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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

08.11.2003

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more secrets of a SECONDHAND shopper: thrift shops
by Yee-Fan Sun | 
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I was a teenage mallrat. Or I would have been, had not the music lessons, Chinese school, and art classes put a limit on my spare time, and I'd had the vehicle necessary to readily access my then-favorite place on Earth. When my cousins my favorite partners in budding consumerism and I would beg our parents to drop us off at the mall on those rare free weekend afternoons, my uncle would look at us with scorn and declare: "Shopping's just a waste. If you buy something, you're wasting money; if you're window-shopping, you're wasting time. Why bother?" Though I eventually came to see the light of his wisdom when it came to whiling away hours of my time trying and buying such non-necessities as stirrup pants and purple mascara (actually, as hindsight can admit, run-away-in-horror-screaming anti-necessities) I have to admit that I've never quite kicked the shopping habit. I like stuff, and I have the jam-packed house to prove it.

We're living in a material world, baby, and I am a material girl but fortunately for my bank account, I'm a much smarter shopper than I used to be. My purchases are informed more by what I can afford (generally not a whole lot, alas) and what I know I really love, than by the latest fashions featured in Seventeen magazine. This is a good thing, and not just because the idea of this behind of mine squeezed into thong-baring low-riders is a scary, scary vision indeed. These days, I visit the mall maybe once a season. But on weekends, you'll frequently still find me shopping working the secondhand thang by scouring some of my favorite thrift stores in town.

There's a fine art to thrift store shopping. It takes a good eye, an ability to turn on the blinders to the vast amount of junk you'll inevitably encounter on your excursions, and a heap of patience. It's not the quickest or the easiest path towards an abode filled and furnished with all your little heart has ever desired. But for the quasi-adult on a tight budget, thrift stores are one of the best places you can go to discover great stuff at prices that are just short of a steal. They're also fantastic sources for creative decorating inspiration, as you never know what wacky and wonderful style of good you're going to unearth on any given thrift-shopping venture.

how to find the good thrift stores
The big nationwide thrift stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village and (my personal favorite here in town) Savers generally have lots and lots of stuff, but the problem with these places is that every thrift store treasure-hunter in town is probably rifling through the same stuff. Check out some of the lesser-known, locally-run thrift stores in town as well they'll frequently have a smaller selection, but when you do make that rare fabulous find, it'll be at a real bargain. One of my best thrift store scores was a big, white, 60s space-age-style fiberglass coffee table that I snatched up for a mere $20 at a tiny, out-of-the-way thrift shop run by a small local charity. The table had apparently been sitting there for weeks, just waiting for my boy and I to stumble across it. You can bet that at a better-trafficked store, some other 60s-design-loving hipster would have snatched that table long before we'd ever chanced upon it.

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