The 6 Rules of Thrift Store Shopping


A thrift store is the ultimate double-edged sword. On one hand, it is full of DIY possibilities, unique, one of a kind pieces, and endless great ideas for decorating on a budget. On the other hand, the risk of a great “I might use it” piece slipping through your fingers if you decide not to buy it at such a great price can be hard to fight. I can remember wanting to scream in the checkout line when spying someone with the very item I couldn’t decide on, just a few minutes earlier. Those memories can make a girl feel greedy.

I would safely call myself a seasoned thrift shopper. I’ve done it consistently for many years, both from necessity of a tight budget, as well as for the work I do creatively, as is the case these days. You will find me thrift shopping in some form (physical stores, eBay, craigslist, etc.) at least weekly. Sometimes more. Now, if I had no restraint, I’d be a hoarder, no doubt about it. Coming around to the idea that every perfect thing doesn’t have to come home with me is something that happened over time. These days, if you were to see me shopping in a thrift store, the following rules and questions are exactly what are running through my mind.

1.) Will I actually make something with it? SOON?

Like most of us, I do not have huge amounts of storage space, and paying to store things is not something I’m okay with. If I am intrigued by something because of the possibilities it presents, I always ask myself things like; will I have to walk around it or find a way to store it until I DIY it? Do I even have the time to DIY it? Will I have to dust it? Do I even dust? (This applies to tchotkies and knick- knack things. I have a weakness for those.)

The perfect…. perfect credenza for $10. All it needs is a decent coat of paint and new knobs. (Did I mention it’s perfect?) But where would I put it? Would it cause me stress to bring it home and have to move the house around just to find a place for it? These are honest scenarios I have lived through and regretted.


See? I already have a credenza, bought it on Craigslist a few years ago for cheap.

2.) Does it need a major repair?

“Holy chair Batman, its EAMES!” Wow, you have possibly hit the jackpot. A golden egg with a 50% off sticker. But wait, where are the legs? Is it missing its legs? It probably needs those… So, I would ask myself– Do I know the price of replacing the legs? Are these hard to find items that will leave me trolling Craigslist every evening for the next year, sitting by half a chair? Will the legs cost a fortune? Sometimes it’s better to let these pieces go, thereby foregoing the additional headache they would cause in your life.

Now, if you truly want it, take a deep breath; pull out your smart phone, and do some research. Right there in the store. Compare prices online. Look at the price of the legs. Also, pull out that tape measure you brought with you, one of the tips I discuss in my Thrift Shopping 101 class. You’ll need to know what size legs the chair needs.

Which leads me to rule 3:

3.) Is it more valuable in parts?

This one is tricky. I’m a quilt maker, and use clothing and old fabric in my quilts. Often I find beautiful men’s shirts, vintage curtains, wool blankets, etc. that may be stained, frayed, or otherwise not in perfect shape. These are usually perfect for the work I do. I can cut them up, use them in various projects, and feel good about putting them to work again in a whole new way.

The tricky part is asking myself will I actually do it? Just because they fit my rule doesn’t make them valuable.

I’ve been in this position a million times. Probably half a million times I answered “of course” and tossed said item in my cart, only to return it to the thrift store as a donation only a couple months later. I’ve realized that seeing these items sitting in a stack in my sewing studio actually bums me out and makes me feel bad. Feeling that feeling enough can make you consider more carefully what you’re bringing home.

5-g-zDuZI1MApenxyi6EFtwhYyWrYpGb_WWoxmFGOusOne of my quilts made from thrift store sheets. The sheets were faded and a bit threadbare in spots, but were perfect to cut up and use in this quilt.

4.) Is it on my trusty list?

In my Thrift Shopping 101 class, I talk about the list I keep in my purse (a smart phone list works too). Just a running list of things I’d always love to find at a thrift store. It can be anything… oil paintings of flowers, white bowls, a new dining room table roughly (insert measurement here). Have a list like this can go along way towards keeping me focused when I shop. If you’re like me, you can walk through the front door of some thrift stores and literally forget what day it is. Stores can do an amazing job of merchandising and laying out their product to optimize it. That’s why you bring that list. Your call to action. It reminds you that, “Oh, hey, focus there sister… vintage floral sheets, that’s what we’re looking for today.” It’s totally ok to breeze through the other sections to see if anything calls out to you, maybe you will see something that will inspired you to put something else on the list. Having (and using) the list by your side just reminds you to focus, not glaze over.


These bottles and decanters are part of an Avon Pennsylvania Dutch collection from many years ago. I collect them, but only if they are cheap. I love to sketch them and their cheerful color palette.

5.) Is it in my budget?

This one can really throw me off kilter if I’m not careful. Set a budget for yourself for each excursion to a thrift store. Better yet, carry cash and leave your credit card at home. Even better, bring a budget conscious friend with you to keep you in check. You will never regret NOT overspending.

6.) Last but not least, is it the greatest thing ever?? Why I give you permission to once in a while, ignore rules 1-5.

One day I was scanning the coffee mugs at my local thrift store, along with the early morning eBay’s cherry picking through the merchandise, and I came upon a set of Heath coffee mugs. For 99 cents a piece! Trying to remain calm, I checked to make sure they were intact, no chips or holes. Thinking that where there are mugs, there might be plates, I went over to the plate section and looked around. YES! Plates too! Was I the only person in this store to even realize these were here? Apparently I was, because they let me pay for them and bring them home. Did I need them? No! Did I want them? Yes! That $10 purchase began and collection of Heath Ceramics that we have continued to add to over the years. They are some of my favorite things. Thank goodness I looked!


My Heath mugs really do make coffee taste better, by the way.

What I’m telling you in this rule is simple~ Does it make you smile? Make your heart sing? Do you feel emotional about it? Does it remind you of something important in your life? After all, rules are all about exceptions.

Do you want to learn how to find unique craft and home goods? Download our free guide, Thrift Store Shopping Tips today!

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Blair Stocker is an instructor for CreativeLive, a craft book author, DIY’er, avid thrift store shopper, and quilt maker. Visit her at