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Decorating With Thrift Store Finds: Tips on How to Find The Good Stuff

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When you want to decorate your home on a budget, thrift stores and resale shops are the best places to go to find items to use, but what should you look for once you go? I am sharing what to look for and how to transform the items to fit your decorating style.


If you have been reading my blog for a long time, then you know I like decorating with thrifty finds.

With spring in full swing so are the thrift stores in my area.

One is so popular that there are lines of shoppers outside waiting to be the first in line when they open kind of busy. When I arrived, I was handed a number and waited 15 minutes until my number was called…. all for the “The-thrill-of-the-hunt”. 

I enjoy the “The-thrill-of-the-hunt” when shopping thrift stores, yard sales, and church rummage sales to find items that I can transform to use to decorate my home “in my own style”. This type of decor gets me excited. :-)

White kitchen shelves with white dishes

I was recently reminded of this when I found out that a huge Goodwill is being built in my town, along with a reader who emailed me wanting to know where I get all my white pitchers. It is a question I get asked a lot.

Winter decorating ideas that are fast and easy. Budget friendly decor.

I wrote back and told her that most are from local thrift stores and a few are from HomeGoods. She wrote back and said she shops at both, but never finds anything good. :-(

Often, I am asked how I always find “good stuff”. 

This is what I hear from my friends and readers all the time…

…“I go to the thrift store and never find anything”. “It is all junk”.  “ I don’t have a good eye” or “It’s so gross” to “Can I go shopping with you?”

Once I was told that I should not shop at thrift stores because they are for people that have lower incomes and really need the items.  If I buy it – nothing is left for them.

This can be true for some areas and some thrift stores are for profit stores where they sell used merchandise. This type of store is becoming more popular. These types of stores may not be giving to charity, so ask questions if you want to support a charity.

The smaller local thrift stores where I ship use the money made in the store to give to charity.  So when I shop these stores, I am in turn giving to the charity or the non-profit organization that runs the store.

Decorating With Thrift Store Finds: Tips on How to Find The Good Stuff

When I set out to go thrifting, I always keep an open mind as you never know what you are going to find.

Magnolia Home Chalk Paint review

I do however, have a list in my head of items that I like to collect that I use around my house. These items are – anything white – white pitchers, dinner and serving ware, ceramic pieces, books, baskets, furniture and vases are the most versatile items I use to decorate with.

White Ironstone pitchers found for $3 at a church trash and treasure sale.

But I always come home with other stuff that I transform to fit my style or on some occasions use just as is.

Tip No.1: Don’t Overlook the Ordinary

pink hydrangeas in a large pickle jar found at a thrift store

When I am at the thrift store I don’t look for new or designer brand items. I look for the ordinary and consider what I can do with them to make them decor worthy.

A 50 cent extra-large pickle jar used just as is, can become a perfect flower vase.

Two sizes of glass pickle jars transformed into modern white dipped glass vases. They are displayed on a side table.

Ordinary items are just waiting for you to add your style to using paint, paper or fabric.

3 wicker baskets stacked on top of each other

I bet you have seen baskets, not only at thrift stores, but at yard sales. It seems everyone want to get rid of baskets, but what they are not considering is how to change them to make them into something both decorative and useful.

Kitchen drawer used as a desk drawer.

With a few snips with a knife or a good pair of scissors, baskets, even with handles can become chic storage containers.

Tip No. 2: Keep Your Mind Open for Anything and Everything

You may go in a thrift store seeking to find a piece of furniture for your guest room, but…

Thrift Store vases

…see a modern and unique glass vase that is only $1.60.

Thrift Store Vase

Modern and unique pairs nicely with old-fashioned hydrangeas on a bedside table.  If I didn’t do a quick stroll around the thrift store after looking at the furniture, I would have never seen this vase.

Tip No. 3: Know Your Style

You have to know what you like and don’t like – otherwise everything just looks like clutter and junk.

Candleholders-from-the-Thrift-Store

I found these candle lanterns for a few dollars years ago at a thrift store. They are OK just as is, but the color didn’t fit my style of decorating. However they are classic and have great lines so I knew I could easily transform them to my liking.

Thrift store candle vases painted white to use on outdoor table

Painting the bottoms using white chalk paint turned them into decorating items I like. I hope you never get bored of seeing them, as I have been using them for years now, both inside and outside my house.

Rustic Red and Plaid Christmas Living Room

When you know your style – you will know that by removing a part of an item, cleaning it up, or painting it – it will look like something right out of a home decorating catalog. 

I added small cedar wreaths to the candle lanterns this past Christmas and raised them up using another item I always look for at thrift stores and that is hard covered books that I can cover with colorful gift wrap or paint to make lifts of varying heights for decor, lamps and flower vases.

Tip No. 4: The Good Stuff Goes Fast

The home decor items that sell fast at thrift stores are usually reflected by current decorating trends.

Thrift store lamp before getting made over

For instance over the last year, large distressed stone or terra cotta lamps like the ones sold at Pottery Barn for hundreds of dollars are very popular to DIY.

Lamps with the right shape, even if they are ugly, are swooped up fast…

Holiday lamp finial idea. Close up of white table lamp with red Christmas ball ornament made into a finial above the lamp shade.

…as they can be easily transformed with some Spackle and or paint.

white cake plate with beaded edges can be repurposed for other uses.

When thrifting with a group of friends, there is always going to be one item that all of you will reach for immediately when you see it.  This happened to me and my friend when we saw a cake stand.  I let my friend buy it knowing that eventually another one would come along. It did.

Tip No. 5: Shop Often

Planner pad planner opened on desk

Make thrifting a weekly event. Mark it on your calendar.  I go once a week. Find out when the stores near you put out new items. This way you get a better chance of finding something sought after.

Tip No. 6: Look For Items That are Useful

tissue boxes at the Thrift store

When browsing the thrift store aisles, look for items that have good lines and shape. It is also important that they are in good condition and can be cleaned up with soap and water.

Wooden-Tissue-Box from the thrift store with horse images on it.

SOLD! for 90 cents.

Before-and-After-Thrift-Store-Makeover-Tissue-box.jpg

Add some pretty paper and you have a chic new tissue box cover.

Tip No. 7: Don’t Overlook Anything

Thrift-Store-Side-Table

Just because the color of the item doesn’t float your boat, or it is just plain ugly, consider the possibilities.   Remember this little brown table?  I looked past the brown fake wood and the plastic wheels.  I saw a solid piece with a pretty vibe.

DIY Chalk paint recipe transformed this thrift store table

A little DIY and I made it mine.  I removed the wheels, added ball finials, had a mirror cut to use on the top and painted it white. Everything can be changed with paint or by removing or adding something to it.

I use it in my guest room now with a large basket on the bottom shelf.

Tip No. 8: Don’t Give Up

Pottery-Barn-knock-off-

Keep searching until you find it. It took me a few months of searching before I spotted the simple brass chandelier that I was on the hunt for.

Pottery-Barn-Knock-Off- Outside Chandelier

With some spray paint and battery-operated candles, it became a beautiful way to light up my deck at night in style.

Tip No. 9:  Look Beyond the Decorative Furnishing Aisles

Update old drawers by lining them with pages from books

I always look in the book section for books, not only to make lifts for decorative objects as I mentioned earlier in the post, but also to find books with unique pages or colorful spines. I am on a search now to find more of these.

To line this drawer, I used the pages of a calligraphy book I bought for 50 cents.

Tip No. 10:  Shop for Seasonal Items Year Round

Christmas-Glass-Glitter-trees

To collect all the glass trees I needed to decorate my mantel one Christmas, I looked for glass trees on every thrift store shopping trip I took,  starting about 7 months in advance.  By the time the holidays arrived I had more than enough of the trees to add glitter and candles to decorate my mantel.  If you wait until the holiday or season, you may miss out. 

Bonus Tip: Edit, Edit, Edit

This could be the most important tip. For every item I bring into my house – one thing or more has to go out.

Since I have edited the decorative items in my home like this, I have found the things that I keep – I really, really love. Editing my stuff has helped me pinpoint my decorating style.

I keep a box in the back of my car that I put the unwanted stuff in so when I go to the thrift store I can easily drop it in the donation bins.

What Doesn’t Make it into My Thrift Store Shopping Cart

As much as I love finding decorating items on a budget, I have a few items that I never look at. They are upholstered furniture, pillows, electrical items and anything that cannot be thoroughly cleaned in a sink or washing machine.

Where Else Do I Find Used Items to Decorate My House?

Church Rummage Sales – One of my favorite sources for finding used items on the cheap is church rummage sales.  Church sales are better than a yard sale because there are dozens of people selling their stuff in one place and the prices are truly bargain basement. 

Retirement Community Resale Shops – This is my secret source for finding the “good stuff” that many don’t realize exist. Find out how to locate them in your area in this post:

Yard Sales and Facebook Marketplace – I have never found anything I like on Facebook Marketplace, but I know so many that do. Yard sales pop up all the time – to get the best stuff though, you need to be there as soon as they start selling in the morning.

If you are in search of finding some new items to decorate a room or your whole house without having to spend a lot of money, then make a date with yourself to go thrifting. Make it a weekly thing as the thrill-of-the-hunt is fun and can be very rewarding.

You May Also Like These Thrift Store Item Transformations:

4 images of home decor items. Text overlay says Where to find the best decor items at the thrift store.

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67 Comments

  1. Diane, you forgot to include UNDERWEAR in the list of what not to buy! Ha!

    Everything in my house is thrift store makeovers, including my $12 dining table, and my whole thrifted craft room. :)

    Serena
    Thrift Diving

      1. Hi Julie – I have been know to peek into a few dumpsters in my life, too. :-) It is like going on a treasure hunt! I don’t hesitate to stop along the side of the road and pick stuff from people’s trash when I see something good. I have found quite a a bit doing this. The best was the desk in my studioffice.

  2. Love it! Let me know the next time you’re up for a thrift store trip and I’ll meet you there! Or there’s a bunch down by me too– Impact, Liberty, and another ReStore. ;-)

  3. I found you on Pinterest :-)
    I think you’re now one of my most favorite blogs! Love your style, tips, ideas and all the inspiration! thanks for sharing.