My Favourite Thing Ever: All You’ll Ever Need to Know About Thrifting (Part 1)

Update (27/02/14): Part 2 is now posted!

Being back in Richmond Hill for Reading Week makes me excited for many things; eating home-cooked meals, catching up with friends , having a whole house to myself, and sleeping in are just a few on that list. For me, Reading Week is a time to relax AND to catch up on all the work I’ve been meaning to do for the past 3 weeks.

Everyone de-stresses and relaxes in different ways. Some people bake cookies. Some take bubble baths. Others do yoga.

I hit up my local Goodwill and go thrifting.

Ever since my friend introduced me to the wonders of thrifting, I’ve been hooked. To me, there’s nothing like wandering the aisles of a thrift store, feeling for raw demin, wool and cashmere and fuzzy angora. I love the thrill of the unexpected, the adrenaline rush of a huge score and the savings in my pocket.

However, shopping at thrift stores isn’t like going into a mall and picking something out. It takes time and work. Like, a lot of work—that’s what I like about it. I like the endless hours of digging. I especially like leaving with something unique that was super cheap and having my friends freak out about it, going, “OMIGOSH I LOVE your cardigan, WHERE did you get it from?” and casually replying with, “Thrifted it,” and having them frown and go, “Oh.”

Yes, that’s right. You paid $50 for your vintage-look chunky cardigan? Too bad sucka… the one I’m wearing is actually from the ’80s and was only $5.

Here’s the thing: the whole purpose of this post isn’t for me to feel smugly superior to you. No, I’m here to help! Never been thrifting before? Don’t know where to start? DO NOT WORRY. I’m here to be your guide to all-things-used.

But! Before we get done to the nitty-gritty, there are 2 things I want to cover:

1. What is a thrift store?

 It may seem obvious, but not all thrift stores are created equal in quality, quantity and price. Here’s what a thrift store is NOT:

A place that sells upscale secondhand clothing.

Places like Plato’s Closet, and other secondhand consignment places in downtown Toronto are 100% NOT thrift stores. They sell name-brand, imperceptibly used clothing that’s cheaper than a regular retail store, but definitely not at thrift store prices.

A vintage store. 

While a vintage store is definitely cool and all (don’t get me started on all the wacky things you can find), they are NOT thrift stores! Many of their products are expensive and pre-thrifting; meaning someone with a great eye went thrifting for everything in the vintage store, carefully cleaned the item, patched up rips and imperfections and is now reselling it for more than quadruple of what they paid for it. Vintage stores are full of amazing, high-priced items because they know what you want and are banking on the fact that you don’t have the time and energy to go out into the thrifting world and find all that amazing stuff yourself. However, that’s where they’re wrong.

So, what’s a Real Thrift Store?

First thing’s first, a real thrift store is really cheap. I’m talking $5-or-less t-shirts cheap.

A real thrift store sells clothing that comes directly from bags of donations that they’ve picked up or people have dropped off. This means that clothes, and other items (furniture, toys, shoes, etc…) aren’t checked for quality—they’re sold as is with possible rips, missing buttons, and/or stains.

A real thrift store is often large and only loosely organized. It sells clothing with tags stapled onto it. Sometimes the tags will be colour-coded because the store will have days where, for example, all the blue tags are 50% off.

Real thrift stores will have little paper calendars and signs up on the walls and by the register telling you when the big half-off sales are. Grab or take a picture of one of these for future reference.

Often, real thrift stores are dirty, with items thrown everywhere. DON’T BE SCARED. In fact, be thankful for the mess as it scares away the shoppers who aren’t as adventurous as you are. Remember, only the truly brave are always rewarded with the most outrageous finds.

2. It doesn’t matter where you are. Thrift stores are everywhere.

Now, like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I live in Richmond Hill. While there isn’t a real thrift store in my town, I’m always able to go north to Aurora or Newmarket for truly blessed shops. Moving to London for school made me question whether I would be able to find places of such blessedness. However, I realized that amazing thrifting is actually to be found in less populated areas because the stores haven’t been picked clean by hordes of hipster kids. You know why? ‘Cause thrifting ain’t cool there yet.

Sure, it’s cool and fun to live in a big city like Toronto and go thrifting; it’s definitely a fun way to spend the afternoon. But in places like Sarnia and Woodstock? You’re competing with almost no one for amazing stuff. Grandmas clean out their attics all over the country, not just in big urban areas.

The smaller the town, the more likely you’ll find the best items.

While there’s so much more for me to say about thrifting, I’m really approaching that 1 thousand word limit where people start to lose interest and doze off. Hopefully this post has made you interested in thrifting, and cleared up any misconceptions of what a real thrift store is.

Keep your eyes peeled next week for Part 2 where tips and tricks for success will be shared!

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