| |

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

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

67 Comments

  1. Unlike Salvation Army, Goodwill is a for-profit entity. The CEO makes millions each year. Donating goods there is like giving your stuff to Walmart to resell.
    You might enjoy shopping there and that is fine but you should take the time to investigate their organization. I think you might be surprised.
    Love the post anyway.

    1. I’ve just spent quite some time reading about Goodwill, which I should have done prior to making my comment. My apologies since after reading several articles found that they are a non profit organization. But Goodwill stores across the country are all run differently and there are a number of CEOs. There is a ton of negative information being circulated.
      The bottom line is that we really should investigate the organizations that we support but it is not an easy task.

      1. Hi Margo – You bring up a good point – to investigate the organizations we support. In this day and age and with so much information at our fingertips and some of it not true it is hard to figure out what is right.

        My favorite thrift shores are the local smaller ones run by churches and retirement homes where I know where the money is truly going. For instance, one store in my town – the profits go into building and furnishing homes for homeless families. :-) My neighbor runs it and I see firsthand what they do.

  2. If I could just add…if you find something and you aren’t sure about it, put it in your cart till you make up your mind. If you don’t there is a good chance someone else will grab it.

  3. My little brown table was almost identical to yours! However, even after painting it wasn’t selling until l added the ball finials when l saw yours…and they created a lineup. Thanks, Diane!
    When strawberries are in season, I’ll be making your jam.
    Love your blog.

  4. Hello Diane!!!! I made it in!!!!….and so glad I did not miss this post!!
    I, too, have been thrifting for a lonnnng (1970’s) time. LOVE it!!! There is MUCH thrill in the hunt. I have to agree with all you have said. Even your list of “no-no’s” are mine also. People always say to me, “Oh, you find the best stuff!”. It is really about going with an open mind AND realizing sometimes you just have a day where you find nothing. I, too, even keep the “drop-off” box in the truck!!! My weakness is Blue Willow china. It is getting harder to come by…of course I have a ton of it…but my heart still gives a flutter when I do come upon it.
    Have a great week!!!
    Addie

  5. What a great post. You must be SO excited about the Goodwill opening in your town. I find a lot of treasures there. Pinning this to refer back to for your inspiring projects. I love how you wrapped the hard covered books in wrapping paper. A beautiful, elegant look.

  6. Hello Diane!
    My Mom and I have been thrift shoppers from way back! one of my Daughter’s love to go with me, the other? not to much! I had a similar conversation about thrift shopping and not “needing” to from a neighbor, honestly I was taken back, and Yes, I agree it’s helping the charity. Every Navy wife knows the best thrift shop at the next duty station! the best find I ever had was a set of wedgewood “nantucket basket” china! love your blog!!

  7. You do find the good stuff. I live in the poorest county in Kansas. That is call Crawford County. There isn’t a lot of good stuff here. Thanks your blessing. You got the good stuff there. ;-)

    1. Hi Robbie – Now that my house has been all updated, I will be posting more about thrift store finds and other creative things that kind of went to the back burner as I focused on updating my 1970’s house. Happy to know you have been following me through it all. Thanks :-)

  8. Don’t count the lamps out…I re-wire and use spray paint..so much more character than new lamps.

  9. Such fun ideas! I started a thrift store a year ago. These ideas have really helped my business. Thank you!

  10. Love this post so much, my house is full of thrifted items but I love the new lease on life you have given your finds. Love love love!

  11. Such lovely ideas, but two problems for me, looking for suggestions:
    No ideas on how to decorate – not crafty, do not know anything about DIY
    Live in an apt – no place to paint, refurbish, etc.
    Help!

    1. Partner up,with a thrifty friends who have space….go to Home Depot or Michaels/ Craft store education days to learn..look for artist space for lease by the hour…..check to see if your town has a reusable depot sometime they have classes.

  12. I just wanted to pop in and and say how much I enjoy your blog. I am a thrifter at heart and I love going and shopping at our local goodwill stores. There are 3 very close to me. I find awesome fabrics and some really cute vintage sheets that I use for fabrics. I have been told that going to habitat for humanity was a great place to shop also. I am going to have to find our local one. Anyway, just wanted to say hello and thanks for some awesome ideas.

  13. Diane,

    I wonder if we were twins and got separated at birth? As I read your column I realized that those are the very things I tech my students to do when they go “thrifting.” I even have a class I teach called “Let’s Go Thrifting!” I have been an avid Thrift Store Bargain Hunter forever it seems. Probably before it was chic to shop there. I learned from a very young age how to re-purpose and recycle with my grandmother’s rental properties. I did not know we do not have a lot of money. I never felt poor. We would repaint and redo so many things to create special and fresh vignettes in her rental properties. she was on a very tight budget as a widow when she was forty with seven children and thirty- seven grandchildren. We always had plenty because of her creativity and sewing for all of us. Now, I am sharing my experience with so many others in my various classes I teach through The Color & Redesign Academy. I have worked with seven thrift stores and helped them to improve their visual merchandising. I continue my love of doing several award winning Christmas trees and decor from thrift store finds to this very day. I had to laugh as I read your blog, because it sounded so much like me, ha. You never know we may have gotten separated at birth!

  14. I just came upon this post and totally loved it. I too decorate my home with all my thrifty finds. Just recently I started a blog to share this passion. Thanks for encouraging the hunt and then sharing it

  15. I’m so glad I came across your site. I love to do the exact same things! Treasure hunt and then decorate my home with my finds. I love all your ideas. Thanks for sharing

  16. I love to find things for my house at the thrift store! So many bargains, and if no one asks, they never know you didn’t spend a fortune. I have to admit, I did buy an upholstered chair at the thrift store and am excited about fixing it and recovering it. Love all your find! Thanks for sharing them and the tips.

  17. I just found your blog. I love all your thrift store finds. Like you, I also am constantly checking my local thrift store for items I can redo!

  18. Came across your blog on Pinterest and will be following! I go to Goodwill every weekend (there are 2 in the town where my dad lives) and 2 Habitat ReStores nearby. The funny thing is when we moved in our house 3 years ago, I bought mostly new furniture…now it’s being replaced with OLDER, repurposed, much better quality furniture! I do find some things I resell, but mostly it’s just a first time home owner having a great time decorating her home with creative and thrifty decor! Thanks for a great blog!

    1. Thanks, I love baskets too, have done thrifting for years. Right now I put Rosemary, and Lavendar in baskets. Looks really good. Give them as gifts. Also give away antique dishes with succulents in them. FUN!

  19. Hello. I clicked on your pin from CleanMama and ended up spending quite a bit of time on your site. I’m hooked. I am wondering what your opinion is about something. You made a good point in this post about how buying from thrift stores, even though you are not poor, helps out the organizations that run them and the communities they serve. How do you feel about buying from thrift stores and remodeling things to sell? I am trying to quit my full time job soon to be a SAHM but will need to try to supplement my husband’s income. I love doing reupholstery, painting, crafting, making old things look new. I have been encouraged to resale some of my projects, and I have sold a few things. I’m curious to know what you and some others might think about the practice of thrifting, remodeling and selling.

    1. Hi Jennifer – I say go for it. You paid for the items and the charity was benefited. I think it is a great idea and know many in my area who sell what they buy and make over. Once you get your business up and running, you can donate back something you transformed to the store. They could then sell it for a lot more and you will be giving back in a nice way. On the business side of things, doing this will also help get your name and skills out to the public. I know from my experience if you can reupholster, you can get a lot of business. Best of luck with it. It will be nice to be a SAHM. I was for 20 years and enjoyed being home with my daughters.

  20. I think your thrift store shopping advice is going to be very valuable for me. I’ve made so many mistakes, and sometimes things I buy turn right around and go back the very next day! I also shared your post on my Friday Finds today. Thanks so much, and have a great weekend!

  21. I just discovered we have a 2nd Avenue about 30 min from where I live! I’m always looking for new places to thrift so will visit there very soon.

  22. I have decided to downsize from a house to an apartment. After reading this blog though, I am rethinking what to sell and what I can transform into another useful item in my new place – yet to be found. You always give the best advice, show how to repurpose an item just right. I am so glad I found you, and even shared this one on FB.

  23. Diane…Love all of your uber cool thrift store finds. My daughter is moving from her very small 1 br apt to a much larger 2br apt and will need some inexpensive furniture, etc. I’m looking forward to hitting Salvation Army and Goodwill to see what I can find. If I need help with my “vision” I will post a picture and beg you to offer suggestions. Yours is one of my best loved blogs. Thanks for all the inspiration. Vikki in VA.

  24. Don’t over look buying pillows at the thrift store – if they are down filled. If they are down filled, you’ll be able to remove the down pillow insert from the cover and wash it. Then use this down insert to fill another pillow sham/cover. If you’ve ever priced down pillow inserts, you’ll see what a bargain this is. And since it is machine washable, it perfectly sanitary.

    1. Hi Mary Alice – thanks for sharing the tip on the down pillows. I never thought about that. You are right – down is expensive – I will have to update my pillow buying strategy from now on.

  25. What a great post- I, too, can see the potential in most things. I see that you do not purchase pillows at thrift stores. I don’t either and I don’t know why but I have an aversion to them fro some reason. I edit constantly, too. That’s what “saves” me! xo Diana

  26. Diane, I’m jealous that your locations have such a good selection and low prices! From the photos the aisles look clean and organized, too! Every now and then I come across a gem at a great price, but lately the thrift stores here have really upped their prices and a lot of the items are heavily damaged with broken pieces that are beyond my skills of filling and refinishing. Great post, I love seeing how you update your thrift store finds. :)

  27. Have you ever given something to the thrift store and then repurchased it at a later time :). I enjoy your blog – I ran across it a few months ago and forgot to bookmark it and couldn’t remember what it was called. I found you again today through the painter’s tape series. Yeah!

    1. HI Nicole – I have not repurchased any of the stuff I donated, but I do smile when I see them turn up on the shelves :) Thanks for finding me again. The painters series has brought me a lot of new readers. It was a great promotion to be a part of. XO

  28. Hi- I just came across your post via Mrs. Heines Class… I really enjoyed your thoughts on thrifting. I do like to thrift though I don’t always have the vision for what something can become…but I still love to go! My daughter actually manages a thrift store that supports a Christian based recovery program. I think I’ll talk to her about editing…not her strength :) I’m guessing your basket might be for guest towels in the bathroom??

  29. This is a GREAT post as it really shows that simple effort can pay off big time! As for the big basket – I would guess a blanket holder (aka cat bed!) or for newspapers and magazines? Looking forward to learning the outcome!

  30. Did you buy the dresser/buffet under tip #1? That is exactly like what I am looking for to use a buffet/sideboard. If you didn’t buy it, did you take the picture recently? I live in Maryland and could possibly get there this weekend if there is a chance it is still available.

    1. Hi Elizabeth – I loved the sideboard – great size and in good condition. It was $90. The inside was a bit dried out, but easily cleaned up. I took the photos on Wednesday. Here is the phone number to the store so you can find out if it is still there. 215-822-2708

  31. What a great post! Just have to add my recent find to inspire your readers. A month ago I spied a mid century wall sculpture in perfect condition that I snapped up for 60.00. It is a signed Curtis Jere selling online for over $5,000. I am sure I will never find such an item again!

  32. We have not had anything in my area till recently and I have my mind set to go to the two I saw while coming home from HD a bit back.

    I recommend to everyone to listen to you, because you are the best at seeing the potential in stuff that I sure would not have seen.

    I still have a long list of ‘stuff’ I want to copy that you have done. Like that dresser in your guest room and that blue one with the fabulous pulls you made over and so many more….

  33. I love Thrift stores & have gotten many good deals & projects to work on but lost them all during Hurricane Sandy. Time to start again & also hitting Estate & garage sales. Love your website!!!

  34. Thanks for the tips….I am notorious for passing by something that is in my eyes ugly. next time, I will take a second look before a cast judgement!

  35. Hey there!
    You are going to Haven, right? I’ll see you in a couple weeks?
    Here is my question. . . with all that thrift shopping – how do you keep from ending up with too much stuff?? I’m not trying to be cute – I’m dead serious. I’ve been collecting for quite a few years now. . . and I’ve got about as much “stuff” as I can handle. . . I don’t really have room for any new pieces. . .
    _breida

    1. Hi Breida – Yes I am going to Haven. Looking forward to it and seeing you again :)

      Even though I go to the thrift store a lot, I do not have a lot of “stuff” around my house. I can’t live with clutter and many of my surfaces, tables, etc are left empty. I used to collect things and had them all around the house until one day it dawned on me – that Life is too short to be the caretaker of the wrong details. From that moment on I streamlined my decor. I only buy what I need or absolutely love. I have two collections – matchbooks and white dishes. The rest went to auction when I purged everything. Some of it – china and tea things – my youngest wanted. It is boxed up with her stuff in my basement for when she moves into a new place in January.

      I should add one more tip in the post that states – for every thing I bring into the house – one thing or more has to go out. Since I have edited like this, I have found the things that I keep – I really, really love. Editing my stuff has helped me pinpoint my style, too. 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 drop the contents off. It is fun sometimes to see stuff that was once mine on the shelves.

      See ya in less than 2 weeks :)

  36. Monday and Tuesday rock for thrifting in our community because people take their leftovers to our local charity thrift stores after weekend yard sales and cleaning frenzies. I love the future home owners earning equity at the Restore. I know you pass an encouraging word their way. Also have you checked out your local library book sale for awesome books and exciting prints? Love your inspirational ideas and thoughts!

  37. 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.

  38. 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. ;-)

  39. 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.