Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thrifting 101: Everyone Should Do This.

Everyone should shop resale. If you're independently wealthy, it's a fun hobby and lets you put more disposable income toward things that aren't as great second-hand. (There's definitely stuff that should never be purchased at resale shops.) If you're short on money, it's an awesome gift to your budget.

But there's a real skill to shopping secondhand. If it's not performed with some basic knowledge and practiced discernment, thrifting is a slippery slope from conscientious consumer to maniacal-hoarder of broken trinkets. With 30 years of resale shopping experience, I've learned some valuable lessons, and yet, even still get taken by cool-looking crap that I can't pass up.

So, in the interest of spreading the secondhand culture, I'd like to share some tried-and-true advice.

1. Don't buy something that might be a hidden antique treasure, unless you're an expert in whatever it is that's caught your eye, or you have the disposable income to be wrong most of the time.

"Looks old" probably isn't the best criteria for finding hidden antiques.
2. Don't buy for future costumes, unless you have a definite date in mind for its use within the year. Otherwise you just end up with an overflowing closet of unused costume ideas. It sounds cool, but it's a pretty dumb use of valuable space. Believe me, I know.

3. Don't succumb to consumer religiosity. All because it's a picture of Jesus or Mary or the Last Supper, it is not a spiritual relic that needs to be memorialized in your home shrine. 
The people who feel compelled to buy this stuff are the same ones who forward mass emails admonishing you to "Prove you love Jesus by spamming everyone in your contact list."

4. Don't buy car seats from a thrift store, or from Craigslist, or secondhand from anywhere. You don't know if it's been in an accident, and every car seat manufacturer recommends replacing car seats that have been in a car during an accident. If you need a cheap car seat, check with friends whose kids may have outgrown their car seats. Use coupons to buy new. Go to Walmart and buy their bottom-of-the-line-but-still-much-safer-than-used car seat. Check with community charitable organizations. 
A child's life is worth more than the $30 saved by going with a used car seat and its unknown history.
5. Don't buy something just because it's a name brand. Even the best companies make some really ugly stuff.

6. Don't fight for anything. People can get pretty territorial in thrift shops. Everything looks more appealing when someone else is looking at it, or about to look at it, or appears to be walking toward it. Don't take the bait! Walk away and let the other person check it out. You can come back later. There's always a new treasure to find somewhere else.

7. Don't buy stuff that's broken, torn, stained, or excessively worn. Thrifting is time-intensive enough, without adding crap to your home project pile. Check zippers and count buttons before checking out.

8. Don't buy maternity if you're not currently pregnant.

9. If you're currently pregnant, don't buy clothes in the size you wore before you were pregnant. You're just contributing to your own post-partum depression.

10. Don't take a risk on electronics. Unless it's going to be used as a vintage display piece. Or you're an electrician with a lot of free time. And your job is also your hobby.
Actually, that plug-in aquarium almost got me.
11. Don't compromise -- not even a little -- on style, quality, or color. If it's a great color, but itchy, you'll never wear it. If it's a gorgeous design in puke green, let it go. American resale shops are overflowing with barely-used goods, so I really recommend limiting your purchases to only "like new" quality.

12. Don't buy clothes that aren't in your current size. It's not motivating. It's just more crap in the closet.

13. Don't fall for fashion rejects. Some stuff looks trendy on the rack, but doesn't wear well on anyone. There's a reason resale shops are well-stocked with wrap skirts and those shirts with little compartments for each breast. Just leave them there.
 14. Don't talk yourself into a purchase. You'll probably feel dissatisfied with the item and end up replacing it with another resale find a few months later. And at that point, you might as well buy it new.

15. Don't share swimsuits, underwear, or lingerie. Unless you're really seriously, seriously short on cash. I know there are laundry cycles for sanitization, but this stuff can be bought new in basic styles for about the same price as used.
16. Don't buy sweaters or clothing of any specialty material, if the price tag is stapled to it (a common practice in resale shops).
The arrow points to a hole from a poorly-removed staple. :(
16. Don't buy stuff that might come with bed bugs or fleas. Couches, upholstery, and mattresses probably aren't worth it. Also be wary of porous wooden furniture, as bed bugs like to live there too. 

If you purchase furniture, leave it in the garage or on the porch for a couple of days, and check it for bugs. Spray it down with Lysol, and put baking soda under any cushions to kill fleas. If you end up with a bug infestation, no money is saved by thrifting. Picture Source

17. Don't feel like you have to buy something to justify your trip. Sometimes you find stuff, sometimes you don't. 


1. Do buy cool novelty stuff (that you have room for and will use).
The pool table, not the arm chair.
2. Do buy baby clothes. But don't even bother with sizes Newborn - 3 Months. For babies this young, just wrap them in a towel until the spitting up and pooping is somewhat under control.

3. Do buy white elephant gifts. (Not just any crap though. Make it cool.)

4. Do buy picture frames.
5. Do buy vases.

6. Do buy maternity (once you're pregnant). Five months of your wardrobe shouldn't be part of the exorbitant cost of having a baby.
7. Do buy crutches and walkers (if you need them, or have the storage space to be prepared for the inevitable).
8. Do put stuff back where it belongs and try to keep the racks in good order. It's respectful, takes 2 seconds out of your life, and is just part of being a good human.

9. Do be considerate of other shoppers. There are people in the store who can only afford to shop secondhand. For them, it's not a relaxing hobby or elective way to get more fun money in their budget. If you're laughing raucously with friends, it might increase others' feelings of self-consciousness or embarrassment.

Feel free to add your own suggestions for good thrifting in the comments!

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