Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Music Teacher's Guide to Thrift Shopping

Ah, summer break... the time to finally relax and reset ourselves for the upcoming school year. After the year we just experienced, we all deserve a break. Everyone has different ways to decompress. My favorites are floating in the pool, binge watching TV, and shopping. So that I don't end up completely broke, I try to shop secondhand whenever possible.

I know what you're probably thinking: "Rachel, if you're shopping for stuff for your classroom it doesn't count as decompressing!" but the thing is, I LOVE shopping. I could spend hours combing through bookshelves and wandering down aisles of clothes. For someone like me, thrifting is therapeutic and I look forward to these lazy summer days when I can go and take my time hunting for treasures.

If you're new to thrifting, here's some tips to help you get started:

A woman in a blue fur coat and sunglasses riding in a shopping cart with the heading "The Music Teacher's Guide to Thrift Shopping"

Go with an open mind
The most important thing to know about thrift shopping is that you really are hunting for treasure among some... less desirable things. Depending on the store you're shopping at, you might encounter stuff that's dusty and dirty. Try to see past the grime and envision what an item could be used for after it's had a good cleaning. (For me personally, I draw the line at tobacco smoke. If an object smells like smoke it's almost impossible to get that smell out and I will almost always pass it up.)

You should also be prepared for the fact that you might not find anything good that day. There have been plenty of times I've gone to the thrift store and come home empty handed. The beauty of shopping secondhand is you never know what you're going to find. Some days you'll get a great haul and others... not so much. When I go thrifting with my husband we like to visit several stores in one day to maximize our chances of finding good stuff.

Have a plan
Before you go shopping, check to see if your store has certain days of the week where they offer extra discounts or promotions. They might even have teacher discounts! One of the stores near me gives you an extra coupon if you've donated things so I always try to plan my trips there when I have a bag or two of stuff to donate. You can also call your store to ask if there's a certain day of the week that they set out new merchandise so you can be sure to get first dibs on the good stuff when it's restocked.

A woman in dreadlocks and a woman in a hijab looking through bins of merchandise at a store.

When I visit thrift stores, I always follow the same pattern. This helps me prioritize and make sure I have time to really dig through the things I am most interested in:

1. First, I go past the counter where they keep the most valuable merchandise. Sometimes they might have musical instruments! But be aware that some thrift stores, like Goodwill, don't actually sell their valuable items in store and instead they put them up for auction online. 

2. Next I always head over to the children's books. I like to really take my time here and sort through every single book; it can be easy to overlook something. For instance, yesterday I found a copy of the book Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman. It was in great condition and I happily snatched it up. However, it was missing its dust jacket so it looked very plain and unassuming at first.

A person's hand pulling a book off of a bookshelf.

3. My third stop is usually the housewares and home decor section. I keep my eyes out for storage containers, baskets, even shelving units. I got one of these amazing book display at a thrift store while visiting my family on Long Island. Fortunately I had enough room in my car to take it home with me! On another shopping trip I found one of these rolling carts new in box, it had never even been put together! Last week I found a Sterilite storage cart that I'm looking forward to cleaning up and using in my classroom, too.

4. The last place I usually look is the clothes. As a plus size woman, I don't usually have a lot of luck finding things in my size. However, every now and then I'll score big and come home with some nice styles in brands I love. On my shopping trip to Goodwill yesterday, I found FIVE articles of clothes! For me, this is significant! You just never know what you're going to find and some days you will be luckier than others.

Divide and conquer
Thrift shopping can get exhausting. If you're shopping with a buddy, I recommend splitting up in the store so you can have time to see everything you want to before you get too exhausted or impatient with each other. For instance, I usually go thrifting with my husband. While I'm camped out in front of the children's books he usually goes to look at the records and electronics. He'll be flipping through stacks of vinyls while I'm paging through books. Then, we meet up again and share our finds when it's time to check out.

Set a budget
Hopefully your school district reimburses or pays for most of your classroom supplies. However, if you are like me and tempted to just buy everything for yourself, make sure you know your limits before you start shopping. When every individual item is so cheap, it can be tempting to just toss everything in the shopping cart and not think about how much it will ultimately cost you. But ten books at $1.25 each is still twelve dollars out of your pocket, so be sure you know how much you are able to spend and don't go over budget.

A pocket of a denim jacket with several bills of US currency sticking out.

Think outside the box
My last bit of advice to you is to be creative when you're at the store: try to envision other possible uses for items besides what they may have originally been intended for. A hanging shoe holder can organize small classroom items or a toy shelf can hold ukuleles. Music teachers are the most creative people I know and you will need to tap into that creativity to make the best use out of the things you find.

Happy thrifting!