What is Thrifting and How to Do it Right

I love thrifting so much. It’s the coolest thing on earth, if you ask me. There’s something so special about finding that perfect clothing piece that is worn just right, or that piece of furniture that gives a lived-in look to your space. A satisfaction you can't get from picking something off a rack at a store that has 10 or 15 duplicates on display. Even though your perfect thrifted piece may be preloved, you can appreciate it as a treasure; something that has had a past life and experiences in someone else’s home, and now is able to have a second life in yours. Not only is thrifting WAY better for the environment, but also saves you money. If you are interested in living a low waste or even just a more green conscious lifestyle, thrifting is essential.

If you are a pro thrifter already and are just interested in learning about my best tips and shopping thought process, feel free to scroll down past these definitions. For those who are new to the concept or want to learn more about what thrifting really is, keep reading from here!

What is Thrifting?

Thrifting, also known as thrift shopping, is a method of acquiring goods and unique items through shopping at second-hand stores, garage sales, estate sales, or online marketplaces. Thrifting requires a keen eye, and patience to find exactly what you are looking for. Instead of the quick gratification you may get from retail shopping, thrifting encourages enjoyment in the hunt and grants long term appreciation for the items found. Thrifting is better for the environment, and encourages a closed circular economy that makes the best of the local goods it already has.

What are the benefits of Thrifting?

  1. It prevents pollution by decreasing the demand of new materials for goods sold

  2. It keeps existing goods in circulation for longer; decreasing the amount of waste that is in landfills

  3. It prevents toxins being leaked into our environment as synthetic material items decompose

  4. It discourages cheap goods, fast-fashion, and unethical labour factories

  5. It is a more affordable option for purchasing goods instead of buying brand new items

  6. It encourages creativity and unique uses of resources

What are the disadvantages to Thrifting?

While the pros outweigh the cons, thrifting is not without it’s disadvantages. If you are in a tight spot for time, there is a chance you will not find what you are looking for. Thrifting relies on the goods that other households no longer want and the selections can be inconsistent at times. If you are looking for a specific shoe style in a particular size, or a functioning appliance on a time crunch, there is a chance you might come up empty handed. Another disadvantage of thrifting is the potential to find goods in less than stellar condition. Preloved items are sometimes not taken care of well and can have missing parts, stains, or imperfections. It is important to properly inspect items before purchasing, unlike retail stores when you can generally rely on the quality and condition of the item.

Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to jump into my process and explain how I ensure I find the best goods while I am thrifting. Going forward with this post I will be discussing the process of in-store thrifting, as it is my favourite way to shop. I like being able to see the items in person to get a good idea of their condition and to determine sizing since most items are final sale. I also think it is the most environmentally friendly way to thrift since the majority of items found are from the local area. If you are interested in learning about thrifting online or how to navigate online marketplaces, perhaps that is a topic for a future post? Let me know in the comments below if that is something you would be interested in learning more about. Ok, here we go, it’s finally time to learn how I thrift as an eco-conscious consumer.

How to Thrift the Right Way

  1. Start a list, but only with the things that you need

    It is really important to have an ongoing list of items that you are looking for. Not even really a shopping trip specifically, as you will need to be prepared to make a few trips to different stores or the same one over time to see if they received a preloved item that you are looking for. Make a note in your phone or a list on your fridge of items that you are interested in finding and add to it as you need. I make sure that I only include items that I really need because I do not want to bring items home into my space that won’t be used. I am trying to create a minimalist space and only surround myself with items that spark joy, and I encourage you to do the same. Just buying stuff for the sake of buying is really counterintuitive.

  2. Make a mood board for decor items and record measurements for furniture

    If you are looking to pick up some home items, such as furniture, photo frames, planters, storage jars, or home textiles, the best way I have found to do this is to create a virtual mood board on Pinterest. Choosing images that reflect the style and pieces that you are after will help you visualize what you need to complete your space and help you keep an eye out when you are actually thrifting. The Pinterest app can easily be opened on the go as a reference. This will save you from bringing home items that aren’t really the right fit. Expanding on that, if you are after finding an item for a specific place, be sure to take photos of your space and measure in advance. Item sizes and even styles can look very different in-store, so having these things for reference will help you with the decision-making process.

  3. Make a plan for what stores to visit and arrive prepared

    Before your shopping trip, it is best to make a plan for where you are going. Instead of spending time, emissions, and energy going from place to place without thought, creating a plan can maximize your efficiency. Try to coordinate a time and day when all of the stores are open. I think it is best to go midday when many people are at work if possible. Another great tip is to check with the stores when they receive their shipments. That way, you can choose a day when there is a fresh selection of goods. I also recommend you create a bit of a thrifting kit to have on hand for your trip so that you are prepared. Along with your thrifting list, prepared mood board(s), measurements, and photos, I would recommend bringing along a measuring tape (preferably a flexible fabric one to be used for both clothing and furniture), a blanket to safely transport fragile goods and a good-sized reusable bag.

  4. Be patient and do not settle for less

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, thrifting is not for the faint of heart. It sometimes takes many visits to find what you are looking for. You need to be really patient with the process and know that it is okay if you come home empty-handed. In fact, that’s a great sign you are sticking to your list and not settling to buy something ‘just because’. Conscious consumerism is all about well-thought-out, intentional purchases. If you don’t find anything that fits your list of needs, just leave it at that and try again next time. Remember that there are a ton of others just like you who are on the hunt for that perfect piece. The one that you might have been debating over making work in your space but aren’t sure could be just what someone else is looking for. If you are patient and open to waiting, you are sure to find your perfect item and you will enjoy it that much more.

  5. Check for stains, rips, buttons, laces, zippers, and pockets

    For fabric materials, be sure to double and even triple-check each garment or home textile to ensure all the details are there and there aren’t any imperfections you aren’t prepared to deal with. Sometimes, there are missing pieces or stains that are not visible or that can be easily fixed and allows the item to be sold at a lesser price. Depending on your sewing competency and preferences, you might actually choose the imperfect items and be able to make them work for you. Regardless, it is really important to know what you are bringing into your home. I will stress again, that you don’t want to buy things that you are not going to use to the fullest.

    The same goes for the condition of everything else while thrifting. Be sure to plug in appliances to test before purchasing, scan furniture items for chips or scratches, flip through books for rips or stains and count game contents and pieces.

  6. Look for natural fibers

    A bonus way to minimize your environmental impact while thrifting is by looking for natural fibers you can give a second life. You can take them home knowing that when you are done with them, they can be easily decomposed and not contribute to adding toxins to our soil, air, and water supply. Look for fabrics such as cotton, hemp, bamboo, and linen. Linen is my favourite of the bunch due to its antibacterial properties; in my opinion, it makes the best secondhand fabric because you don’t really need to worry about the past owner’s treatment of the material. I wrote a blog post on the benefits of linen that you can find here and am planning on writing a post about caring for linen, so watch out for that one to be posted soon.

  7. Try clothing on

    To make sure you don’t bring home things that won’t be used, be sure to try on clothing options in store if at all possible. I know it is sometimes comfortable for some to do this, but it will not only help you make sure the item fits properly, but it will save you a trip back to the store if it doesn’t. If for whatever reason you are unable to try it on due to store policy, or if you are purchasing clothing items for another member of your household, this is where the fabric measuring tape comes in handy. Consider recording your measurements in advance so you can get a better idea of the bust, waist, hip, and length of the item. When it comes to thrifting clothing, so often is sizing and fit of items inconsistent. Different brands fit differently and depending on how old an item is, retail sizes change from year to year to fit the marketing tactics of brands. You can use your general size as a starting point, but I would encourage you to look at a couple of sizes both up and down. You will be surprised at how many more options you have than what is organized in your size on the tag.

  8. Negotiate the prices

    This is another reason why checking over your items when you are shopping is so important. If you are shopping at a small local store, market, or directly from a seller, you can try asking for a reduced price to reflect the condition of the garment. This can take time to get good at, but once you have it down, saving a few dollars on each item can make a huge difference in your overall spending. Just like any negotiation, be sure you have a solid plan established before you approach the counter. Is there a firm number you have in mind you want to pay for the item? If so, start a bit lower. List the reasons why you believe the garment is worth that price. Consider voicing facts about the condition like its age, level of wear, imperfections, or missing elements. Negotiation is very common in the resale space as the value is only determined by who is willing to see it. If it is an item they have been holding onto for a while and they want to make room in their shop, chances are they will be willing to come to an agreement. The worst they can say is no and you can then determine whether the item has enough value to move forward with the purchase.

  9. Bring your treasures home and clean it

    While most second-hand stores have a cleaning process, it is always better to be safe than sorry! When you bring your items home, be sure to clean them thoroughly. Spray hard surfaces with a disinfectant or surface cleaner such as my homemade vinegar lemon cleaner mix. Wash clothes in the hottest setting you have to remove dust mites or any other bacteria from being around so many other garments. You could also opt to have them dry cleaned. If it is a larger fabric item that won’t fit in the washing machine, such as blankets or curtains, clean them with a stripping method in a large basin or bathtub. This is a really important step as you never really know the environment where these items originally came from.

  10. if it doesn't work out, resell it on an online market or donate it to a local shelter

    If for whatever reason the item you chose doesn’t work out in your home. Whether it doesn’t actually fit right or you decide it does not full the need you intended for it to, just get rid of it. There is no need to hang onto items ‘just in case’ something changes. If it doesn’t serve a purpose in your life, pass it on to someone who can make use of it. You can resell the item on an easy to navigate marketplaces such as Facebook or Kijiji. Alternatively, if it is an item that was affordable for you and you do not need to recoup the cost, you could choose to donate it to a local shelter. Be sure to call ahead to make sure they are accepting donations and confirm if your item is on their list of needs.

What are your top thrifting tips? Share them in the comments below!

Claudia Cotici - Zero-Waste Creative.png

Hey, Claudia here

I am a senior graphic designer, a dog mom, an advocate for a zero-waste lifestyle, climate change, and sustainability. My articles are based on personal experience and well researched to give you the best source of information for all things zero-waste.


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