Stop Overpaying for home Decor [Shopping at a Thrift Store]

How to shop at a thrift store for home decor // Various sized old frames, shelves of trinkets

Thrift Store Decor Ideas: How to Shop at a Thrift Store

If you’re curious about how to shop at a thrift store, I bet it’s because you know they’re the best for finding affordable home decor. Maybe you’re moving into a new place or just want to spruce up your home without spending a fortune. Or perhaps you’re hoping to stumble upon some unique treasures. Or maybe you’re looking for more eco-friendly ways to decorate your home and want to see how thrift stores can help. 

The Thrill of the Hunt

If you haven’t tried secondhand shopping, you’re seriously missing out! There’s this exciting feeling when you’re on the hunt in thrift stores that keep you coming back for more. While some folks get their kicks from extreme stuff like skydiving or mountain climbing, my thing is thrift store shopping. 

Budget-Friendly

Another great thing about thrifting is that it’s cheaper than regular home decor retail stores. Regardless if it is out of necessity that you need these affordable options, or if you just love a good deal, thrift store shopping for home decor just makes sense. 

Where to Begin

So, you’re ready to dive into thrifting, but where to begin? What should you look for? How can you tell if something’s worth it? No worries – I’ve mastered the art of thrifting and have a keen eye for uncovering the best finds. 

I’m here to answer all your questions and give you some of my best tips on making the most of your thrift store shopping. With these tips, you’ll up your thrift store shopping game and give your home a fresh vibe on a budget.



Just a friendly reminder: This tutorial and any opinions or recommendations are genuinely mine, but this is not a substitute for consulting a professional. I also use affiliate links to earn a commission.


What is a Thrift Store?

Wooden chairs and furniture from a thrift store // How to tell if something is real wood // finding quality items at a thrift store // www.tantrumsandtools.com

A thrift store? Think of it like a cool second-hand shop where you can snag all sorts of pre-loved goodies. It’s like a treasure trove of unique stuff others have passed on, just waiting for you to give it a new home. You never know what gems you’ll find in there!

So, what exactly am I talking about when I say thrift store decor? In my eyes, it’s all-encompassing of second-hand items. So, shopping at places like Facebook Marketplace, garage/barn/yard sales, antique shops, ReScource, ReStore, Good Will, Savers, Flea markets, consignment shops, Salvation Army, local salvage shops, side of the road free piles, and so on. They all are thrift stores or a thrifting shopping trip, in my opinion.

These stores sell anything from junk to luxury items, vintage items, and new merchandise, in great condition and not so great condition. Thrift shops have it all. 

About Different Thrift Stores

Each thrift store does have its own unique vibe. Like my local thrift store, ReStore always has the best glass jars and furniture, Goodwill has the best books, and ReSource has great home improvement supplies like tile and countertops. The more you thrift, the more you figure out these little differences, which will help guide your shopping and also let you determine a favorite thrift store.

What to Buy at a Thrift Store: Tips on what to look for in each item

You can literally find anything imaginable at a thrift store. But that doesn’t mean you should buy everything you come across! Even if an item is on my list that I’m hunting for, I have specific standards and particular details I look for before deciding to buy. 

When thrift store shopping for home furniture and decor, you do have to keep an open mind. Look for pieces that resonate with your style and the overall vibe you want to achieve in your home. 

What to prioritize

Prioritize quality and functionality and seek designs that easily blend with your decor. Remember, don’t only take items at face value. You’re looking for its potential because you can refinish it for a fraction of the new price.

Beggers can’t be choosers, except in this case, because careful discretion is the difference between creating a cozy and curated home versus an outdated junk pile. 

Being someone who loves a good deal, it’s hard to say no to something because “it’s such a good deal.” Having the self-control to say no to something that costs so little is sometimes challenging. But you’ll need to master this skill to prevent cluttering your home. I can sympathize with hoarders in this sense!

Want vs Need 

Before saying yes to an item, you have to think about whether you need (not want) it and whether it meets your quality standards. Here, I’ll spill the beans on exactly what catches my eye – the factors that make me say yes or think twice and put it back down.

Here is a list of items I’ve snagged second hand and exactly what made this a good buy. These include my best practices and best thrift shopping tips:

How to Shop for Wooden Items at a Thrift Store

When shopping for second-hand s wood piece of furniture such as end or coffee tables, hutches, dressers, etc., I first look at their height and size. The height of an end table should ideally match or be slightly lower than the height of your couch or chair. A coffee table should be at a comfortable level for placing drinks, snacks, books, and other items. The height of a hutch, buffet, or dresser depends more on your needs and available space.

Size

In terms of overall size, make sure the item complements the available space. Opting for a smaller item prevents overcrowding if you don’t have a large room. Most people overestimate their room size and underestimate the item’s size. Bigger is not better in this case!

Functionality

Functionality is also crucial. Think about how you intend to use this. An end table, for example, will it primarily hold a lamp, or do you need space for drinks and snacks, or are you looking for extra storage for things like a remote control and magazines? 

Design details

Lastly, detail matters. Look closely at the lines and design. Pay attention to the item’s silhouette – do the lines lean towards clean and geometric, hinting at a modern vibe, or are they more relaxed and organic, reflecting a rustic charm?

Think about what drew you to this piece, and then ask yourself if it will also match the look you’re going for in the room where you plan to use it. Just because you love an item doesn’t mean it will fit your needed space.

>> Learn the best way to achieve stunning furniture transformations without needing sandpaper, power tools, or that messy stripper. In this blog post, I’m sharing how to restore wood furniture without sanding or stripping.

Checking Quality and Condition

Once you’ve determined the style and functionality of the item will work for your space, your next job is to look at its quality and condition. How sturdy is this item? They should be free from major wobbles. Remember you are using this item; it’s not just for show. I’m guilty of this, but as much as I wouldn’t mind, I have to remember my house is not a museum.

Physical Condition

The next thing I check for is its physical condition. Check that all the drawers open and close, knowing it’s an easy fix if they stick. And not such an easy fix if they don’t open. I take my time and look for signs of major damage, such as deep cracks, extensive water stains, or severe warping. Any significant chipping, splitting, or missing pieces are a sign you should pass on this item. You want pieces with manageable wear and tear; refinishing can fix this. You’re not looking to reconstruct the wheel here.

Material Used

Another important thing I look at is the material used. You’ll want to determine if this piece is real wood or made from less-quality materials like veneer or particle board. Real wood is what you’re hoping for because it has the best durability. Real wood is also much easier to work with when refinishing. And real wood just has that authenticity that faux wood can’t match.

How to Tell if Something is Real Wood

Veneer is a thin layer of wood applied to a base material and particle board is made from wood particles or wood chips. Both are less expensive to produce than solid wood, making them a popular choice for budget-friendly furniture. However, they’re generally less durable and more susceptible to damage and they don’t have the same aesthetic appeal as natural wood. 

To determine the difference, inspect the edges and corners for a visible seam between the veneer and the base. While veneer can still be of good quality, opting for real wood often ensures a more substantial and timeless investment.

To identify particle board, examine the edges and surfaces for a uniform, manufactured look without distinct wood grain. Particle board is more prone to chipping, water damage, and weakening over time compared to the sturdiness of real wood. 

Home Remodeling Supplies

Thrift stores are more than just clothing and other household items. There are some incredible home remodeling supply deals just waiting to be scooped up! I’ve found great deals and purchased everything from countertops, light fixtures, tile flooring, windows and doors, and tools, all from a thrift store. Using these leftovers or repurposing someone’s discarded items is a great way to save money on your home remodeling project.

Shopping at a Thrift Store for Decor

Thrift stores offer an array of decor options. From wall art, to various sized picture frames, mirrors, baskets, and so on, they literally have it all. Carefully collecting and curating your decor with thrift store pieces adds a personal touch to your home’s style at a very affordable price.

Vintage Mirrors

Vintage mirrors can add a touch of elegance and character to any space. Look for ornate frames to repaint or leave as-is for a shabby-chic look. My favorite vintage mirrors have weathered wood, curved tops, and slightly patinaed glass.

You most certainly cannot expect a vintage mirror to have pristine glass. But this character adds dimension and warmth to any space. And the story behind how you found the mirror, or where it originally came from, becomes a fun conversation starter.

​Light Fixtures

Unique lamps and lighting fixtures can significantly impact your home’s ambiance. Look for lights with interesting shapes or intricate details that can be focal points. Thrift stores are also the perfect place to find an outdated lamp you can DIY into a beautifully textured diy concrete lamp base, like Jenna Sue does so beautifully in this tutorial.

Plush Items

Other decor items to keep your eye out for are curtains, linens, blankets, accent pillows, and area rugs. Just check for stains, smells, and overall condition before you bring them home. And definitely wash all of these before you use them (maybe not the curtains; use your judgment.) 

Along these same lines are upholstered furniture like a couch or accent chair. I’ve purchased these items second-hand, but either in mint condition or intending to re-upholster them. With these types of things, I give you full permission to be incredibly picky about the condition.

Books

When I’m using books for home decor, I look for ones that fit the color scheme of that space. Yes, I also have a huge collection of books that I actually read that I’ve snooped up at a thrift store, but in this case, I’m talking about books for decor.

Look for older books with a more textured cover, uniform color, and not-so-pristine white pages. Also, look for different sizes that you can use to layer other decor items on top of.

Kitchen Items

I’m talking about decorative kitchen items like wooden spoons, rolling pins, cutting boards, trays, etc. You’ll want to mix various sizes, shapes (for the boards and trays), and wood tones for a curated but not staged look.

I’ll frequently find these other kitchen items at thrift stores: glass jars, vases, and planters. These are abundant in the second-hand market, so don’t overpay, and don’t jump the gun and grab the first ones you see. I look for oversized, blue glass, vintage containers with etched markings in the glass, and so on. 

Buying a Bed Frame at a Thrift Store

When shopping for a second-hand bed frame, there are several aspects to consider so you’re making a good purchase. First and foremost, does it have everything it needs to be functional? Specifically, the rails. 

I made the mistake of buying three gorgeous spindle beds without any rails. I didn’t think it was a big deal, only to find out this was quite the opposite. It was just more work and stopped me from being able to use these for quite some time. Had it come with the rails, I could have used these gorgeous beds much sooner and for a lot less money!

Check for any signs of wear, damage, or wobbling, as a sturdy and stable frame is essential for a good night’s sleep. Make sure the size is compatible with your mattress. Make sure the dimensions of the frame match the mattress size you have or plan to get. 

What You Need Before You Shop Secondhand

Before you start shopping for secondhand stuff, here’s a list of things I recommend having on hand:

  1. Measurements: Take precise measurements of the spaces where you plan to put these new items in your home. Knowing the dimensions of these spaces will help you make sure your secondhand finds fit perfectly. Having measurements for more than just furniture also includes knowing the exact dimensions of any picture frames or mirrors you are looking for.
  2. List of What You Need: Write down the particular item (or items) you are looking for. It could be furniture like a couch, table, or home improvement stuff like lights or flooring. Or even some smaller items like frames, spoons, and a trinket for your mantel. To get the most out of your trip, save a list in your Notes section on my phone and take a look at this list before I head into the store to refresh my memory.
  3. Picture of the Space: Snap a photo of the areas in your home you want to fill. Having a visual reference will assist you in envisioning how potential secondhand items might fit into your space.
  4. Inspiration Images: Create a visual organization system that works best for you. Either saving images on your camera roll, creating photo albums, or saving ideas to Pinterest. It helps to reference these when you stumble upon something to double-check that it is exactly as you had originally wanted it to be. 
  5. Car Space: Have an idea of what will fit into your car, and if you find something that won’t fit, then have an idea of how you will get it home. This may be one of my biggest issues on my thrifting trips. I could really use a truck! But instead, my go-to is calling up my dad, ha. No shame!
  6. Pricing: You may recall this type of information off-hand, but if you’re anything like me, sometimes I get things mixed up. So, writing down a price range of the big-ticket items you’re looking for is the best way to know what is a great price.

With these things on hand, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your secondhand shopping experience and find the perfect items to make your house your unique home.

How to Decorate with Thrift Store Finds

One of the joys of thrift store shopping is discovering a unique piece. It’s also finding something that, with a little imagination, can be transformed into a show-stopping focal point in your home. DIY projects like repainting, reupholstering, or repurposing items are my favorite ways to give thrifted items new life. 

Refinishing pieces is how you’ll affordably decorate your home with unique pieces that are distinctly you. The best things about decorating with thrift store finds is that it’s no different than decorating with new items. Just do what feels right in your soul. 

>> Want more on how to pull off a Joanna Gaines Fixer Upper Style home? Learn how to seamlessly blend farmhouse charm, modern elements, and neutral colors like Jo right here in this Ultimate Guide to Design a Joanna Gaines Fixer Upper Style Home.

Finding Quality Thrift Store Decor Over Quantity

When thrifting, think of quality over quantity. Take a close look at the things you like, and if you spot a small issue, like a hole in a chair or a scratch on the surface of something, think about whether it’s worth fixing. At a thrift store, good condition means it’s not missing a leg, or a large chunk of wood off the corner, or has a large stain on it. 

If the fix is relatively simple and the item holds unique or sentimental value, it might be worth the effort; however, if the repair is costly or complicated, you’re best bet is to wait for a similar item in better condition. 

It’s far better to invest in a few extraordinary things to make your space pop rather than loading up on cheap stuff that won’t last. This approach will help you curate a collection of decor that truly elevates your living space while staying budget-conscious.

What Not to Buy at a Thrift Store

How to shop at a thrift store for home decor // www.tantrumsandtools.com

Certain items might be better left behind when thrift store shopping for your home. I’m willing to give almost any thrift store item a second life, but with discretion around its condition.

For example, a mattress. I’d probably pass on a used one, but often, these items are brand-spanking new and being sold “second-hand.”

Another possible pass is upholstered items. You’ll recall that I’ve bought and even suggested you purchase these things at a thrift store. But I want to stress proceed with caution!

Be diligent in your inspection because they can harbor allergens or pests or have bodily fluid stains that are not worth it. Avoid items with strong odors, which are harder to eliminate than expected.

And lastly is older nonstick cookware because these coatings may contain harmful chemicals that have since been banned. Stick to newer, safer options.

How Often to Shop at a Thrift Store for Home Furniture and Decor

The thrill of discovering unexpected gems and fun finds never gets old. Pop in whenever you have some free time or when you’re in the mood for treasure hunting. There is not right or wrong frequency. It’s more about when the mood is right!

For urgent decorating needs

Thrift store shopping is best approached with patience, but if you urgently need specific furniture or decor items to complete your home’s look, you’ll need to shop more frequently until you find what you’re looking for. This could involve weekly or bi-weekly visits to each thrift store and at least daily searches on Facebook Marketplace. 

For a specific project

If you have specific home improvement or decorating projects in mind, you can plan your thrift store visits accordingly. For instance, if you’re planning a room makeover, you’ll want to shop more frequently in the lead-up to the project in hopes that you’ll find everything you need without feeling pressured to purchase new or an item at a higher price. Give yourself enough time for the right item at the right price to appear.

For refinishing furniture

If you enjoy refinishing furniture, you’ll want to visit thrift stores more frequently to find pieces in need of some TLC. When time allows, making my weekly rounds to the thrift stores is my ideal frequency. Setting an alert on Marketplace for free furniture is also an excellent idea.

Can I find high-quality items at thrift stores?

Absolutely. Thrift stores often carry great quality pieces that sometimes are even well-crafted vintage items. These great items are built to last. Look past any dirt and instead look for good bones, quality materials, and timeless designs.

Is Bartering Acceptable at a Thrift Store?

When shopping second-hand, haggling is acceptable if you’re at a flea market, garage or yard sale, other type of sale out of someone’s home, or even on Marketplace. Just be respectful and considerate when negotiating prices. 

The types of stores where this is not acceptable are corporate stores like Goodwill, ReStore, etc. In these stores, you can expect to pay full price. Which, remember, is still at a fraction of the price of buying new. 

Are thrift stores good places to find unique decor items?

Absolutely! Thrift stores are the best place to find hidden gems. They are filled with unique and one-of-a-kind treasures. Whether it’s vintage wall art that adds character to your space or quirky figurines that spark conversations, you’re bound to stumble upon pieces that truly stand out. 

Moreover, thrift stores offer fantastic opportunities to uncover items that can become the canvas for your own DIY masterpiece. It’s not just about affordability; it’s about making your home truly personalized and special through these thrifty finds.


Incorporating thrift store finds into your home decor can save you money and infuse your space with character and charm. Follow these how to shop at a thrift store tips, stay true to your style, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a cozy, curated home uniquely yours. 


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furniture flipping // diy projects // home renovations // modern farmhouse decorating ideas

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