Amy Dacyczyn once wrote a Tightwad Gazette story about a woman having a yard sale, who mentioned to someone else that she needed to buy a dropcloth for painting. They both suddenly noticed the shower curtain that she had put out for sale, and had a frugal a-ha moment.
People say that they never find anything useful at yard sales or thrift shops, and sometimes that's true. But other times it's the perceived use of something that gets in the way. Look twice, and you might see another function for a discarded object. And at thrift store prices, you can usually afford to buy a whole unit or set of something, just for a part or piece. I'm not talking about complicated projects, like turning baby cribs into garden benches, or adult pants into toddler clothes (I have done that one!); these are just some easy second-look ideas.
1. "I never wear dresses": Thrift stores get lots of dresses. Many of them are unlovely. But, as many Youtube videos prove, ugly dresses can be re-thought, re-purposed. On the simple sewing or no-sewing side, you could consider cutting dresses into tops or tunics, or using parts of them as camisoles and slips under other clothes. I have an extra-long cotton tank top that makes a perfect slip for sweater dresses. Thin skirts could also work as half-slips (thank you, Common Room blog).
2. "I never wear scarves": But scarves come in all shapes, sizes, and fabrics. Think of table throws and runners; reusable giftwrap; basket liners; ponchos/wraps/capes/shrugs/kimonos/sarongs (sewn up or temporary). Some people even hang large scarves over small windows.
3. "Plaid skirts are not my style": Verena Erin at My Green Closet made a no-sew blanket scarf from a plaid skirt she wasn't wearing. (Video link)
4. A few years ago, I bought a zippered 8 1/2 x 5 inch Dayrunner notebook at a rummage sale. I got bored with the plain black cover, so I sewed a non-zipping fabric cover. Recently I was thinking of using a zippered cover again so that the loose pages and small things wouldn't fall out, but the black cover had disappeared in our downsizing. I often see whole hardly-used planners at thrift stores, but there haven't been any lately. Besides, I didn't really need a whole new notebook, just a cover, but who makes those? Brainwave: I went to a bookstore that sells zippered Bible covers, and bought one in a colour I do like. Here's the frugal connection: you might find a planner notebook at a rummage sale or a thrift store. You might find a Bible cover for your Bible. Or you might find a Bible cover, think "that doesn't fit my Bible" or "my Bible doesn't need a cover," but not think about using it to cover another book or notebook, or even an electronic device.
Or maybe you'll find a Dayrunner cover that got lost in a downsize.
5. "I don't have young children. Why would I look at toys?": Think about what might get funnelled into the toy corner of a thrift store. I don't mean a Woody cowboy with original hand-stitched hat, although such things do happen. Think about holiday decor (including little things that could be used as or incorporated into tree ornaments); props for older-student lessons (languages? math?); or toy kitchen implements that might be used for your own real cooking (mini rolling pins, cookie cutters, small spoons). There's a guinea pig website that mentions recycling plastic toys, such as a treehouse, for the critters' enjoyment.
The Apprentice has been known to shop the toy aisle as a source of joke gifts. On Mr. Fixit's last birthday, she gave him a kids' Star Wars jigsaw puzzle, and we had a contest to see who could put it together the fastest.
6. "I would never use those extra serving spoons." Do you ever get takeout Chinese food? There you go.