Beginner's Guide to Thrift Shopping for the Home

A friendly reminder to upcyclers: Learn what to look for while thrift shopping, where to go, and money-saving tips for garage sales and secondhand stores shopping

Updated on July 04, 2017 11:07 am


Rare finds like vintage armoires and antique dressers are among the best pieces of furniture to repurpose, collect, or display in your home. But even ordinary used furniture and housewares can be transformed into unique and functional pieces! Collecting and repurposing furniture and household items is all the rage right now. Images of refurbished and made-over salvaged pieces can be seen splattered all over Pinterest and Facebook. This trend is known as “upcycling.”

Since part of an upcycler’s job is turning trash into treasure, it’s important to learn the ins and outs of thrift shopping. If you are new to this, knowing where to begin can be tough. This guide helps you learn what to look for while thrift shopping, where to go, thrift shopping etiquette, and money-saving tips for garage sales and secondhand stores shipping. It also includes suggestions on what types of housewares are easiest to upcycle, and types of furniture that are best for beginners to refurbish or make over.

Do your research

Start by conducting some online research. You can check Carousell, Craigslist, forums, and join social media groups. If lucky, you can even snag your furniture at your HDB block and get it for free!

What to bring

Preparation is key when thrift shopping. Keep a small bag in your car for planned and unplanned shopping trips. Here are a few things you should keep inside this thrift shopping emergency kit.

It's also handy to have a list of measurements when you are furniture shopping. If you are looking for the perfect chair for your living room, for example, make sure you know the dimensions you need. This way, you’ll be certain your new piece will fit perfectly.

Before heading out to find the perfect coffee table to paint or armchair to reupholster, be sure to measure your room. Measure its length and width, as well as any relevant wall space. Consider doors, windows, and existing furniture. It helps to make a rough sketch of your room and placement of your furniture. Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be to exact scale, but this way you’ll have a better idea of what fits before making an ill-fitting purchase you may regret.

Money-saving tips

Just because you are "thrift" shopping, doesn’t mean you are always getting the best deal. Use your smartphone to compare prices to equivalent and newer items that are similar. Second, be aware of sales. Third, if you see a chip or other blemish you can easily repair, don’t be afraid to respectfully ask a thrift store clerk for a discount. Nine out of ten times they will give it to you! Finally, be nice. Try not to play too much hardball when negotiating at yard sales, especially if it’s early in the day. It won’t be well received. Simply ask, “Can you tell me your best price for this?”

What to look for

Garage sales and thrift stores are great places to get inspiration and find your next DIY project. With a little preparation, knowledge, and fortitude, you can find hidden gems and turn someone else’s trash into treasure. But for beginner upcyclers, perusing cluttered shelves and tables can be overwhelming.

Sturdy glass vases, containers, baskets, and wooden bowls can be easily painted, frosted, wrapped, decoupaged, or embellished. They can be used not only for flowers or fruit, but for storage, organisation, and gift wrapping as well. Mirrors and frames can easily be transformed and repurposed as well.

Small furniture pieces like chairs, side tables, accent tables, stools, and ottomans are great pieces for newbies to make over. Examine the piece before you buy it. Make sure it can be easily taken apart and put back together. If it looks too difficult, pass on it until you are more experienced. For upholstered pieces, if it smells bad, just say no and move on. Some smells are impossible to get rid of. Also, do not pay attention to the colour or fabric. It can always be changed. Rather, look for the shape, lines, and curves that interest you. Small scratches and blemishes can be easily repaired as well.

Your trash to treasure adventure can now officially begin. You know where to look, what to bring, and what to look for. Ready, set, thrift!

Article originally published in Edited and republished with permission.

What are your favourite thrift store finds? Share your photos and stories with us at


Request a free quote from us!


Comments —