7 Ways to Find Hidden Treasures at Secondhand Stores, Thrifting Experts Say

If you're looking to locate unique or valuable items, check out these quick tips.

Dedicated thrifters understand that the best hauls are the ones that include something you were never expecting to find. Whether it's a brand you haven't been able to locate, or a mysterious item that's worth way more than what you paid for, finding hidden treasures is a thrill like no other. But if you're just starting out your thrifting journey or looking to up your secondhand shopping game, experts have your back. Read on to find out the best seven ways you can find these treasures at thrift stores.

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Start with the clearance rack.

clearance rack sign
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If you're at a secondhand store, it might feel counterintuitive to seek out items that are even further discounted. But according to Vivian Kelly, vintage clothing and fashion expert, the clearance section is where you should head first.

"I always start with the clearance rack," Kelly tells Best Life. "I've found some true hidden gems on these racks simply due to others not knowing what they're looking for."

Andrea Woroch, money-saving and lifestyle-budgeting expert, agrees, adding that these items have likely been on the racks for a while. "These are items that haven't sold within a certain period of time and have been marked down," she says, meaning that you might score a rare find and pay even less.

Know where you're looking.

small town thrift store
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City dwellers will be disappointed to learn that they may have to travel to locate certain treasures. According to Deepak Tailor, founder and CEO of the website Latest Free Stuff, smaller thrift stores can be goldmines.

"Small town thrift stores are the best kinds to shop from, and any lesser known stores," he explains. "Secondhand stores in larger cities, and big brand name shops, tend to be very overpriced and they don't have as many unique items."

These more localized shops are not only more affordable, but they're more likely to have those "one-of-a-kind" pieces you're seeking, Tailor says.

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Don't ignore items—even if they look like they're ripped or damaged.

woman inspecting shirt at thrift shop
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If you see something that's broken at the mall or grocery store, odds are you're going to leave it on the shelf and maybe let an employee know. But if you see something in disrepair at a thrift shop, it could just be your lucky day.

"You can also purchase pieces that need repair if you know what repairs cost," Kelly says, noting that you should first locate a reputable repair shop.

Sometimes, however, items are just past their prime—and you'll have to make the final call. "If an item is simply too worn out, it may be best to just pass on it," Kelly adds. "Clothing does indeed have a shelf life."

Use your phone.

girl using smartphone
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Most of us don't leave home without our smartphones, and you'll want to make sure you have yours when you're thrift shopping, according to experts.

"Always have your phone on hand when searching through secondhand stores," Tailor says. "You can easily look up items you might think are valuable and see what they go for online."

You'll then have a better idea of whether the price tag is a good deal, regardless of whether you keep the item for yourself or resell, he adds.

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Make friends in the right places.

talking with thrift store owner
antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

If you've already secured a reliable secondhand shop, Kelly recommends befriending the owners.

"They will then let you know in advance when something good comes in," she says, adding that you can return the favor and "spread the word" about their shop.

"I also let the owners know what I'm looking for, and they will then keep this in mind when they are buying items for their inventory," Kelly explains.

Don't rule out online shopping.

hold bank credit card and type on laptop, shopping online

Thrift stores often conjure images of filled, multicolored racks—and maybe even a certain smell. But if you don't like the hustle and bustle of shopping in person (or just like to save time), you can search for treasures without leaving your house.

"Skip spending hours searching through stores and look online," Sierra Skellyeditorial manager at GoodBuy Gear, an online children's consignment store, recommends. "There are a ton of secondhand shopping options online now."

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Look for stores that sell "open box items."

Woman opening her parcel, close up. Female hands lifting lid of carton package on wooden table

Speaking of online shopping, there's another benefit to doing so, Skelly says. There are certain key phrases any thrifter should be aware of. If you hear that a consignment shop sells "open box items," it should be music to your ears.

"These are basically floor models and returns from high-end retailers," Skelly says. "They're just like new, but half the price!"

These deals are often available online through third-party retailers, who resell the opened items at a lower price, she explains.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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