How to thrift like a pro

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Tudors Down · the design column ·

One of the most common questions I'm asked about my home decor is where I shop. When I answer, "Thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, etc.," I hear the same thing in response: "Every thrift store or estate sale I go to sucks. Where are the places you're going?" The answer is simple: the same ones you do. I have no secret locations to share with them, no unheard of thrift stores full of gems, no websites that lead me to only the good sales. My secret is knowing how to shop them. Here are my tips on how to thrift like a pro and score some great items.

1. Walk around twice. Maybe even three times. People often get overwhelmed when they enter a thrift store or estate sale. There is so much to look that it's often stimulus overload. That's why people need to walk around more than once. The first time around, people are usually in a rush to see everything. Often only the big pieces of furniture are noticed. Take a quick look around the whole store or sale and note the big items you may want. Then, breathe. You've seen everything (very quickly, but everything). Now walk around again, but this time slower. Take time to notice the little things. And don't forget to look up and down. This is often where unnoticed gems are hiding

2. Go often. People who thrift on a regular basis usually have the best stuff simply because they are going the most. I guarantee you, there are times when I leave empty handed. Plenty of times. But repeatedly going back, over and over again, increases ones chances of finding something good.

3. Go early. Whether it's an estate sale or thrift store, the good pieces go the quickest so get there first. If you frequently visit the same thrift store, find out when new items are brought on the floor. It doesn't hurt to ask and information is always valuable.

4. Learn to barter. Thrift store prices aren't set in stone and estate sales often offer a discount day on the last day of the sale. If an item is out of your budget, but you can't get it out of your mind- ask for the best price. But don't lowball. If an item is $90, don't offer $30 and expect to get it. Often coming in with a low offer will just upset the other person and your bartering will end there.

5. Create a good rapport with the seller. I find this is handier when dealing with estate sales, but it could work with thrift stores too. Companies put on estate sales. Find one you like and become a regular. Learn the employee's names, make small talk, and make sure they see you. Week after week, follow their sales. They will notice. You don't have to buy every time, but they will appreciate your loyalty and it will come in useful later on. Bartering will be easier, better deals will be made, and often you can tell them to keep an eye out for a certain piece and they will.

6. Don't hesitate. If you see an item you may want, pick it up and carry it around until you've made your decision. Often 'going back' to an item doesn't work because the item won't be there. Someone probably has their eye on the same thing and will get to it before you have the chance to go back.

Following these tips every time you shop won't always ensure you'll find something great, but it will help increase the likelihood of becoming a better thrifter. Happy shopping!


In October 2011, Sarah Meeks and her husband purchased their first house, a fixer-upper, which is located two doors down (hence, Tudors Down) from Sarah's childhood home. Besides blogging about home renovations and design, Meeks sells vintage home goods. For more design ideas, to purchase items from her Etsy shop and to watch her home transform from drab to fab, visit