The Joy of Thrifting

My first-ever thrift shop purchase was an old metal sewing machine which I used it for about 5 years until it failed – ironically, for the same reason I hadn’t wanted a newer machine – some interior plastic part that couldn’t be replaced.

When we moved to Tucson, we discovered reuse shops of all types (used book stores aside – those I discovered decades ago!). We lived near a string of used furniture stores, where we bought Mari a 1940s dresser, mirror, and chest of drawers for less than the cost of a particleboard item from your average discount store. As she rapidly outgrew her infant clothing, I took it to the clothing resale shop and traded it for unique, preshrunk items, including the lion costume that she had happily worn nearly every day for two years. We found some treasures in thrift toy sections as well, such as a wood train set that she loved and is now being loved by our friends’ kids.

When I discovered a gigantic, well-curated thrift store here in the Twin Cities, which happens to have regular half-off sales, I was a permanent convert to resale. It meshes with my frugality as well as my desire to reduce environmental pressure, and it’s fun. When we need something, I look there first, but since I don’t go regularly, there’s an automatic delay in purchasing that helps decrease unneeded acquisitions.

Here are a few reasons to consider thrifting…

1. It’s frugal. Yard sales are frugal too, often with lower prices than thrift shops (except sale days), but if you’re looking for a particular item, or clothing in a particular size or style, a large thrift store is more likely to have it. Mari loves hooded college sweatshirts – the ones that cost about $50 new. Her small collection was purchased in like-new condition for about $5 each at thrift stores. Thom likes unique t-shirts, which run about $2-3 in like-new condition. In general, items are about 10-20% of new cost, regardless of their condition.

2. Everything is unique. Retail shops stock the in-style-at-the-moment, and it’s really pretty much the same from store to store. If anyone in your family has a unique style, retail can be very unsatisfying. And when it comes to replacing those jeans from 2 years ago that fit perfectly but are so worn that I’m contemplating handwashing them because styles have changed and I hate shopping for jeans… I’ve found a replacement at the thrift store.

3. The clothes are preshrunk… such as that $6 cashmere sweater ($3 on half-off day, and which would make very cozy pajamas if nothing else!). I hate buying new jeans and finding that they are ½ inch too short after washing. Thrifted jeans solve that problem.

4. Recycling, and recycling again. When I buy something at (sale) retail prices, there’s more attachment. Even if it turns out to have been a poor purchase, sometimes it is hard to boot it out of the house. But if I paid $3 at the thrift store and use it for a short time, I can send it back without a care. Many thrift stores are nonprofits and provide local jobs. I’m happy to support this business model that encourages reuse.

4. Items have already been tested for durability and may come from an era of greater quality. Tools, small appliances, kitchen items, various electronics have been used, thrown in a box, and shelved. Most stores let you test electronics. I love my 1960s waffle iron that makes perfectly crisp waffles.  When our second electric pencil sharpener died, I sourced a new-in-box 1960s solid metal crank pencil sharpener that I expect will last forever.

5. Potential raw materials. Of course, they’re not raw in their current state, but they can be repurposed. I turned the softest alpaca sweater, a lovely marine blue but sadly shrunken, into the warmest hat ever. I love it.

6. It’s fun. It’s almost as fun as Grandma’s attic, and comes without the side effect of a Grandma annoyed at the disarray left by a curious treasure seeker. It’s a great activity for a rainy day. I enjoy the search, but always review my items before purchasing, because they will still take up space and cost money.

What has been your best thrift store/estate sale/yard sale find?

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