Tips: How I thrift with confidence

The instinct to thrift is a basic one. I don’t mean our cave-dwelling ancestors liked to take a Sunday stroll through the local Car Boot, but that we, as a people, can’t help but seek out things that enrich us.

This manifests itself in everyone is such different ways, and coming from a family of artists and designers, I tend to keep my eyes peeled for things that are visually appealing.

Some people collect old movies,  some stockpile books, others prefer fancy bars of soap, but I have honed my tastes over the years and have found that visiting charity, second hand and thrift shops, car boot sales, vintage fairs, flea markets, and even skip-diving, satisfies my need to thrift. If you too feel the need to take up this, ahem, hobby, then read on.

Choose your niche.
Thrifting will satisfy all material wants. Kids clothing and toys, memorabilia, books, car parts, D.I.Y tools, modern furniture, jewellery, whatever you’re into, if you keep your eyes peeled and have a clear idea in your head what you like, the best items will jump out at you like the proverbial diamond in the rough. It is also important to identify what you need as there is always the danger of tipping into a hoarder mentality; I often find myself contemplating quirky punch bowls or another set of corn holders, when ultimately I have no need for them.

Commit to upcycling – or not.
One thing I have learnt through the years is what can be worked on and what can’t. This usually comes with experience and I have thrown away my fair share of unworkable thrift. I have become fairly reluctant to upcycle under any circumstances. The reality is that if I buy something with the intention of upcycling, it will still be in my shed a year later. This has helped my  ‘internal editing’ while looking at thrift – I acknowledge something’s upcycling potential but swiftly move on. If you do have the time to upcycle, here are a few things to consider:

  • Damaged lampshades. Once the frame is intact, the rest is good to go. Try to salvage any quirky trims and cover the rest with some favourite fabric. Alternatively check out this super simple idea by the creatives at The Merry Thought; old wire lampshade bases made into plant stands.

    Upcycled lampshade bases made into industrial-style plant stands, from The Merry Thought

    Upcycled lampshade bases made into industrial-style plant stands, from The Merry Thought

  • Peeling veneers. Once you don’t mind some rough edges on your furniture, a peeling veneer isn’t the no-go you might imagine. Just give the veneer a light sand to eliminate any loose splinters, and then paint with a primer and topcoat. See one of my own painted veneer pieces here.
  • Damaged rugs. Cut the damaged area off and use the remnant for beside the bed or under an occasional table. Alternatively use it to cover a footstool, which would benefit from the extra sturdy material.
  • Picture frames. The one item that I will invest time in upcycling, as they can be so expensive when bought new. A multitude of sins can be hidden behind the frame, such as duck tape and staples. Even a lack of glass wont stop me. I occasionally pick up a replacement sheet from Duggan’s Glass in Limerick but for the short term its not really required. I love when the mount board is still intact as this gives the new print a great finish. Otherwise mount board can be picked up cheaply at any art suppliers. See some of my own thrifted picture frames here.
  • Old magazines. Pre-1990s and they can be a treasure trove of vintage ads, photography and quirky graphic design, that, combined with your thrifted picture frames, can create a completely unique piece of art. See my own framed vintage ads here.
  • Plates. I’m not a big fan of using mis-matched plates to eat off, which is a shame as I come across so many lovely one-off designs during my hunting. One way of utilising this rich resource is to turn your favourite finds into carefully curated wall art.

    If you’re feeling really creative you could use your plates as a blank canvas for your doodles, as did illustrator Pretty Little Thieves, below.

    Quirky printed upcycled vintage plates by illustrator Pretty Little Thieves

    Quirky printed upcycled vintage plates by illustrator Pretty Little Thieves

Set your price limits
It is very, very hard to get more than a fiver out of me when thrifting. I have set my limit to a fiver, and if something is much over it needs serious contemplation. If I start drifting over that budget it makes it harder to make (often on-the-spot) decisions for fear of over spending on something I ultimately won’t use. Although haggling is considered an absolute must in these exchanges, I usually don’t engage in it. Having been a seller, I set the value of something and if the buyer doesn’t agree then its not for them. It is up to me as a seller to gauge the buyers interest and adjust the price accordingly. In saying that I do ask for the odd Euro off here and there, but asking for far below what you’ve been quoted is unfair to the trader, especially if it’s their first time attending.

Take your time
Whenever I attend my thrifting spots with friends I can see their eyes glaze over, do a swift scan of the goods, and exit fairly quickly. We’re spoilt with the heavily-merchandised interiors of high street shops, so it can be difficult to develop the piercing eye of a good thrifter. It’s a good habit to take your time, pick things up, look at all the features and try to imagine it in context, that is, a dusty milk glass bowl will look very different sitting in a sunny windowsill than at the bottom of a bucket full of old newspapers and broken glass.

Brings change…and bags!
When it comes to markets and fairs, there is nothing worse than buying something for €3 and handing over a €50, especially early in the morning when you eat into the traders float! I always carry a bit of spare change in my pocket. And don’t forget bags. Traders aren’t obliged to supply them so you could be caught out if you find yourself splurging on more than your pockets can carry. Here’s hoping anyway.

Main image: Tiberiu Coroliuc/House and Home
Image credits, from top left:
Kassia Gakowska/Elle DecorWolfgang Kleinschmidt/Skona HemAnitta Behrendt/Boligliv; Pretty Little Thieves.


1 Comment

  1. […] touched briefly on haggling in a previous post and realised there is quite a lot to be said for this subtle but fairly […]


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