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A Guide to Secondhand Gift-Giving

Olivia Preshong

As Christmas time approaches, so does the sweet but sometimes stressful task of choosing and buying gifts for your loved ones. Fortunately, Appalachia’s homey tradition of thrift stores is everywhere, full of resourcefully gathered gifts, and lends itself to secondhand gift-giving!

Thrifting has its classic objections: dirty, old, ratty, not “nice” enough, cheap—those objections are conditional at best—perhaps some secondhand items are old and ratty but thrifting is arguably the best way to give gifts. Thrifted gifting is much more affordable than purchasing gifts at classic retail stores and lends itself to sustainability by repurposing items that would otherwise go straight into landfills. Additionally, thrifting makes gifting sweetly one-of-a-kind items, from a vast range of eras, brands, styles, and aesthetics, available in one big store.

The Appalachian region is home to secondhand stores scattered all throughout its cities and towns. In Johnson City, Tennessee, more than five thrift stores are easily accessible in a small radius. In Asheville, North Carolina, thrift stores range from tiny charity shops to sprawling Goodwills. In Greenville, South Carolina, two local thrift chains, Miracle Hill and Dream Center Resale, boast the area’s most unique selections. In other words, thrift stores are everywhere.

I am an avid thrifter with several years of thrifted gifting under my belt, so here are the tips and tricks I keep up my thrifted sleeve!


  1. Make a list—mental or otherwise! —of your person’s likes and vibes. This could include a color palette, favorite aesthetic, and hobbies.

  1. Go to a thrift store! Any thrift store will do—part of the fun is exploring multiple stores, so pick any thrift store to go to first, and, in all likelihood, you will probably end up at the other stores later, anyway!

  1. Meander through all sections of a thrift store. The golden rule of thrift stores is that the store’s organization is never quite right; chances are that you will find the best and least-picked-over items in the sections in which they do not actually belong, so scour the whole thrift store for the best success.

  1. Start collecting pretty things! Because thrift stores offer such variety, it’s easy to find an assortment of items, so there is something for everyone.


Flannels: Everyone loves a cozy flannel! The best flannels are in the men’s section, and I suggest sizing up for that comfy, cozy, wintery fit. Vintage flannels with thicker fibers and a sturdier texture are typically good quality and tend to have less pilling or overall raggedness than other regular flannels.

Mugs: If there’s one thing thrift stores ooze out the seams with, it’s mugs--mugs, mugs, mugs... everywhere! In a single thrift store, you are likely to find mugs with graphics (like a set of vintage Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post Christmas mugs I found the other day), handcrafted pottery mugs (look for the maker’s mark on the bottom of the mug), mugs with initials, tall mugs, small mugs, soup mugs… the list goes on.

Wall Art: The category of wall art is endless: vintage mirrors with ornate golden trim, a set of shallow baskets for a wall display, framed prints (old and new), unique wall shelves, embroidered frames (like a “God Bless Our Home” piece I found recently), etc. Wall Art is a sweet way to show you understand someone’s style and give them a unique memento by which you will be remembered long after!

Books: If you have ever seen the floor-to-ceiling shelves in a thrift store, you know already how many old and new books are camped in secondhand-store status. From hardback Jane Austen classics to old-book-smelling Hardy Boys paperback mysteries to the book on last year’s NYT bestsellers list, the book options at thrift stores are nearly overwhelming. Buy your newlywed friend a Greek cookbook, your nerd friend a book of the top 100 hardest crossword puzzles, or your mom a copy of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Vintage Earrings: While people who wear only “real jewelry” are harder to shop for, many thrift stores have glassed-in cabinets for their more expensive pieces, which often include extremely high-quality jewelry—it’s not uncommon to find engagement rings or a grandmother’s heirloom brooch. For less particular people, thrift stores are treasure mines for retro earrings and necklaces: chunky hoops, drop-bead earrings, and wooden-beaded necklaces are all common finds in your average thrift store. Also, pieces like real gold cuff links are a possibility—that’s an option for the fancy dressers in your life!

Unused Candles or Home Goods: Candles or teas still in their original packaging are rare but not nonexistent, and they are wonderful fillers for a gift box! Taper candles are what I find the most frequently, and they are wonderful to pair with candle holders—which, by the way, are everywhere in my experience. Once you have compiled a small collection of items, you need some sort of packaging. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Baskets: The typical price of less than $5 and the variety of shapes, sizes, and colors make baskets versatile as gift packaging and then as a functional household item for your loved one.

  • Vintage wrapping paper: Although it is hard to find, some stores have whole bins full of random wrapping paper, tissue paper, printer paper, etc., for mere cents. Drawing designs with a sharpie or stamping a design with an inkpad dresses up the packaging further at no additional cost.

  • Fabric: Satin, cotton, or thick feed sack material all are great options to wrap an item or two! They are diverse and clever.

  • Used gift bags: These run for 50 cents-ish apiece and are available in many prints and sizes.

  • Ribbon or yarn: It is everywhere! Be creative! A roll of twine or a ball of used yarn is alike perfect tying material.


My second-favorite part! Compilation! The compilation of a gift is a close, close second in my favorites-book to actual thrifting: ultimately, there is something so rewarding about stalking and peering your way through an entire Goodwill and walking out the door with a true treasure trove of Spectacular Things when the store looked like nothing but worked-over painting clothes.

But putting your Spectacular Things together in a beautiful way to present a gift that is full of personality and meaning and effort is its own kind of nostalgically wonderful!

In a basket, you’ll want your items to be in display mode. Put taller items (candlestick, chunky folded flannel) in the back of your basket with a short mug and figurine propped against them in the front of the basket. Tuck wrapping paper or fabric in any crevices and encircle the basket with your tying material of choice, making a bow in the front. Let your ends hang down—it’s eclectic!

If you choose a box, line the inside with wrapping paper, fabric, or old newspapers to keep your items from jostling. In boxes, recipients look at gifts from top to bottom—rather than front to back, like in baskets—so arrange items in a stackable manner: flannel on the bottom, mug on top of flannel, figurine nestled in the corner in the flannel, and tapered candle diagonally across the top. Wrap the box in paper, and then tie a big bow around it—I had multiple spools of tulle leftover for wedding décor (thrifted and then gifted to me), and I now repurpose them as gift-wrapping “ribbon:” it’s light and airy, and very whimsical.

And there you have it! With a surprisingly low cost and a little bit of creativity, your loved one can receive a gift they will remember forever—one that exudes love, variety, and a huge dose of kindness. You will never go back!


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