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Thrift stores: the thrill of the chase

Remember how last year, my friend Gwen took me thrift shopping? That same Gwen is here today to give you all of her thrifty secrets - seriously, she is like the queen of thrift store shopping. Enjoy!

I love thrift stores.

Let me start over.

Shopping gives me terrible guilt, and thrift stores set all of that free. I used to like shopping, until Wall-E. Yes, Wall-E the movie. It is not a children’s movie. It is a terrible, dark, realistic picture of North American commercial excess taken to its logical conclusion. Let’s all buy and buy and buy until we need to get into a spaceship and fly around the universe for 700 years. Oh my god. Wall-E has ruined my life.

Damn you, adorable robot!

I can’t buy anything anymore without thinking about whether I really need it. Which doesn’t actually sound like a bad thing, especially in the context of being frugal a la Shopping Detox, I suppose.

So thank goodness for thrift stores. I can give clothing a new life and keep it out of the landfill, I can have fun shopping without agonizing about every little purchase, I can clothe my family, and I can do it without hurting my pocketbook too badly.

I don’t know everything there is to know about successful thrifting, but I have set a few rules for myself over the years that seem to work for me:

1. Don’t ever buy anything secondhand that doesn’t look fabulous, or work perfectly. 
Unless you are a highly unusual person, don’t buy something that needs hemming, or new buttons, or alterations of any kind. You will lose all energy to make those changes once you get home. And don’t buy something that almost fits you. Resist the temptation. If you buy secondhand items that don’t make you look fabulous, you will soon have a closet-full of stuff that you don’t want to wear. Wait for that one perfect item that makes you feel good every time you wear it.

2. Don’t expect to find what you need the first time you go to the thrift store. 
If you need a salad spinner, or rubber boots for your child, or a weigh scale for your bathroom, thrift stores have those. But they may not have them when you need them. They will have them when they get them. Think about when you give away rubber boots, for example. I do it when I empty the front closet at the end of the summer, getting ready for winter. So rubber boot shopping at the secondhand store will be most successful between September and March. Buy the next size or two up, and keep them until you need them. If you shop for rubber boots in April when it’s raining and you need them desperately, there won’t be any to be found in your size. Have a running list in your head of things that would improve your life, and then when you stumble on that perfect secondhand salad spinner, it will be awesome.

3. Expect to find perfect, unexpected things that you must-must-must have, but don’t buy the farm. 

One of the joys of thrift shopping is the random nature of it. You need to bring enough cash to help you grab opportunities when they come up, but you need to not go broke all in one day. If I can’t afford to purchase something wonderful and unexpected, I just don’t go thrift shopping. I don’t look, so I’m not tempted. Or I go in with blinders on, if I really need to get a raincoat today, or a paint shirt, or some wool for my son’s weaving project. If I do decide that I could take some shopping risks, though, I expect that I might have to spend some cash out there.

4. Pay attention to what each thrift store is good at. 

I go to all the local stores regularly, so I can watch trends. Some are good at housewares, some have cheap kids’ clothes, some consignment stores are the absolute right place to find a cocktail dress. I decided a long time ago that I won’t buy brand new bedsheets. I will buy them secondhand with a few rules: they need to be a solid colour so I can mix and match (and bleach the hell out of them the first time out), and they need to be not too worn before I get them. Once in a blue moon I score big with linen, because I pay attention to which store gets nice donations of household items. It’s nice to think that someone’s treasured hope chest linen sheets will get a new life with me.

5. Thrift stores in affluent areas are going to have fancy stuff.
Whenever I need to buy my son a winter coat, I go to the fancy consignment store in the fancy neighbourhood. I spend $20, and he looks like I spent $120. And if he loses his winter coat (how is that possible in Saskatchewan, you say???)(You need to meet my son), I won’t cry too many tears. My husband hates shopping, and so I buy all his shirts for him secondhand. If I want them to be superfabulous, I start in an affluent neighbourhood. Not that you can’t find something great closer to the inner city. You just need to go more often, or you need to shop very hard. Low hanging fruit.

6. Better Than Guilt-free!
Last summer I bought 6 shirts for $14 at the YWCA Opportunity Shop, because they were having a sale. I got to clothe myself cheap, I got to repurpose unwanted clothing, and the YWCA took my $14 and used it to fund the women’s shelter and programming for women and their families. Take that, Wall-E. I kicked your ass.

Now, after all that talk, I feel like shopping. Guilt-free of course.

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