Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself in several different secondhand stores, wandering about and admiring the goods on display. I often go to secondhand stores to seek out specific things that I’m looking for, but it had really been a while since I simply walked the aisles and looked around at what was on sale there. Along the way, I found quite a few items that were incredibly worthwhile and surprisingly inexpensive.
Many people, when they consider going to Goodwill or another secondhand store, imagine things like ragged sweaters and mildewy couches, but that’s not where the value is. Here are more than a dozen items I saw at most of the stores I visited that actually provided quite a lot of value for the dollar. The best part? If they don’t provide value to you, you can often flip them on Craigslist and get back what you paid for them (which usually isn’t much).
Here are 14 items I’d always look for in a secondhand store.
Secondhand t-shirts can usually be bought for just a couple of dollars. They’re perfect for weekend wear or activewear and then, when they’re completely worn out, you can add them right to the rag bag and use them for cleanup tasks (I really like using them for washing windows, for example). T-shirts are so utilitarian, and that’s why they’re valuable.
When you go to a secondhand store, browse through the t-shirts they have in your size or in the size of your family members. You’ll often find them for just a dollar or two and, quite often, they look practically new. At that price, you’ll feel completely fine getting them dirty on a workday or on a hike and it won’t feel like a big loss when they end up in the rag bag after a bunch of wearings.
The story that one can tell with t-shirts almost exactly replicates itself when it comes to pants. Quite often, pants of various kinds are incredibly cheap at secondhand stores. They’re perfectly fine for weekend wear and for outdoor tasks or other messy tasks. You won’t feel bad when they wear out completely because you only spent a few bucks on them. Not only that, some pants can have a second life in a rag bag, too.
I have several pairs of pants bought for just a couple of bucks at secondhand stores that I wear when I’m working in the yard or going on a hike or just being lazy around the house on a weekend. I don’t ever intend to wear them in a social situation or at a community event. They’re just perfect for messy tasks like cleaning the garage or fixing a bicycle or hiking somewhere or fixing a fountain pen. If I spill some oil on them or stain them, so what? They’re still wearable for weekend tasks.
The third category of clothing that I always look for in secondhand stores is clothing that either has a tag still attached or has an easily identifiable brand name on it. I own Ralph Lauren polos that were bought for a few bucks at a Goodwill, for example, and I’ve found several brand new articles of clothing on the racks there.
It’s easy to find items like these. Just look for garments with the original tag attached or for specific design elements. I usually look for items that are clearly made of good material and just fly by everything else – lo and behold, when I grab an item that’s made of good cloth and see that the stitching is well-executed, I’ve almost always heard of the clothing brand. That’s the only stuff I buy at used stores (aside from super-cheap t-shirts and pants that I intend to wear into oblivion on the weekends).
I consider secondhand bookstores – and the book section at any secondhand store – to be a treasure trove for anyone who enjoys reading. If you spend a few minutes there, you can’t help but find treasures that you’re excited to read or books that might be useful for some project or another. For example, I recently found this wonderful older book with amazing full page color sketches of garden herbs that would look gorgeous in a kitchen in a frame. The cost of the book? $0.75.
I almost always make a beeline straight for the book section in a secondhand store. I’ll look at all the titles, find interesting ones for $0.50 or $1, and walk out of there with two or three volumes. Usually, one or two are for reading for pleasure or learning, while the other one is for some kind of reference or other use – a cookbook, perhaps, or a book that I’ll take apart and use the pages in some artistic way.
Pyrex dishes and cookware
I’m often astonished at the amount of dishes and cookware that one can find in a secondhand store, and while much of it is just mishmashed plates, you’ll often find some really high-quality stuff in there. I almost always look for Pyrex items, because Pyrex stuff is practically indestructible in a home kitchen and can often be found for just a buck or two at secondhand shops.
In fact, it’s because of this constant hunting for Pyrex that we have Pyrex baking dishes that we can use for freezer meals. If you can find a Pyrex baking dish with a lid in a secondhand shop and you cook at home at all, it’s probably worth picking it up because it’ll probably have a $1 or $2 sticker on it. You will find uses for it. I find such items every few visits to a secondhand store with a kitchen section.
Cast iron cookware
Another kitchen item that I find regularly in secondhand stores, though perhaps not as often as Pyrex, is cast iron items, whether enameled or otherwise. Almost always, when I find these items, they basically look new but they have a price tag on them that’s about 10% of what they would cost in the store.
Cast iron cookware will basically last forever, so if you can find an enameled cast iron pot for $5-10 at a store, it’s one of the best items you can find. You can use it on the stovetop, in the oven, and in the freezer, and it’ll roll through all of it.
Admittedly, cast iron items are a bit rarer than Pyrex in secondhand stores, but I find them regularly enough that I probably have no need to ever buy anything cast iron again for the rest of my life.
Small kitchen appliances
On the other hand, something more common than cast iron in secondhand stores are small kitchen appliances. You almost can’t go into a secondhand store without finding a bread maker or a food dehydrator or a rice cooker or a vegetable steamer or a stand mixer or a toaster oven, often marked down to just a buck or two. I would almost never buy any of these items new if I was interested in trying one; instead, I’d just visit a few secondhand stores.
Right now, as I type this, there is a loaf of bread in our kitchen being cooked in a bread maker from a Goodwill store. We have a secondhand stand mixer and a secondhand vegetable steamer in the garage as well (we use the garage for a bit of extra storage for these kinds of small appliances).
Here’s the truth: these kinds of small kitchen appliances probably aren’t a wise idea if you’re paying full price (unless you use them constantly and know exactly what features you need), but if you’re interested in trying them and seeing how much time they can save you at home, buying one for $5 at Goodwill is a good bargain. Plus, if you ever tire of it, you can usually flip it and get most of your $5 investment back on Craigslist.
If you go into a secondhand shop and spot games for a current generation console (PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and Switch, as of this writing), you can almost always flip them for a profit. They’re one of the easiest things to profit from at a secondhand shop – I’ve done it more times than I can count. Just check eBay quickly for current used prices on those games.
On the other hand, I have fond memories of visiting my aunt when I was a child. She had a box that contained a video game console and piles of games for it – sometimes, it was already hooked up and ready to play. It wasn’t a current generation console, but there were so many games to try that we really didn’t care. I later learned that everything she had was acquired for pennies at a secondhand shop. She spent maybe $10 or $15 over the course of a few years and maybe $1 or $2 here and there after that to have an item that visiting children were thrilled to play, always with fresh games to play. If you can find a used console for a few bucks at a store (and the store verifies that it works and would allow you to return it if there’s a problem), pick it up. You can find oodles of games for dollars or even pennies for previous generation consoles at used game stores. Having an Xbox or a PS2 with a dozen games in a box somewhere is going to make visiting relatives love you. Plus, you can eventually flip them back for what you paid for them.
Here’s the trick with board games: most of what you find in a secondhand store is utter trash that people simply don’t want to play. What you’re looking for, in terms of flipping or in terms of family fun, are games that you don’t expect to see. Ignore the copies of Monopoly and Scene It! and look for games with less familiar titles. Almost always, these are the most enjoyable games available for sale there, and they’re usually priced for just a dollar or two because the person handling pricing doesn’t know what they are.
Take a peek at BoardGameGeek if you spy an unfamiliar game. That site will tell you quickly if a game is worthwhile – if it has a rating above a 6.5, it’s a well regarded game. Having a few well-regarded board games in your closet for a few bucks is perfect for situations where you have guests or family visiting. Similarly, it’ll also tell you what you might be able to flip the game for – and you’d be shocked how much they can flip for. I flipped a recent board game bought at a thrift store for $3 and received about $100 in return for it.
Many secondhand stores have a robust supply of tools of different times, from simple things like hammers and screwdrivers and wrenches and socket sets to small power tools. The best part is that these tools can often be had for pennies, whereas the same item might cost you $10 or so at a hardware store.
If you simply need to have a few Phillips screwdrivers of various sizes around the house for various screws (something that’s a good idea for almost everyone), the place to find them is a secondhand store. Just be patient, as different stores will have different items available. Having said that, much of our toolbox in our garage has been filled with items from secondhand stores.
You can often find many empty photo and portrait frames in secondhand stores, and you’ll sometimes find them with items already inside, ready for display. In either case, it can be a great way to acquire a frame for hanging almost any kind of decoration.
I love it when I can find an 8″ by 10″ frame for a dollar in one part of a secondhand store, and then head over to another part and find a record cover to crop or a book with some beautiful drawings in it that can be removed. For just two or three bucks, you suddenly have a beautiful and interesting and unique wall hanging for your home. The best part? These are the types of hangings that are easy to rotate. Just move the different frames around in your home and put different items in the frames and it’ll look like you redecorated at virtually no cost.
Another item that often shows up in secondhand stores is the humble mirror. You’ll find full sized ones or small ones intended to be hung on the wall. You’ll find ones with ornate framing and ones that have no framing at all. Again, it just requires patience.
Mirrors make for great wall hangings. You can almost never go wrong having a mirror or two hanging in a bathroom or a guest bedroom in your home. In fact, you can find a nice mirror along with a few empty frames and a book with some interesting pictures to cut out and you have the full decor you need for a very distinctive guest bedroom for less than twenty bucks; it’ll be completely unique, very colorful, and convenient for guests, too.
Baskets have so many uses around the house. They’re perfect for storage, particularly when you want to keep a bunch of items together for a single hobby (like, for example, knitting supplies and yarn). They’re wonderful for picnics or other out-of-the-house excursions. They even work well for giving larger gifts, as I’ve given gifts in a basket and included the basket as part of the gift itself (just putting a bow on top of it).
The best part? Baskets show up at secondhand shops all the time. They might be a bit dusty, but it doesn’t take much effort for them to look wonderful once again, at which point they become perfect for all kinds of household uses. They usually only cost a dollar or two as well.
A final item that I always look for at secondhand stores is the humble wooden hanger. I hope to someday have nothing but wooden hangers in my closet. If bought new, wooden hangers can be fairly expensive, but they last practically forever (unlike plastic ones, which often break easily).
Quite often, estates will bring in lots of garments on wooden hangers, so if I find a garment on a wooden hanger, I’ll often find a similar garment that I actually want and swap the hangers (the stores typically don’t mind if you ask). That way, I walk out of the door not just with a new garment, but with a very nice hanger that will receive lifetime use in my home.
Some Final Thoughts
Secondhand stores might have a lot of junk in there that you don’t want, but if you go in there with a set of things that you consistently look for that may be useful to you, you can often find lots of insane bargains and items that you may be able to flip at a profit. I always look for several things when I’m in any secondhand store, from books to good vintage games, from Pyrex dishes to cast iron items, from small kitchen appliances I might want to try to tools I may need for my toolbox, from t-shirts to wear into oblivion and use as rags to name-brand clothing items hidden away with lesser materials. I rarely go away from a thrift store completely empty-handed and I rarely spend more than a few bucks on something that’s really useful to me.
May you have similar luck on your secondhand store visits!