Treasure Hunting

You already know that my favorite season is Garage Sale season and my favorite room in the house is my kitchen and that one of my favorite foods is fried chicken. But did you know that my favorite day is MONDAY?

I’m probably the only person in the western world who likes the day we all go back to work. Don’t get me wrong, Mondays at my house are full. The house is beyond messy – it’s downright dirty. Laundry has been neglected – it’s taking over the whole house. And the refrigerator is looking not so full – it’s time to go shopping.

But everything gets put on hold. The kids wear whatever is left in their closet (or something dirty). Dishes pile up. And dinner is less complex than usual. Why? Because the clearance sales at my favorite Thrift Stores are calling my name!

Sure, it may smell funny. Sometimes the stuff is trash with price tags. But oh the treasures you’ll find if you’re patient.

I have in my possession a pair of Silver Blue Jeans for which I paid… are you ready for this… $0.99 (retail $80). Really! I am also the proud owner of an Ikea metal bunk bed that cost me only $24.99 (retail $179). Then there’s the $9.99 (retail ~$50) Gap Jeans for my husband and the $0.99 (retail ~$30) Nautica dress shirt for my son. I found a steam canner for $10 (retail $25 + shipping).

I have JCrew jeans and Style&Co shirts, and almost everything decorating my house is from a thrift store. And the list goes on!

“But CnC, I’m overwhelmed by the endless racks of geriatric junk.” Fear not, dear reader, I can help you tame the beast.

Know what you want. If I walk into a Thrift Store with nothing in particular in mind to buy, I, too, am overwhelmed with the volume of seemingly unorganized items. But if I know I’m looking for a black t-shirt, I head to the black t-shirt section…seriously.

Know their “organization” style. Most stores around here are organized by type then size then color. For example, there is a short sleeved knit shirt section, a tank top section, a sweater section, etc… Then they’re often broken up into sizes S, M, L, and XL. Then they’re organized by color… really. All of the primarily white shirts are together, the green shirts, the yellow shirts, etc… They’re sometimes broken down by prints and solids.

If you’re limited on time, don’t even look through the brown shirts if you like wearing blue. And you probably don’t want to look for sweaters in July. If you have the time, you can really come away with some wonderful items that are sometimes mis-filed.

Keep in mind that the employees at the local thrift store are not necessarily paid very much. Don’t be surprised when you find an XXXL shirt in the “small” section.

Location location location. This will save you some heartache. In small towns with limited income possibilities, you may find an excess of … less than brand name items. But in OperatingSystem Land, you may really find some nice things. Find the nice neighborhoods, and then find the nearest donation center. If you don’t live in that area, go on some scouting trips and leave the kiddos in the car with daddy. If you find a Thrift Store that is worthwhile, find out their specials and come back later to do the serious shopping.

A worthwhile thrift store will be well organized with signage and size tags on the racks. The shoes will be on the shoe racks and not in bins. There will be distinct houseware and furniture sections.

Price matters. Items at thrift stores should be 1/3 or less of the retail price. Items that are in higher demand or that are difficult to find will likely cost more.

Keep a list. As with garage sales, know what items you want or need. My garage sale list and my thrift store list are one in the same.

Shop the specials. Most thrift stores rotate their inventory. First in is first out. Items that were donated 6 weeks ago will be on sale right now. These specials are publicized with flyers or you can ask an employee or a manager.

Around here, items are 50% of Thursday – Sunday and on Monday they’re only $0.99 (or $1.29)… even if the original price was $30. Bank holidays are often 50% off THE WHOLE STORE… every item. Memorial Day is coming up… could be fun.

Know the policies. The stores locally allow returns or exchanges within 7 days of purchase. If you get an item home and find a major flaw or that it doesn’t fit as well as you thought, return it or exchange it (or re-donate it). I’m cheap, I return or exchange.

No snobbery allowed. Just as with garage sale shopping, you will find items in less than new condition. If you’re good at getting stains out of laundry, buy that Banana Republic shirt for $3.99.

Little ones allowed. If your kids can handle it, take them with you. Mine don’t mind too much… but I bribe them with Dum Dums sometimes. Other times I let them play with random toys from the store or flip through board books. You can always exchange babysitting. You may love thrift stores, and your friend loves pedicures. Swap and help a girl out!

Grab now, decide later. When I go through a section, I pick out all of the potentials. I don’t ruminate in the middle of the aisle usually. When I get enough to choose from, I stand in front of a mirror and decide which ones I want to try on. I try on the ones I am pretty sure of (I layer so I can do this without going in the dressing rooms sometimes).

This sounds like it takes a long time, but it takes less time than going back to the same section 8 times to find the right shirt. It sometimes happens that I only get 1 or 2 out of 10 or 15, but when you check out and 2 shirts cost you only $5… it’s worth it.

Don’t delay. Just because you’re not willing to pay $7.99 for that Ralph Lauren shirt doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. Don’t wait for $0.99 day. If you want it, buy it.


As with all of my posts, I want to help you save money. Some of you want to. Some of you have to. Either way, it’s fun coming away with treasures at a fraction of their retail price.

Make a comment!  If you have a thrift store find you want to brag about, here’s your chance.



  1. Jane said,

    May 5, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been shopping thrift stores for a long time. When I was younger I went with my mom and I hated it! Now I am a mom and I love them. Well, I guess I was trained well. I don’t shop for everything there, but there are often good finds. My ultimate fave store around here is the Bellevue Goodwill. It is awesome! The items are high quality, clean and reasonably priced.

  2. Kim said,

    May 5, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Unfortunately, my kids mind. I genuinely miss Goodwill. Having spent the last 3.5 years either pregnant or trying to get back into shape I have quite an array of sizes in the closet and I’d probably be naked if I had to pay full price for them all. As is, I’ve stayed in brand names for almost nothing.

    • kyleandclara said,

      May 5, 2009 at 5:32 pm

      You and me both! I’m going on 4 years of baby body and I, too, have a great collection of sizes and famous brands. Do you have any good stores nearby? If I were close, we’d trade babysitting every Monday so the other can go Thrifting! You’d LOVE Value Village in Totem Lake.

  3. Laura said,

    May 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    when can we go thrifting together?

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