How to Thrift

***Today’s guest writer explains herself, but let me just say that although she lives a mere two hours away from our New Orleans home, we met here in cyberspace and have never met otherwise. The internet is a strange and glorious beast.***


Hello fabulous Apron Stringz readers, I’m Charlotte and I blog at Living Well on the Cheap, a spot dedicated to living the good life (in your home, at least) without throwing a bunch of money at retailers. My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, but we met at LSU in 2006 and never had the heart to leave Baton Rouge. We live in a great little neighborhood a few miles from campus where the streets are lined with oaks and all the houses are vintage.†Decorating, blogging, and thrifting are the creative outlets that help me balance the emotional demands of my career as a social worker. I love trolling thrift stores and estate sales for vintage treasures. There’s something very therapeutic about finding something old and giving it new life!

I haven’t been doing much of it lately in my state of pregnancy-induced exhaustion, but perusing thrift stores is my absolute favorite way to snag awesome stuff for your home. Bear in mind, though, that thrifting is not for the faint of heart. You’ve gotta be patient and creative. Without further ado, here are my six best tips for a successful trip to the thrift store.

Take your time. Move slowly up and down each aisle, being sure to scan every shelf (the shelves of despair, as one of my favorite bloggers calls them). I usually walk down each aisle twice so I can concentrate on one side at a time.

Remove it from the context.†When examining an item for purchase, ignore the thrift store aura and imagine it in your home all cleaned up, hanging out with your stuff.

About half of what you see here is thrifted

Imagine it at its best.†Almost any little knick-knack looks fancy after a coat of high gloss paint. Look past the dated finish of all that 80’s furniture and imagine it painted to match your taste. Clean white? Happy yellow? Sophisticated gray? Classic black? Look for solid wood, quality construction, and a nice shape. If it’s got a cushion, could you reupholster it? (check out my technique for reupholstering a basic cushion†here)


Ask yourself what you can do with it. †Hang a silver platter as wall art. Use a coffee creamer or small bowl as a teeny tiny planter. Place a small dish as change-catcher near the front door. Repurpose an old dresser as a TV console or dining room buffet. Remove the original art from a frame and use it to display something more your style. Stack books on top of a chair for a unique bedside table. Platters are plentiful and are easily repurposed as trays for corralling everything from remotes to†the contents of your pockets.

Real Simple

Judge a book by its cover.Check out the book section for hardbacks with attractive bindings (take a peek under the dustjacket). Jacket-free hardcovers stacked here and there are oh-so-Pottery Barn.

Pottery Barn

Look at the lamps.Many thrift store lamps have classic shapes. Look for one you can update with a fresh shade or a coat of paint and you can get a Z Gallerie look for a fraction of the price. I’ve also been totally loving patinated brass lately, so all that thrift store lamp may need is an updated shade, no paint necessary.

Z Gallerie

In summary, the key to successful thrifting is to have an open mind. See not what lies before you upon the shelves of despair, but what wondrous whatnots could abound in your home. The proceeds often go to charity, so you’re saving the world by shopping (not to mention saving some of that stuff from ending up in a landfill). What could be better?

The Small Stuff

I’ve been getting sloppy. I started out so hard-core, so many years ago. But I’ve let things slip. Started to feel like the small stuff doesn’t really matter.

I used to buy stuff as a true last possible option, after having exhausted the possibilities of making, borrowing, jerry-rigging. Now I buy stuff all the time, at the drop of a hat. Part of that is the realization that time is, in fact, money, and spending a day trying to fix something with the wrong tools is not worth the $10 I save not buying the right tool. That’s how it started anyway. But the distance from a chosen, challenging, alternative path to the regular American convenience ethic is a slippery slope. And, I’ll admit it, I slipped.

Reading Riana’s blog is helping me to clamber back up. I’m trying to start sweating the small stuff again, because it does matter. Partly for the things themselves, but more for just keeping myself upright. Staying in the zone. Keeping all this stuff a buzz in the back of my mind. Like doing sit-ups with my brain, it keeps me in shape.

Yesterday, we had some ladies over for a new-baby oggling party. Bless their hearts, they all came laden with heavy Whole Foods bags full of fancy snacks and quick dinners for my pantry. As I was putting a giant tray of mac n’ cheese (homemade, but in a big disposable tray with a clear plastic top) into a tupperware, I considered the tray. I looked at the bottom, no holes. ‘Ah, but when will I ever use it?’ I thought to myself, and moved toward the trash. I thought about Riana. Then I had an idea. When I make soil blocks, to start plants, I’m always looking for trays to put them in. And this one even had a built in greenhouse! Suddenly I couldn’t believe I’d almost tossed it! My own trash became my own treasure!

Sweating the small stuff is worthwhile. It all adds up, and finding little solutions every day forces you to think creatively. And if there’s one quality necessary to this “simple” lifestyle, it’s creativity!