Seattle's Child

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Last minute holiday thrift

A collection of pine green decor. Photo courtesy Evergreen Goodwill

Last minute holiday thrift shopping tips

Tips from an Evergreen Goodwill DIY pro

According to the National Retail Federation, the 2023 holiday season is expected to reach record spending levels. As inflation drives up product costs, the joy of gifting and decorating wrestles with the stress of overspending.

The pressure to spend can feel unavoidable for many families during the final holiday countdown. Money can fly out of wallets in the crunch to check off our lists. Nearly seven in 10 shoppers expect to overspend this season.

Nonprofit thrift stores are an excellent place to start bucking that trend. Miost have a wide selection of fun décor and useful holiday entertainment items. They are also a great place to find inexpensive gifts for kids (or for kids to gift parents and other family members), gather materials for holiday crafts, find the tools needed to create great meals, or tie together holiday party outfits. And for kids who may not have much money to spend on gifts, a nonprofit thrift store can be an opportunity to feel the joy of giving without huge costs.

Here are some last-minute holiday thoughts from Gary Foy and our staff at Seattle’s Child. Foy is Operations Training Manager and “DIY pro” at Evergreen Goodwill, which operates 24 thrift stores in Northwest Washington.

Last minute holiday thrift

A collection of gold holiday decor items screams “richness.” Photo courtesy Evergreen Goodwill.

A world of stocking stuffers

Meaningful items don’t have to break the bank. Most Goodwill stores, like other nonprofit thrift stores, offer a selection of new (yes, brand new!) items like fuzzy thermal socks (some for as low as $3.99), holiday-scented candles in the $5.99 range, warm gloves, hats, and more gifts under $7. Hint: 

Find PNW favorites

With the winter still ahead, give yourself or your kids the “find local” outdoor gear challenge. High-quality “local” clothing brands like the Northwest’s Patagonia, REI, and Outdoor Research often find their way to thrift store wraps? With some thorough rack searching, you can cover your whole family in “new to you” fleece, down and more.

How to create fun or classy holiday decor from eclectic shelves

Most stores have a hefty amount of holiday bling donations — decorations that promise to make your family’s tree or decor sparkle. Where else can you snag bags full of ornaments for $3.99, table toppers for under $8, and festive mugs for holiday hot cocoa for under $2? Some stores carry lights, new and used stockings, and even outdoor decorations. Choose a color scheme for a holiday environment to rival the pros for elegance (one, two, or three colors). For example, select ornament bags by color (going all in for one or several. Walk through the other holiday decor and choose items to display in your house or on your tables and walls that match your color scheme. Go for white, silver, clear glass, and blue ornaments and decor to create a cool, cuddly, snow-bound feel. For a warmer, more decadent feel, look for the golds. It may take visits to a few thrift stores, but with patience, you can create a magical holiday home that will wow your family, friends, and wallet. 

Help for holiday hosting

No matter what you need, a Goodwill store or other charitable second-hand stores will have an array of used cookware and dishware, from pie and casserole dishes to cooking utensils and specialty appliances like crock pots and kitchen mixers. If you’re planning the perfect roast or an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, you’ll also need pans and festive platters. Goodwill and other stores offer a variety of serving gear and a range of interesting kitchen gadgets to gift. Thrift stores are also a great place to find used artificial trees and greens.

Create a festive mix-and-match holiday table

Have a larger group coming than dishware and flatware in your cupboards? Most Goodwill stores have several aisles dedicated to dishware. You’ll find complete dish sets as well as one-offs. Mirror the colorful lights on a holiday tree by choosing a plate with a different color or motif for every family member or guest at your holiday meals. Pair them with equally disparate salad bowls, glasses, and cutlery. Then, grab different cloth napkins (in the linen section). When you set your holiday table, just add candles (available in abundance at Goodwill and other thrift stores). It may take a few stores to get it just right, but creating unique dinner settings for eight people can cost less than $50. Watch for discount days and times to bring costs lower.

Think about repurposing

If you have a child that likes to paint, thrift stores are often a good source for old canvases. Wrap up a few and when they start at your like your crazy when you give them a canvas of an ugly flower, tell them “Go forth and paint over it completely!” Or purchase several bags of groups of smaller collected items and invite your young maker to create,

Last minute holiday thrift

Aisles and aisles of clothing, including high quality local favorites like REI and Patagonia for a fraction of the original cost. Photo courtesy Evergreen Goodwill

How to make gently used items feel like new

There are many ways to help make previously owned items look and feel “new” before gifting them. Some examples: 

  • Place a towel over used kids’ books to iron the covers. 
  • Clean used toys thoroughly, using a toothbrush for particularly grimy corners and other areas. 
  • Create gift boxes of several items – for example, add two well-cleaned previously owned teacups to a box with a box of tea, a box of cookies, and a book for “Mom’s High Tea.” 
  • For clothing gifts, be sure to clean items thoroughly and, if necessary, use a stain remover appropriate to the material. 
  • If possible, wrap used gifts in a simple, plain cardboard box. Tissue paper adds a level of sophistication. Be sure you remove any trace of stickers from gifts (Goo Gone works wonders in this department)
  • Be sure all the pieces of the gift are there.

The best timing for the broadest range of items

Even if you are a procrastinator, you’ll find holiday items on shelves — stocked with hundreds of thousands of items each day — up to and even after the big days have come and gone. Thrift stores get donations and restock shelves daily, so you can always make multiple stops (or visit multiple thrift stores) to find what you’re looking for. Some thrift shops may also offer extra discounts and bonuses. Call your local store or check their website or social media channels for promotions. For instance, all Evergreen Goodwill stores are offering an extra 50% on certain items on December 23 and 23. 

Cost expectations

While prices and items vary from store to store and day to day, it is possible to cover holiday gifts (four each), clothing, and decor for a family of four for under $100. 

Giving, decorating, and dressing with Intention

 It’s a triple gift when you shop at nonprofit thrift stores. Your family’s holiday purchases will not only bring joy but also be a step in the direction of sustainability. In 2023 alone, donations to Evergreen Goodwill have diverted 83,752,871 pounds of material from landfills. At the same time, your purchases and donations support the broader community by supporting the store’s free job training and education programs. These programs are a vital resource to many in the local area.

*Seattle’s Child editors contributed to this article. 

Read more:

Winter Solstice: When nature is the gift

Your 2023 Guide to Holiday Family Fun

About the Author

Gary Foy with Seattle's Child staff