fashion,  inner world,  jesus,  justice,  thrift store shopping

Thrifty Thursday: Eww, that smell and other reasons NOT to thrift shop

People believe that shopping at thrift stores is some sort of super-natural gift- that God himself has bestowed special vision to certain lucky shoppers to find the diamond in the rough that makes them look fabulous and save a ton of money. This is not true. ANYONE can find great deals at thrift stores but it isn’t just about finding great clothing or household items- it’s about overcoming the mental barriers associated with thrift store shopping.

Picture yourself walking into Macy’s- you see shoppers trying on the latest styles of shoes, holding armfuls of new clothing on hangers, artfully arranged displays of jewlery.  Now imagine what you smell when you walk into Macy’s- a combination scent of perfume (strategically placed near the entrance of department stores for this very reason), leather and the chemicals used to treat clothing to make them look wonderful on the racks. In Macy’s you feel good- that you will look beautiful buying something from there because of course everything has been selected by buyers who are paid to put the latest trends on the racks in Macy’s.  Surely you can trust them.


Now picture yourself walking into Salvation Army. You see a somewhat an old lady in sweatpants pawing through bags of used stuffed animals, rows of shopping carts that people push through overcrowded racks of tacky and outdated things.  Now imagine what you smell when you walk into Salvation Army- a combination of mothballs, dust and old stuff that is the cumulation of as many things as possible being crammed in a large room which just looks overwhelming.  In Salvation Army you feel hopeless you’re going to find anything trendy, let alone something that will make you look great.  You feel poor and slightly embarrassed that you’re not at Macy’s or at least Target where you can get a shirt and a cute new pair of earrings and not have to look through so much junk.  Surely you could never find anything at a tacky and stinky place like this.

Has this ever gone through your head? Maybe not consciously but those feelings (and smells) are real. And because our olfactory senses are powerful we begin to associate certain smells and views with certain feelings. i.e.- artfully arranged clothing that smells like lovely perfume makes me feel rich and control of my life vs. overstuffed racks of clothing with price tags stapled to them that smell like mothballs makes me feel poor and ashamed of my life.

Rather than just giving you the basics of how to find great stuff at thrift stores to save money, look great and be on point with the latest trends I want to help you overcome those mental barriers we all associate with thrift shopping. There are days for me that I feel like the way I described above and am depressed I’m not in Macy’s, Target or any other store that doesn’t have a weird lady who talks to herself while she looks at used shoes. When I am in this mind frame it typically launches me into some sort of mental pity party and I just give up on finding anything because I’ve convinced myself there is nothing to be found.


I’ve learned that if I can mentally reframe what the experience of thrift store shopping is like, I’m able to realize one huge thing: it’s just clothes. Whether it smells like mothballs or perfume I am going to take it home, wash it and wear it. The items could be identical- but the feelings I associate with where they come from are usually what trips me up.  I’ve learned to remember that it’s just clothes and to not buy into the idea that someone is trying to sell me of who I think I should be. Companies spend thousands of dollars getting us to believe that what we wear = who we are, or at least who we want to be. That’s a pile of crap. Once I realized this I felt free to enjoy covering my body with clothing from any store- because clothes are just an external expression of the creative person God has made me to be on the inside.

Here is where I need your help: what are the reasons you don’t shop at thrift stores? What are reasons you have heard other people share?  Comment below and I’ll randomly select a winner by next Thursday to receive a $7 Goodwill gift card. Yes! A whopping $7! That’s like 5 outfits in Goodwill money.

Also- the winner from the comments to receive a wardrobe consultation from me from my style icons post is Kristen! Yay! Sorry I forgot to announce it last week!




    • Jessica

      yep. sometimes it’s just hard to get over. Higher end consignment stores are usually well laid out though and don’t have the smell- that’s a great alternative.

  • Karen Chormanski

    I have shopped at thrift stores most my life. Sometimes for costumes but mostly because of necessity. Three growing boys…need I say more. I can get an entire summer wardrobe for the cost of one outfit at those really pricey name brand stores. I have taught my boys how much further your dollar will go shopping there. They don’t always like it but never complain. I love a good bargain.

  • Una

    I don’t like the crowds of unorganized clothes. And, I rarely find anything that I like and that fits me (although I have a great pair of black shoes I bought on my honeymoon – still going strong after 7 years).

  • Teresa R

    I LOVE shopping at thrift stores…picked up 4 shirts at Salvation Army this past weekend for $12 total. My hubby never complains when I tell him I want to go shopping at the thrift stores. However, I have to be in the right mood to go. It takes a lot of energy to comb through the different racks – and I hate that SA doesn’t organize by size, only by color and type…so it takes even more energy. That is what deters me from shopping thrift occasionally…it is much easier to go someplace where outfits are conveniently set up for you (coming from someone who used to walk into Buckle…entered a changing room and had employees bring me ridiculously overpriced outfits and I would buy my favorite one or two because I couldn’t put an outfit together on my own…I will still sometimes buy jeans there if I have a gift card though – I simply love them).

  • Katie

    I think for me it’s the confusion of trying to understand the different set-up of every thrift store. trying to find where my sizes might be, what kinds of shirts are where etc. can be somewhat overwhelming, especially if I go in looking for something specific. What keeps me going into the fray though are those thrifted pieces I bought years ago which still bring a smile to my face when I wear them!

  • Emily

    I don’t mind thrift store shopping (especially for kids’ clothes) but I don’t always have the patience or time to sift through racks. I have very little (kids-free) time for shopping so often online shopping wins.

    • Jessica

      yes- ebay or deals online can be way easier than sorting through racks. Kids clothes are usually easier to find though because the selection is smaller. My husband just bought our son 10 pairs of shorts yesterday- most were either Nautica or Children’s place!

  • York Moore

    I would say for me it is the vivid memory of the sense of desperation on my mother’s face when we were homeless or and had no other options but the shop at thrift stores. The feeling of being trapped, not having the choice of going anywhere else but through other people’s used items psychologically is almost too much for me to bear. I almost never go in thrift stores because of what I associate that with in terms of my own upbringing in poverty. I also believe that I can find great deals at stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s by looking at the right time in the right place. A $180 shirt for $40 to me is better than an $8 shirt at SA any day.

    • Jessica

      The psychological associations with shopping are powerful. And for someone like yourself who grew up in poverty I can understand how it would bring up too many painful wounds to make it worth it. I actually have powerful memories of Macy’s every time I walk in there- going prom dress shopping with girlfriends when I was a teenager, persuading my mother to buy me my first pair of black suede platform shoes, finding just the right bracelet on sale to go with an outfit for my high school reunion. I think the problem I see with either of these things is that we too easily let brands define us- that we ARE poor and desperate if we shop at SA or we ARE wealthy and secure if we shop at Macy’s. For me it’s about learning to steward what you have well to live in freedom- debt free, free of insecurity tied to image, free of the fear of the judgements of others, free of my own condemnation of when I inevitably spill something on the expensive (yet on sale) dress I bought at Macy’s or worry that people will think I look tacky and outdated with thrift store clothes.

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