Pink Melmac
Credit: Karen Kirk

Thrifting for vintage and antique items is a fun hobby, and can be a great way to make some extra cash. People throw out old possessions every day, and many of them are still useful and sellable. Here are 5 tips for finding awesome, useful, and valuable items while thrifting!

Use your phone

Thrifters of today have a great modern resource at their fingertips: a cell phone! Not only is your phone good for taking calls and checking Twitter, it can be a great tool for finding items to sell.

The most simple method is to do a search on sites like Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay for the going rates on an item. If you find, for example, a vintage 1950s purse, a quick search can tell you what others are asking for the same or similar purses. Most books can be searched by ISBN number, which will provide a list of prices for that title all over the internet. Using your phone to check prices will prevent expensive mistakes, and maybe score you an unexpected winner that you might otherwise have overlooked.

Keep an open mind

If you've ever gone thrifting with a friend or relative who doesn't share your passion for vintage, you've probably heard them express their doubts. "It's all just a bunch of junk!" "No one will want this old thing!" "It's filthy!" And it's true, thrift stores and yard sales often do appear on the surface to be nothing more than secondhand castoffs. But don't be fooled; among the refuse are treasures waiting to be discovered! A very important key is to keep an open mind about the items you find.

It's always nice to find vintage or antique items in perfect condition, but that isn't always possible. Many older items are dirty, worn, broken, or incomplete. But just because an item has a bit of dirt or damage doesn't mean it's worthless! Look through the surface grime and try to see the possibility underneath.

Many items can be improved with just a bit of cleaning. Silver can be polished to a new shine. Old toys, collectibles, household items, and some clothing sometimes just need to be cleaned in order to restore their original beauty. Gentle cleaning with a little soap, rubbing alcohol, or diluted bleach can often remove dirt and stains. There are online tutorials to teach you how to clean old toys without ruining them.

Minor repairs can also help to return an item to its best condition. Small defects in clothing can be mended with a needle and thread, and purses and belts can be fitted with better hardware. Artwork can be re-framed. Mismatched items can be combined to make a new collection.

Of course, when selling these items, it's important to always disclose when repairs or changes have been made! Many buyers will want the items even if they have been touched up a bit, as long as you are honest about the true condition.

Date indicators

Some items, like books, tell you exactly when they were made. The copyright date can easily be found on one of the first few pages of any book. Other items aren't so helpful!

Fortunately there are lots of ways to tell the age of a vintage item, based on various markings. Pottery and ceramics usually have stamps or markings on the bottom, such as numbers or a country of origin, that can be used to determine the decade in which they were made. On clothing and purses, the country of origin, materials, maker's logo, and other details can be used to estimate a date. Artwork is usually signed by the artist, and a quick online search can often tell the exact year that a piece was made. Bar codes can give you a general idea of the age of an item - they have only been in common use since the early 1980s, so any item with a bar code can't be much older that that.

Search each item you find for any kind of identifiable information that can be researched to find a date. And prepare to be surprised; not every item that looks old actually is! Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to quickly identify and date vintage items based on their markings.

ashtray bottomCredit: Karen Kirk


One very important aspect of thrift shopping is timing. Everyone has had the experience of going to a yard sale or thrift shop with high hopes, only to be disappointed when they can't find a thing. It happens all the time! But don't get discouraged.

In order to be successful at finding great items on a regular basis, frequency is the key. Stopping once a month at the local Goodwill isn't likely to turn up many useful items. One or two yard sale trips per summer may be fun, but the chances of finding anything are small.

Instead of one big trip every now and then, make it a habit to visit your favorite thrifting spots frequently. Spend an hour or two every Saturday morning cruising yard sales. Stop at Goodwill every evening on the way home from work. Hit the thrift shop three times a week. Lots of short, quick visits are better than one long one. New items are being added every day, and you want to be there when they go up on the shelf! This may seem time consuming at first, but after some practice, you'll be able to swing through and search for goodies quickly and efficiently.


Another good way to improve your thrifting success is to engage friends and relatives as helpers. Even if you don't know anyone who enjoys "junking" as much as you do, other people can still be very helpful in sourcing items. When the people around you know about your vintage business, they know to drop you a line if they spot something in their everyday travels
that might be useful. Friends can alert you to yard sale advertisements in parts of town you don't usually visit, or an acquaintance whose distant relative died and will be having an estate sale, or spot a nice item at a consignment shop.

Let your friends and loved ones know about your business, and they are often happy to toss you a lead every now and then!

I hope these 5 tips have been helpful. Happy thrifting!