As someone who previously owned an Etsy store stocking vintage and mid century homeware, it probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I LOVE thrifting! Probably for the last 15 years or so I’ve been a bit of magpie when it comes to all things vintage, in particular home accessories and furniture. Back then, when I was living in Leeds, there were several shops that specialised in the sort of second hand interiors treasures that I would have killed to fill my home with now. At the time though I was renting and on a low budget, and there were times when I was unable to make the most of these places. Fast forward a decade, and I am now lucky enough to own my own home in South East London, a place that we bought as a total ‘doer upper’, and one that I have finally been able to fill with accessories to my (I should really say ‘our’ here, but we all know that I would be lying!) tastes. I love to mix and match old and new, and I really think doing this gives a home a really personal look.
Whilst I have always enjoyed finding an interiors bargain, it has only been since setting up my shop that I’ve learnt some tricks of the trade when it comes to thrifting and picking up pieces for the home, without feeling out of my depth or being ripped off.
In 2011 my fabulous Nan passed away suddenly, and when we were clearing her home, discovered she had more gorgeous vintage furniture and crockery in cupboards than we knew what to do with. I decided to take the majority back to our then flat in SE London, and after the hecticness of having two babies within 15 months, finally got my act together in 2014 and opened my Etsy shop, called ‘What Would Irene Do?’ in homage to Nan.
I really enjoyed having this hobby of mine that also earned me some pocket money, and carried it on for a good few years until other work took up more of my time. It was a hugely enjoyable learning experience, and also gave me some surprises- at least half my customers were from America and overseas, something I wasn’t expecting, and there was a fair bit of trial and error when it came to finding a decent courier!
When it comes to thrifting, whether it’s for the shop or for myself, we’re lucky where we live that we are spoilt for choice when it comes to the best haunts for picking up a bargain. One of my favourite finds has to be this AMAZING Hacker vintage 1962 (working!) radio that I picked up for a tenner in the house clearance place on my road a few years back- I nearly squealed with delight when I saw it (but internally, mind, I didn’t want to seem too keen!). It needed a bit of a clean and some tlc, but it’s a purchase that definitely sticks in my mind.
Some of my favourite finds for our home include a vintage Babycham deer ornament for £3, a retro living room/bedroom clock on our mantelpiece, a kitchen dresser for £50 and a vintage Vogue mirror that sat in the fireplace in our living room for £15 and that I’ve had specially re-framed.
I just LOVE finding beautiful items on the cheap, it’s so addictive!
With all the above in mind, I thought i’d share what I’ve learnt about finding a bargain in the decade that I’ve been a thrifting addict…
Don’t always appear too keen on an item straight away
I saw the radio I previously mentioned when I just popped into the house clearance shop with Sasha on a whim. I knew instantly that I loved and wanted it, and asked the price, but I still went away and thought about it. I came back an hour later with the money, but managed to get the owner to drop the price by a fiver. I also sometimes take photos of an item on my phone, go away and have a cuppa and a look at the item again, before making a final decision. However, be warned…. this only tends to work in shops, and this walking away malarkey probably won’t apply to car boot sales, where awesome items are snapped up really quickly by dedicated bargain hunters. Which brings me to…
Be dedicated to your cause!
Okay, so leisurely browsing and coming across a one-off item is part of the fun of thrifting, but if you’re wanting to have your pick of the lot, at say, car boot sales, then you are going to have to get up EARLY my friend! Where we live, the best car boot sales start at 6am in the summer months, which means at least once a month I’m setting my alarm for 5am on a Sunday morning and rolling out of bed. I look horrendous half the time, but the thought of finding that special something, and the bacon buttie and cup of tea reward at the end of it is worth it. This is how I find a large proportion of my shop stock, and I now know which stalls to make a beeline for first, as well as picking up pieces from one-off visitors. Oh, and I bring a little shopping trolley with me now to carry it all!
Always worth a go anywhere apart from charity shops. What’s the worst they can say?!
Check the price
Ever since there’s been a trend in all things vintage and retro, some charity shops, house clearance places and vintage shops have marked up the price of everything ridiculously. If you’re ever unsure whether or not you’re paying through the nose for something, it’s worth using your phone whilst out and about and checking on sites like Ebay to see what people are paying/bidding for the same or similar item. Don’t be ripped off, but decide how much you like the item and how much joy it will bring you or your home. If you love it, fine, but don’t get carried away with something just because you think it’s a bargain.
Keep an open mind
You may have an exact image of the item that you’re looking for, but more often than not you’ll end up coming out of a car boot sale, or vintage shop with something completely random! And that’s okay, as long as you have room for it and it will bring you pleasure in your home. Often the best home ‘looks’ evolve from time like these, and you realise you like something else much more than you thought. But…
Don’t be a hoarder
Okay, so you might walk out with something totally random that you weren’t expecting, but in the same breath whatever you do, don’t become a hoarder! If I spot something I love the look of, I immediately mentally think “where will this go?”, and often it will put me off something. I’m lucky in that I can get my spending kicks on buying lots of items for the shop, and then store it away in the garage or the loft space until it sells, but otherwise it’s a slippery slope to appearing on that Channel 4 hoarding show!
Go often, and be patient
Try and visit thrifting haunts regularly, and build up a relationship with the owner. After a while you can let them know what you’re looking for, and they can then call you if the perfect item becomes available (tell them what your budget is first to avoid getting outdone on price). The best time is during the week, preferably on a Monday, as lots of house clearances take place on a weekend, and stuff given to charity shops then too, so there will be plenty of new stock. There’s not the same ‘buyer competition’ midweek either, where as on a Saturday you might have several people fighting over the same thing. It can be disappointing if you don’t come away with anything on a thrifting trip, but stay strong buying-wise (see hoarding, above!), and hopefully next time will be your time.
Keep your eyes peeled
Look high and low and circle back and look again! Maybe I’m just hugely unobservant, but I always walk through the aisles at least twice, and often spot something I missed before. Going with a friend is even better- it’s more fun and there’s an extra pair of eyes if you each know what the other person is looking for.
Do you have any other tips for successful thrifting? I’d love to hear them!