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7 expert tips for thrifting furniture and home goods

Take advantage of thrift stores swamped after Marie Kondo mania

Vintage finds in the eclectic Brooklyn apartment of a Design Within Reach buyer includes a thrifted coat rack.
Vintage finds in the eclectic Brooklyn apartment of a Design Within Reach buyer includes a thrifted coat rack.
Photo: Max Touhey

As the KonMari craze gets everyone decluttering their homes and saying goodbye to belongings that no longer “spark joy,” many of those items are landing in thrift stores nationwide, which have reported an uptick in donations in recent months. For bargain hunters, it’s the perfect opportunity to snap up some deals.

In addition to clothes and accessories, packed thrift stores will also have plenty of secondhand furniture and home goods to dig through. To maximize your trip, consider these seven quick tips from experts.

Start online

You don’t have to leave your living room to start thrifting. You’ll find used goods from private sellers on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, 1stdibs, 5miles, and OfferUp—you can buy directly or at least get a sense of what you’re looking for. If you find a promising deal, ask the seller if they have any other items they haven’t listed yet.

You can also browse online marketplaces (and sites like Wayfair and Overstock) for real-time price comparisons on items you find in a brick-and-mortar store.

A peek inside the time capsule bachelor pad of a midcentury-obsessed millennial, who hit up thrift stores once or twice a day for a while to score retro gems.
Photo: Mark Lipczynski

Research your route

Thrift with a plan: Know where you’re going and what you’re looking for. Map out your route, research which stores carry which types of furniture and decor, and give yourself a full day to shop.

Popular thrift stores in big cities are likely to be pricey or picked over, says Nicole Alexander, owner and principal designer of Siren Betty Design in Chicago. The best shops are in “the middle of nowhere,” so you’ll want to set aside plenty of time to drive around and dig through piles.

Measure and photograph your space

Note the dimensions of the walls or rooms you’re looking to fill, and bring photos of oddly-shaped spaces. It’s easier to place furniture and decor using measurements and pictures rather than your memory—and this will save you from hauling home items that won’t fit.

Bring a friend

A fellow thrifter can help you decide if that wicker vanity is really the right choice for your bedroom. Bring a friend with similar taste who will give you their honest opinion and offer an extra set of hands for hauling goods to and from your car.

Stay focused on what you’re after

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thrifting. You might be on a mission for a coffee table but end up lost among dozens of decorative mirrors. Focus on key pieces first rather than browsing everything.

That said, narrow your search too much and you might miss out or get frustrated when you can’t find exactly what’s on your list.

“Instead, start with a loose concept of what you’re looking for, and build from there,” says Lauren Svenstrup, owner and design director of Studio Sven. “There are so many amazing decor items out there that you would never have considered or even known they existed.”

Brooklyn apartment
More furniture finds in the living room of Design Within Reach buyer Liz Shea’s Brooklyn apartment.
Photo: Max Touhey

Study items carefully

Thrifting pros advise shoppers to look for “good bones”—an indication that the furniture is designed and constructed well. Julie Muniz, a curator and art consultant in the San Francisco area, says that if something looks “off” with an item, it probably is.

Pick up items if possible, as heavier weight may indicate higher quality wood. Muniz also recommends that buyers look for labels, marks, or tags that identify the manufacturer or designer as well as construction with wood-to-wood joints rather than nails and screws.

Visualize the finished product

Thrifted goods likely won’t look perfect when you purchase them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t right for your space.

“Don’t be afraid of items that need a little TLC,” says Darcy Segura, a pro thrifter who buys and resells furniture and home decor. “A reupholstered couch, reframed art or pictures, or a fresh coat (or color) of paint really can do wonders.”

Conversely, if an item is in poor shape and you’re not into DIY, keep in mind that repairing and refinishing can be costly. What seems like a good deal upfront may be out of your budget when all is said and done.