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7 Lessons I Learned at the Thrift Store: Best Thrift Haul Tips

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So I’ve dubbed him “Thrift Store Pete.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve got a thrift store friend named Pete that I met last year at the thrift store (read about him in my post called “This Should Have Been Called Thrift Wars”).

He’s this retired mid-century modern guru that does amazing thrift store transformations.

And every morning, you can find him scouring at least 2-3 thrift stores, looking for the best vintage MCM treasures that people have thrown away.

It’s a guarantee that if I hit my favorite thrift store in the morning after dropping off the kids that I’ll run into Pete.

That’s exactly what happened this time around.


Thrift store tips - Thrift Diving


…Three and a Half Hours Later?!

Here’s the thing: when I run into Pete, I know that it will be a long morning.

History has proven that fact.

I can’t have a quick 5-minute conversation with Pete.


It turns into a marathon conversation where we’re bantering about projects…

…whipping out our phones to show each other our latest finds and makeovers…

…and then at some point, I turn into the student and him, the teacher, as he schools me on what to look for at the thrift store.

During one of our run-ins, what started off as a quick drop-off of donated items and a run-through to just see what they have, turned into a 3.5-hour thrift diving excursion with Pete!

Time passes so quickly when we’re talking about our passion for good finds.

And the lessons I learn become “blog post” worthy.

Not just for you guys, but for me to review what I learned from him so that I can become a better thrift diver!

So I wanted to pass along some lessons I learned from Thrift Store Pete the other day! I hope you find them just as valuable as I did!

(And be sure to check out this post about all the awesome things I have found at Value Village and Unique Thrift!


Lesson #1 – Hire Help When Stripping Furniture

During our talk, Pete told me that he will use “dip and strip” furniture stripping services for some of his vintage finds if the piece is large or really intricate. He especially likes to have metal dipped, resulting in a really cool industrial silver look.

I don’t know why I hadn’t ever thought about that!

Yes, there are some pieces that you can strip right at home, but if you’ve got a piece that’s large or with a lot of detail, yes, dipping and stripping is an option.

Pete inspired me to reach out to my local “dip and strip” furniture stripping services and interview them. You won’t believe what I found out. Great interview and very helpful in knowing what to expect when using professional paint strippers.

Read: Dip and Strip 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Stripping Wood and Metal


Dip and Strip - Metal cabinets with hairpin legs. - Thrift Diving


Lesson #2 – Only Buy If You Know Exactly What You’re Going to Do With It

I think we all know this, but it’s hard to abide by this rule when things catch your eye at the thrift store!

Pete and I saw these cool round wooden picture frames that were already mounted with clips and hardware for hanging.

They were super cool–but not for $4.99 each.

And Pete reminded me: unless I know exactly what I’m going to do with them and have a place for them, I shouldn’t be buying them.

At the very least, every 2-4 years I could pull them out and recreate the Olympics on my wall. HA!

But that wasn’t enough for me to spend that kind of loot.

So back onto the shelf they went!


Thrift Tips - Round picture frames from the thrift store - Thrift Diving


Lesson #3 – Sometimes You Can Buy Things Just For the Pieces

This little oak sewing table caught our eye.

It was only $9.99!

We both agreed that, although we could do something with a piece like this, perhaps turn it into a little bar or something, we’d be more interested in it for its parts.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Sewing cabinet - Thrift Diving


I would remove the solid oak top, which has amazing grain, and Pete said he’d remove the pulls, which were funky.

Once at the thrift store, I bought an ugly, beaten down French Provincial desk for $10.00 and ONLY took the hardware! I left the desk sitting in the thrift store. 🙂

So yes, folks…Sometimes when you find pieces of furniture at the thrift store, you might only want to buy it for parts! Don’t feel you need to take the whole thing!


Lesson #4 – Don’t Skip the Glassware

I’ll admit this is an aisle I usually skip.

But with Pete, we walked every single aisle, taking in each find, with him pointing out to me the things I would normally walk right past.

Like this set of glasses. They were great, but he didn’t care for the color.

But I kind of liked the rose color!

I could see them looking great on a funky bar.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Pink glassware - Thrift Diving


Pete also pointed out the gorgeous glass liquor bottles.

None of them had caps, but they were narrow enough you could use a wine cork.

But wow….I loved how they looked grouped together like this.

These could be a great bar display!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Glass liquor bottles. - Thrift Diving


I’ve got a thing for green glass.

If I had a bar, these would make great shot glasses for a party!

Pete sells a lot of barware and says that buyers usually want sets of 8. Perhaps 6, but 8 are better.

Good to know when buying glassware!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Green glassware. - Thrift Diving


Lesson #5 – Inspiration Comes From Everywhere

As we were walking the furniture section, I saw this lonesome 1950’s folding card table chair.

I know….for only $6.99!

What most interested me, though, was the geometric design cut into the back seat of the wood!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Geometric mid-century modern chair. - Thrift Diving


I thought of the RYOBI scroll saw that I had recently unpacked. The scroll saw would be amazing to use to recreate this look on another piece of wood for another project in the future! You could also use a jigsaw.

Related: How to Use a Jigsaw: The Easiest Tutorial For a Newbie!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Geometric mid-century modern chair from the thrift store. - Thrift Diving


Inspiration can come from everywhere.

It doesn’t mean you have to buy every inspiring thing.

Sometimes you just need to take a picture of it and save it for later. 😉


Lesson #6 – Look For the Valuable Stuff

One thing I noticed that Pete did was he 1) turned everything over, looking for the brand name, and 2) he searched for things on the phone to find their value.

We walked by this cooler and it caught his eye.

Me??–at first it only looked like an ugly brown cooler that I would never in a million years think of buying.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Look for the valuable things at the thrift store. - Thrift Diving


But Pete pointed out something very true: if a company is going to spend time putting heavy metal knobs and quality plastic into its’ cooler parts, such was the case with this vintage cooler, then you know it’s good quality.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Vintage cooler - Thrift Diving


With a quick search on his phone, we found that these vintage coolers usually sell for a lot more than the $5.99 it cost at the thrift store.

It was in pristine condition, heavy, and good quality for a bar! All cleaned up and polished, it would be a great piece. I could imagine this being a great piece for backyard patio get-togethers!

He’s got an eye for this stuff. I wouldn’t have looked twice until he pointed it out to me!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Use your phone to search for value. - Thrift Diving


He also turned over a lot of things, looking for authentic pieces that weren’t commercial. This vase caught his eye, but after closer inspection realized it was a commercial piece. Still really cute, though!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Black and white ceramic vase. - Thrift Diving


Pete also found a vintage hairbrush set!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Vintage hairbrush set. - Thrift Diving


We found a lot of cool plates, like this one.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Presidential plate. - Thrift Diving


And the details on this glass was amazing!

Apparently, plates are a “biggie” at thrift stores, even though I tend to skip this section, too.

These ones are scratched up, but still, the craftsmanship on these are pretty cool.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Etched glass plates. - Thrift Diving


To the average person walking by they were nearly a stack of plates.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Thrift store glass plates. - Thrift Diving


I found these stack of Dansk bowls and couldn’t walk away from them.

Our cupboards are full of mismatched bowls, so I bought 6 of these for when the kids and I eat ice cream! 🙂


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Dansk bowls. - Thrift Diving


Lesson #7 – Thrift Diving is a Walk Down Memory Lane

I realized something.

Thrift diving isn’t just about finding stuff at great prices.

It’s also about that feeling of nostalgia when you see something that you hadn’t seen in years.

Like this set of Sweet Valley Twins books that I found on the shelf!


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Sweet Valley High Twin books from the thrift store. - Thrift Diving


I credit my entire love of writing to Elizabeth Wakefield and her black and white composition books!

She inspired me to start journaling, and over the years, the black and white composition book I mimicked was replaced by a blog.

But finding these books, along with other items from 30-40 years ago, reminds you of where you came from, doesn’t it??

Pete says that plates like these blue and white ones below do sell.

I pointed out to him that the only reason these ugly plates sell is due to nostalgia. They remind people of dinners in their youth with their family.

(I have a theory that people will forever remember their favorite dishes from their childhood! Mine were these two plastic bowls–one was bright orange and the other, bright green!).

Do you remember your dishes from your youth, too?

It’s the memories that are jogged when browsing the thrift store.

It really is an experience unlike no other.


How to Shop Thrift Stores - Blue and white vintage plates. - Thrift Diving

A Couple Other Cool Things

While walking around, we saw a couple other cool things, like these bar stools. Loved the shape! They were in pretty good condition, too, for $14.99 each.

How to Shop Thrift Stores - Leather stools - Thrift Diving


It was just what I needed: hours to explore my beloved thrift store with fresh eyes!

I hadn’t been to the thrift store in a while because I’d been consumed with projects. But when I’m away for too long, I start itching for a good thrift dive. 😉

A big thanks to Pete for hanging with me this week and opening my eyes to some of his favorite things and thrift lessons!

Have you learned some lessons while browsing your favorite thrift stores? 

Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!

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7 Lesson Learned at the Thrift Store - Tips to make your next thrifting trip valuable! - Thrift Diving



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  1. Anita Brown says:

    The “cooler” is an ice bucket for a bar.

  2. Kip Cowher says:

    O my Gosh ! Loved this article ! I love a good thrift store run !

  3. I’ve been shopping thrift stores for years and i want to offer some info.
    You wouldnt believe the amount of people that haven’t thought of this.
    Ihave run into people quite alot that was looking at something & wanted it but it was the wrong color. One woman wanted a wicker hamper that was painted pink & she told me that she would get it if it was white. So i told her that she could buy a few cans of white spray paint & make it white again. & i added that if she couldnt do it that she likely knew someone that could do it. She was ecstatic, thanked me & bought the hamper. I have done that about 10 times now. So that’s my tip.
    Thank you

  4. I just love that you covered so many vital suggestions! I am retired & I have so much stuff in my garage planning to do something with & would like to get some really crafty ideas for things I’ve collected over the years from different places. I am also very concerned about just throwing things in a landfill so I always tried to repurpose as much as possible. Do you have any ideas about what to repurpose, sell etc.
    How does one find the best Avenue for selling things?

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