$econdhand First Class

A thrift store fanatic shares her shopping secrets

Archive for the category “General”

Driven to Re-Purpose or How Else Could I Use It?

Thrift stores aren’t just great places to buy clothes, furniture, towels, sheets, etc. They are also a treasure trove of craft materials. Here’s just a few ideas for using clothes and


Have a gaggle of young girls around the house? Fill a box with fancy clothes, hats, and gloves for dress-up.

I covered this footstool
with a leather skirt.

Recover footstools or dining room chair seats with the leather from old skirts or coats. You could also use the leather to make purses, vests, book covers, etc.

Felt wool skirts, dresses, or coats to make pot holders, quilt pieces, or penny rugs.

Worn wool sweaters or scarves can become gloves, hats, or pieced together, a warm and cozy throw.

Long skirts in beautiful fabric but outdated style get new life as a sleeveless blouse.

Whip up a cozy pillow from a man-sized shirt. Place the buttons so the cover is removable.

Tie a knot or two in a long wooly sock. Pull the knots tight. You’ve got a great and inexpensive dog tug-of-war toy. For more excitement, drop a squeaker in the toe before tying the knots.


Sheets are just big pieces of fabric waiting to be transformed by your next project. Or toss those sheets over the sofa to protect it from splatters when you paint your living room.

Use white cotton sheets as fabric for your tie-dye creations.

Got pets? Cover your bottom sofa cushions with a twin sheet that coordinates with your décor. Removing and washing is a snap.

Fashion great looking pillows out of pretty curtains or old tablecloths.

A friend sewed this cozy
pillow from a sweater.

Sew two cotton or linen napkins together for a quick and easy pillow cover.

Reupholster footstools or small chairs using heavy-duty curtain fabric.

Kitchen aprons hold your tools, brushes, or craft items as you work.

Need more inspiration?

Check out these websites:





Back to School!

Whether your baby is starting first grade or college, back to school is a great time for shopping thrift and saving cash.

School Clothes

School uniforms at a thrift store

For primary schoolers, some thrift stores have a section for school uniforms. If Tommy or Tanya don’t wear a uniform, check out the racks of pants, jeans, tops, shirts, blouses, and jackets at any thrift store. There’s something to thrill the heart of pre-teens and teens alike and to satisfy a parent’s love of saving money.

With prices so low, your child can have fun mixing and matching outfits with jewelry, hats, and other accessories.

Here are some tips when making clothing purchases:

  • Ask about dressing rooms. There may be just one or two rooms so plan ahead and be courteous.
  • Make sure zippers and buttons work.
  • Look out for stains.

Some thrift stores have a section with crayons, binders, folders, etc. Ask the cashier for help.

Dorm and Apartment Needs

I went shopping with a friend last weekend. Her son is getting his first college apartment. She loaded up on thrift store dishes, glasses, pots and pans, etc. to make sure her son had the basics and her wallet didn’t suffer. She found glasses for $.60-$.80 each and forks and knives for $.10 each.

When buying glassware and dishes, run your fingertip around the rim of the item to check for chips. Hold the item up to the light to look for cracks.

You can also score with inexpensive sheets, blankets, bath towels, dish towels, and nearly anything else an aspiring scholar needs to hit the books at college.

When buying linens, avoid items with pilling, frayed edges, holes, or stains.

Now, if only thrift stores sold the secret for getting them to study!

Happy thrifting!

Pass on your Passion

In one of my earlier blogs, I talked about falling in love with thrift store shopping as a young girl.
If you want to instill a love of thrifting in a child, start when the child is young. I used to tell my son that a thrift store was like a giant indoor yard sale. Since he enjoyed yard sales, he quickly understood. Here are some tips for sharing your passion for a bargain:

  • Give the child a couple of dollars and let him/her rummage through a toy bin or shelf of books alone, then prepared to be amazed and impressed by what he/she found.
  • Browse for items related to a child’s hobby or interests. Then, point out the price of the thrift store item to what the item would cost new. Get a couple of extra items with the difference or let your young hobbyist pocket the change.
  • Do as my mother did and let the child pick out an outfit. Even if your Lady Gaga wannabe picks out neon yellow tights with a spangled top, how much can it cost? And she’ll remember how “beautiful” she feels in the pieces she chose.
  • Redecorating the child’s room? Let her take the lead in choosing lamps, pictures, or bedspreads. It’s okay if it’s not your taste as long as she loves it and it’s a bargain!
  • This is a good activity for middle and high schoolers. Give your preteen or teen a budget for clothes. Let him/her compare the cost of new clothes such as pants, T-shirts, and jacket, compared to similar items from a thrift store. If possible, let the smart shopper keep the difference.

Show courtesy and good sense in a thrift store. Don’t let the child play with toys while you are in the thrift store and then leave without purchasing the toy. And never leave the child unattended in the toy section.

Happy thrifting!


A Puck pan I got for under five bucks!

Building a cookware set can be expensive and take time. If you don’t care if your cookware matches, buying pieces at thrift stores can take the sting out of filling your cupboard with good quality pots and pans.

There are a lot of conflicting opinions about the relative safety of using various forms of cookware. Before you shop for pots and pans, you may want to research and have an opinion about the dangers of cooking with:

  • Aluminum cookware
  • Non-stick coated cookware. There is a useful article in Psychology Today on whether – pans are dangerous.
  • Glass cookware

Snopes is a great source to do your research for some of these items. They provide objective and factual information about rumors, urban legends, etc.

Once you know what you want and don’t want, you are ready to shop. Here are just a few tips:

  • Check the condition. No matter what type of cookware you buy, make sure it isn’t dented, chipped, cracked, or burned on the bottom.
  • Grab it by the handle. Make sure the handles are in good shape, not burned or cracked. If the handles are loose, make sure there is a screw you can tighten. If the handle was welded or glued to the pan and has come loose, give it up.
  • Put a lid on it. If you find a pot you like and the lid is missing, find one before you leave the store. It can be very difficult to find a lid that matches without the pot or pan.
  • Get the good stuff. Since your thrift store pot costs so little, look for name brands such as Farberware or better. I like a pan with a heavy bottom since I am a forgetful and scatterbrained cook. A heavy bottom (on the pan) gives me a little more time to get to the stove before the house burns down!

Happy thrifting!

New Life for Your Thrift Couch or Chair

A wood frame chair

With seating, there are a couple of options. Chairs and couches with wood frames and loose cushions are great for do-it-yourselfers. You can refinish or paint the wood frame and replace/recover the cushions quite inexpensively. Presto! You have attractive and comfortable seating at a fraction of the cost of new furniture. I re-covered the cushions on the wood frame chair in the picture.

Chairs and sofas that are completely upholstered, covered with padding and fabric, tend to be more common. If the fabric is worn but the brand is good and piece is in good shape, re-upholstering could get you a great custom piece of furniture.

Slipcover or re-upholster?

There are a couple ways to go if you want to give your thrift store treasure new life. You can slipcover or re-upholster it.

A slipcover is just like it sounds, making a cover for your sofa or chair that you can remove and clean if needed. If you have kids or pets, slipcovers can be a lifesaver. Creating slipcovers takes considerable sewing skill. If you’re strictly a sew-on-a button type, you can buy slipcovers or work with a seamstress to make custom slipcovers. For more information about making or buying slipcovers, check out About.com, Interior Decorating.

You can also have the piece re-upholstered, which means completely removing and replacing the fabric and sometimes the padding, if it is a little deflated. Check your local listing for a professional upholsterer.

I had this sofa slip-covered.

For both slipcovers and new upholstery, the fabric and labor charge can be considerable. For example, a local seamstress created a slip cover for my large, 3-cushion sofa. Twenty-two yards of fabric cost $330.00. The labor, zippers, and thread were another $350.00. Not an inexpensive proposition. When you are finished though, you’ll have a custom piece with exactly the right fabric and look for your home that could give you 10 years of service. Pretty good for a do-over.

Decorative Fabrics website has useful tips for estimating fabric needs for slipcovers and upholstery.

It’s all in the fabric

Whether you slipcover or re-upholster, buy the best fabric you can afford. This isn’t the time to get that bargain fabric that you can see through. Look for dense, tightly woven fabric. For households with kids and pets, a fabric with high cotton content is great. Cotton wears much better than synthetics. I have a friend who cleaned a stain from her microfiber sofa. The stain came out okay. But now there’s a hole where there used to be a stain. Check out the eHow article on the best fabric for re-upholstering sofas for the lowdown on fabric.

Happy thrifting!

Assessing Upholstered Furniture

Here are a few tips for finding just the right comfy seating:

Stand back and check the structure.

  • Is the item even, no leaning or sagging? If the legs are loose but the item is in good shape otherwise, you may be able to have the legs repaired.
  • Are the arms the same height and firmly attached? Wobbly arms or uneven arms can be a sign of poor construction. An upholstery expert might be able to fix wobbly arms but there’s no guarantee.
  • Are the cushions present and accounted for?

Get close for the next phase:

  • Apply the stink and stain test, especially to the cushions. A little dirt can be cleaned but beware yellow or brown stains.
  • Is the upholstery in acceptable condition? Wear around the edges might be okay but rips and tears might be unforgivable unless you want to invest in a slip cover or reupholstering the piece. Reupholstering can run into bucks but if the item is good quality, it could be a worthwhile investment.
  • Remove the cushions and feel the springs. Push down. Do the springs spring back with enthusiasm or begrudgingly? Any points sticking up or twisted loose? Maybe the spring hasn’t yet poked its way through the fabric but you’ll eventually get the point when you sit. And the point is pain either way; pain in the bottom when you sit or pain in the wallet when you have the piece “re-sprung” and reupholstered.

If the item has passed all the tests above, take a seat.

  • Listen for groans or squeaks. This is the sofa telling you about its hard life. Listen carefully.
  • Cushions should support you, not gasp and collapse. If you sink to the floor, the foam may have lost its bounce. Replacing foam can be pricey but worth it if the brand is good.

If that sofa or chair is still under consideration, turn it over if possible or tip up the legs to look underneath. Check for signs that critters made their home in the piece such as tears or holes in the fabric. See gobs of nice soft fibers fashioned into a cozy nest? Stains and streaks? Beady eyes peering out? All of these could be signs of an infestation of bugs or pests. A friend once brought home a used sofa. Problem was, the sofa was already occupied by a family of mice. That night, there were some surprised humans and rodents!

In another post, I’ll talk about the cost of re-upholstering a chair or sofa.

Happy thrifting!

Handcrafted and Heavenly

Handmade covered bowl

Handmade covered bowl, signed on the bottom

‘Tis the season for craft shows, with booth after booth of the creative and clever. But handcrafted items such as walnut candle holders or carved Santas aren’t just at craft shows. People buy a handmade vase, use it for a while, then donate it. Or they receive a ceramic bowl as a gift, decide it’s not right for their decor, and into the giveaway pile it goes.

That’s where you come in. If you want to fill your home with beautiful handmade collectibles, bargains await at your larger local thrift stores. Crafted items tend to be regional so you may not find baskets but see pottery aplenty in your area.

Here are a few tips to help you cull the handcrafted from the mass produced:

  • Signatures and dates. These are usually on the bottom or the back of a piece. Artists mark baskets on the underside of the handle or the base.
  • Uneven edges or rims. You’ll see this on handmade glass and pottery pieces especially. This imperfection is part of the appeal—the handmade quality. If a vase was thrown on a pottery wheel, you may see faint rings on the base or body of the item. Warning: if a piece has a faint ridge running from top to bottom that looks as if two pieces were joined together, it is not handmade, even if it has a signature.
  • Weight. Handcrafted items, such as baskets, glass, or pottery, are usually heavier than molded or manufactured pieces. For example, basket makers and potters use better quality materials in their handmade items.
  • Finish. You can often feel the layers of glaze on a handmade piece of pottery or the dashes of colored glass applied to a vase.

When you find that special item, eye the piece for cracks and missing parts. Run your fingertip around the edges to feel for chips. Make sure that handmade goblet is worth pride of place in your home.

Happy thrifting!

Caveat Emptor


Be careful of upholstered items
that smell moldy or musty.

Be very careful what you bring into your home. A bargain that comes complete with toxins or worse can cost you more than just money. You can find things worse than pet pee stains on rugs or sofa.

Toxins and mold

Toxic chemicals used in the manufacture or the use of illegal drugs in a home can penetrate fabrics such as curtains, rugs, or upholstered furniture. The EPA has guidelines for handling and disposing of contaminated items. See EPA guidelines on handling meth labs. These sofas and chairs should not end up in a thrift store or resale shop but sadly they could.

Upholstered furniture, rugs, or draperies that have been saturated in a flood can develop mold.

Bed bugs

Bed bugs are on the rise again, and they aren’t just in bedtime rhymes. Check these sites for more information about identifying and dealing with bedbugs:

  • WebMD has a slide show about the effects of bedbugs.
  • Virginia Tech, Department of Entomology has information about identifying bedbugs

Apply the stink and stain test

If the item has brown, red, or yellow stains or streaks on it, move on.

If the item smells like a dog kennel, a litter box, smells moldy, or has a chemical odor such as ammonia, move on quickly and get out the hand sanitizer. No bargain is worth taking the chance of bringing toxic chemicals, germs, or unpleasant critters into your home.

If the item passes the stink and stain test, you’ll still want to clean it thoroughly. If you can’t put it in the washer, check the care label or search the Internet for tips. The websites eHow and channel4 4Homes have useful information about how to clean various items.

Plan for More Savings

You already know you can save scads by shopping at thrift stores. But, with a little planning, you can save even more.

  • Grab the discounts. Many stores offer 10-15% discounts for seniors, military, and other groups.
  • Shop sale days. Some stores have regular sale days, offering discounts such as 25% off all merchandise.
  • Track your item. Some stores, such as Goodwill®, tag merchandise with a color coding system that identifies “old” merchandise. For example, a jacket comes in the first week of the month. That week, all clothing gets tagged with a red label. Four weeks later, anything with a red label is discounted by 50%. You save even more!
  • Shop after holidays. Just like regular retailers, thrift store operators need to clear out seasonal items after holidays such as Halloween and Christmas. Shop early for the best selection.

If you don’t see signs about sale or discounts, ask the cashier.

While you’re chatting with the cashier, ask if there are specific days when a truck is unloaded and the merchandise is priced and stocked. On those days, you get first pick at fresh merchandise.

Thrift, Resale, or Consignment?

Thrift Store

St. Vincent de Paul is a thrift
store found in many cities

Confused? Here’s a brief description of each.

  • Thrift stores, or secondhand stores. A store in which donated merchandise is offered for sale. The profits benefit a charity. Goodwill®, Salvation Army Family Store, St Vincent de Paul are thrift stores with a presence in many cities.
  • Resale shops. Resale shop owners or managers get their inventory in a variety of ways. They may buy merchandise from people selling their unwanted items or they buy boxes or lots of merchandise from estates or auctions. Unfortunately, sometimes resale shops have deceptive names, such as Uncle Andy’s Charity Thrift Shop, making it appear they are associated with a nonprofit. If you’re not sure, ask what charity the store supports.
  • Consignment shops. Owners or managers contract with people to sell items in exchange for a percentage of the selling price. These shops usually sell clothing but may also offer housewares and furniture.

The Unique Thrift Store, another widespread chain of thrift stores, has a different business model. They buy goods that are donated to a charity. The donor gets the tax break, the nonprofit gets income from the item without bearing the cost of running a store, and the Unique gets merchandise for a very good price.

You can get bargains at any of the type of stores listed above. Generally, but not always, thrift stores have the best prices. However, it’s a nice bonus that you are supporting a charity when you buy merchandise at a thrift store.

Finding a thrift store

Check the phone book under Secondhand Stores or Thrift Stores. Or enter thrift stores and your city name in any search engine. You can generate an online list of stores with addresses and ratings using The YellowPages™.

Be cautious about these online ratings, though. It’s easy to “rig” a rating by having employees or friends enter rave reviews.

If you have friends who already shop at thrift stores, ask for their advice on where you should begin. Some stores are better organized than others and thus are better for novices.

Don’t be a drive-by critic. Big stores aren’t necessarily better than small ones. I found a Coach™ purse in a thrift store the size of a convenience mart.

Always scope out a new thrift store during the day to get familiar with the neighborhood and parking.

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