Thrift Stores: Dark and Dirty or Paradise on Earth?

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My 20-year-old self would NEVER envision that one day I’d enjoy shopping in thrift stores.  I mean, aren’t they dirty places filled with used junk?

Growing up, my parents would drag me to flea markets and antique stores (which was a step above thrifting, in my opinion).  Armed with a few dollars, I’d scout out books and doll house furniture.  But that was about it, the rest was just old stuff.

As I aged, I began to realize the value in that old stuff.  Not just monetary value, but the history behind a teacup from 1845, or a free plate (now worth $45) given out at the movies during the Depression– one that had been painstakingly collected until the owner had a full set.  You’d see those at antique stores.  But thrift stores?  Dirty!

Then, I moved to North Carolina straight out of college to teach.  I had no savings, school loans, and a starting salary was just above the poverty line (which was still about 5 times more than what some of the families of my students were making).  The only furniture I arrived with was a hand-me-down table and twin bed from my room at home.  I began to get creative in order to find furniture for me and supplies/books for my classroom.  Which led me to… THRIFT STORES.

The first one I found was a HUGE Goodwill.  I could not believe how clean and organized it was.  The “stuff” they had surprised me as well.  That first day, I walked out with an armful of things for my classroom.  You guessed it– I was HOOKED.

It’s sort of an addiction.  Each time I was in the area, I had to stop in “just to look”.  Slowly my collection of valuable things grew.  I found .50 depression glass plates.  Vintage linens for $1.  Small tables, fancy frames, milk glass lamps, fabulous costume jewelry, vintage ribbon… just a few dollars each.  Don’t even get me started on the books I found for my classroom library.  I bought it because if I saw a great deal I couldn’t not buy it!

Like a fisherman, every thrifter has a Big Fish story.  Mine was an entire 6-person place setting of vintage Wedgwood EDME china I found for $17.  The set was selling on eBay for $450+.  Talk about a score!

here’s a photo of a new Wedgwood “Edme” placesetting at Bloomies, classic and beautiful!

What does a 20-something {poor} single teacher do with a stockpile of vintage goodies?  Rent out a booth in the local antique mall (Sleepy Poet Stuff, for you Charlotte folks).  Since I only had an apartment, I took out all my pent-up painting and decorating urges on my 12X12 space {with the help of a few friends}.

Considering it was my fifth job (I taught full time, waitressed, tutored, AND worked as a receptionist in a hair salon during the summer) I did pretty well!  My favorite part was finding a diamond in the rough, fixing it up, and selling it.  Each month we’d get a printout of what we’d sold and how we ranked sales-wise with the other sellers there.  My little booth ranked way higher than I thought it would, considering some people were doing this full time and selling high-end items.  Most everything I sold came from thrift stores, yard sales, and the occasional estate sale.  Every item in my booth had to fit in the back of my Saturn sedan, so no big stuff for me. 

I felt so lucky to be able to make money doing something I loved, kind of like my full-time job teaching.  Can you see why I loved living in NC so much?  I was living my dream!  My antique selling days ended when I met a certain hazel-eyed cutie pie and moved up to the Philly area.  No longer did I have to work 5 jobs, or shop in thrift stores, or spend hours refinishing furniture.

But I still do, of course.  The shopping in thrift stores part.  Yes, I’m blessed to not have to buy my kid’s clothing from consignment shops, or furniture from thrift stores, or toys from yard sales.  And yet, I DO.  The money we save goes toward helping others, or other things important to me.  So my daughter’s Gymboree pants cost $2.95 instead of $22.95.  That’s $20 I can put toward comforting a NICU family, or buying organic milk.

Turns out, not all thrift stores are dark and dingy.  The ones in this particular part of Pennsylvania are pretty amazing.  I’ll admit sometimes I dread I’ll bump into someone I know that says, “wow, I just donated the same pants Noodle is wearing to Goodwill last week!” and I’ll sheepishly have to say, “Um, thanks, we love them.”  Small price to pay to save the environment, save money, and feed my addiction all at the same time.  😉

Later this week I’m going to spill a few thrift store shopping secrets.  I’m constantly finding treasures, and I can’t take them all home with me.  Hope you’ll join in on the conversation too, I love to learn tricks of the trade!

What are your thoughts?  Is thrifting a dirty deal in your area, or do you have mega-stores like we do around here?  Would you let your kids wear clothes from a thrift store, or is that a no-go?  Anyone else addicted to the thrifting scene?
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