Written by Meghan McAndrews, blogger at HighPlainsThrifter.net
Although mailing a check or dropping coins in a red kettle are undoubtedly the easiest ways to support the Salvation Army’s mission, shopping their stores is by far the most fun (find your nearest store).
I’m biased, of course, as the gift of thrift was passed down to me by my mom when I was too small to see over the racks and too naïve to know that money was tight. These days, I’m all grown up, with an insatiable appetite for vintage clothes and a fascination with cast-offs from long-gone eras, a passion which led me to start High Plains Thrifter, a blog dedicated to thrift-store shopping.
Whether you’re new to thrifting and don’t know where to start, or a veteran regular like me, these tried-and-true tips are bound to make for an enjoyable visit the next time you enter any of 32 Salvation Army Stores in Minnesota and North Dakota.
- Make a list. To avoid aimless aisle wandering, make and keep a running list of what you’re hunting for before you head to the store. (I keep mine on my phone, since I know I’ll always have that with me.) Whether you’re looking for craft supplies, a specific article of clothing or holidays decorations, having a list on hand will help you stay focused, and keep you from getting overwhelmed.
- Go often. Like so many other things in life, persistence cannot be underestimated when considering thrift-store shopping success. Find a few stores that are convenient to your daily routine and stop in often.
- Allow yourself time to browse. No doubt about it, thrift-store shopping is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Squeezing in a visit when you’re short on time can be done, but if you’re just starting out, I recommend allotting at least an hour to browse so you’re not in a rush.
- Scan your way to success. When browsing for clothing, let your eyes scan up and down the rack, looking for colors, patterns and textures that appeal. This trick will save you from the exhausting task of looking at every single item. Tip: Most Salvation Army Stores organize merchandise by color, with a separate section for patterns, which makes this technique even easier to pull off.
- Look up (and down). While making the rounds, keep an eagle eye out for goodies hanging up on the wall or stashed underneath the racks, as many stores stash odd- or over-sized items underneath clothing racks and hang prize artwork and clothing up on the wall.
- Inspect to avoid regret. Facing a cart-full of finds? Awesome work! Before you hit the checkout, take a few minutes to give your new-found treasures a thorough once-over. Find a quiet, well-lit spot and test out zippers, buckle buckles, snap snaps, check seams, open and close drawers, and look for holes, chips, cracks, tears or stains. If you notice something you really want is damaged, think about how much it’ll cost to repair, how stubborn that stain may be to remove, how realistic is it that you’ll take it to the tailor, before you make your purchase.
- Use your imagination. Get comfortable with the idea of repurposing items in ways they weren’t originally intended for. In my house, a wooden plant stand works wonderfully as a shoe rack; vintage train cases store art supplies and nail polishes; a floral flat sheet serves as a pretty spring tablecloth; and souvenir ash trays hold my jewelry in style. Be creative and you’ll save money and have one-of-a-kind décor.
- Get familiar with stores’ sale cycles. “Liking” Salvation Army Stores on Facebook (search “Salvation Army Twin Cities ARC”) ensures you’ll be the first to know about holiday blowouts and weekly tag sales. In smaller towns in Minnesota and North Dakota, follow the local Salvation Army page for updates (Ex: Duluth Salvation Army). Once you’ve found a location you love, look for posters and signs regarding their unique sale offerings, discount days and more.
- Accept that every trip may not be successful. Getting frustrated about not striking gold at every visit is a rookie mistake. And so is buying stuff just for the sake of buying something. If you don’t really love it, put it back on the rack. Then relax and repeat after me: It’s okay to leave a store without buying something.
- Practice thrift-store kindness. Salvation Army employees work hard to make shopping at their stores an enjoyable experience, so return the favor by being a good customer. If you’re going through a rack and an item of clothing slips off the hanger, by all means, hang it back up. Become a regular at a certain store? Introduce yourself to the staff so you can greet them by name. And never underestimate the value of a sincere smile and “thank you” upon exiting. Common courtesy goes a long way, both at the store and everywhere else.
Editor’s note: Buying merchandise isn’t the only way to support Salvation Army Stores. You can also donate gently used clothes, housewares, electronics, books and other items. By shopping or giving at the Twin Cities area stores, you are helping to fund a life-saving rehabilitation program (learn more). Proceeds from stores in Greater Minnesota and North Dakota are used to support basic needs programs. Find your nearest store.