A round-up of 30 of the most common items to buy while thrift shopping that can be transformed into home decor using a few simple changes.
After a decade of scouring thrift stores for home decor and furniture, I’ve noticed a trend in the typical common staples, the other-man’s-junk-taken-for-granted kind.
In the beginning of my marriage as a stay-at-home mom, I shopped at the local thrift store to find furniture to paint and resell to help us pay bills when funds were tight. Over time, it turned into something less of necessity and more about the thrill of the scavenger hunt.
So when I was looking around our house the other day (okay, actually cleaning up a billion LEGOs) thinking about how much of our furniture and wall decor and accents and kitchenware were just a couple of bucks at the local thrift shop, I thought maybe it would be fun to compile a big list of the best items to look for to find the greatest potential for your home on the cheap, if thrifting doesn’t come easily for you.
But first, a few tips…
Thrift Shopping Tips for the Best Finds
Visit thrift stores often – especially on weekdays 9-5 while most people are at work so it’s less picked over (a quick run in on your lunch break is a good time to check thrift store inventory)
Keep a “Be on the Lookout” list – jot down a few items you need at the moment and keep them in the notepad on your phone so you have some guidance on what to look for
Get to know the best shopping times at your local store – the more you shop, the more you’ll come to notice a pattern for the best times and days to shop your thrift store. Each store is different and it can be difficult to predict unless you visit often.
Keep an open mind – Remember that most items can be easily painted so color doesn’t always matter. Think outside the box for things you can repurpose.
30 Home Decor Items You Should Always Buy While Thrift Shopping:
They’re some of the easiest home decor items to paint, and you can even add texture using this baking soda paint method. I transformed this table lamp in this bedroom makeover by just applying a coat of flat black spray paint followed by a coat of Rustoleum metallic gold spray paint.
2. Light Fixtures
You can chalk paint or spray paint just about any ceiling light fixture or chandelier, including this DIY light fixture makeover using Rub n Buff and a frosted glass spray paint technique.
3. Picture Frames
Picture frames are one of the best decor items to buy at thrift stores, and they’re always in abundance!
Even if a frame has a piece of art in it that isn’t your style, remove it and put in your own. It’s still way cheaper than buying a frame brand new. Paint it or leave it as-is. And if it’s a little rough, wood filler can patch it right up.
There never fails to be at least a couple of mirrors in the thrift store every time I shop. Paint the frame or leave it or collect a mix of them to create a gallery wall. Rub n Buff can work wonders on mirror frames to give them an antique look.
5. Christmas Villages
All white Christmas villages and Putz houses have become a trend in Christmas decor lately. Just take an old, cheap set from the thrift store and give it a couple of coats of white spray paint. Use them in centerpieces or on buffet tops or on your mantel.
Figurines are great for spray painting or adding concrete-look craft paint to use as accents in vignettes. Attach them to wooden blocks, and they can become unique book-ends.
I constantly see trays at the thrift store, even though they’re usually dated or have crazy colors. It’s usually nothing spray paint can’t fix. They’re so versatile for setting on coffee tables (for holding TV remotes and books) or centerpieces or using for good ol’ breakfast in bed.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you can usually find a few vintage vases while thrifting. Get creative with ways you can transform them like this DIY hobnail vase using spray paint and half beads. You can also attempt this ombre spray paint effect, or marble effect using nail polish.
Pitchers are great because they can serve double duty as vases or for use in the kitchen. I use mine as a watering can on plant watering day.
Every now and then, you can find a really cool, old suitcase. They can add interest to a room but also make great storage. We keep special family photographs in ours. I love using a vintage suitcase at Christmas to create a storybook Advent calendar for my kids too.
The thrift store I visit usually charges 50 cents for paperbacks and $1.00 for hardbacks. Two or three are always good to use as decor risers… but I usually keep my eye out for ones I’ll actually read too. I’ve scored several coffee table books at thrift stores too.
I found a set of simple white coffee mugs at the thrift store several years ago, and they’re still my favorite ever, especially for having company over in the cold months when we brew a big pot of coffee. You can sometimes find matching sets, and white is always versatile, but collecting an eclectic mix of vintage patterns can be fun too.
End tables are great too for the same reason. And you can have all kinds of fun by playing with stencil patterns like on these faux inlay nesting tables.
There are always baskets at the thrift store every time I visit. We like storing throw blankets, toys, shoes, and whatever other odds and ends throughout the house in baskets. I incorporated several thrift store baskets and buckets on this makeshift outdoor bar made from a potting bench.
“Santa Claus” shops at the thrift store fairly often around here. We’ve found a play kitchen, a doll stroller, and even did a thrifted dollhouse makeover.
17. Table Linens
They typically need a good run through the washing machine and ironing, but there are often cute table runners and placemats at the thrift store, if you’re willing to dig for them. Think outside the box to repurpose them too like throw pillows made from napkins and placemats.
18. Jars and Canisters
I always keep a lookout for unique cups, canisters, tins, jars, candy dishes, anything that would work well as vessels for DIY candles. If you have any half-used candles lying around, you can melt down the wax to create entirely new candles out of the canisters without spending much on supplies. They’re great for craft supply storage too.
19. Old Rugs
Sometimes, a great vintage rug will come along at the thrift store. They’re great to clean up with some Folex and use anywhere or repurpose damaged rugs by making this DIY textile art.
20. Old Calendars or Sheet Music
Anything that has interesting pages in it can be framed and turned into art! I took old sheet music and turned it into a Christmas gallery wall in our entryway.
Every single thrift store I visit always has a headboard somewhere. Clean it up to use as it or you can repurpose it into a bench, sign, or porch swing.
It’s challenging to find a dresser that has all drawers functioning, but when you do, they are the easiest to transform with just a pint of acrylic paint and new hardware. Find tons of furniture painting tips here.
If you need a home office or homework station in a jif, thrift stores constantly have desks available. This writing desk makeover was so quick and easy to finish for our guest bedroom.
24. Cigar Boxes
These are one of my favorite things for painting or covering with fabric or contact paper for handy storage on tabletops. Cigar boxes make the BEST remote control holders on coffee tables.
25. Dining Tables
If you find a solid wood dining table, you’re in luck! Because usually all it needs is a good sanding and some tung oil. Once it’s cured for 30 days, apply a couple coats of polyurethane for longevity. This is still one of my favorite ways to finish a wood dining table.
If you love the look of a rustic kitchen, cutting boards are perfect for finding in thrift stores. Sand them smooth, apply some food grade mineral oil, and you’ve got a beautifully weathered and ready to use cutting board.
A lot of times, you can find a scraggly wreath that needs some love at the thrift store. Cut blooms and leaves off of any other artificial stems you may already have and hot glue them into the existing frame of the wreath. Add some ribbon, and voila! DIY wreath
28. Seasonal Decor
Keep your eyes peeled for holiday decor in their off-season. A lot of times, I’ll see a Christmas tree in the thrift store in the middle of summer because someone happened to clean out their attic at that time. Be flexible with your timing, and jumping on the opportunity will pay off when that holiday rolls back around.
They just add a little romance to any space. And if you don’t love the color, spray paint or Rub n Buff will fix them right up.
30. Dishes and Servingware
I’ve found so many pretty platters and serving bowls at thrift stores, that I cut myself off from buying it. The best part is a mixture of different vintage pieces create a beautifully eclectic tablescape.
There are way more common thrift store finds that I’m forgetting about, I’m sure, but those 30 are my favorites.
Do you have any others that you constantly score? Or thrift shopping tricks you’ve discovered on your own?
Frequently Asked Questions
What should you not buy at thrift stores?
Stay away from stuffed animals, car seats, dated baby gear, computers, pet furniture, mattresses, upholstered headboards, vacuums, bedding, or cribs.
What thrift store items resell best for profit?
If you’re looking to make a profit flipping thrift store items, you can sell on eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace to help your family earn a little extra income. The best thrift store items to resell are furniture, books, frames, name brand clothing, vinyl albums, LEGO, name-brand clothing, vintage video game console, stereos, and cameras.