how to thrift like a pro
Anna from She Hunts Op Shops has visited over 500 op shops. We asked her to give us the lowdown on how to score big and where to go looking.
Everyone has that one friend with enviable op shopping skills; who rocks up to the party in a mint-condition ‘70s jumpsuit they casually picked up for a buck at a garage sale.
Anna from She Hunts Op Shops is one of those people. But unlike that enviable pal who can’t explain the workings behind their op shop luck, Anna has some very practical wisdom for scoring big, which she kindly shared with us below.
Who are you and what do you do? My name is Anna, and I’m primarily a photographer with my own business called Pixie Rouge Photography. I run a blog called She Hunts Op Shops on the side, creating op shop guides to Melbourne, country towns and places like Shoalhaven in NSW in my spare time.
How did She Hunts Op Shops begin? When we first moved to Melbourne, I was on a mission to furnish our rented home as cheaply and affordably as I could. And because I was photographing families and their newborns in their homes all over Melbourne, I’d also take that opportunity to visit op shops in the area.
I soon forgot which shop sold the lovely lace curtains or the funky retro furniture, so I started photographing them and collating them on my computer for my own reference. But then I wanted access to those photos while I was on the road, so I started a facebook page to house the photos and within a week, I had 1000 followers.
Where did your love for op shopping start? I grew up in Oamaru, a small town in New Zealand, and my grandad was an auctioneer whose shed was dripping with treasures. For as long as I can remember, I would rummage around smelling his old leather books, dusting off old cigarette tins. Treasure hunting is in my blood. We didn’t have op shops back in ‘80s Oamaru, but the next best thing was the town tip. I furnished my first cubby house with furniture and bric-a-brac salvaged from there!
How many op shops have you been to now? That’s a hard question but I’m certain it would be over 500. I travelled all over the world for 16 years prior to settling down in Melbourne and I would hunt out op shops in each city I visited. I can easily smash out 15 op shops in one day if I want to. I actually think I have a problem!
What are some of your top tips for op shopping? I never really have an expectation – I guess that’s the thrill of the hunt. Often, if I put the intention out there, it will find its way to me sooner or later.
Airy-fairy things aside, I always check quality and usability of items. If I'm buying electrical items like speakers, I keep the receipt and make sure the op shop has a return policy for them. Also, try not to buy too much! Sometimes I can go to five op shops in a row and only buy one bowl.
What are some overlooked places to go for secondhand items? Buy back centres are really cool, especially in Shoalhaven. I love the ethos behind them, too. Waste management centres go to great lengths to salvage rubbish, resell it, repurpose it and divert it from landfill. Then the money goes back into the recycling system. Do have a rummage!
I’m also partial to a good side-of-the-road find. A lot of my beloved furniture in our home was found that way, including my daughter Frankie’s bed, which is an original Danish retro daybed.
What kind of quality checks do you do before purchasing something? For clothing, I always check things like zippers and whether they still work smoothly. I am always on the hunt for children’s shoes (and I’ve found brand-spanking new Grosby or Clarks shoes for $4), so I check that the velcro works properly, and that the soles are in good condition.
I carry a tape measure in my bag so I can check lengths of things like curtains and rugs. I also have my window measurements saved in my phone, which helps with buying curtains.
Are there particular stores that you go to for certain items? Absolutely! All of Frankie’s clothes are op shopped, except underwear. In Melbourne, Savers in Moorabbin has the world’s coolest kid's clothes and it’s all tidy and colour-coded. You can find the best brands there, sometimes still with the tags on!
An outer suburban Salvos or Vinnies is often much bigger in size and you can always find great furniture in these stores, so take a trailer or secure your roof racks.
Helping Hands Mission stores are massive and pretty much offer the whole shebang, while Sacred Heart stores are often dripping with beautiful retro treats. I could really go on and on.
What are your tips for not getting overwhelmed in big op shops? I often bypass everything and head for my favourite section first – which is often the bric-a-brac, curtain, or speakers section. Sometimes I only look at one section and leave.
Also, take headphones and listen to your favourite music. That often helps me to truly immerse myself into a place like Savers.
What’s been your favourite op shop find? There are so many – my house if full of op shop treasures! My most recent favourite score would have to be the three Camco retro bar stools we scored at Huskisson Buy Back Centre for spare change.
Of course I had to find them while we were road tripping around Shoalhaven with a car already filled to the brim! I bought old sheets from another op shop, wrapped them up and tied them to our roof racks and drove them all the way home to Melbourne.
Any regretful purchases? Yes, quite a few silly things that I hadn’t checked properly. I have bought furniture that has only lasted a few weeks before losing its springs or slowly falling apart in my home. I give a lot of things away on my facebook page, though, because someone is always ready to re-purpose something. But my purchases have mostly been pretty spot on (my husband may say otherwise).
What do you love most about op shopping? Op shopping for me has simply become a way of life, I even buy my free-range eggs from the cutest op shop in Sunshine!
I could talk about op shops ‘till the cows come home. They instil a sense of community, are always playing nostalgic music that leaves you mellowing somewhere between 1925 and 1979, and they encourage people to veer away from fast fashion and fast furniture. Not to mention all that each individual op shop does for its community and their cause.
People email me or comment on my posts saying that they had never set foot into an op shop until they started following me – that makes my heart swoon! If I can encourage people to go op shopping, that’s just the bee’s knees!
Check out Anna’s big list of op shop guides for Victoria and Shoalhaven, New South Wales over here.
Some of Anna's thrifted finds at home
All images by Anna at Pixie Rouge Photography