My future dream home is one filled with beautifully cultivated treasures and furniture pieces that reflect a good eye for interior design. One where people say, “Wow! Where did you get that coffee table?” (for instance) and I casually respond, “Oh, I found that in a ditch and slapped some paint on it and now it looks like a million bucks!”

Side-of-the-road Good Fortune

I’ve always envied people who have side-of-the-road good fortune when it comes to discovering gently used cast offs. I know several people who have literally found beautiful pieces of furniture (that just need a little TLC) in ditches and garbage dumps! As observant as I try to be, the only non-garbage items I’ve stumbled upon have been mattresses. Lots and lots of mattresses. So of course, I keep driving.

But during the past couple of months, I’ve decided it’s time I learn how to become the thrifter I’ve always secretly wanted to be. I’ve been deterred from thrifting for various reasons: a) It’s time consuming b) I have never (seriously, never) found anything that I’d actually label a true treasure c) Thrift shops smell musty and everything is covered in a layer of grime d) All the cool stuff is already taken e) Does anyone under the age of 85 (besides me) donate to thrift shops anymore? f) There are some things that cannot be upcycled no matter how creative you are, which is probably why the only things I ever seem to find are really old Christmas decorations and outdated bed frames g) I fear I lack “the eye” for finding treasures amongst the junk.

Thrift Shop Competition

After reading the “The Nesting Place” by Myquillyn Smith, I was encouraged to stop putting off projects and making excuses, and start visiting our local thrift shops on a regular basis. I tried to visit places without any expectations – realizing I probably won’t find anything but I definitely won’t if I don’t try.

Maybe it’s an Augusta thing, but thrifters here are cut throat. I have visited several Goodwills, Habitats for Humanity and Salvation Army’s, felt that rush of excitement when my eyes land on a decent dresser or side table or accent chair, only to be immediately discouraged by the “sold” tag. There is seriously an ever growing “sold” section at my local Salvation Army (would people please just come pick up their furniture so that I won’t be constantly reminded of the happy thrift story that could have been?) This has happened repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and the only things left are hideously shaped lamps, teddy bear portraits and old workout VHS’s.


The other day, I walked into a Habitat for Humanity that had clearly recently received a giant donation from some sort of office that had finally ditched their 80’s style furniture (there were at least 15 tables and probably 30 maroon office chairs). I scanned the building, quickly past over the orange sofa and mildewy recliners, and settled on a gorgeous antique side board (probably the only beautiful piece in the store) and of course it was sold. I felt like I had been robbed, which is completely ridiculous because five seconds before, I hadn’t seen or even dreamt of this sideboard. And for all I know, it could have been a $500 side board or some astronomical figure that was way out of price range. I’m realizing very quickly that just because something winds up at a thrift store does not mean it will only cost a dollar (especially if it’s on consignment). But I digress. Anyways, the moral of this story is that thrifting is a competition. And it’s one I’m currently failing at (thrifted finds so far: one hardback book in excellent condition – $1.00, one wooden bowl – $1.00, two dining chairs, which I can’t decide whether I love or hate – $8.00/each).

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The truth is though that I am very picky when it comes to thrifted treasures. Having moved several times over the last two years, I lean more towards a minimally decorated home rather than one teeming with thrifted tchotchkes (though I secretly desire to be a free spirited bohemian with a thousand plants and random junk that all flows together in a beautifully, cluttered, yet cohesive way). Packing is easier when it’s just the essentials and I’ve made enough trips to Goodwill with donations to prevent me from mindlessly purchasing anything in the near future.

How to be a Good Thrifter

To be a good thrifter requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. It means having a game plan and not giving up because there’s always going to be junk and ONE day I will land on a piece of junk that isn’t junk to me. One day, I’ll be the cut throat thrifter who spots the side board or cupboard or accent table first. One day soon, I’ll withstand the extreme Augusta heat long enough to browse the flea markets and haggle for a ridiculously great price (that I can later incorporate into a story about how this such-and-such-piece is worth $10,000 and only cost me 20 bucks!).

The right brained, super creative part of me has accepted this thrifting challenge. I may not possess a lot of experience right now, but I’m working on it. My home is (quite literally) a blank canvas, just awaiting treasures that my husband hopefully won’t roll his eyes over.

To quote Smith, “I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.”

One Comment on “On Thrifting: An Essay

  1. I so enjoyed this Sarah. I love to thrift because it’s like a treasure hunt. The thrill is in the hunting, spotting something you didn’t really expect to find.
    I think being in the service is a great place to thrift. People are always moving and needing to get rid of stuff. It’s a great opportunity to redo your house at every duty station 🙂
    Keep that pen moving, your writing is such a delight! xoxo


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