Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I thrift & some thrifting finds November 2, 2022

Vintage glasses found in a Northfield thrift store, Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

VIA UPBRINGING AND FINANCIAL NECESSITY, I am a thrifter. I believe in recycling, reusing, repurposing, upcycling, whatever term you peg to using that which has already been used.

Thrifting is a great way to find affordable art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As a child, I occasionally wore clothes stitched from feed sacks. Or maybe they were flour sacks. Doesn’t matter. The point is that farm women like my mom were innovative in crafting clothing for their children. Clothes were passed down from oldest to youngest (ask my sister how much she “hated” my hand-me-downs), from cousins to cousins. Store-bought clothes were always selected from the sales rack.

Furniture crams a space at Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Throughout my entire life I’ve held that perspective of passing along, of not needing new. My first furniture—a worn green arm chair and sofa from the 1950s—in my first apartment came from my parents’ living room. My waterfall desk and kitchen table and chairs came from my maternal Grandpa, chest of drawers from my childhood bedroom. My coffee table was a wooden crate that once held newsprint or some print-related part from Crow River Press, the Hutchinson press that printed The Gaylord Hub, my first place of employment out of college.

These colorful plates caught my eye. Dinnerware is always in stock at thrift shops and garage sales. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Into marriage and child-rearing, I purchased used. Baby equipment and kids’ clothes came from garage sales. Likewise I’ve amassed a vast collection of original art from thrift shops, rummage sales and recycled art sales. Furniture passed down from family or acquired at garage sales or auctions defines most of the furniture in my house. Even today. My dishes are the indestructible Spring Blossom Green Corelle dinnerware, once my mom’s company dishes, now my everyday dinnerware.

An overview of used merchandise in the households section of Used-A-Bit Shoppe, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’m pleased that items made decades ago continue to function in my home. I feel no need to update. Old is often constructed better than new. Old often holds memories, too. That matters.

A sandwich board outside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, River Park Mall, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even though I’m at that age when I no longer want more stuff, that doesn’t keep me from occasional thrift shopping. That differs from thrift purchasing. If I notice a garage sale while out and about, I’ll stop. The same goes for thrift stores like Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. Recently I popped into the shoppe in the River Park Mall. Housed in two separate spaces, one area features furniture and the other a mix of glassware, dinnerware, home décor, collectibles, puzzles, books, linens, toys and much much more. Proceeds from the volunteer-run nonprofit benefit FiftyNorth, a gathering place for older adults (and a whole lot more).

Smiley faces were popular when I was a teen in the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Each time I meander through a thrift store, I find goods that draw me close. Something will trigger a memory, evoke a feeling, catch my eye. On this visit, a smiley face bowl took me back to the 1970s when sunny yellow smiling faces were everywhere. I even had a smiley face bulletin board in my lime green bedroom.

One of several quilt blocks, some finished, others not. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I delight, too, in art and vintage glassware. When a Used-A-Bit volunteer showed me a stash of finished and unfinished quilt blocks, I paused to appreciate the handiwork and consider the woman who stitched them. I wondered why anyone would give up this connection to a loved one. We all have our reasons for letting go.

A colorful beverage cart from Costa Rica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The furniture side of the shoppe, where I last purchased a framed vintage print of University Hall at Purdue for my son, a graduate student there, presented the most unusual finds of the day. A colorful ox cart/beverage cart from Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I could envision this reused in some utilitarian, fun way. On a patio. At a restaurant. In another shop.

This image shows the size of the 1968 world wall map. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But the show-stopper of my Northfield thrift shopping was a pull-down 1968 world map. That massive map took me straight back to Vesta Elementary School, to the maps teachers unfurled to open our minds to places beyond the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. Priced at only $75, I considered the vintage map a work of art, a piece of history, a memory-keeper.

Interesting artsy vessels at Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Colorful kids’ chairs just waiting for the right buyer at Used-A-Bit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An artsy vase… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s so much to be found when thrifting. Art. History. Enough to furnish a home. Entertainment. Memories. And in the all of it, this recycling of goods benefits our planet by keeping stuff out of landfills.

The 1968 world wall map up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

TELL ME: Are you a thrifter? If yes, where do you thrift and what are some of your most treasured finds?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


21 Responses to “Why I thrift & some thrifting finds”

  1. Oh my! What cool finds there! Yes… thrift store shopping is a great hobby of mine. Almost all my best clothes and furniture I have found in thrift stores around the World and then either redesigned or cleaned up and used as is in my living spaces. When I am done or my taste changes I resonate or sell. So much better for the environment!
    Here is a link to our online thrift sales here where I live. Fun way to spend a rainy day. Just looking.


  2. Yes! I’m a thrifter! I’ve been one my whole life. Many, many of my furnishings, art and most beloved objects in my home come from thrift stores, garage sales & the like. Not only do I enjoy looking for new “treasures” but it is also fun to relive those memories that the vintage items bring forth. ❤

  3. Loving your post today and speaks to me as a thrifter – love wandering through a thrift store 🙂 My mom made Halloween costumes from pillowcases – she would come up with a design or an iron on and then just put it over a colored sweat suit. Then BroCraves did a curb alert for my first apartment couch. He took it through the car wash and then dried it in the paint booth at his work. That couch NEVER stopped smelling like that car wash soap – LOL! I love seeking out picture frames, milk glass and other decorative finds when wandering. Amazing what a can of spray paint and a glue gun can do wonders on. Happy Exploring – Happy Day – Enjoy.

    • Now that’s the most unusual thrifting story I’ve heard of taking a found couch through a car wash. Wow. I can imagine that never-ending soap scent. But at least you had a clean second-hand sofa. Love reading about your thrift store finds and love of thrifting.

  4. Jen Woldum Says:

    My daughters and I love thrifting! Such a great way to keep clothes etc out of the landfill. So many good finds, but some of my favorites are a Grain Belt Beer sign and 4’ x 8’ tapestry that adorn our basement walls.
    My favorite thrift stores for clothing are the ARC Value Village stores. I also volunteer there weekly with our students.

  5. beth Says:

    I am a big believer in passing things on and finding things

  6. beth Says:

    To bring new life to them

  7. Valerie Says:

    I enjoy thrift stores…for all the same reasons as you do.
    Have you been to Restored in Lakeville? It’s a good one…probably my favorite. Andrea and Tim set up their household with items purchased there, when they moved back to US from Africa.

  8. Beth Ann Says:

    That smiley face dish would have definitely gone home with me. :-). I have a lot of thrift items in my home and of course a lot of teapots that have found their way to me. Love thrifting.

  9. Mary Ann Eng Says:

    Volunteered there when it first opened. After twenty-some years, My how it’s grown! Ray and Mary Ann Eng

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