August 17th is “National Thrift Store Day” … so I decided to write my August blog post about thrift shopping. Because we all know people who love to go to Garage Sales or Thrift Stores to find bargains, we tend to think of “thrift shopping” as a norm in our world. However, “repeat sales stores” and “garage sales” are actually a relatively new phenomenon in our world and not everyone loves bargain hunting. A recent research firm found that only about 16-18% of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year, and yet resale is a multi-billion dollar industry today—not even considering garage and charity sales. The demographics of thrift store shoppers have changed over time, as well, with a decreasing “stigma” about thrifting. In fact, lower-income shoppers no longer represent the major face of thrift shopping any more, with middle and high-income shoppers now equally drawn to thrift and bargain hunting.
Looking back at the history of garage sales and thrift stores is interesting. Most sources suggest the first garage sales branched out of “rommage” or discount ship cargo sales in Europe in the 1800s, with charity sales later emerging in the churches. Churches and women’s groups later held many early bazaars and rummage sales in Europe and in the U.S. but actual thrift stores didn’t really evolve much until the 1900s. The first thrift stores had their origin through Christian organizations like the Salvation Army, but it wasn’t until the mid to late 1900s that thrift stores and garage sales began to gradually pop up around the U.S. Growing up in South Knoxville, Tennessee, I don’t remember seeing or hearing much about either in the 1960s or 1970s, but by the 1980s both thrift stores, charity sales, and neighborhood garage sales began to become more common.
The “why” is probably because more and more mass-produced disposable goods evolved—and people had more consumer goods to “cast off” or resell. Previously, people bought less household items and clothing goods and passed them down within the family, among neighbors or friends, or donated them to charities. In addition, early resale stores were not attractive or appealing to the general public. Today many thrift stores are cleaner, neater, and more appealing to shop in, often arranged to emulate department stores in design.
I began “thrift shopping” in my early-married years in the 1970s when setting up house in our first home and when our children were babies. My parents started “thrift shopping” in the same time period—helping to look for items for their grandchildren and discovering the bargains on clothes, home goods and home furnishings they could find. Mother delighted in finding fabric and notions for sewing and dad tools for his shop. Our family never embraced the “stigma” that enjoying someone else’s cast off home items or wearing someone else’s cast off clothes diminished our worth in any way. To us shopping at “thrift stores” or “garage sales” was simply “smart shopping” and fun. Knowing good clothing and household brands and names, we knew what to look for and what to avoid. For me thrift shopping in those early married years, when our children were small, enabled me to stay home with my children through most of their preschool years. One thing that is a “given” about small children is that they always “grow fast,” outgrowing clothes and shoes faster than they can wear them out. This meant that the garage sales and thrift stores were full of quality, little used children’s clothing, shoes, baby needs, strollers, car seats, toys, books and other items at a quarter or less of the price of those same items in the store. Saving on these items left more income for fun outings, vacations, pool memberships, and summer camps.
As young marrieds, furnishing a new home, we found many choice items for our house at the garage sales and thrift stores. It didn’t take us long to discover either that we could also find quality clothing items for ourselves—some with the sales tags still hanging on them or barely worn—and often with brand names not readily affordable for us otherwise. I also found wonderful art supplies, puzzles, and family games at garage sales and thrift stores, plus books from 25 cents to a dollar each.
Even now thrift store shopping is still an adventure and a pleasure to us, even with the children grown and gone. When we have time J.L. and I love to take a day to “hit the shops” in our area. We usually shop with a “needs list” now to avoid bringing home items we really don’t need, and we go from store to store, Goodwill to Karm, etc, looking for those items on our list.
If we don’t find what we need, we usually head to some favorite retail stores another day—but even there, we hit the sales racks first. Two new welcome arrivals to the “thrift store” world are the “used book stores,” a joy to a book lover like me and used furniture stores. Additionally, holiday stores have sprung up in our area—for back-to-school clothes and needs for kids and for holidays like Halloween or Christmas. We had fun exploring an area Christmas thrift store this last year and finding several items we really loved.
I’ve never felt “my worth” is expressed in “how much I spent for something,” “where I bought it,” or in “what trendy brand it represented.” Some items, I’ve learned, are best bought “new”—but in general, thousand of dollars can be saved yearly by wisely bargain shopping. Also, it is J.L.’s and my belief that any money we have or any financial blessings we enjoy are God’s first and not ours. So if we save, there is more to give as God directs—and when we save, we are prudently saving and wisely spending the resources God has given us. J.L. and I always pray, too, before shopping for anything, and we have found that God often leads us to exactly what we need at a bargain value and price from either an excellent used car, to a winter coat, to a great pair of hiking boots.
If you have never explored your area’s garage sales, charity sales, or thrift stores, I encourage you to give a day to checking them out. It’s fun simply to look—and you might come home with a few great bargains you’ll love.
Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act