I’ve been embracing thrift stores recently for both economic and environmental reasons. I discovered a really great website, The Thrifty Chicks, that’s “dedicated to a robust reuse market.” The site elevates thrift store shopping to an art form, gives advice and inspires people. I asked Ms. Shopping Golightly, one of the sites thrifty bloggers, to tell us about how thrift shopping and the kitchen go hand in hand.

MNN: Why do you shop thrift stores?
Ms. Shopping Golightly: As a young single professional, I shopped consignment stores in the lower level storefronts of Chicago’s Gold Coast and Boston’s Newbury Street. This afforded me a high-end professional wardrobe that didn’t break my budget and better fit my personal tastes. I carried a refined, professional look without being stuck in some bland matching skirt and jacket from department store mills.
When planning our marriage, Mr. Golightly and I agreed we wanted one parent at home to raise our children. Enter the charitable thrift store. It is an invaluable resource for our needs, and it’s easy on our pocketbook.
Establish a regular thrift store routine, and you will find many of your future needs met for pennies on the dollar. It’s amazing what Americans are tossing over their shoulders — many items never worn, brand new. We are a very wasteful country, and until we learn to shop with wisdom, I think it best to divert our salvageable product waste stream back into a market for reuse.
Though my initial reasons were budget-related, I soon realized that thrift shopping was an economic and ecological sustainable practice. No additional energy is required to fill the consumer's need for a gently used product. The fuel of long-haul transport, often from the other side of the Earth, has already been burned. The only fuel attached to the item is the car ride over to the donation site. Reused products do not have the weight and waste of excessive packaging that new products carry. Finally, thrift-store shopping diverts reusable items from landfills. That is a respectable energy savings. This is a dialogue that needs to enter the American discussion on energy conservation. Shopping weighs heavily on energy consumption, more than many of us are probably willing to admit.
Charitable thrift shopping is also a poetic gesture: The profits from the sale of repurposed products in charity-run thrift stores directly promote the repurposing of lives in need. Not only do we avoid product waste, through our contributions we help to avoid the waste of another human's life. This, in turn helps our community.
What's been your favorite score?
That’s a tough question.
In the kitchen, I have a bright yellow enameled pot my daughter’s call the sunshine pot. Colors do evoke feelings and this color is a very cheerful one. We always laugh that when we lift the lid off the sunshine pot. Whatever is in it, even if it’s canned soup, radiates a bright light from the pot.
I have many other treasures from thrift. And since I’ve been thrifting, I’ve come to develop a deeper appreciation for what I have. This recession landed on my family like Dorothy’s house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. Given this, imagine my gratitude the day I found a beautiful strand of vintage pearls for 50 percent off in the thrift store. They cost me $12 and served as the perfect gift for my daughter to forever keep on her 13th birthday. Treasures like that are not rare in the thrift community.
Do you think it's possible to find most of the things you need in a kitchen (aside from major appliances) in a thrift store? What's in your kitchen that you've gotten thriftily?
Thrift stores are excellent sources for outfitting a kitchen, home, closet, classroom or library. Every type of pot or pan from Faberware to Calphalon to European enamelware to French copper to the traditional (and seasoned from use) iron skillet flows through thrift stores.
I prefer enamelware and copper. I have found that an enameled iron Dutch oven is one of the most versatile items one can have in a kitchen. It’s stovetop to oven. Toss a chicken and some onions, carrots, and potatoes into a Dutch oven, and you have a complete meal, baked a juicy perfection with little effort. I’ve a few Dutch ovens bought for about $6 each. One was bought brand new. They retail from $60 and over $100. Copper is great because it heats up fast and evenly. Many stainless pots don’t heat evenly and have random hot spots, which causes scorching. I don’t believe many Americans are aware of the advantages and disadvantages to the selection of cookware on the market. Regardless, the thrift store makes high-end cookware affordable, and I appreciate that.
Every type of kitchen gadget can be found at thrift stores: lime presses, ravioli presses, garlic presses, rotational cheese graters, wooden spoons often for 10-50 cents. I particularly like finding vintage Moulinex. The French had invented streamline food processing years before and electrical device was made. Moulinex even had an early salad spinner that is easier to store, won’t break and is free of plastic.
Small kitchen appliances are easy finds at thrift stores. Our coffee maker and blender are thrift and work just fine for a lot less money.
Any secrets for finding thrift stores that have the best stuff?
The best way to score at thrift stores is to go often. Inventory turns over in a blink. Some items never make it on the shelves because they are pulled from those wonderful gray bins and dress racks as they literally roll onto the floor. If I’m in the area, I’ll stop by a thrift store two to three times a week.
Look up the local thrift stores in your area. Chances are some will be close to your bank, a grocery store, a rec center, or some other place you frequent. When in the vicinity of a thrift store, run in for a 10-minute recon strike to see what’s new. Always grab a cart and if you’re on the fence about an item put it in the cart and think about it as you shop. You can always put it back. Often times if you leave it on the shelf, someone else will pick it up and then it’s gone.
Thrift stores will often have a 50 percent off the entire store sale on a Saturday. It can be wise to go the Friday night before as they are stocking the store, getting ready for the madness. You might not a get 50 percent off that copper double boiler, but at $9 it’s still a good deal when they retail $70. If you wait for that 50 percent off savings (in this case $4.50) the chances of finding that double boiler are quite low.
Here’s an example of how fast things move. One day I spied a sofa in the front window of my neighborhood thrift and swerved my car into a metered parking spot out front (instead of parking for free in back). I ran in the store, dive bombed the sofa and snagged the sale tag. I heard another woman curse me under her breath and the cashier noted they had just put that sofa out. Claiming that sofa came down to seconds. Really. This was a butter crème colored Pottery Barn sofa sleeper in perfect condition. Not the slightest signs of wear — the cushions perfectly square, not a stain on it for $250. I’d wanted a sofa sleeper for sleepovers for my daughters but couldn’t afford one. That one purchase saved me over $2,500. My old couch replaced it in the window and it was gone in a day and that couch will be included as a tax-deductible donation on our income tax return.

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