Never Leave These Things at the Thrift Store

Jules Mathis
6 min readMar 7, 2021


Hi, I’m a self-proclaimed thrift store junkie and have been since I was old enough to shop. So, that gives me decades of experience on the topic. I love the thrill of the hunt, the big score, the one-of-a-kind finds, and, of course, the prices. It’s also one of the more conscious forms of materialistic consumption given that you’re buying used and not new. So jump on the upcycled bandwagon and gift thrifting! Here are a dozen things I never pass up at a thrift store.

Mercury Glass Christmas Ornaments.

Not only do these gems stir up memories of holidays past, they are highly sought after by collectors and crafters alike. Display mercury glass ornaments on your tree, in a jar, in a bowl, or get crafty and make one of those stunning ornament wreaths that sell upwards of $300 on Etsy!

Vintage Mercury glass ornaments scored from various Los Angeles thrifts.

Scrabble Games.

Unless you can verify that all the pieces are intact, this popular word game is best used for its parts. Namely, the letters, which allow you to customize all sorts of craft projects, from adding “Welcome to the Smith House” to your front door wreath to personalized name settings for dinner parties (try displaying on the trays that come with the game!). Because you’ll be using a lot of letters, you’ll need a lot of Scrabble games to build up your letter collection. Hence, never pass up the opportunity to grab one of these classic games.

Vintage Rock Tees.

This shouldn’t need an explanation, but I’ll try nonetheless. Grab them, wear them, look legit. I do want to say that you should scour the Men’s AND Women’s sections of t-shirts in thrift stores. Things often get jumbled and the organization at thrifts is a “best effort.” I once found a killer Taylor Swift women’s t-shirt hiding in the men’s section. And maybe Taylor hasn’t been around long enough to have earned “vintage” status, but one should never leave a Taylor Swift shirt at the thrift. That’s sacrilege.

Statement & Activist Tees, Sweatshirts and Hoodies.

You’ll want to be more judicious on statement tees and only grab the ones that are truly unique, meaningful or just plain funny. I personally have a hard time leaving anything that even remotely relates to dogs at a thrift store. Dog is my copilot as the saying goes. So, I’ll grab things that prolly only appeal to me like the statement tee that says “I Kissed a Dog. And I Liked It.” I mean, even typing that makes me laugh. I also tend to grab activist tees. In this category I put things like pro feminist t-shirts, Black Live Matter, and Earth Momma type tees.

Cross-stitched and Hand Embroidered Pieces.

Damn, people, do you know how much time and talent it takes to cross stitch? Hours upon hours to make a little bric brac piece. I have a hard time leaving items that I know somebody spent a lot of time making. I did my biggest happy dance when I found a pillowcase with the most beautiful hand-embroidery that spelled out the word “Mine” in pastel shades and with flowers. It covers my pillow and no one better touch it.

Anything with a Dog on It.

I’ve established myself as a dog lover. I cannot leave a t-shirt that has a dog on it, whether that is Snoopy, a pug, whatever breed of dog that comes along on the “Great Britain” tees. I even purchased a shirt that says “I speak Pit Bull,” which is more than ironical because that breed legit scares me (don’t yell at me about how they are gentle dogs… I get it… I support responsible dog owners of any breed, but generally big dogs of any breed will get my ass moving to the opposite side of the street post haste). FYI, I also grab vintage oil paintings with dogs. Think those cute little things from the 1970’s that were hung in kids’ rooms.

Hot Dog! Vintage hand-painted firefighter dog.

Unique Storage Pieces.

Because I’m always buying more stuff from the thrifts, I’m always in need of more storage. You have to train your eye a little bit here to see everything as a storage opportunity. I once scored some sort of metal pail with a lid marked by the US Air Force. To date, I have been unable to find it’s original purpose despite hours of Internet research. But, for me, it’s a super cool trash can. Old suitcases and trunks hold my craft supplies. Giant glass jars hold my Mercury glass Christmas ornament collection.

Colored Glassware.

Vintage colored glassware is so much better than my matchy-matchy set from the top home store. It’s so much more festive. And because it’s mismatched and one-of-a-kind, guests always know which glass is theirs at my dinner parties. Speaking of dinner parties, I miss them, and hope Covid passes so we can gather again. Until then, wear your mask and keep your distance. Please.

Vaseline Glass.

The radium isn’t as bad as you’d think. At least that’s what Google tells me. So go ahead, and grab that iridescent glowing green refrigerator box. Just please don’t use it for food or drink. Want to know if it’s really vaseline glass legit from the 1940s? Just hold a black light up to it in a dark room and if it glows, you’ve scored! Congrats.

Leather Biker Jackets.

I put these in the same category as vintage rock tees. They make you instantly look cool. Also, they have pretty good resale value. Just be sure to check the tags and get only authentic leather (unless you’re opposed to it). There are a TON of polyurethane biker and bomber jackets out there.

NWT or NWOT Converse Kicks.

Good resale, pending you can get them for $10 or less. Universally liked. Aim for mainstream sizes, like 6–8 womens if you plan to resell them.

Old Books.

I cannot get enough of these right now. My favorite is a book from SEVENTEEN magazine on Etiquette for Girls. The language is hilarious… Like “apple pie perfect” hilarious and the advice is so egregiously outdated and apolitical by today’s standards that it reads like a comedy. But the hard bound books are beautiful on their own or filling up a bookcase. I will also tear out the pages, add a little artwork or note, and repurpose as gift cards. And since I have a rugrat at home, I’m more prone than ever to grabbing classic, early published versions of hard copy favorites like CURIOUS GEORGE and WINNIE THE POOH. It’s a win for me, him, my pocketbook, and his literary development. Books at thrifts tend to range between $1–3 unless they are exceptional art books.



Jules Mathis

I'm a self-proclaimed thrift store junkie curating and upcycling dope finds and putting them back into the universe for others to enjoy.