There’s an old school mentality that gifts should always be bought new at the store. But I’m here to say break the rules! Shopping secondhand for Christmas gifts is a trend I can really get behind, and there’s so many perks and advantages for both the gift giver and recipient.
This past Christmas I challenged myself to buy 100% thrifted gifts from the Goodwill for my whole family. And let me tell you it was a hit! If you scroll through this blog post, you’ll see so many photos from our family Christmas morning when we opened up presents. I showcase most of the gifts my 2-year-old and 4-year-old received, and you can see their beaming smiles.
I also provide all kinds of ideas and inspiration for your thrift store shopping trips, particularly for folks on the hunt for holiday gifts. Gift suggestions range from small kids, teenagers to adults. I promise there’s something for everyone on your holiday gift list!
Top Reasons Why Secondhand Christmas Gifts are a Great Idea
Buying Christmas gifts at a thrift store can be a unique and cost-effective way to celebrate the holiday season. It’s both a fun experience for the gift giver and gift recipient.
Thrift stores offer significantly lower prices compared to traditional retail stores. This allows you to stretch your holiday budget further and potentially buy more gifts for your loved ones.
Unique and Vintage Items
Thrift stores often have a wide variety of unique and vintage items that you won’t find in regular stores. These items can make for one-of-a-kind gifts that stand out and have a special charm.
Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly
By purchasing gifts from a thrift store, you contribute to the concept of recycling and reusing. This reduces waste and helps minimize the environmental impact associated with the production of new goods.
Treasure Hunting Experience
Shopping at thrift stores can be a fun and exciting treasure hunting experience. You never know what hidden gems you might come across, and the process of searching for the perfect gift can add an element of adventure to your holiday shopping.
Personalized and Sentimental Gifts
Thrift stores offer a wide range of items, including books, records, vintage clothing, and unique home decor pieces. These items can hold sentimental value and make thoughtful gifts that reflect the recipient’s interests and personality.
Budget-Friendly Holiday Decorations
In addition to gifts, thrift stores often have a selection of holiday decorations. You can find affordable ornaments, lights, and other festive items to spruce up your home during the holiday season without breaking the bank.
Supporting a Good Cause
Many thrift stores are run by non-profit organizations or support charitable causes. By purchasing gifts from these stores, you’re directly contributing to their mission and helping them continue their valuable work in the community.
Etiquette Tips When Giving Secondhand Gifts
The key to giving thrifted gifts to friends and family is full transparency. Don’t pretend or imply that they are new, rather celebrate the true story behind the gift. Enthusiasm is contagious, and you should tell your special someone why this item stood out among a sea of stuff on the shelf.
Below I’ve provided some practical tips on how to logistically go about giving secondhand gifts. This concept is new to many people, so they just have to get onboard this holiday trend and be educated on why it’s awesome!
Remember, the essence of gift-giving is thoughtfulness, and secondhand gifts can be just as meaningful and appreciated as new ones. By selecting items carefully, ensuring their quality, and respecting the recipient’s preferences, you can give a secondhand gift that shows your thoughtfulness and consideration.
Choose Gifts Thoughtfully
Select a secondhand gift that aligns with the recipient’s interests, tastes, and preferences. Consider their hobbies, favorite authors, or unique items they may collect. The key is to put thought into the selection, just as you would with a new gift.
Ensure Quality and Condition
Clean it if necessary and remove any personal belongings or markings from the previous owner. The gift should look presentable and ready for the recipient to enjoy.
When presenting the gift, it can be helpful to share the story behind it. Explain why you chose it or how you came across it. Sharing the history or significance of the item can add a personal touch and enhance the appreciation of the gift.
While secondhand gifts may not come in fancy packaging, you can still make the presentation thoughtful. Wrap the gift neatly or use creative packaging to enhance the visual appeal. Consider including a heartfelt note to express your sentiments and explain why you thought the gift would be meaningful.
Highlight the Benefits
If the secondhand gift has unique qualities or benefits, such as being eco-friendly, vintage, or collectible, mention these aspects to showcase its value. Emphasize how the gift aligns with the recipient’s interests or how it reflects their personality.
Communicate with Confidence
When presenting a secondhand gift, do so with confidence and sincerity. Express your excitement about the gift and convey that you genuinely believe the recipient will appreciate and enjoy it. Confidence in your choice can positively influence how the gift is received.
Respect the Recipient’s Preferences
Not everyone is up for used gifts, which is okay. Some people may have specific preferences when it comes to receiving secondhand gifts. If you’re unsure about the recipient’s comfort level, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask or have a conversation beforehand to gauge their openness to receiving pre-owned items. Respect their wishes and feelings regarding secondhand gifts.
Consider Gift Exchanges and Occasions
When participating in gift exchanges or attending formal events, such as weddings or milestone celebrations, it’s essential to consider the expectations and traditions surrounding gift-giving. In some cases, a secondhand gift may be more appropriate for casual occasions or when you know the recipient well.
Top 50 Holiday Gifts You Can Buy Secondhand
This section will be divided up by age groups, because obviously the list of gift recipients can greatly vary. When you are shopping the shelves at your local Goodwill, keep your eyes peeled for these types of items which are highly giftable and fun to receive during a gift exchange.
Top Thrifted Gifts for Children
All Things Dinosaur
My 2-year-old is going through a dinosaur phase and he loves dinosaur toys, books and graphic t-shirts. Our Sacramento Goodwills have excellent toy sections and there’s always a good selection of dinosaur figures and books.
Kid-Friendly Plates and Utensils
Make mealtime fun with special plates and utensils made just for kids. Parents are often cleaning out their own kitchens as their children grow older, so there’s often a steady flow of new assortment of kid dishes at the thrift store. Munchkin is a baby and toddler brand that I’m always on the lookout for. Their spill-proof cups are a mom-approved favorite!
Books are excellent for screen-free entertainment time for the kiddos. Some of our favorite books to find are Pete the Cat, Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss and so many more.
Melissa and Doug Brand Toys
Melissa and Doug is a premium toymaker brand, and their products sell for a lot of money when purchased new. Because they are high quality toys, they tend to hold up for several years. Finding Melissa and Doug toys at the Goodwill is always a steal. They are known for great wooden toys, puzzles, imagination play sets and activity sets.
Beanie Babies may have been all the craze in the early 2000’s, but it’s still fun to find them at Goodwill. Young kids still love to play and collect them, and I usually only pay a couple dollars for them. They also make great stocking stuffers!
Games and Puzzles
In our household we have designated screen-free family time. This is when we bust out our collection of games and puzzles we’ve found at thrift stores over the years. Also, if you own a vacation cabin or Airbnb, stocking up your second home with Goodwill games and puzzles is a cheap and easy way to entertain guests.
Water Wows are mess-free painting kits for young children. They are designed to be used over and over again, because they dry up and are ready to go again. All you have to do is fill the paintbrush up with fresh water and your kid will be self-entertained.
Over the last few years I’ve been able to find scratcher activities for kids. My 4-year-old especially likes to get cozy in a corner and work on her scratchers. I’ve found them with all kinds of themes including space, mermaids and more.
Coloring Books, Crayons and Markers
Coloring books are a classic activity for children, going all the way back to my own childhood. I can always find popular cartoon coloring books including Disney, Paw Patrol, animals and more. There’s often new packs of crayons, coloring pencils, markers and paints too.
My kids love to play and rearrange the magnets on the fridge. So stuffing their Christmas stockings with new magnets is always a fun surprise.
At the Goodwill there’s always bags of hair accessories for children and adults. When I find cute ones my daughter will like, I spray them down with Lysol to sanitize.
Hot Wheels Toy Cars
I have found bags full of vintage Hot Wheel cars, dating back to the 1980’s at the Goodwill. We also found a big race track for the cars to race around. I think my husband had just as much as the kids with them! Ha!
Vintage Disney Toys and Collectibles
If you’re an 80’s baby like me, you probably have a lot of nostalgia from all those classic Disney animated movies. At the Goodwill I will often find fun throwback toys, plates, cups and clothing with old school movie graphics. My favorites to find are Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid and Cinderella.
I collected stickers when I was a kid, and I had a sticker book filled with my prized collection. My daughter also loves to collect stickers, and I can buy a bag full of stickers for just a couple dollars at the thrift store.
Watercolor Art Sets
Watercolor painting is a great way for the kids to express their creative side, and they can also work on blending and mixing colors.
Clothing for All Occasions
Pretty much all my kid’s wardrobe come from Goodwill, because I just can’t justify paying full price for clothes they will grow out of in a few months. Whether you’re looking for casual school clothes or special event outfits, it can be found second hand. If you’re consistently hitting up the thrift stores and throughly looking through the racks, I can also guarantee you’ll be able to find every size you need.
Kid-Themed Bedding and Blankets
You may be hesitant to buy bedding at the thrift store, but here’s my trick. I have a washing machine with a steam sanitation setting. I only buy bedding sheets, pillowcases and comforters that can be washed in the laundry machine. You can often find high quality bedding from Disney, Kids Pottery Barn and Target. You can give your child’s bed a whole makeover for less than $20.
Kids Room Wall Art and Frames
The framed art section often gets overlooked at the Goodwill. Keep an eye out for high-quality prints and frames. Also mirrors are a great score to decorate your child’s room.
Secondhand Gifts for Tweens and Teens Found at the Thrift Store
Shopping for children between the ages of 8 – 12 (known as tweens) and the ages 13 – 18 (known as teenagers) can be really tricky. At this point in life they have started to develop strong opinions, and may think they’re “too cool” for certain gifts. But trust me when I tell you that the Goodwill is always filled with tweens and teens shopping. The TikTok Generation Z kids actually really love the idea of thrifting, and enjoy it as a pastime. Keep reading to see some gift ideas for the teenager in your life.
Vintage Vinyl Records
Music fans can enjoy the nostalgic experience of listening to music on a record player. You can shop a variety of genres from smooth jazz, oldies like Frank Sinatra, classic scores and even vintage pop hits like The Beatles.
Vintage Sewing Patterns and Supplies
When I was younger, I really loved fashion and gravitated towards retro styles. I was also enrolled in sewing classes and making costumes for events. In the craft section of the thrift store you can find old sewing patterns, threads, lace and trims and all kinds of fashion design tools.
Backpacks, Tote Bags and Purses
From mini bags, to large carry-all bags, there’s always a good selection of backpacks, totes and purses at the thrift store. You can often find them new with tags or in like-new condition.
Old School Video Games
What’s old is cool again! Thrift stores can be a paradise for video game enthusiasts seeking old school gaming experiences. With a bit of luck and exploration, you may stumble upon classic video games and consoles. From iconic cartridges for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) or Super Nintendo (SNES) to discs for PlayStation 1 (PS1) or Sega Genesis, the shelves may hold hidden gems.
Ironic and Fan T-Shirts
If your teen is a fan of any Marvel, DC, Disney or The Office franchises, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a fun and quirky t-shirt. It will definitely take some time to look through the racks, but eventually you’ll find a fun tee that will give them a laugh. If they’re into fashion, whether vintage or new, there’s something for everyone.
Scrapbooking Supplies and Photo Albums
The grandma pastime of making scrapbooks with memories and photos has made a comeback with teens. Our local Goodwills are always filled with donated scrapbooks, photo journals, photo albums and more. Print out a big stack of photos from your teen’s favorite moments, and make some scrapbooks together.
Succulent Plant Pots
Succulents are low-maintenance plants and great for green thumb beginners. At the thrift store there’s always a big selected of pots for plants, and they come in all kinds of styles.
If you’re unfamiliar with shopping clothes second hand, you may think that there’s only older styles available. But with some effort looking through the racks you can find popular brands such as Lululemon, Abercrombie, Anthropologie, Free People, Levi’s, Urban Outfitters and more.
Beads and Supplies for Jewelry Making
Friendship bracelets and homemade jewelry is always a fun crafting activity. Thrift stores often have bags of donated beads, string, clasps, gems and jewelry supplies. Your teen can make custom jewelry and gifts for their friends.
Adult Art Supplies
I mentioned above all kinds of art supplies for kids above, but you can actually find high quality professional art supplies at the thrift store too. From paint brushes, acrylic paints, canvas and charcoal, the teen artist in your life can make a masterpiece portrait.
When I was a teen, I loved decorating my room with string lights for a twinkly ambiance. I have seen new-in-box string lights for sale at the Goodwill year round and not just during the holiday seaon.
In my tween years I remember having sleepovers with friends and we loved doing DIY tie-dye projects. I have seen many time unopened and complete kits with all the dye sealed. You can also shop for white clothes to dye!
Secondhand Holiday Gifts for Adults
Choosing secondhand holiday gifts for adults can be a frugal way to find unique and meaningful presents. Whether it’s a vintage item with nostalgic charm or a pre-loved treasure with a story to tell, secondhand gifts offer a chance to surprise and delight. By carefully choosing items, we can discover hidden gems that perfectly match the recipients’ personalities.
Unique Coffee Mugs
Most of us wake up in the morning and look forward to a hot cup of coffee or tea in our favorite mug. At the thrift store you can find all kinds of unique, nostalgic or funny mugs to gift.
Paying full-price for holiday decor always seems silly to me, because thrift stores are always filled to the brim with Christmas ornaments, wreathes, figurines, Santas and more. I have found sweet and meaningful ornaments that I gift to friends and family. On several occasions I found vintage Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments which are always high quality.
If you want to surprise someone with the experience gift of a camping trip, you can stock up on camping supplies on the cheap at thrift stores. Going to outdoor recreation stores and paying full price for tents, camping cooking gear, sleeping bags is very expensive.
I am a big fan of home organization shows, and I actually enjoy organizing my closets and cabinets. I especially like fancy clear bins and organization supplies. A trip to the Container Store is very expensive, but you can find the same things for a fraction of the price.
Classic Board Games
Make date night fun and unpredictable with a vintage edition of Scrabble, Monopoly or Life. You can also plan a family trivia night with family visiting during the holiday season.
For the shutterbugs in your life, you can gift them an older generation film camera for nostalgic themed photography. Even digital cameras from the early 2000’s are Y2K fun!
Using retro baking and cookware is a fun pastime for amateur bakers and chefs. Presenting your culinary masterpiece on 1960’s and 1970’s art deco serverware is fun for gatherings with friends and family.
We live in a digital age where you can easily look up any recipe online. But there’s something special about holding a tangible cookbook in your hands. I love to bookmark my favorite pages and write notes on post-its.
Giving an antique book as a gift is a way of sharing a piece of literary history and allowing the recipient to connect with the past in a tangible and meaningful way. The weathered pages and vintage covers tell tales of their own, adding a touch of nostalgia to the reading experience.
Barware makes for excellent gifts that bring joy to cocktail enthusiasts and home bartenders alike. By giving barware, you not only provide the recipient with the means to create impressive drinks but also encourage them to explore their creativity and expand their mixologist skills.
Frames with Photos
Take some time to dig around in old camera rolls and have some favorite moments printed out into physical photos. Find cool frames that match the theme, or find a big collage frame for lots of photos. This is a great gift for someone who recently started a new job and they need desk decor.
A jewelry box is a gift that holds both practical and sentimental value. The elegance of a jewelry box adds a touch of sophistication to any vanity or dressing area. With various compartments, drawers, and hooks, it provides a convenient way to keep necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings neatly organized, preventing tangles and loss.
Gifting a vintage watch is a timeless gesture that combines elegance, craftsmanship, and a touch of nostalgia. Vintage watches carry a sense of history and character that sets them apart from modern timepieces. One thing to note, it can be tough to know if the watch is working properly when you buy them at a thrift store. Speak to the store manager to confirm their return policy if the watch turns out not to be keeping time accurately.
Picnic Baskets and Blankets
Picnic baskets and blankets make for delightful and versatile gifts that inspire outdoor adventures and create memorable experiences. A picnic basket is so cute for photos, and holds all the essentials for a charming picnic outing. Alongside the basket, a picnic blanket offers comfort and style. Make sure to check for sturdy construction and be confident that the basket handles can withstand an outing.
Tea Cups and Teapots
Tea cups and teapots are gifts that celebrate the art of tea and bring a touch of elegance to any tea lover’s ritual. From classic designs to modern interpretations, teapots come in various shapes and sizes, each with its unique charm. If there’s a big celebration coming up, consider hosting a tea party with authentic vintage tea sets.
Journals and Stationary Sets
Journals and stationary sets make for gifts that ignite creativity, self-expression, and organization. If you can find some luxury pens or colorful markers to accompany the paper goods, that really makes a complete set.
Finding sports memorabilia at thrift stores can be an exciting and rewarding treasure hunt for sports enthusiasts. While the selection may vary, there is a chance to discover unique and nostalgic items that celebrate the rich history of sports.
Each piece of vintage jewelry has a story to tell, having stood the test of time and witnessed eras gone by. Whether it’s a delicate Art Deco necklace, a vintage diamond ring, or a unique retro brooch, vintage jewelry holds a distinctive charm that captivates. These heirloom pieces are crafted with exceptional attention to detail and often feature intricate designs and high-quality materials.
Home decor gifts offer the opportunity to add a touch of style and personality to a loved one’s living space. From decorative accents to functional items, these gifts contribute to creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Whether it’s a beautiful wall art piece, a unique vase, or a cozy throw blanket, home decor gifts allow the recipient to personalize their home and make it truly their own.
Pyrex Food Prep Containers
I do a lot of food prep cooking in my house, which means I need a lot of containers for meal storage. I use almost exclusively Pyrex glass containers, which is expensive to buy new. I can often find Pyrex glassware at the thrift store, usually without the lid. But that’s not an issue because you can easily order new replacement lids online.
Thrifting Tips from a Pro Thrifter
When you’re planning on using your local thrift stores to do the bulk of your holiday shopping, there’s some tips and guidelines you may find helpful. When it comes to thrifting, us pro thrifters have honed our skills in finding those hidden gems and snagging great deals. Below you’ll find some of my secrets revealed, and you just might learn a new hidden power.
How to Sanitize Thrift Store Finds
Some people have hesitation to shop and secondhand stores because they fear the possible germs or unsanitary items. But if you develop a system to sanitize your thrifted shopping hauls, it will give you a sense of peace that everything is safe to use.
For any hard surfaced items, I always thoroughly wipe them down with Clorox wipes and then let it air dry. For soft goods, I throw them in my washer and dryer which has a steam sanitation setting. For some items like shoes, I spray them with antibacterial Lysol and then let them air dry.
Shop Thrift Stores Year-Round
If you wait until the holiday season to start shopping for Christmas gifts, you’re probably not giving yourself enough time to discover meaningful presents. Realistically you’re probably only finding a couple of true gems per visit, so it takes multiple visits. You also want to shop for items off-season because then you’ve got less competition for popular items during that month.
Visit Multiple Locations
Visiting multiple thrift store locations is an excellent strategy to expand your chances of finding unique items and scoring great deals. Each thrift store has its own donation sources and community demographics, resulting in a unique selection of items. By visiting multiple stores, you increase the likelihood of discovering a wider range of merchandise, from clothing and accessories to home decor and furniture.
Also, thrift stores continually receive new donations, meaning their inventory is constantly changing. By visiting multiple locations, you increase your chances of encountering recently donated items that haven’t been picked over yet.
Shop All Sections of the Thrift Store
When thrift shopping, it’s advisable to explore all sections of the store to maximize your chances of finding unique and valuable items. We tend to get into a routine or rut when shopping at our local Goodwill, and end up shopping the same sections repeatedly. When you shake up your routine, you just might be surprised on what you find.
When Shopping at the Thrift Store, Look Up High and Down Low
When shopping at the thrift store, it’s essential to adopt a comprehensive approach and not limit your search to eye-level items. To maximize your findings, remember to look up high and down low throughout the store. Looking up high can often reveal hidden treasures, an overlooked area by others who haven’t bothered to look up. On the other hand, don’t forget to explore the lower shelves and floors as well. You may be rewarded!
Things I Do Not Recommend You Buy at the Thrift Store
While thrift stores offer a wide range of unique and affordable items, there are a few things that I do not recommend buying at these establishments due to potential health and safety concerns.
Avoid the following items at the thrift store:
- Electronics without Testing
- Personal Care Products – Avoid purchasing used personal care items like cosmetics, lotions, or toiletries from thrift stores. These products may be expired, contaminated, or unsanitary.
- Underwear (unless new in package)
- Mattresses – These items can harbor bed bugs, dust mites, or other allergens, and may not meet safety standards.
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