Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Thrift stores can hold hidden gems like video games, consoles, cameras, vinyl, and electronics. Be sure to check for unique items.
  • Consider looking for rare items like collectible video game cartridges, cameras and lenses, and old PC parts for a fraction of the price.
  • Thrift stores also offer a budget-friendly option for starting a CD, vinyl, Blu-ray, or DVD collection.

Thrift stores aren’t just for faded t-shirts and used bakeware, they can be a treasure trove for media and electronics too. Here are just some of the things you should keep an eye out for on your next thrifting adventure.

Video Games

Not every thrift store has a video game section, but most thrift stores have a few video games stashed somewhere. These are often mixed up with the DVDs and Blu-rays, so a keen eye may be required to spot them.

There are endless copies of Kinect Adventure and FIFA 14 out there, but occasionally you’ll spot some good stuff too. I have picked up copies of Dragon’s Dogma, Darksiders II and Unreal Tournament III (hey, it was cheap) for the Xbox 360 in great condition over the years.

Used copies of Dragon's Dogma, Darksiders II, and Unreal Tournament III for Xbox 360.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Many such stores also have a locked cabinet, usually at the front of the shop, where they store more desirable objects. These can include cartridges for older systems like the SNES and N64, or old “big box” PC games which are highly collectible.

Just make sure you’re not taken for a ride on the price. We recommend having a quick search on eBay to see what prices such items have sold for in the past. This is especially true when the cartridges may not work at all.

Game Consoles and Accessories

I bought a Wii from a charity shop for AUD$20 about five years ago. It was in a plastic bag with some Wii Remotes, a Wii Motion Plus adapter, and all of the cables and light bars I needed to get it working. Even though Nintendo shifted a lot of Wii consoles, I’ve still never seen a cheaper console.

A slightly yellowed but still functional Wii Remote, Wii Motion Plus, and Wii Nunchuk.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Occasionally you’ll find controllers and accessories too, though you should be a little more cautious here. Stick drift is a real phenomenon and with no method of testing a controller in the store, you should only pay what you’re comfortable losing. This is especially true with less reliable hardware, like the N64 controller and its notorious analog stick.

Sometimes you’ll see memory cards and other accessories too. I bought a used Dreamcast VMU once that still had someone’s save files on it, including a huge amount of progress they had made unlocking characters in Soul Calibur (much to my delight). Assuming the memory hasn’t gone bad, those save files still exist.

Many thrift shops have a generic PC section, with sketchy-looking mice and keyboards, USB hubs, and other bits and bobs. This is where I found an old Microsoft Sidewinder Precision 2 joystick, one of the best PC peripherals from a golden age of Microsoft PC hardware. No, I haven’t used it yet (but I’m sure I will someday).

Remember that these items are sold untested. In the case of consoles, you may be able to ask staff if you can plug the item into the wall to see if you at least get a power LED, but you’re unlikely to be able to fully test these items. Don’t get carried away and pay over the odds to avoid disappointment.

CRT Monitors and Televisions

Cathode ray tube (CRT) displays gradually fell out of favor with the arrival of flat screens in the 2000s, before becoming highly desirable objects among collectors and enthusiasts. They feature excellent pixel response times, low latency, and that soft CRT look that’s perfect for era-appropriate gaming.

Unfortunately, many caught wind of this and the price of CRT monitors skyrocketed. Now Facebook sellers think that any old radiation machine is worth its weight in gold (which would make them very expensive indeed). For thrift stores, this isn’t necessarily always the case.

An old beige PC with a CRT monitor.
Santi S /

CRT televisions and monitors are bulky and heavy. Thrift store pricing should better reflect the need to sell rather than cash in on the trend. This is where you might be able to still score a CRT for a reasonable price, especially when it comes to computer monitors that lack the utility of a TV.

These displays are great for old PC builds and retro consoles. If you don’t have the room or inclination and you still want to play on original hardware, consider spending your money on a RetroTink or Open Source Scan Converter instead.

PC Parts and Electronics

From beige boxes to PCI sound cards, you’ll be amazed at what you might find tucked away at the back of a thrift store. This is where I found a boxed USB Apple SuperDrive, the only optical drive I still own that isn’t attached to a game console. It sure came in handy that time I needed to check the contents of some old CDs I burned a long time ago.

An Apple USB SuperDrive.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Old PC builds need old PC parts, and thrift stores can help with that. You might find an old graphics card, cooler, optical drive, or some fans. You definitely shouldn’t pick up an old power supply unit, we recommend buying only new PSUs.

You might even find an old PC case, a beige box of dreams that’s gutted and ready for your next build (or a sleeper PC). Old Mac minis make great file servers and home theater PCs, depending on their age and what you’re hoping to achieve with them.

If you’re into old personal electronics like MP3 players and iPods or MiniDisc players, you should check your local thrift store. Radio cassette players, Walkmans, and Discmans aren’t uncommon either. Just be careful about what you pay, since anything with a tape head or a laser is susceptible to degradation.

Cameras and Lenses

Did you know that those chunky late 2000s digital cameras are all the rage again? These “pure” photography devices are desirable for their lack of notifications and in-app purchases. It seems that JPEG artifacts are cool now, and these cameras revel in them thanks to a reliance on compression and relatively low megapixel counts by today’s standards.

They’re also very common in thrift stores, and usually quite affordable. Factor in the cost of replacing the aged battery and finding a compatible memory card and you might have yourself a new hobby at a bargain price, or a gift for someone in your life. I hear the kids love posting their grainy snaps on the ‘gram.

You’re bound to find all sorts of miscellaneous camera equipment at your local thrift stores, from detachable lenses for camera systems you don’t own to old 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras that smell like they’ve been left in a cupboard for 50 years.

A selection of 35mm single lens reflex cameras.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

If you’re lucky you’ll stumble across something really special, like a twin lens reflex (TLR) camera or a box camera that, if nothing else, will look great on a shelf somewhere in your house. But these items are better if you can use them, and in the case of lenses, you can do wonders with a lens adapter.

If you can work out what camera system the lens was originally designed for, you can probably find a lens adapter that will work with a modern camera system. You’ll lose a few stops of light and autofocus, but you’ll get a unique look to your images and videos that only decades of decay can provide. There’s also something fun about the challenge of giving an old piece of glass a new life.

Vinyl and CDs

Just like early digital cameras, CDs are cool again. One How-To Geek writer is going back to CDs, swearing off streaming in favor of shiny discs that can be had for less than a dollar. As streaming has taken hold, more and more people are donating their CD collections which means there are so many available at rock-bottom prices.

Vinyl is also right at home in a musty thrift shop, though like CRT displays you have to be careful that the trend hasn’t inflated the price beyond reasonable levels. A few dollars for old LP in questionable condition is fine, but $30 per disc for anything in the crate is not.

Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue on vinyl.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

I’ve been lucky in this regard, but I’m a bit of a weirdo. I buy a lot of spoken word vinyl, sound effects, and stock audio archives, and anything that looks a bit strange. It’s a bit of fun, but I also have grand plans to build a sample library that I can use to make music one day.

Blu-Rays (and DVDs)

Did you know that there’s never been a better time to start a Blu-ray collection? Streaming services are getting more expensive, offer sub-par quality streams, and forego the extras you get on disc releases. More importantly, enough time has passed for Blu-rays to start showing up in thrift stores.

You can start building a movie collection on the cheap, and simply give away the movies you don’t like (or donate them back). Early HD (1080p) Blu-rays are relatively common, and though you shouldn’t expect to find too many Ultra HD (4K) Blu-ray discs, you might be lucky.

Dark City on Blu-ray.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

DVDs are even cheaper and more abundant. They might not have the same quality as a Blu-ray, but they’re still packed with special features and you’ve probably got an old player somewhere that you can put to good use.

Sometimes you can find some real oddities, like releases that are hard to find, obscure films you’ve never heard of, or those weird DVD games that definitely weren’t worth the retail price they launched at.

You Can Donate This Stuff Too

When you buy from a thrift store, you’re often supporting a charity or good cause. When you donate to a thrift store, you’re also showing your support. The latter is a great way to free up some space in your house (or make room for new stuff) while feeling good about it.

If you haven’t got time to list and bundle up items for sale online, or the small amount of cash you’ll recoup doesn’t seem worth it, why not donate instead?

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By John P.

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