Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A few words about thrifting

Cream of the thrifted crop from this Monday's exploits

I've been really busy lately.  Summer vacation is in full swing, and our family days have been filled with exploration, play dates, a bit of cleaning up and cleaning out around the house, and lots of thrift store shopping.  I've been posting a lot of my finds on Instagram, both on my personal account and on my Instasale account at Brass Pear Vintage (named for the old, pear-shaped, brass bell on my kitchen windowsill, which I ring to call the kids inside for dinner every night).  Thusly, I've had a lot of questions about how I do so well when I go thrifting.

I'm not going to lie: I'm really, really lucky.  I've had fantastic luck all around for about the last six or seven years: winning concert and special event tickets, finding money on the ground, meeting wonderful people, having a child who practically potty-trained herself, and scoring spectacular items at Goodwill.  I fully believe that people can make their own "luck" by having a great attitude toward life and recognizing/embracing opportunities, but I also can't pretend that the universe hasn't been exceedingly kind to me for no apparent reason.  Whether it's being the first caller through to a radio station or having my name drawn at random, I feel like the odds have been disproportionately in my favor in a lot of settings.  I wish I could grasp how that worked.  The point, I suppose, is that there is a lot of simple, stupid, good fortune involved on my part, and I'm not sure how to tell someone how to recreate it.  My five-year-old seems to have inherited this Midas touch from me.  Last week, she found a mint condition book of Barbie paper dolls from 1991 for $.99.  (See below for details.)  A few weeks before that, she found a pair of never-worn Gianni Bini cork t-strap sandals in my size for me for $3.99.  The force is strong with that one.

An excerpt from Honor's paper doll book.  I am SURE I had this exact set in elementary school.
I can recommend, however, that going thrifting frequently will increase the odds of finding a treasure or three.  I believe that how often you go is much more important than where you go.  If someone only goes once a year, they are probably not going to come away with a windfall.  I mean, maybe it could happen, right?  Probably not, though.  Go often, and the odds of finding a treasure will increase.  I've been going a few times per week, and I have Pyrex pieces coming out of my ears.  (Please go to my Brass Pear Vintage shop and buy some of it.  I have even more in the queue than what I have listed! /shameless plug)

I also recommend visiting multiple locations of the same store.  Recently, I've found different components to the same set at different thrift stores in the same chain.  My guess is that the items were all dropped off at a satellite location (not the store itself), and they were sorted by different employees into stock for different stores.  Some of the things I've seen lately are just too weird to explain any other way.  Yesterday, I found two identical milk glass dishes in the shape of a bunch of grapes at two different ARC Stores in town.  Same exact items, different ends of town.  Maybe there's another reason that hasn't occurred to me for this, but I'm sure they came from the same household and were split up at a central sorting facility or something.  While thrifting with a friend a few weekends back, I managed to assemble 3/4 of a set of Pyrex bowls this way.  I'm still not entirely unconvinced that I could have found the other 1/4 if I'd hit another location.

That said, it does well to diversify.  Don't just hit the big stores or the small stores; try to mix it up a bit.  While I gravitate toward bigger stores because they offer a broader selection and often have book nooks where my kids can hang out while I shop, some of the best prices I've gotten on things in the last six months have been from a hole-in-the-wall store attached to a senior center near our house.  The store is the size of our living room and the merchandise doesn't turn over very often, but I've gotten everything I've ever bought from them for a song.  They have the best prices in town!

No matter where you are, browse every department.  I found a children's Mexican embroidered cotton blouse (seen above) in the women's lingerie section this past Monday at the ARC.  Someone must have changed their mind about that and two other girls' items that were with it and just hung them on the nearest rack.  I mean, going out of your way to sort through a bin of old shinguards in hopes of finding a vintage kimono is kind of ridiculous and probably not practical.   But keep your eyes open while you walk through the store; things get misfiled all the time, for one reason or another.  

I guess my final bit of advice is to be flexible.  If you walk in the door thinking, "I want a brown leather purse that has four pockets and closes with a buckle and blah blah blah..." and that is the only thing that will make you happy that day, you will probably leave empty-handed and disappointed.  However, an open mind will lead  you to all kinds of goodies.  Know what you like in general, or have a very broad idea in mind.  "I need a belt," is better than "I want a brown leather belt with  brass grommets and a turquoise-inlaid buckle."

If I do need something in particular, I start looking as soon as I know I need it.  I thrifted my last military ball gown.  I always know those events are coming up well in advance of the date, and I browse the formal gowns every time I go into a store.  Eventually, I found the perfect dress.  It was a black satin mermaid gown, with an enormous/insane/brilliant black satin flower on the gown's single shoulder.  It is my favorite formal dress ever, and it may be the last one I buy for a military function.  It makes me feel a bit like that "Solo in the Spotlight" Barbie, if she had a hella gigantic fabric corsage.  I hope it will fit me until my husband retires.

The dress story reminds me of one more tip: be nice to the employees.  (Note: I shouldn't have to tell anyone to do this.  Everyone should be nice to everyone else as a matter of everyday business.)  I was in the dressing room with two dresses that weren't working for me when an employee came in and asked if I needed anything.  We made some small talk, and I joked about how badly my gown search was going.  She asked me to sit tight, and she returned with two dresses from the back room for me to try.  One of them was the black mermaid dress.  I got dibs before it even hit the sales floor.  I've had a few similar experiences with housewares lately.  It definitely pays to greet people courteously and to take a few minutes to chat with a stranger.

I'd love to hear more suggestions or field some questions in the comments!