Thrift Store Basics: Part One

Before I start this entry, here’s an animated gif of Naomi Campbell that I can’t stop staring at. Sharing is caring!

Hi! This is the first post of a series that I’m going to share about thrift stores and shopping in them.

Did you know that my parents met at a swap meet in West Hollywood in the 1970′s? They lived and worked on Melrose Avenue and the pic below is my first modeling assignment at their store when I was 4 years old.

Image credit: Viva Magazine, December 1978 issue

Image credit: Viva Magazine, December 1978 issue

I’ve spent many years of my life in thrift stores, swap meets, at gun shows, and at every type of garage, yard, rummage, and estate sale that you can imagine.

Imagine if I added up all of the time spent browsing, buying, and selling on eBay and etsy in the late 20th century to early 21st century? The mind boggles.

I’ve become quite adept at navigating my way around good deals and interesting finds. In this series, I’ll share some of my basic strategies and philosophies with you.

This first part of the series will focus on preparation and then what to do once you first arrive to the store.

But Lisa, why do I need to prepare? Don’t you just go shopping? Not necessarily! I try apply one of my life’s philosophies of working smarter, not harder to this and most every endeavor.

Before You Enter the Store

Straight up, have you ever been to this thrift store? If so, do you know where the nearest free parking is?

Location, parking, and loose change: Do you have adequate spare change for the meter just in case there’s no free parking? Did you double check the street or parking lot signs? Is there any street cleaning or are there permits needed?

Timing: Did you set your watch or phone’s timer (I like the stopwatch feature) to go off? How much time can you spare before your next errand or destination? Is it still worth it to pop in?

Do you have your reusable bags? In the Bay Area and elsewhere nowadays, stores charge between 10-25 cents for providing paper bags unless you bring your own. I’m lucky if I remember to keep enough bags in the car, but I make every effort possible.

Do you know if there’s a restroom/washroom at the store? If not, can I hold it and do I have wipes or hand sanitizer?

These are all things that I consider to be important before every thrifting adventure, however spontaneous. You don’t want the thrill of the hunt to take a dark turn to infuriating when you get a parking ticket.

It’s a disastrous chain that results in you having to pee like a racehorse (of course) and then you also touched something icky.


Some people take the extra precaution of shopping with latex gloves, which I recommend/insist upon if you’re in the trenches somewhere like the Goodwill outlets. Mileage varies with the “bins” in every city. I’ve acquired some truly rare, oddball finds. I’ve also encountered trash and syringes, no joke. Safety first, y’all.

Are you a tough cookie? Can you hold your own? Do you have brass balls? The Goodwill outlet in L.A. has its own security personnel for good reason. People are willing to nearly shank someone because they’re plum loco about finding goodies. I admit that I can get caught up in the moment but would never be rude or risk my safety.

Nothing is ever worth it aka easy come, easy go.

There are other cabs around the block (or whatever cliche phrasing you want to substitute here), trust me on this. Your time might not be today, but if you are persistent and open-minded, you’ll find the treasure that you’re meant to.

I wish I had bought this item at the thrift store, rather than photographing it!

I wish I had bought this item at the thrift store, rather than photographing it!


Cart or basket? Always assume that you’re going to find some kind of wonderful (probably in VHS format), so be prepared!

Say hi to and acknowledge any store personnel, whether behind the counter or walking by, if possible. It’s a nice gesture that a lot of people overlook, which confuses me to no end. People can be helpful.

It’s also a hell of a lot easier for someone to help you when you are actually polite, courteous, and less annoying than some of the personalities out there. Plus I’ve learned a lot from the most random and unexpected people, so there’s that part of the bonus.

Another life philosophy: I do believe that the world would truly be a better place if everyone worked at a thrift store for 2 years, or some type of retail position. I also feel the same about a restaurant position.

People work very hard in the service industry and are no less deserving of being acknowledged at the very least for their contributions.

The next post, Thrift Store Basics: Part Two, will focus on the next very important task on your thrift store mission. Should you choose to accept it?

Merchandise location aka mapping out the store so you can focus quickly and efficiently.

Happy thrifting adventures ’til next time,

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