I told a few people that I’d do a post on cloth diaper thrift shopping and buying things secondhand, and I’m finally getting around to it. I feel sort of silly addressing how I thrift shop, it’s not like I have some secret strategies or something. It’s just how I’ve shopped since my sister and I discovered the Happy Dragon Thrift store in our neighborhood when we were in high school.

I buy things secondhand for many reasons:

  • Economics. We’re a family on a tight budget. We’d like to save for the future. We love pretty, well-designed things, but can’t responsibly afford them. Why should I buy my children cheaply-made, poorly-designed clothing new at a chain store when I can buy them well-designed and durable European and vintage clothing at the thrift store?
  • To minimize waste and to show my children a different path than that of our mass-produced and commercial culture.
  • Originality. I love having things nobody else has.
  • A love of old things, things with history, with soul.
  • The thrill of discovering something unexpected and wonderful.

Here’s what I can come up with in terms of thrifting tips:

    • Go often. I stop by my favorite thrift stores once a week. Sometimes I spend an hour poking through things, other times I just breeze through to see if anything jumps out at me. I almost always have my children with me which often dictates the length of our stay.*
    • Have an open mind.
    • Be patient. Don’t be disheartened if after a visit you come away empty-handed. Next time you may hit the jackpot.
    • If you are easily overwhelmed by the amount of stuff, concentrate on just one area each visit. Take the time to really look through the babies section, and then leave. Do not worry about what you might be missing. You can miss a lot by trying to take in the entire store.
    • Only buy things for which you have a use. That said, I think “sitting there looking pretty” or “being my favorite color” are pretty worthy uses. I do always ask myself, “Is this worth twice the price to me?” (I ask myself this question for everything I buy from a cappuccino to a new computer. I got it from the book Your Money or Your Life, I think. Yes, some pairs of boots are worth $250 to me. Some vintage aprons are not worth $10.)
    • Keep a thrift store wish-list. Sometimes you need a little reminder. Right now I have a list that reads: egg cups, rain boots (Mia), down vest (Milo), board games by Ravensburger, black and white striped t-shirt, hand blender, soft woolen clothing/blankets (for stuffeds), child-size mugs, child-size silverware, lamp for work area (I found a great orange 70’s swing-arm lamp yesterday).

*A note on thrifting with kids: A lot of the time my husband is with me and we each take a child while we look. When I’m on my own, I typically get a cart, put my son in the seat and my daughter in the basket (they’re both getting too big for this – they’re four and six). We stop by the books to pick up a stack and my daughter will read to my son while I shop. I realize this wouldn’t work for every family, but if you go often, you will probably come up with your own ritual. I very rarely buy toys, so they don’t think to ask for them. We do often buy books. If my kids aren’t happy being there, we leave. I try to make it work, but I much prefer going thrifting on my own or with an adult companion!

Here are some of the places that I frequent :

  • The Goodwill. There are several locations around town. By and large, they are clean and well-organized. The Southeast store on MLK is the best for books. The vintage children’s books from the 60’s and 70’s that I love are usually priced at 49 cents (hard to resist). This store is really popular and the good stuff does not sit around, but they are constantly putting “new” merchandise out.
  • Value Village. All around town. Slightly grungy, but well-organized. Suffers a bit from the R.O.P.I. (randomly over-priced item) syndrome. Good sales and mark-downs.
  • Better Bargains. Kind of scary, but I have found some seriously amazing stuff here. Has some R.O.P.I.s. Bring in a bag of stuff to donate and you get 30% off.
  • Red, White, & Blue. This is actually in Gladstone (or one of those cities out that way). If you’re making the drive you might as well do what I call “the triptych”: the Milwaukee Goodwill, Value Village, and RW&B. They are cash-only and do not take returns, but there’s some excellent stuff to be found.
  • Knittin’ Kitten: all fabric and craft thrift store with excellent prices. I forget to visit here, but when I do I always find a little something special (and I rarely spend more than a couple dollars).

Happy hunting!

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Categories: Bargain Bin