Making the Most of Thrifting when I am Limited on Time

On Saturday, I took Vi on a little mommy-daughter date for donuts and thrift store shopping. LJ had been sick with a stomach bug for a few days last week so this was a nice way to spend some quality time together and focus my attention back on Vi while Justin and LJ hung out at home. Obviously a two-year-old’s attention span isn’t huge, so we only spend about 20 minutes in the store. We were able to score a brand new “pop it” for Vi (she is obsessed with these!) and a small puzzle for LJ for a total of $5. It was totally worth it and we had so much fun! She was so excited to get home and show off her purchases.

This got me thinking about thrifting and the time I spend in stores. I feel like thrifting can sometimes seem a little intimidating for people because unlike a regular store, every single item in a thrift store is unique and there is SO much to sift through. It would take hours to look at every single item. And while I love spending an hour browsing the racks and stacks, more often than not, I don’t have that much time. Usually, I have 20 minutes or less to pop into a store in between running errands and sometimes I have as little as five minutes.

Is it still worth it to go even when I don’t have tons of time? YES! I think frequency is just as important as duration; spending 5-10 minutes total browsing my top sections 3 times a month can be just as rewarding as spending 30 minutes in one store once a month. (Side note: I’m talking about when I have 5-10 minutes by myself; I rarely go with my kids because that’s often more work than it’s worth). I have learned to be strategic about these short trips – I don’t have time to sift through racks of clothes or stroll aimlessly. Instead, I have my top sections that I prioritize, and then if there’s time leftover I can branch into other areas of the store. Today I thought I’d share the top sections I head to when I have limited time to try to maximize every minute. These sections are where I find the majority of items that make my home feel unique (and bonus that they’re so budget-friendly!)

Here are my top six sections for thrift store shopping:


Glassware is a quick section to check out in just a minute or two; even though there are typically a lot of items there, the fact that they’re all clear makes it easy to skim through and spot the differences. I can pretty quickly scan these items and notice if there’s anything that sparks my interest – usually I’m just on the lookout for things like glass storage containers and Pyrex (I’ve found several nice Pyrex bowels and baking pans over the years), but lately I’ve also started looking for specialty drinkware. Justin just recently asked me to look for martini glasses and I was able to snag a pair of these cute stemless glasses for $1!

Picture Frames

All of these frames were purchased secondhand for $16 total!

I almost always stop in the picture frame section and spend a minute or two looking through the selection. I like to have a variety of frames in different sizes on hand at home so when I’m updating a room or just wanting to refresh a space with a change in artwork, I have options ready to choose from. Thanks to the ability to spray paint any frame a different color, I’m not too worried about finish but I do look for quality, size, and style. I particularly like finding options that can be added to the gallery wall around our spiral staircase: 8 x 10 or smaller in unique styles and a mix of metals. I don’t always walk away with a new frame but because I shop this section so frequently, I do collect enough to maintain a nice little stash of 10-15 extra frames at any given time.


There’s usually a catch-all “decor” aisle that has all the little tchotchkes we put in our homes. If I have more time, I’ll analyze everything, but if I only have a few minutes, I’ll specifically skim the shelves for decorative bowls, brass candlesticks, and containers that could be used as planters. The little metal bowl in the picture above was thrifted, as is the book it’s sitting on and the gold frames on the wall!


Books can take some time to sort through and I can’t always devote the amount of time I want, but if I have five minutes to spend in this section I’ll at least glance through it. I like finding large coffee table books that I can stack with decor on top, antique books with yellowed pages and lots of character, books that I’ve actually read or would like to read, or just books that I really like the look of. The picture above is just a small sample of the books I’ve thrifted over the years – I’ve found everything from antique hymnals being sold at a flea market for $1 a bag to bestsellers that look brand new being sold for $3. I try to be purposeful with my book purchases; they’re not just to fill shelves. Each one I bring home is one I specifically chose for a reason and I love the collection I’ve curated over the years!


This is a more recently priority for me, but I now try to skim the game and puzzle section if I have a few extra minutes. Justin and I have always loved games and puzzles, so it’s so fun to be in this stage of parenthood where Vi and LJ are now interested in them too! Most thrift stores will make sure that all the pieces are included, or they will note what is missing, so you can make an informed decision on whether a purchase is worth it or not. These days I’m searching for little puzzles for LJ or fun family games for the four of us! I also like looking for 500 or 1000 piece puzzles that Justin and I may enjoy, but I will only purchase one if the store has checked that all the pieces are there.


Of all the sections, this is probably the one I actually purchase from the least, but I still always at least glance at it. You just never know when you’ll find the perfect little side table, bench, chair, etc. Sometimes inspiration just strikes! There are some “eventual” furniture purchases I want to make (vintage nightstands for our bedroom, a long credenza/buffet in the dining room, a storage bench in the guest room), and while I’m in no rush for them, the little list is always in the back of my mind as I browse furniture. Even if I don’t make a purchase, this section is fun to look through and get inspired by.

A few more things I keep in mind while thrifting:

1-I do have a little collection of picture frames and small decor in storage, but I try not to purchase anything else that I can’t immediately use or have a place for.

2-For those things I don’t immediately have a place for but can’t pass up, I try to think of at least three ways I can see myself eventually using the item before purchasing. An item with only one specific use that I can’t even use right now will likely just sit in storage for a long time and that’s not my personal goal.

3-Focus on what can’t be changed (or can’t be easily changed). Lampshades can be changed, but the shape of a lamp can’t. A picture frame can be painted, but the elaborate scrollwork around it can’t. A book cover can be removed, but the size of the book remains. The more I’ve focused on things I can change and things I can’t, the better scores I seem to find. You have to be willing to look beyond some things that CAN be changed to see the hidden gems that a thrift store can hold.

Do you enjoy thrifting? If so, what types of items are you most often on the lookout for?