Thrifting for stationery

Flashback to what seems like an entire lifetime ago, I worked as a junior marketer at a stationery e-commerce in my early 20s. While I eventually left that post after a year, it was there where I developed a lifelong appreciation for stationery, especially fancy luxury stationery. There is, admittedly, a lot of frivolity and froufrou in the stationery world. As someone who loves to look at beautiful things, I don’t consider myself above it. But in my self-employed era, I also can’t justify splurging on stationery very often. 

This past year, I’ve been making a concerted effort to thrift for stationery whenever I can. Like The Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need! There are so many lovely, one-of-a-kind stationery supplies that you can buy secondhand, including items that would be perfect as planner or bullet journal accessories. It just takes a bit of digging and the occasional stretch of the imagination. 

What kind of stationery supplies can you thrift? 

Thrifting for writing and drawing utensils

Two boxes of crayons
Crayons galore at the thrift store. Perfect for artists and young students!

I’m not saying that you’ll find a TWSBI or Lamy Safari fountain pen at the thrift store (although I could’ve sworn I saw a Cross pen once), but you can find decent pens and markers at the thrift from time to time. My dad even once gifted me a $5 set of Mildliner highlighters from the flea market! (It was a complete set when he first gave it to me, but it’s not now…)  Parents browsing for back-to-school essentials can also sometimes find brand new Crayola markers and Ticonderoga pencils lying around secondhand shops. 

I think that there will always be certain pens and markers that are easier to find at specialty stationery shops, but you can dig around for sets from decent brands at the thrift — think products from mainstream companies like Staedtler, Sakura Micron, Zebra, Faber-Castell, Stabilo, and Paper Mate. If you need a set of pens or markers with a range of colors for school or bullet journaling, you can save lots of money when shopping at the thrift. 

Thrifting for stickers and adhesive notes

Stickers
My collection of thrifted stickers over the past year.

I take immense pleasure in burning money on stickers at Dollar Tree and craft fairs. But sticker spending can really add up, and I often find that they lean a bit cutesier than my personal taste these days. What I love about digging through the craft section at the thrift store is finding vintage stickers. I don’t just mean scrapbooking stickers with a granny Victorian vibe, although I love those, too. I also mean the thick Sandylion stickers that ‘90s kids used to plaster inside of the smooth, coated pages of personal sticker books.  

In addition to digging around for stickers, check for sticky notes at the thrift store. A few weeks ago, I nearly had a mental breakdown at Target over how much small Post-Its cost and found a huge pack of sticky notes for a buck at the thrift the following day. I like to use sticky notes to write down book quotes for my reading journal, but they can work beautifully for reminders inside of your planner! I also frequently find sealed to-do list pads for a buck or two, if you use those often.

Thrifting for notebooks and journals

Cash journal
Check out my bound accounting book. 

I have a notebook problem. I buy notebooks and clothes when I feel an overwhelming urge to reinvent or better myself. The problem is, both things can be pricey when you buy them new. Plus, it’s very easy to hoard both things without really getting to the root of what’s bothering me. While you should be mindful of overconsuming when thrifting, secondhand shopping for notebooks can be a budget-friendly alternative to frequent Maido or Kinokuniya trips. 

You’d be surprised at how many notebooks and journals you can find collecting dust at the thrift store. I’m personally drawn to cloth- or leather-bound journals, but you can also find lined spiral notebooks for students around back-to-school season — a lot of thrift stores carry Target’s stationery overstock. Right before Christmas, I found an accounting journal that I plan to use as a bullet journal! (See what I mean by the occasional stretch of the imagination?)

Inside of the accounting book.
Look at the built-in trackers in my accounting book that cost a quarter…

Avid planners may even get lucky at the thrift store. While you’re not going to find a dated Hobonichi or Jibun Techo at the thrift, I did once pick up a cute undated Rilakkuma planner from one of my favorite secondhand shops. Otherwise, blank or lined notebooks can work beautifully as bullet journals, personal journals, or scrapbooks. 

Undated planner layout
I was itching for a new planner but remembered that I bought this a few months ago…

Tips for thrifting stationery 

  • Look in the children’s and book sections. If your store doesn’t have a designated craft aisle, check these two areas. I tend to find markers in the children’s section and journals in the book section!
  • Take a look around back-to-school season in late summer. Some thrift stores bring out their binders, pens, and notebooks around July through September to be in sync with back-to-school season. 
  • Check if the stationery item is usable. Do the pens still work? Are the pages of the notebook marked up? I’m a huge fan of repurposing stuff, but some things that end up at the thrift store are simply beyond repair. 
  • Consider your personal style to avoid hoarding. Do you like sleek and chic or playful and cute styles? For me, personally, I love stationery that leans a bit cottage-inspired – I’m drawn to flowers, animals, and antiquated vibes. Other folks may prefer a kidcore or colorful look when it comes to stickers and notepads.
  • Avoid cheap faux leather. Thrifted or new, cheap faux leather journals have a tendency to flake and peel. I’ve bought this type of notebook from both the thrift store and TJ Maxx…I ended up having to plaster them with Con-Tact paper and stickers to disguise the ugly flaking. You can tell if a cover is cheap pleather/vinyl if you gently press your nail into it and it leaves a dent (or worse, starts flaking). 
  • Check out secondhand craft stores. One cool spot I came across while a student at Cal was the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. This funky resale shop in North Oakland features all kinds of gently used craft supplies for the thrifty art enthusiast! (I wish I had a similar type of store nearby.)

I can’t say that thrifting for stationery is for everyone, but those who are open to it may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the thrift store’s bountiful stationery inventory!