Sometimes I look at the "Home Decor" or "DIY & Crafts" sections of Pinterest and see a world of beautiful rooms, where everything has a place, there are no dirty dishes, and nearly every item is purchased secondhand. "Look at these thrift store items, spray painted in bold colors!" it says. "Turn clothes hangers into chip clips!" (Why we aren't just using chip clips is beyond me...) "Take a thrifted sheet, and turn it into curtains!" (Yeah, if there aren't giant yellow stains and god knows what else buried in those sheets.) "How easy is this project? All you have to do is thrift a cute rotary phone and make it into a bookend! Whee!" Oh, idealism. You are a tempting, taunting vixen. Here's the thing that these pins neglect to mention: Thrifting ain't easy. You can thrift every single weekend, and not find anything for a long stretch of time. Boy, can that sting.
Sure, at your local thrift store there is probably a plethora of old cameras that you can spray paint neon green. But they would still look like crappy old cameras. The camera in the image below looks like a Holga to me, and I don't know about you guys, but I have never seen a Holga in a thrift store in all my twelve-odd years of scouring the musty shelves. The only cameras I tend to find are those old, no-one-wants-them ugly ducklings from the late 90s or early 00s, in the days before digital was common. Sometimes you might find a Polaroid instant, which is sweet, but again that's pretty rare. And anyway, spray painting those would look stupid, and it would be stupid, because why don't you use that thing? Duh.
Don't get me wrong. I love thrifting, and I am a big advocate for secondhand materials. I have had a bit of luck finding cool items that become unique additions to my home and even wardrobe. But if you are a thrifting n00b, there are just a few things that I want you to realize before you get all excited. So quit repinning and listen up.
- Don't expect to find anything your first time out. You have to go on a regular basis, to several different stores, sometimes miles away from each other and from where you live, to find one really cool item. I like to go every week, but I haven't found much in a long time, so I think I might even have to step it up. You know that white ceramic animals trend that is going on right now? I have been searching antique malls, chain thrift stores, and consignment shops for a couple months now, and all I can find are stupid looking animals or ornate angelic beings. If I spray paint them white they will look dumb (see above rant). I know that if I visit a vintage store, I will probably find something, but...
- There's a big difference between vintage stores and thrift stores. That difference is price. Yes, vintage stores have thrifted and secondhand items. There's just a reason all of the stuff is so darn cute and desirable: these items are collectables, and the owners of the vintage store searched far and wide for the specific things they have. Estate sales, antique stores, the internet... Vintage store owners do a lot of work finding everything, so what you find there is going to cost more than something at Goodwill. Sometimes a LOT more. Shopping at a vintage store might as well not be considered thrifting, because if you're lucky you will walk out of there having only spent $50 on just two or three items.
- Thrift store mania: It's a thing. Listen, I've been where you are. You see all that cheap stuff, with so much potential! "Look at that awesomely vintage patterned shirt! I will so TOTALLY wear that all the time, even though it's cropped up to my bellybutton!" "OMG, look how hilarious that framed clown artwork is, that is so lame, I have to have that!" Noooo! Stop. You have the mania. Please exit the building and do not look back. You will thank me later. I promise you that you will never wear that shirt, and when you take home that clown art you are gonna cry or be freaked out by his creepy eyes. When you're thrifting, don't buy stuff on a whim. If you can't think of where it is going to go in your house, don't buy it. If you aren't sure about the shirt, don't get it. I have so many thrifted clothing items that I never wear because I just didn't want to pass them up in the store, even though I had some kind of qualm about them. I think the general rule here is, if you absolutely love it and know exactly what you're going to do with it, by all means, snatch that baby up!
- Don't go on a specific quest. If you're shopping in thrift stores for something very specific, like a wooden recipe box, I promise you will never find a wooden recipe box. I think it's some kind of law of the universe, but I almost never find what I'm looking for when I'm looking for something. Usually my goal while thrifting is to just browse. If you browse on a weekly basis, you're bound to find some pretty sweet stuff! By looking for only one type of item, you may be neglecting a lot of others, so just don't limit yourself. Keep an open mind and give yourself enough time to look through everything.
- Balance is key. Don't forget to get rid of some of your stuff every once in a while! I like to look through my closet once per season (at least) to get rid of clothes I don't wear. Right now I'm in the midst of a major clean-up of all my possessions. Thrifting is so cheap, which means you're going to end up with more stuff. Especially when you're renting a home or apartment, you don't want to keep contributing to a pile of unused junk. Make yourself part with the stuff at home that you know you're not using to its fullest potential. Someone else might get a lot more use out of your unwanted treasures!
Thrifting is a fun hobby that can be done in a short solo trip, or as an all-day adventure with a latte and a friend! Just keep in mind that you don't want to end up on Hoarders. That's probably a good goal to have.
I'm curious: What are your thrifting experiences in cities other than my own (Cleveland)? Maybe when you live in California, all the thrift stores have cute ceramic animals and art deco dressers... All I know is here in Cleveland, just like surviving the winter, thrifting ain't for the weak of heart.