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The handy list that makes thrifting home decor a breeze
Use a special list to thrift home decor with purpose. Photo: Cristian Rojas/Pexels

The handy list that makes thrifting home decor a breeze


Still looking for a spot to put that homemade ceramic? Got a stack of vintage gold frames you have yet to hang? Make every secondhand score count with this simple tool that stops impulse thrifting in its tracks.

Thrifting is a game of chance. And like most games of chance, everyone has a sacred rite or silent ritual they think increases their odds of finding those one-of-a-kind gems.

Some people avoid eagerly grabbing a buggy. Others swear by shopping at certain times of the day.

I stick to my thrifting list like it’s my religion.

While one of the great joys in life is going rogue in Goodwill, I have a self-diagnosed knick-knack problem. One that's resulted in me repeatedly committing a major cardinal sin of thrifted home decor: donating my finds back to the thrift store.

Not because I stopped liking my oversized wicker basket or my lacquer waterfall armoire, but because I failed to find a way to make them work in my small space.

I put the cart before the horse and gleefully skipped over what might be the most obvious rule of interior design, be it thrifted or retail. Everything needs a place.

This rule isn’t so hard and fast when you have a generous return policy and a stockroom full of duplicates to fall back on.

But thrift stores are ripe with an unspoken pressure to buy now — even if you’re not sure it’ll match, fit, or serve a purpose — because it probably won’t be there tomorrow.

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After years of novelty remorse and playing furniture Tetris, I finally stumbled on a basic strategy that enables me to thrift like a champ.

A little planning goes a long way when hunting for secondhand home decor items, and it starts with this simple list:

The author's “To Thrift” list, organized by category. Photo: Emily Blackwood

In its humble essence, my “To Thrift” list is a detailed database of practical (and not-so-practical) items that would benefit my space.

It’s a mix of immediate needs, pieces I’m pining over, and things that I currently own that could use an aesthetic upgrade.

Much like I break down my groceries, I’ve organized my thrifting targets into sections you'd commonly find in any vintage or  thrift store, like:

  • Furniture
  • Housewares
  • Artwork
  • Textiles (blankets, curtains, etc.)
  • Decorative items (candles, vases, etc.)

Adding these sections to my list not only keeps me on task while browsing through cluttered shelves but also ensures that I have a purpose for every item I bring home.

Gone are the days of buying a vintage floral painting “just because,” only to have it collect dust in a corner.

Now, I peruse my local Salvation Army like a seasoned tour guide, using my list like a map to navigate the aisles without getting sidetracked by other shiny objects.

While any to-do list app will work, I like my iPhone’s built-in Reminders app because it makes it easy to add a note.

This way, I can include important information like measurements, colour preferences, and what I plan on using it for. This helps me make quick decisions while shopping and also prevents me from making repeated mistakes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought home a beautiful vase only to realize it’s too tall for any of my shelves.

But beyond keeping me from stocking up on random trinkets, my thrifting list also serves another important purpose: maintaining my vision.

I’ve learned that without a clear idea of what I want my space to look like, I’m more likely to end up with a hodge-podge of decor that doesn’t cohesively fit. So, I almost always attach a picture with each item as a visual reminder of what I’m aiming for.

If finding something that will flow with existing pieces is important, I’ll also attach a picture of what the area currently looks like so I can better imagine how it will all come together.

While I still allow myself the occasional emotionally driven buy, my handy list has drastically improved my success rate in finding and keeping secondhand home decor; making thrifting less of a guessing game and more of a strategic treasure hunt.

What's on your to-thrift list? Let us know in the comments!


Emily Blackwood is a freelance journalist based in San Diego, California. She covers entertainment, wellness, travel, home, food, culture—all the things that make life interesting, tantalizing, and just the right amount of weird. Her work has been published in SELF, Apartment Therapy, Stylist, HuffPost, and National Geographic. Learn more at emily-blackwood.com.

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