What to Look for at a Thrift Store - Pretty Real

What to Look for at a Thrift Store

3:05 PM

I was given a $3 object in exchange for this post. πŸ˜‚All opinions are my own. 
Vintage dry sink used as a bar at a party
I've always been enamored with thrift shopping. The whole 'used' factor doesn't creep me out one bit and lately as I learn more about clothing waste and ethical shopping (mostly from my rock star friend Molly) I'm even more motivated to shop second hand. Add to that a 'cause,' and well I'm a goner. In this case, the thrift store is Recovered Treasures and it supports an organization called Healing Transitions. Healing Transitions is a nonprofit recovery facility for homeless individuals with alcohol and other drug problems. Their mission is to break the cycle of poverty and addiction by providing a peer based recovery program, at no cost to participants. One of the things I love about Recovered Treasures is that 100% of the proceeds from my purchase, helps support Healing Transitions. If that's enough to convince you to hop aboard the thrift store train, today I'm sharing what to look for at a thrift store!

As much as I've been poppin tags over the course of my life (I have great memories of thrifting with my mom as a kid ♥) even I sometimes wonder what's a good buy and what isn't. Oftentimes when you're in a thrift store an item looks like a good deal in comparison to what else is there-- i.e. a bunch of used stuff. Clearly, that's not a good way to pick a purchase. I've had some flops but also some great finds so I thought I'd share a few tips for what to look for at a thrift store, plus my latest scores from Recovered Treasures.

My do's and don'ts of thrift shopping:

Don't buy something you don't have a place for. If an item is incredibly inexpensive and you LOVE it, you'll find a place for it but 9 times out of 10, it will end up in your garage.

Do buy storage bins and baskets. There are endless uses for bowls and baskets and woven items are typically a pricey purchase when new. So take advantage of a good deal when you see one and stock up on cute baskets. You can use them to store fruit, magazines, jewelry, as a planter...there are so many ways to use them, it's almost never a waste.
basket of baskets at recovered treasures thrift store in Raleigh, NC
[taken at recovered treasures]

Don't buy a piece of clothing that doesn't fit. I've been there. I see a jacket I love and at $5 it's a great deal. I reason with myself that even though it's a tiny bit too big it's so cute I don't care. I'm all "I'm sure this is the year my cup size will increase!" #stillwaiting. Don't do it! That thing will sit in your closet and end up right back at the thrift store. And no, you're not going to alter it. Just trust me.

Do try on clothes. I know it's a hassle but there are no returns people! You've gotta try it on. It works both ways- you think it's too big but you love it. Try it on! You might find that your bum is a little bigger than you thought. #yourewelcome. This is precisely what happened with this dress. It looked too big but it was SO cute and $4 so I took the time to try it on. I almost left it on the rack and now I have a vintage dress I love and wear often.
Vintage Dress purchased at a thrift store

Don't buy something that's broken. Much like altering, you're not trying to add to your to-do list here. A missing screw is one thing but if it's not a simple fix, it's not worth it.

Before and after of an antique dry sink turned into a changing table
Do think outside of the box. I used a thrifted vintage dry sink (left) as a changing table in Nadia's nursery and later used it for outdoor parties (scroll up to the very first photo). All it took was a few coats of pain. If you love something, don't be afraid to re-imagine it!

Don't give up too easily. Ok so I know what I said earlier, but if it's an amazing find at an amazing price it might be worth a fix. You have to really think about it though! I've even done a bit of research right there in the store-- "how to fix cracked marble" for instance. From a quick google search, you might find it's an easy fix. My caution here is to only buy something that needs to be fixed if it's something you've been searching for and need and it's a great deal.

Don't be afraid of a little spray paint. Spray paint can transform just about anything so if you see something you love in the wrong color, go for it. Spray paint is quick, easy, and inexpensive. I painted this banana holder (from recycled treasures) and its hook to make an old reddish wood object look fresh again. Also, I spy the basket I snagged from there and used as a planter.

bananas on a thrifted banana keeper

Do look for collectibles. I don't mean valuables, I mean things you love and can add to. I love the story behind a collection that's taken years to amass. This could be music boxes, milk glass, vintage dishes, vintage art, etc. I grabbed these sweet carousel horse music boxes from Recovered treasures and painted the bases glossy black to make them more modern.
Carousel horse music box with a painted base

Categories I always peruse in a thrift store: 

books: particularly picture books that I can rip apart for cheap art, or vintage books that look good on a shelf.

bags/purses: This is a fun category where things are often unique and in good condition.

shoes: I've snagged shoes for myself (see my $5 Jack Rogers booties below! and these and these), the kids, even Joe at insane prices. I get that this one can be gross for some but I only buy very gently used. Sometimes they look brand new. I recently grabbed Dax $3 fireman rain boots and he pretty much wears them at some point every day. Best purchase ever.
What to look for at a thrift store

children's clothes/shoes: Make sure to inspect closely for rips/stains.

trays: So many uses.

lighting: lamps!

art/mirrors: I rarely find usable art but I have snagged good frames and it's always worth a look if your art collection is well nonexistent. The last mirror I bought while thrifting was this one.

toys/games: While I don't look at toys (my kids have enough of them), my mom often finds great items for the kids at thrift stores so I thought I'd include this category.

I hope this was helpful to make your next thrifting excursion a success. Make sure to check out Recovered Treasures if you live in the Raleigh area and check out my "tour" of the store here. Lastly, follow them on Instagram here to get alerted to great finds! 

You Might Also Like


  1. Hi, I moved here in Dec. from SC and discovered Hidden Treasures by accident. I've been visiting frequently and have found some awesome things there. The staff is very friendly too.

  2. Awesome! I just scrolled through all, yes ALL, of your posts. You are so creative and enjoyable to read. I'm looking for inspiration and doing research to start a blog. Have a great day!