The Nerd’s Guide to Thrifting, Part VII: Don’t leave your final decisions for the last minute.

This point has come up in other parts in the series, but it deserves its own section in further detail. There are two optimal times to make a decision about whether to purchase something, and neither are in the checkout line while you’re running late to your bestie lunch date.

1. The first optimal time is very soon after you pick something off the rack. Yes, of course, always try it on before you buy! But this is the first test that a potential purchase has to pass; deciding whether something is worth carrying around for the next two hours and trying on should mean that, if it fits right, it’s probably a go.

If that sounds weird, there’s a good reason why I’m suggesting making a fairly clear decision at that point: The times when you’re very first picking out items are more likely to be earlier on in your thrifting adventure. It’s certainly going to be earlier than the checkout lane (last-second ‘holy crap I can’t believe I missed that!’ finds notwithstanding), which means you’re (hopefully) more likely to be in a good decision-making state and less likely to be hungry or physically or mentally fatigued.

2. The second optimal time to make a decision is while you’re trying it on. In fact, this is really the best time.

(Pro tip: Don’t look at the mirror until after you put everything on and get it situated properly. If you stand there tugging at things while looking at it, you’ll miss the opportunity for the ‘big reveal,’ which is a great moment to experience those first, uncensored thoughts about how something really looks on you. Especially if you’ve already fallen in love with it, that moment when you finally see it on can either be the home run or the ‘wow, did I get that wrong!’ moment, which is an invaluable diagnostic.)

It’s not always that easy, though. A lot of the time, I find myself unsure about something, and unfortunately the try-on doesn’t always clear it up. But in 90% of those cases, the fact that I’m unsure is its own red flag to go back to part 1 and imagine how it would fit in with everything I already own. Chances are, it won’t pass that test if I’m still ambivalent about it even after trying it on. In those cases, even if it triggers that ‘regret fear,’ do the brave thing and hang it up on the go-backs rack.

How to deal with it:

  • Spend the bulk of your ‘deliberation time’ when you first pull it off the rack and in the dressing room. Consider the moment that you step out of the dressing room as the time for final decisions, not just before you check out.
  • If you catch yourself throwing every single ‘meh’ sweater into your cart, stop–eventually you’re going to have to make some decisions, so don’t let your brain get lazy and assume the decision will be easier later. (It won’t.) The one exception here is if you really do love something, but you’re not sure how it will fit. It’s perfectly fine to be on the fence about something until you decide if you like how it fits. What’s not so great is having a cartful of stuff you just threw in on a whim that you’re eventually going to have to deal with, because if you leave that kind of pile until the last minute… Well, that’s most likely going to yield some pretty crappy decisions.
  • Don’t try everything on at once. Stop periodically when you’ve got maybe 4-8 items at most, so that you can have time to think. Don’t wait until you’re running late with a cartload to trip in and out of fifteen different pairs of yoga pants–you’d have been better off just picking out 5 at a time and trying them on, even if you don’t make it through every section you had initially planned to look through. It’s better to make good decisions about a few items than bad decisions about fifty–and it’s better to leave with one great find that you feel confident about than ten you just grabbed because you didn’t have time to think each one through.
  • Carry your clothes in your arms instead of a cart. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it will make you much more discerning in what’s worth adding to your load. If you opt for a cart, at least keep a mental note of how many items you’re allowed to take in to the dressing room at one time. Especially if they’re like most overcrowded thrift stores here in Seattle, during the busiest times, you’ll only be able to try on maybe 5-6 items at once before you have to go to the back of the line and start all over again. If you’ve just grabbed everything that looked vaguely interesting without taking the time when you first pulled it off the rack to think for a second, you’re probably going to regret putting off any decisions if you have to go back through a line multiple times. When I do grab one of those wheely cart-basket things (I probably found a heavy ceramic plant pot, because I am also hopelessly houseplant-obsessed) I almost never let myself put more items in the cart than I can take in the dressing room with me at one time. When I hit that limit, I go try on everything, and then go back to shopping if I wasn’t done yet.

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