chances are good that I may find it another time. I tend to hold out for items that truly fit my wants and needs, rather than settling for something because “it will do.”

I also don’t buy something simply because it may be “valuable.” If I like something, I have a specific use for it, and it fits into my budget, I buy it. Sometimes, an item may end up being inherently valuable, such as the Roseville pottery sugar and creamer I bought many years ago, but I never purchase anything with the idea that I’ll resell it.

In fact, I shy away from items that will eventually cost me more time or money. I don’t buy dry- clean only clothing, for the same reason I generally don’t buy a piece of artwork that will require framing or a piece of furniture that needs a structural repair. Those good deals could ultimately become expensive purchases.

Nevertheless, it is possible to scour thrift stores for goods—that with just a small tweak—can give your wardrobe or your living space flair on a slim budget. Next week, I’ll share ideas for taking a fresh, creative look at secondhand items and using them in practical, beautiful – and even surprising – new ways.

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