10 Great Holiday Gifts From the Thrift Store
Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be an orgy of planet-destroying consumerism. There is a very easy way to lower your carbon footprint, support your local economy, save money, and give to charity all at the same time — buy second hand gifts from your local thrift store.
Even if you don't have thrift stores in your neck of the woods, several thrift stores have gotten internet savvy. Goodwill has an auction site that is similar to eBay and features a well curated collection of designer handbags, jewelry, musical instrument, vintage housewares, etc. Even if you do have thrift stores in your area, check to see if they have an online presence. Many boutique thrift stores in my area also post their best merchandise on Etsy or eBay. You can purchase through their online storefronts for convenience, or just use their online stores to do a little shopping recon before making your purchases in person at the brick and mortar store. Most places don't advertise that they also post items online, so it pays to ask.
Because I love the thrill of the hunt, I go thrift shopping year around. This ensures that by November, I always have a stash of beautiful, second-hand gifts, ready to go. Since access to thrift stores and personal schedules vary, I’ve put together a list of standard items that are readily available at just about every thrift store regardless of the season or the location. I’ve discovered that shopping year around actually saves me time, as I usually stop in at thrift stores when I’m doing other errands, as opposed to blocking out several hours of concentrated craziness at the mall at the end of the year.
1. Cashmere Sweaters
An upcycled cashmere sweater is still cashmere. Since I live in pricey Los Angeles, 100% cashmere sweaters cost a whopping $3.99 to $7.99 each at my local Goodwill store. This is what $40.00 in cashmere looks like:
Be sure to check each sweater carefully for damage. Most of the time, I can find sweaters in pristine condition with just a little hunting. Less-than-mint sweaters can usually be refreshed with a new dye job or by replacing the buttons. Also, unlike a lot of luxury fibers, it’s actually better to hand-wash cashmere in cool water versus dry cleaning, as the process of dry cleaning strips the natural oils out of the cashmere yarn leaving it more prone to breakage or bug damage.
I use Eucalan, a fabric conditioner that is specifically designed for hand washing natural fibers, to clean everything from my vintage wool blankets to my “luxury jeans.” However, any mild baby shampoo will do the trick just fine. I do caution against using Woolite on dark clothes as it contains a powerful bleaching agent.
2. Knitted Items
Although I am a knitter and prefer to knit my own gifts, I’m always shocked by the availability of beautiful, handmade baby blankets, afghans and table clothes priced far below the original cost of the just the supplies.
3. Framed Art
I cannot remember the last time I bought a new picture frame. Most thrift stores stock a lot of framed art. Teach yourself to ignore the often hideous artwork and just look at the frames and matting. Keep a list of items you’d like to frame, along with their dimensions, in your phone or datebook for easy matchmaking. I prefer wood frames because they are easier to repair and repaint.
Every thrift store has a gigantic collection of random china. If you have an eye for color and design, you can put together a gorgeous shabby chic set of mismatched-but-coordinating vintage dinnerware. This project usually requires a few trips to the store because you are looking for multiple pieces.
I keep my eyes peeled for vintage plates, trays, and serving dishes that are in good condition and cost less than $2. Instead of buying plasticware at the grocery store or ugly take out containers, I used my thrifted dishes for food gifts. Bringing food to parties on a pretty, “sacrificial” plate saves your host time because your nicely presented gift can go directly on the table without replating. This also saves you time as you don’t have to worry about getting your serving dish back if you leave the party before the bitter end. It’s all the convenience of disposables, without all the trash.
Vases are another item that can be found in abundance at thrift stores. A beautiful $3 vase can turn a $7 bouquet you bought at the grocery store into a stunning host gift or housewarming gift. Thrift store vases are also a great way to cut down on the flower budget of your wedding or charity event.
6. Gift Baskets (the Basket Part, at Least)
Another thing I never buy new are baskets. Baskets make great reusable wrapping for all sorts of gifts. In addition to creating gift baskets full of smaller treats, you can also turn a basket into a stylish emergency kit for the car, attach it to your bike handlebars with zip ties for extra carrying capacity, or turn them into pet beds for your furry friends. Most thrift stores have a large collection of used baskets. Look for sturdy baskets that won’t break down with a little scrubbing with soap and water.
7. Awesome Books
Bibliophiles already know that thrift stores are a great source of inexpensive reading material. Unlike used bookstores however, the staff at most thrift stores do not have the bandwidth to research the value of every book they put out on the sales floor. Therefore, it’s still possible to find rare and valuable first editions of books shelved amongst the low-fat cookbooks and Tom Clancy hardbacks.
Goodwill even operates brick-and-mortar bookstores around Southern California. Bookworms who do not live near a Goodwill bookstore, but would like to support the charity can shop online via Goodwill’s Amazon store.
As a DJ with a radio show, I am constantly on the hunt for interesting vinyl. While the record selection at most thrift stores tends to be savaged by flocks of collectors, it is still possible to find gems in the record bins. Have your friends give you a list of artists or albums they are searching for. For example, I’m on a constant quest for inexpensive copies of Nirvana’s single for the song "Sliver" because there is a photograph of my husband on the back cover.
9. Dress-Up Bin
One of my favorite playthings as a kid was the dress-up bin that my mother kept stocked with ridiculous clothes, hats, and wigs she found at thrift stores. For under $20, kids can be outfitted for hours of play. The dress-up bin is also a great resource for last minute costumes for school plays, parties, and other events.
10. Costume Jewelry
Costume jewelry is literally a mixed bag in a lot of thrift stores, as stores will pack handfuls of random jewelry pieces into plastic baggies. Often, the jewelry will need an extremely minor repair — a rhinestone glued back in or a clasp replaced. If you have good hand-eye coordination, even the most broken pieces can be cannibalized for their parts and reused to make other pieces of jewelry. There are many free YouTube instructionals about how to create wire wrap links or restring pearls. Look at Anthropologie or on Etsy for inspiration for how to mix and match vintage jewelry to stunning effect.
One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is a brooch that is made of mismatched rhinestone jewelry that was originally owned by Lucille Ball. After Lucille passed away, her family auctioned off her enormous jewelry collection and raised millions of dollars for charity.
There were boxes of broken costume jewelry leftover after the Christie’s auction — single earrings, shoe clips, loose beads, etc…Instead of dumping these pieces, the Lucille Ball estate hired a professional jewelry designer to create one-of-a-kind jewelry that was marginally affordable to us little folk. I bought my brooch at a charity function for $45, but you could achieve the same look for far less.
For everyone who is faint of heart when it comes to crafting, most thrift stores have racks of costume jewelry. Bring a magnifying glass with you to inspect for damage and look at labels. Goodwill's website is a great place to find high-end costume jewelry as well as gold and silver pieces at below market pricing.