What To Look For At Thrift Stores {Intro to 31 days}


31-days-125-button-2012Well, here we are at the beginning of October – are you ready for 31 days of An Oregon Cottage posts all about thrift store transformations? I hope I’m up to the challenge and that you guys aren’t tired of me by the end of the month (shucks…).

Actually, what I hope is that you all are going to be hitting the thrift stores looking at all the junk items there in a whole new way!

This post will also serve as the 31 Days “landing page” and by clicking on the 31 days button on the left, you will be taken to a list of all the posts in this category (oh, and by the way, you can go here to view all the 31 Days participants).

To start us off, as a way of introduction, I thought I’d list the top things I look for in thrift stores.

It’s actually important to have a running list of things to look for in your mind because the amount of stuff can be overwhelming if you feel like you have to look at everything. BUT this list should be generic, like “old books” and not a specific title, because if you go to a thrift store with something specific in mind you will come up empty-handed.

Really. I’ve learned this lesson many times.

So now I peruse the aisles looking for specific things – quickly if I’m in a hurry, or a little more slowly if I’ve got more time. My favorites are:

Thrift white pottery

1. White Pottery. I’m not particular – it can be a platter, urn, vase, whatever – but I do look for a classic or fun shape that I can use somehow. All of the pottery I display is used at some point as vases or for serving food.

Vintage Boxes

2. Vintage Boxes. Talk about useful – I use old boxes to hold everything from recipes, to photos, to craft supplies. And they up the decor value at the same time.


3. Flatware. I’ve collected cheap stainless that I keep in a caddy to use at large gatherings instead of plastic, and I always look for vintage bone-handled pieces as well as cool silverplate to add to mismatched place settings.

Thrift Decor

4. Decor Items. I’ve been collecting amateur oil paintings for years to inexpensively add fun art to our walls, and most of my decorative items like candle holders have some from the piles ‘o junk you find at thrift stores.

thrift garden items

5. Garden Items. Cement statues and urns, metal watering cans or tools – they all have a wonderfully worn patina that I can’t get if I buy new.

three thrift store loves

6. Clothes. Admittedly, I don’t have as much luck with clothes like others seem to, but what I’ve found I really love – especially the prices. I have the easiest time finding sweaters, coats, and shoes – less luck with pants and skirts.

7. Red Transferware. My addiction collection grows slowly but surely with the pieces I pick up here and there at thrifts because I won’t pay the ebay prices (cough…).

8. Lamps & Lighting. Easy to find interesting singles to re-do – pairs is quite another thing. After looking for a year, I finally found a matching pair a few weeks ago – which you will see transformed in the coming weeks.

And the last two things I look for:

9. Old Books. What’s a shelf without a book? And old books with wonderful bindings are all the better. I also use old books to make book-page decorations for holidays and plain-ol’ decorating.

10. Furniture. We found most of our furniture at thrifts in the first years of our marriage and I still always look, even though I don’t need a lot now, ’cause there might be that one item – kinda like this one.

And a bonus (’cause I couldn’t keep it to just 10!):

11. Appliances. Usually small like slow cookers (and of course, cappuccino makers!), but occasionally larger appliances like a freezer.

What do you like to look for at thrift stores?




  1. says

    I’m discovering you and your wonderful blog through The Nester’s party tonight. I’m so excited about your 31 days series topic. I’ll be reading and learning from you. You seem like a repurposing pro! I’m so looking forward to your inspiration and ideas.

  2. says

    I look at anything as you never know what’s hiding on that low shelf, that you have to be an expert yogi to reach to. Few weeks back I found a hand mixer for a very good price. It’s not only working, but also has this vintage look. I love it!

  3. It's me, Sam says

    I actually own the bread box you showed in the photos ( it was my grandmothers), plus I have the cake tin too! One of my BFF’s has the coffee, tea, sugar, flour ones that match that belonged to her grandmother…

    • Jami says

      Cool! I’m actually using it to store my clipped recipes for the current week’s menu (plus others I haven’t filed yet…) – it’s so retro. :)

  4. debbie mann says

    Hi, there,,, found your blog from the Nester’s site.. Ill be following along with you for the 31 days series. I love thrift stores.

  5. Robin says

    I found one thrift store that has hundreds of cast iron pans….I do mean hundreds! They also specialize in pet cages,and aquariums-too pricey to buy new. I look for camping supplies,dishes, and even jewelry. Once you know which stores carry which items-you are on your way! One of my local Salvation Army stores has great designer fashions and one local thrift store has clothes just for teens! Life is good!

  6. Cheryl says

    Dishes that match ones I already have
    Christmas glassware to match what I have (started with Goodwill years ago)
    kids’ books, games, puzzles (i.e. big bags of duplo blocks for $1)
    missing parts

  7. says

    Year ago (1990’s) I found a large slow cooker with the ceramic bowl that comes out for easy serving and washing. I love it and use it to this day. $2 or $3 dollars for a cooker that has served me and my family well. That’s a great bargan.

  8. HA says

    thrift stores in this state are so over shopped anymore……the flea mkts.
    have lots of stuff to go through, and the prices beat any thrift shop
    any day of the week….plus, how fun! a lot of great food and natural
    drinks too……so many shop in these little gems :) try it!

  9. says

    I just bought the most gorgeous oil painting at my local flea market this weekend! I love your tips on what to look for and am excited to follow your 31 day series :) Though, I’d have to add teacups and ceramic elephants to you list because those are always on the top of my list 😀

    • Jami says

      Teacups used to be on my list, too – until I reached about 30+ with space to store them running out! Elephants…no, though you’re giving me a new idea… :)

  10. KathyJ says

    Cookbooks are the first thing I look for at the thrift stores. Then I glance at the rest of the books.
    Jeans for myself and hubby. I’ve found flannel-lined jeans for both of us for $3/each. LL Bean! but also normal jeans. Actually, I do quite well with clothes at the main thrift store I go to.
    Cookware and kitchen stuff. Sometimes dishes, but I have too many as it is. :) Found an All-American Canner for $35 one day.
    Towels and washcloths.
    Lately, I was looking for long, white curtains. I think I’m done now.

    Didn’t think about the vintage linens – will have to keep my eye out.

    Thanks Jami,
    This will be fun to follow along. I love shopping thrift stores and go at least once a week.

  11. Sheryl A says

    I’m am very excited about your 31 Days Series. I love thrift stores but I will admit that I often get overwhelmed and wonder the store aimlessly. I can’t wait to see your transformations!

    • Jami says

      Thanks! I hope you’re able to see the stores – and all the stuff in them – in a different light after this series. :)

  12. says

    its funny because i am a fan of thrifting but my list would be totally different to yours….vintage boxes and colourful plates, jewellery, clothes…i buy everything, bags, toys, old pictures
    ….looking forward to following along and adding to my own list!

    • Jami says

      And I’m so glad your list is different, Jane, ’cause that means you don’t want my stuff (and I don’t want yours!). Makes the whole thrift-store-world turn, don’t you think? :)

  13. Christie says

    I love your blog!! I always look for canning jars/ supplies, pretty tea cups with saucers, picture frames I can paint, and jewelry.

  14. says

    What an awesome topic for 31 days! I’m so glad I discovered you on the Nester’s link party! I’m semi-new to the thrifting world and often feel overwhelmed. I agree with most of the items on your list and would just add “footed items” to it. I’m really trying to get better at staging and I think a part of that may require finding some footed things to shake up my flatter displays! Thanks for sharing this list!

  15. Deb says

    I love this whole concept……you are doing an awesome job and I find great inspiration in what you suggest…..thank you for sharing:-) Deb

  16. Dianne says

    Well, it’s January, 2014, and I just discovered your exciting site. I LOVE thrift shops!

    #1 ENGLISH China and stoneware. Oh, oh, oh! Also, other European and American china, too.
    #2 GOLD Wooden Picture Frames. You can’t buy these anymore — I don’t think they are being made! With the popularity of PBS series like Downton Abbey, surely they will come back in big demand when a new decorating style catches on. I pay about $2 each and some day my kids can sell them for a bundle! (If they want.)
    #3 LACE. Check the curtains, drapes, tablecloths.
    #4 Glassware that matches what I already have. Anybody have some Martha Stewart Blue Swirl they want to sell? It’s not even on Replacements! :(
    #5 BEADS. Sometimes the most breathtaking beads are at the thrift shop.

    LOVE everyone’s ideas. Looking forward to your future posts, dear Lady!

    • says

      Thank you SO much, Dianne, for your sweet comments about the blog! And you’ve got a great list – I should add gold frames to my list, too. :)

  17. Lisa B. says

    I collect blue and white dishes and decorative items, bird themed items, picnic baskets and wicker trays and baskets. I have thrift store items throughout my house and always get complements on my decorating style. It’s so much fun to look in thrift stores and try to imagine new ways to use an item or how to change it to look more modern or more fun. I have used thrift store items for teacher luncheons, school banquets and dances, parties for my daughters and even my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. I have also used thrift store items to make various costumes for my daughters. Here are some items I have bought at thrift stores: Tiffany blue vases, vintage pyrex bowls, lamps, coffee makers, glassware, old metal trays, books, old LP albums, silver trays and seasonal decorations.


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