Thrift Store Shopping: What Valuables Should I Look For?

6 min Read

lechatnoir / iStock.com

lechatnoir / iStock.com

If you’ve ever visited a thrift store, chances are you either loved it or hated it. Perhaps you’ve visited a thrift store with a menagerie of dust-covered objects from decades past or items that are so well-worn you wonder why they weren’t just thrown out. Or maybe the thrift stores you’re used to are more organized and carefully curated.

One thing’s for sure: When you visit a thrift store, you must have the patience (and knowledge) to sift through lots of items to uncover a gem. The question is: What makes a thrift store find valuable?

“The reasoning of why these items are a good investment depends on when something is trending,” said Brynn Wren, a retiree who visits thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales to find collectibles for cheap and then resells them for a profit on eBay.

“For example, collector plates were once worth a lot, but even (though) they are older now, there is little interest and they aren’t worth much,” Wrenn said. “The items that hold the most value will often hold high sentimental value to people, especially if the item is from their childhood.

For example, Furbies are now starting to become more valuable as millennials age and they become sentimental about their childhood. Vintage teacups used to hold lots of value; but, as the generation that grew up with them dies off, they don’t hold the same value.

Basically, knowing when to sell or hold onto an item will also dictate its value, in addition to its rarity, so check out what’s selling on eBay regularly — or wherever you plan on selling your items.”

Here are some of the items seasoned thrift store shoppers recommend you should always be on the lookout for.

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Games and Toys

Not just any games and toys are valuable, of course. You need to know what to look for, and the keyword is “vintage.”

Nathan Hughes, marketing director at Diggity Marketing, offered this advice, “While thrifting, you should always look for board games and tin toys. Vintage board games are rare collectible items. They are worth thousands if they are in good condition and have a complete set. Similarly, classic tin toys are rare and quite valuable.”

American Folk Art

If you’re looking for an item that’s trending or in demand right now to resale or collect, take Hughes’ advice:

“Never overlook folk art,” Hughes said. “Today, classic American folk art pieces are in high demand. Although it is hard to determine the authenticity of a folk art piece, it is not a bad collectible if you get it cheap.”

According to information on the Don’t Waste Your Money blog, check Americana art carefully for marks, names, stamps or stickers that can help you identify whether the piece is real or a reproduction.

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Vintage Records and Concert T-Shirts

“As an avid music fan and record collector, I’ve had lots of success in finding rare gems at the thrift shop,” said Nick Shackelford, the managing partner of Structured Agency.

“For instance, original pressings, such as an Elvis “King Creole” album could be sold at a local thrift shop for a dollar, when its actual resale value online via eBay or other sites can be upwards of $400. In addition, discovering concert shirts from popular bands’ tours during successful stints can also reap high resale value on the net. It’s always a treasure hunt and there are many goods you can find if you just drop in a thrift store with the right pair of lenses on and have a little knowledge of the resale market.”


Rowena Murakami, cofounder and master chef of Tiny Kitchen Divas, recommends heading to a specific part of the thrift store to find valuable jewelry items. 

“Check the accessories aisle and see what the thrift store has to offer,” she said. “There are cases when they incorrectly appraise items, sometimes misclassifying precious gems as costume jewelry. If you have an eye for jewelry, you can definitely find a good purchase.”

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Luxury Bags

“There is a market for vintage or pre-loved bags,” said Murakami. “If you plan on reselling, or even just keeping for yourself, check the store’s bag offerings and you might just score a luxury bag for less.”

According to information on The Spirited Thrifter blog, you’re more likely to find designer bags if they are present in the regular local retail market where the thrift store is located. Look for both pre-owned designer bags and vintage designer bags at thrift stores. If you can’t find them, stores may keep them behind the counter or in a locked case.

Vintage Designer Clothing Pieces

“Be on the lookout for vintage designer pieces,” said Celie Danes, marketing and PR manager for Personality Max. “Sometimes you can find genuine designer clothing and accessories that can either be added to your own personal closet or be [re]sold for quite a good amount of money — depending on their condition of course.”

Isaac Robertson, co-founder at TotalShape, agrees. “A surprising number of unique clothing pieces are found through thrifting,” he said. “For instance, my favorite jacket, a secondhand vintage suede Burberry that I bought recently, is probably one of the best clothing pieces I own for half its original price.”

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Storage Baskets

If you’ve ever looked for storage baskets at your favorite retailers, you know it’s difficult to purchase large baskets of any quality plus style for under $30. But it turns out that a thrift store can be a good place to score some baskets at a great price.

“I have been thrifting for years and my home is filled with items from places like Goodwill and The Salvation Army (although it doesn’t look that way!),” said Lisa Carnett, motherhood and lifestyle blogger. “One thing that I have noticed over the years is that people spend way too much money on storage baskets. You can find baskets of all sizes at thrift shops, spray paint them any color that you want, and it will save you so much money! I personally don’t buy storage containers for my home at full price anywhere.”

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