10 Secrets to Thrifting Success

Marian ParsonsAntiques, Favorite Finds, Shopping Tips48 Comments

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is how I find such wonderful things at ridiculously low prices. Today, I am going to share the secrets of my thrifting success. Unfortunately, I can’t help with the most important aspect of finding great things (luck), but I do think you can improve your chances by following some easy tips.

1.) A.B.H. – Always be hunting. There are times when I go out to intentionally look for things, but I hunt even when I am not hunting. I even look up thrift store locations to hit when I’m traveling. There have been many times that I have yelled, “stop the car!” or done a (sometimes illegal) u-turn to check out a yard sale or piece of furniture on the side of the road when we’re running an errand. I found this French style sofa at a yard sale for $50.00 while on the way to a Labor Day picnic.
2.) Be willing to roll up your sleeves and dig. Junking can be dirty work. If you’re not willing to dig through boxes, hurdle chairs, or brush off some cobwebs, you might miss some of the best finds. I found this chandelier late in the day while I was out yardsaling. The reason it wasn’t snatched up earlier was it was in a pathetic looking box that no one else had bothered to opened! The chandelier was in pieces, but all of the crystals were there and I knew it could easily be rewired. I ended up paying $4.00 for it! 3.) See what something can be, not what it is. Having a vision for a piece is a gift, but I do believe it can be learned through trial and error. If you spend $1.00 on a piece of furniture (like I did on this table below), it’s ok if you mess it up and it ends up in the trash. Know your limits if you’re going to spend more than $20 on a piece, though. If you are just not gifted with the vision, bring along a friend who is. (And remember, you don’t have to use a piece the way it was intended. Have an open mind.)

4.) When buying furniture, look for quality. Most of the furniture I buy looks like it’s in pretty sad shape, but I always look for some key things. Make sure it’s solid wood, has dove-tailed drawers, quality construction, and good lines. Stay away from pieces that have been poorly repaired, are stapled, made of “press board”, have severe water damage, are missing pieces that would be costly to replicate, or ones that are saturated with smoke. I know some brave souls who take these pieces on (and I have on occasion), but as a rule it’s not worth it. Again, know your limits.

5.) Buy what you love. You will never go wrong buying things that you love and that “speak to you.” It’s easy to get swayed by trends or to be tempted into buying something just because it’s cheap. Trust me, if you don’t love it, it won’t stay in your house for very long. I love ironstone, so I buy almost every piece I come across that’s reasonably priced and I rarely pay more than $5.00 a piece.

6.) Don’t be scared to “dumpster dive” and pick up furniture off the side of the road. Sometimes people just want to get rid of a perfectly good piece of furniture. I’m not sure why they stick it out on their curb instead of donating it to a thrift store, but I’m glad there are people like that! It can be a little embarrassing, even scary to pull your van over and pick up a piece off the curb. “Am I going to get yelled at for stealing? Are people going to think I’m crazy?” Possibly…sure, but I’ve never had the former happen and I’m sure the latter happens all the time. I’m ok with people thinking I’m nuts. This chair was our most recent curb freebie. It was a little wet from sitting in the rain for the morning, but surprisingly it didn’t stink and was in great condition. It just needs a slipcover.

7.) Talk to people. Just about everyone I know, knows that I love antiques, vintage pieces, furniture, whatever. And I have people offer things to me all the time because of this. I get freebies from family members, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, lots of unexpected places. I even talk to people at yard sales to see if they have more furniture that they are looking to get rid of. You wouldn’t believe some of the things people have pulled out of their garages to sell to me for a few dollars. I’ll leave my card with people who are selling good furniture at reasonable prices and tell them to call me when they want to get rid of anything else. I also get to know the people who work at my local thrift stores. They’ll often give me a better price on something because they know me. I got the piece pictured below (salvaged from a sewing factory in Gettysburg) from a woman at the parking authority when I was paying to rent a spot for the day. She told me that she was moving and wanted to get rid of some things and invited me over to see if there was anything I wanted! She gave me several of these interesting wooden pieces, some antique windows and shutters.

This beautiful 100+ year old piano was given to us for free as well. It didn’t sell at our church yard sale, so the receptionist asked my husband if I would like it. My sweet guy rented a U-haul, enlisted some help, and surprised me with it one evening. In addition, the owner of the piano gave us an antique pram that was in mint condition. I also got a ridiculous amount of antiques and furniture from my neighbor, including this pocket watch for $2.00 (and it still works.)8.) It’s ok if something isn’t perfect. In fact, you should expect that it won’t be. There are a lot of things that have been and are currently on my wish list that are very expensive if bought in antique stores in mint condition. I learned that I need to be willing to compromise if I want to get a bargain. I had wanted one of these enamel pitchers for years, but they were always too expensive for me. I finally found one at an antique store for $18.00……the bottom was rusted out, but since I wasn’t planning on filling it with water, it wasn’t a problem for me. This gorgeous French rocking chair was only $10.00, because it was dirty and there was a rip in the caning. Both things I could either fix or live with. 9.) Get to know Craig. If you have not checked out Craig’s List, you must! It’s basically an online yard sale. I know “The Craig’s List Killer” and stories of robberies and fraud may have frightened some of you away, but that is the rare exception, not the norm. Some Craig’s List tips – be particular, never pick up something alone, don’t be afraid to negotiate, and if something doesn’t sound/feel right, just let it go. I purchased both of these pieces on Craig’s List (these are the “after” pictures.) The desk was $15 and the hutch was $30.

10.) Go to Auctions. I went to my first auction a few months ago and I feel like I’ve been a sucker for years for shopping at antique malls. You can find really cool stuff at rock bottom prices at auctions. I’ve come home with a van load of furniture and antiques for less than $80. Auctions are amazing. You can check out local sales in your area at Auction Zip. A few tips:
~ Don’t get carried away with your bidding (it’s very easy to do)
~ Come prepared. You have to take things home with you that night. With small pieces they actually carry it to you and drop it in your lap. Don’t bid on something you can’t get home or discuss arrangements with the auction house in advance
~ Know how the bidding and payment works. Sometimes you have to pay a buyer’s premium at auctions. This means there is a fee added to what your bid was. The auction house I go to charges a fee if you use a credit card and you have to be pre-approved to use a check. Just know what you’re dealing with, so there are no surprises.
~ Wait to bid on something until you feel comfortable. Some auctioneers can be very difficult to understand. Make sure you know what’s going on before you raise your number. It goes fast and can be confusing.
~ Talk to “auction veterans” and ask questions. Most people are happy to help (as long as you’re not bidding on something they want!) You can normally tell the people who are there for fun and the people who are dead serious about it. Talk to the former, not the latter!

The woman who owns our shop found this antique toy phone in a box with other vintage toys for $4.00. I loved it so much she gave it to me. This would’ve cost a great deal more in an antique shop.

So, get out there and score some junk! I hope this is helpful and valuable information. I get giddy about finding things, so I am happy to pass my secrets along to you!
I am finally finished with the shop move, so I’m taking some time to work on my house. I’ve just started arranging my fabric in my new Craig’s List armoire. Here’s a little sneak peak…

I’m also going to try to get my dresser finished, some sewing, painting my bathroom, painting my dining room set, cleaning the workshop & basement, on and on… Of course, I’ll share it all with my lovely readers.

Miss Mustard Seed

I’ve posted this to 2nd Time Around Tuesday at A Picture is Worth 1000 Words and Frugalicious Friday at Finding Fabulous.

10 Secrets to Thrifting Success

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48 Comments on “10 Secrets to Thrifting Success”

  1. this is a great post! some very useful tips 🙂 i think the digging and looking past flaws is the hardest part for most people.
    i, personally, have no fears about picking something off the curb, i just can't tell my husband about it – he gets really creeped out! 🙂

  2. Great tips! I 100% agree with buying what you love…

    I just discovered a Salvation Army "As is" store where it's all about digging through boxes & it's so worth it!

  3. You are the Queen of Thrifting…really, I beleive you could write a book, or at least teach a class…wondeful tips..thankn you!~smiles.

  4. Love these tips! Such great advise, thank you for sharing! you know I think the hardest part is finding the time to go thrifting…especially when your not looking for anything specific. But it's those unexpected finds that are the most fun!

  5. These are great tips! Thanks for sharing your savvy pointers. I'd love to try finding some furniture on Craigs List {maybe after we eventually sell our house}, and I do have a few items to list. I'll probably stick with the small stuff at Goodwill for now though.

  6. These are all great ideas, Miss Mustard..did you mention thrift stores? I get so much from our local thrift stores and have fun doing it!! 🙂
    Gotta go check out Craigs list..ours here in L. isn't real good…or at least I've never bought anything. Maybe today will be my first.
    xo bj

  7. Marian – you hit the nail on the head with each and every tip. Couldn't have said it any better and couldn't agree more. Great post.

  8. Incredible tips. I'm really starting to keep my eyes open and try to see past the current conditions (not easy!) I really liked what you said about the quality of the piece. Now, I have to ask you: Are you going to sell your fabric? I'm looking for some great fabrics to make bulletin boards. my email is
    sbradley2002@hotmail.com if you would like to chat.

  9. Thanks so much for the auctionzip tip! I was able to find one that is taking place within walking distance from my house on Friday. It is a storage locker auction. I have heard of these, but never attended one.

  10. This was the best list I have ever read. I was nodding my head and saying outloud; "yes", "that's right" and "uh huh". DH just looked at me, ha!

  11. I live by ALL those rules! I think there are a lot of us "closet" dumpster divers and roadside pickers and I proudly participate, even hubby has developed a good eye for other people's junk.

    We've been going to auctions for about 6 years and some of my nicest things came from there.


  12. I too have yet to try Craig's list. But I do remember my auction days from the past. Nail biters! But it was sooo fun!

    These days, thrift stores are my best resource. I have a few I pass on my way home from work so it's a quick stop without prior arrangements that works for me at this time.

    Great tips MMS!


  13. you're a girl after my own heart..i love all your wonderful finds and i'm nuts about auctions too!..btw i'm ssoo glad you left a comment on my blog coz i'm loving your blog! cheers, Marian x

  14. i forgot to mention that i was visiting the States in May amd you know one of my fav places to visit was Gettysburg..i blogged about it when i got back home!..btw i found some lovely treasures there!!..i only wish we had known each other back then!! x

  15. You are dead-on with these tips! So very helpful! Craig has been a "friend" of mine for years…whether I'm buying or selling. It's fun to give things away on it too! Love all your thrifty finds.

  16. You are dead-on with these tips! So very helpful! Craig has been a "friend" of mine for years…whether I'm buying or selling. It's fun to give things away on it too! Love all your thrifty finds.

  17. Thanks for such great tips! Just this morning on my way back from dropping my son off at school, I found 3 great outdoor chairs (which I've needed) in my neighbors trash. Of course my game is just how fast can I get them in my car before someone I know sees me in my PJS! Dee Dee

  18. Thanks for all the valuable information in this post! I am quickly learning thrifting is a 'lifestyle' just like so many other things. My mind set is definitely beginning to change. I am even going to hunt down an auction house nearby to see what goodies can be found there too.
    Thanks again

  19. Thanks for this great post…sometimes I overlook the goodies! My son actually
    "acquired", from a curb, the 2 level end table that you have redone. I excitedly sent him your blog and told him to make sure that piece comes home from college! I am hoping on a craiglist find this weekend…

  20. Seriously good advice here! I am going to print this out so my hubby knows I am not the only crazy one!! #6 make me laugh…because I have done this…and am proud!! Hugs to ya!

  21. I just absolutely adore your blog! I'm now following, and will come back and visit very often… I've been here forever, and I just love it!!!

  22. Thanks this is a great blog! I am "new" to this forum but I have been junking all my life – now I can share with like-minded people like you. You inspire me and yes, I am guilty of curb-shopping and dumpter diving and Craigs List – FREE is especially the bomb.
    I look forward to stopping by often. Keep up the good junking.

  23. Great tips. I am a lover of CL and dumpster diving. Never tried the auction. I find it a little intimidating. Some day though. Oh, garage sales are great resource too!

    BTW, is it bad that I like the orange chair without the cover? What can I say, I love orange.

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