Inspired Thrifting: What Makes a Good Find at the Op Shop or Thrift Store?

Finding something wonderful in an op shop or thrift store can feel a bit magical. This is when serendipity happens – you’re pottering around the store or walking past a shop window and suddenly you spot a special item that seems to have been waiting for you to arrive and claim it as your own. But how do you know it’s a genuine bargain and not just a cheap piece of junk that will clutter up your house and give you a short-term dose of retail therapy?

A bargain is something that feels right at a gut level – even if your emotions and rational mind aren’t quite sure – doesn’t cost a lot of money and will enhance your life in some way. It doesn’t have to be something worth a lot of money that you pick up for a song, although it can be.

This sense of rightness isn’t just about the item itself. It’s about the way it ends up working with its adoptive environment to produce a kind of alchemy that transforms the environment, even if that transformation is subtle. Together the item and its environment become more than the sum of their parts. There’s an uncanny fit between them.

When I saw the framed print above in the window of a Salvos store in the prosperous eastern suburb of Camberwell a few weekends ago I was a bit dubious. Sitting in the midst of a window display featuring the usual assortment of stilettos, hats and semi-formal dresses in eye-catching colours, it looked like just another example of late nineties or early noughties kitsch. Which essentially it was.

Price-wise it wasn’t a huge bargain. It was $25, half the original price of $50, which I discovered when I went into the store to have a closer look at it and saw the original label on the back (impossible to say if this was the original price or an earlier Salvos price).

The piece was essentially tacksville. Yet something about the boldness of the colours and the cartoonishness of the design screamed ‘buy me’. So I did, unable to think of where I would put it.

Given that it was probably over ten years old it was in quite good condition. The stained wooden frame, possibly pine, had very few marks or nicks. The picture had a twin, with an almost identical print, displayed in similar fashion in the other shop window. Its condition was clearly inferior, with significant scratches on the frame and a few marks on the glass. It didn’t take much willpower to decide to leave the companion behind.

When I come home with this kind of item – something I’ve pounced on without much pre-planning – I sometimes engage in a bizarre ritual that would look quite mad to an observer. I walk around the house carrying the item and saying to to myself ‘where does this go?’ If I try to be too rational about the answer to this question, the process doesn’t work.

I finally settled on my office, easily the most boring room in the house and boringly festooned with testaments to my achievements. Did I really have to keep reminding myself and anyone else who walked in that I have a Masters degree? I think it’s sunk in by now. Same with the framed arts degree. Both were relegated to storage and this little beauty hung up instead.

And it has been a bit transformational. It now takes pride of place on a large patch of wall that is to the left of, and above, my desk. Because of the expanse of wall around it, the fact that the picture is square and the frame is dark and plain, the placement of the picture suggests a window through which you see the oversized flowers. The striking colours are the first thing the eye notices when you walk into the room, instead of the files, papers, books and office paraphernalia that would otherwise dominate. Because it’s just to the left of my computer I can see it out of the corner of my eye and glance at it any time. I like to think that when I'm writing, its fiery colours stoke my imagination.

Already I’ve grown incredibly fond of this picture, yet like many of my inspired finds it’s certainly not what I would have envisaged. Now I can't imagine life without it!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Sole mates, or a Gift That Suits Me Down to the Ground.

Until next time!

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