I love thrift shopping. And when I say “thrift shopping” I also include consignment shops, Goodwill stores, flea markets, Facebook Marketplace, and a good old garage sale or yard sale. Basically, any place I can score secondhand items goes in the bucket of “thrift store shopping.” Even an online thrift store. Anyway, today I want to dive into the topic of thrifting with kids, and also share our daughter’s latest thrift haul of items for her bedroom.
Why Teach Kids To Thrift
I want my kids to love thrifting as much as I do, beginning at a young age. I didn’t start thrifting until one of my high school friends dragged me along to our local thrift store on the hunt for some vintage clothing. I was reluctant. But when I found the perfect pair of vintage cords (it was the late 90s folks) I was hooked. My new cords were so unique and such a good deal at fifty cents. I couldn’t believe it and was instantly hooked on secondhand shopping.
Thrifting For Sustainability
One reason I’m teaching my kids to thrift is because it’s more sustainable than buying new. There are some wild statistics out there about fast fashion and the detriment it has to the environment. There’s an article on Earth.org about fast fashion concerning statistics. It’s mind-boggling to me.
If thrifting can help them adopt a reuse mindset when it comes to their purchases as adults, even just a little bit, I feel like I’m doing my part of instilling a more sustainable mindset in them. If they learn through thrifting about overconsumption and how they don’t need a new wardrobe every season, I’m doing okay.
And why buy brand new, expensive particle board furniture pieces from Target when these gorgeous nightstands are available?! Okay, so they’re still mass-produced, but where were these when I was hunting for matching nightstands for our bedroom?!
Thrifting To Foster Creativity
Another reason I’m teaching my children to thrift is to foster their sense of creativity. As an avid thrifter of furniture, especially furniture in the ten-dollar range, I have cultivated a sense of creativity. I started thrifting furniture for my first apartments and my first home out of necessity. I didn’t have the budget for a $500 desk but I could afford a $10 one. While it may not have been my style, I found ways to repair it and make it work. This may have been the origination of my chalk paint obsession.
Thrifting Financial Benefits
I also want my kids to learn thrifting for financial reasons. Thrifting is such a valuable lesson in learning budgeting and how to save better. When I took Rowan thrifting for furniture for her bedroom, I gave her a $100 budget to find a desk, nightstand, chair, and art. It’s all we had available at the time to spend on her room.
She learned a lesson when she wanted both the $60 desk and the $50 nightstand. It was too much and left her without a chair or art. She really wanted that desk, it was the most important piece for her. So we compromised and picked out a really cheap $15 nightstand that we could customize together, and upcycled an old chair in our attic, which left her $25 for art.
We also talked about the price of new vs. secondhand and how it can stretch dollars. The nightstand, at only $15 was a great deal. If we had bought it new, it may have cost us 10 or 20 times that amount and blown her entire bedroom makeover budget with one item.
Used Is Beautiful
Thrifting with kids can also teach them that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Items don’t need to be in mint condition to be worth it. They also don’t need to be name brands, designer labels, luxury brands, original tags, or any of that.
Used, worn, and off-brand items are not only the best deals but can also be the right item for them. While thrift shopping together I hope they learn that name brands don’t matter as much as finding what they NEED. This could be a lesson entirely in itself, shopping out of necessity not for fun or because it’s a good deal.
Tips For Thrifting With Kids
Now that you know my personal why behind thrift shopping and some reasons for thrifting with kids, let’s dive into some tips for making it happen. Shopping with kids can be tough enough and it’s important to plan any shopping trip with kids. Especially with small children. I feel this holds true, if not more important when it comes to hitting that second-hand shop. Here are my top tips for thrifting with kids.
Plan Your Trip
My children are (almost) two and six. I plan ALL of our trips no matter if it’s grocery shopping, thrifting, or hitting other retail stores. I find that the smoothest trips are the ones I go in with a plan. Like what are we looking for, how much time are we dedicating, what stores are we going to, what’s our budget, do we have a snack/food plan, and what’s the game plan for an inevitable meltdown.
Going in with a plan, even if it’s a vague plan like I’m just going to this one thrift store and we are looking for kids’ clothes because they went through growth spurts and need XYZ, is smart. It gives you some structure and helps set expectations for your children.
We recently hit up a major thrift store in our area (it’s as big as a mini Target) with the game plan of finding art for Ro’s room. We both made it out with a stack of art in under 30 minutes, a miracle in this store, by going in with a plan to focus on art.
Make It Fun
Because I want them to LOVE thrifting I know it needs to be fun for them. It’s not fun for them if Mom is trying on a bunch of clothes and they get ushered in and out of the dressing room for hours. I save shopping for secondhand clothing for myself until I have a block of alone time.
What is fun for them? Short trips to the thrift store, scouring the kids’ clothing racks for a couple back to school dresses, picking out a book (I almost always let them each pick out a book), and hunting for something specific that I task them with.
One of the most fun thrifting trips I had with Rowan was when we found these amazing wooden toys including an old wooden, Radio Flyer trike that was the perfect size for Bea. I was standing next to the trike, turned to ask Rowan if she thought Bea would like this, turned around and it was GONE. I was inches from it, where did it go?!
We could hear the trike’s bell throughout the store and assumed a toddler had taken it for a ride. I gave Rowan the job of finding that trike. She tracked that bell all over the store, which was HUGE, and finally found the trike abandoned underneath a clothing rack. Rowan had so much fun with her thrifting “job” and tells the story of hunting down Bea’s trike almost as much as I do.
Thrift For Specific Items
There are times I’ve taken my children thrifting for specific items and times when we’ve just gone to peruse. There are always more fights, meltdowns, and overspending when we don’t go for specific items.
Those outings are when we end up with that third winter coat that we don’t need because it is time to go home and Mom caved to avoid the drama. When I’m in the moment I know it’s wrong, but it’s so hard sometimes as a mom to stand your ground in when everyone is tired.
With our most recent trip, I told Rowan we were looking for a desk, chair, nightstand, and art for her room and we only had $100 to spend. Having these parameters set ahead of time kept her focused and on task. She knew that we weren’t looking for school supplies or toys, so we went in avoiding the toy section altogether.
Along the same lines, set limitations before you head out thrifting with kids. It’s a whole lot easier to say no at the store when you’ve already discussed the shopping limitations ahead of time. Every family member is on the same page when you set limits like (a) we’re only shopping for this, (b) we can’t spend more than this many dollars, or (c) we are going to these three stores and then home.
Sometimes, especially when I’m thrifting for something for our home that’s not as exciting for the kids, like for a mirror over the fireplace, I make a game out of limitations. This also makes it more fun for them.
For example, Rowan loves collecting animal figurines and we have a display shelf in her room for them. She knows she can only have as many figurines as fit on that shelf. Occasionally when we hit a thrift store, I give her a dollar to shop for a figurine. She has the limitations of a specific item, budget, and size. It’s fun to watch her deliberate between the large tiger that costs one dollar vs. two small kittens that are ten cents each and leave her with some leftover money to shop with at the next store.
Bend the Rules A Little
While yes it’s great to thrift for specific items, set budgets, and create other limitations, it’s also important to bend the rules occasionally. After decades of thrifting and going through seasons of overconsumption when I bought things that weren’t quite right but cheap, I’ve learned when to bend the rules and when not to.
For me, it’s the feeling that I can’t possibly leave this behind, and someday someone is going to have to pry this out of my cold dead fingers. That’s when I came home with the rogue item that I wasn’t looking for. It ALWAYS finds a spot in my home because I love it enough.
The kids haven’t learned how to do this for themselves yet. But as their mom, I can sense that feeling in them. There’s a difference between the “Mom, I really want this book” and “Mom, did you see this book?! It’s about this, and then the kid does this, and at the end, it’s SO cool.” I see and feel their excitement when it’s their own “don’t take this out of my clutches” item.
As long as we can afford the item, know it has a place in our home, and I can tell it lights them up, I’ll bend the rules. But I make sure they know that it’s an exception to the rule and it’s a treat. I definitely don’t do it often!
Recently, I cave when Rowan came across a few costume jewelry rings at a local consignment shop. She was obsessed over a $4 ring and I just couldn’t say no.
The time-old tip for shopping with any young child, bring snacks. Bring more snacks than you think you need because they will burn through the snacks you prepared in the first five minutes of the car ride to the consignment stores you wanted to check out and then will be hangry for the remainder of your shopping trip. True story.
Bring the snacks. And then bring more snacks.
Also, I never let them eat their snacks in the store. Maybe an outdoor flea market. But if they’re getting hungry while we’re shopping, I know it’s time to wrap it up and get moving toward the checkout.
Choose A Day And Time Wisely
The day and time you choose to go thrifting with kids is so, so important. Skip the sale days with your children. It’s already hard enough to keep track of your kids on a slow day let alone a day where the store is packed. Sale days with children are no fun for anyone.
Also, factor in the nap times or cranky times of kids. Thankfully, these times are the same for both of my kids. I know that between noon and two is when both of them need a rest. Sometimes, if a thrift store is far away, I will put them in the car during nap time knowing they will nap and rest during the car ride. They are amazing car sleepers! Then we can thrift when they’re rested.
Bring A Stroller For Small Kids
Keep an umbrella stroller in your car for thrifting with toddlers. Never underestimate the power of the umbrella stroller.
My oldest, even when she was a toddler, would always stick close to me. She still does. My youngest, at weeks shy of two years old, is a runner. On our latest thrifting trip, I had a moment where she ran through the curtains, into the back room, and toward the garage bay doors before I caught her. Back to the car for the stroller I went.
Naturally…I have no good pics of our “we’ve got a runner” situation. So enjoy this pic of a rattan bullhead. I tried to talk Rowan into it but alas, she said no. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Perhaps I need to go back to the store.
Our Furniture Thrifting Day
As an example of how to thrift with kids, I have to share about our day of thrifting furniture. To preface this story, I had both kids with me: Rowan (age 6) and Bea (almost age 2).
Going into the trip, we had a list of furniture to thrift along with a goal of finding some art. I knew of an incredible location about an hour away from us that had three major thrift stores brimming with furniture. I knew we would be successful there and find what we were looking for. We made a day of it, packed the car with car games and snacks, and headed out.
We stopped at all three thrift stores and hit the jackpot finding multiple options for a desk and a nightstand. Rowan wanted to see all the options before making a choice so we made a game of it. I gave her my phone and asked her to take pictures of all the desks and nightstands that she loved. Then we would go get lunch at Chili’s (her favorite restaurant), peruse the pics, make our choices, and go pick up the furniture.
Rowan is my budding photographer and had so much fun taking all the pics. The hard part was deciding. We sat at a booth in Chili’s going over pic after pic after pic. Finally, we narrowed it down by a process of elimination and picked our two favorites. Off we went to pick them up.
We went on Tuesday, which is notoriously a great day to thrift in the summer because it’s slower AND all the yard sale cast-offs typically get dropped off at the thrift stores on Mondays. All three stores were quiet. Unbelievably quiet. So I was shocked when we went to one store to grab her nightstand of choice and it was gone. What?! Lesson learned. But Rowan found another piece that would work as a nightstand and fit the limitations we had set.
Rowan’s photo of the nightstand that got away:
Afterward, we stopped at a new playground to play for an hour before we headed home. All in all, it was a solid fun day of thrifting for both mom and the kids.
Rowan’s Thrift Haul For Her Bedroom
Now that I’ve shared all my deep, dark secrets for thrifting with kids, do you want to see what we got for Rowan’s room?! Me! Me! I do love a good thrift haul!
The Thrifted Desk – Cost $60
We found the most gorgeous wicker desk for Rowan which fit our size limitation of under 4′. It had to fit on the wall next to the play couch to work. Plus, that’s the only desk size that would fit in my car. We found five or six that fit the parameters but Rowan really loved the wicker.
She wasn’t a massive fan of the color, which I learned is a hang-up for her. She hasn’t learned about the power of paint yet. But I showed her a few pics on Pinterest of what wicker looks like painted in various colors and she was sold.
One thing I didn’t think of until we got home was that we would need to figure out how to add a smooth surface to the desktop. Coloring and writing on a wicker top doesn’t really work without something smoother and more solid on top of it. But Colby thinks he has a piece of wood that’s big enough to fit as a desktop.
Per the desk chair, we have some chairs in our attic that will work for now. We ran out of room in our car once the desk and nightstand were loaded otherwise we probably would have come home with a chair too. But who knows, we may find one we love in the meantime.
The Thrifted Nightstand – Cost $15
The “nightstand” we found isn’t really a nightstand. It’s a taller set of drawers. Rowan really loves it as-is so we’ll see if we can make it work but I think it’s too tall. It’s in rough shape, hence the $15 price tag, so we have a plan on how we can cut it down to a more traditional nightstand size when we repair it.
She really likes how the drawers are painted in different colors. The furniture piece is flaking paint and really needs to be refinished. We may have to paint the drawers ombre (like this pink set of drawers) or do another fun painting technique on the dresser (like painting flowers on it). I’ve really been digging the trend of painting dresser fronts a mural so maybe something like that.
The Thrifted Art – Cost Under $28
Thrifting art with Rowan has been a big lesson for Mom. It’s hard to let go of control when it comes to decorating Rowan’s room. While I do want her room to be adorable and aesthetically pleasing, it’s more important to hold space for her own creativity with her room.
I had a moment where I said no to an abstract piece of art she picked out, just because I didn’t like it. She started begging me for the art piece. Then I saw myself from 10,000 feet up crushing my daughter’s creative spirit. I don’t want to be that mom. So I said yes to the art and yes to the following five pieces she picked out. While most of the art is not something I would pick out, she loves the creepy puppy and the abstract mountain. Who am I to say no?!
Our thrifted art collection does include three pieces that I picked out for myself, that Rowan did not like in the moment. She has since started commandeering the art pieces for HER collection. Ha!
Next Steps In Rowan’s Room
Now that we have a general plan for Rowan’s room and all the furniture pieces, the next thing we’re doing is ordering samples. We’ve been perusing Spoonflower for wallpaper samples for the back of the bookcase we’re building and fabric samples for the reading nook canopy. Once those are in hand and we decide on the patterns, we’ll pick some paint colors and start repairing and painting the thrifted furniture. Stay tuned dear readers. Much more to come!
PS…This may be the creative project I needed for my soul. I didn’t realize how much I needed a good ol’ creative project until I started working on it. Do you ever have moments like that? It feels good, right?!