One of the questions I am asked most frequently is how I find such wonderful things at ridiculously low prices. Today, I am going to share the secrets of my thrifting success. Unfortunately, I can’t help with the most important aspect of finding great things (luck), but I do think you can improve your chances by following some easy tips.
1.) A.B.H. – Always be hunting. There are times when I go out to intentionally look for things, but I hunt even when I am not hunting. I even look up thrift store locations to hit when I’m traveling. There have been many times that I have yelled, “stop the car!” or done a (sometimes illegal) u-turn to check out a yard sale or piece of furniture on the side of the road when we’re running an errand. I found this French style sofa at a yard sale for $50.00 while on the way to a Labor Day picnic. 2.) Be willing to roll up your sleeves and dig. Junking can be dirty work. If you’re not willing to dig through boxes, hurdle chairs, or brush off some cobwebs, you might miss some of the best finds. I found this chandelier late in the day while I was out yardsaling. The reason it wasn’t snatched up earlier was it was in a pathetic looking box that no one else had bothered to opened! The chandelier was in pieces, but all of the crystals were there and I knew it could easily be rewired. I ended up paying $4.00 for it! 3.) See what something can be, not what it is. Having a vision for a piece is a gift, but I do believe it can be learned through trial and error. If you spend $1.00 on a piece of furniture (like I did on this table below), it’s ok if you mess it up and it ends up in the trash. Know your limits if you’re going to spend more than $20 on a piece, though. If you are just not gifted with the vision, bring along a friend who is. (And remember, you don’t have to use a piece the way it was intended. Have an open mind.)
4.) When buying furniture, look for quality. Most of the furniture I buy looks like it’s in pretty sad shape, but I always look for some key things. Make sure it’s solid wood, has dove-tailed drawers, quality construction, and good lines. Stay away from pieces that have been poorly repaired, are stapled, made of “press board”, have severe water damage, are missing pieces that would be costly to replicate, or ones that are saturated with smoke. I know some brave souls who take these pieces on (and I have on occasion), but as a rule it’s not worth it. Again, know your limits.
5.) Buy what you love. You will never go wrong buying things that you love and that “speak to you.” It’s easy to get swayed by trends or to be tempted into buying something just because it’s cheap. Trust me, if you don’t love it, it won’t stay in your house for very long. I love ironstone, so I buy almost every piece I come across that’s reasonably priced and I rarely pay more than $5.00 a piece.
6.) Don’t be scared to “dumpster dive” and pick up furniture off the side of the road. Sometimes people just want to get rid of a perfectly good piece of furniture. I’m not sure why they stick it out on their curb instead of donating it to a thrift store, but I’m glad there are people like that! It can be a little embarrassing, even scary to pull your van over and pick up a piece off the curb. “Am I going to get yelled at for stealing? Are people going to think I’m crazy?” Possibly…sure, but I’ve never had the former happen and I’m sure the latter happens all the time. I’m ok with people thinking I’m nuts. This chair was our most recent curb freebie. It was a little wet from sitting in the rain for the morning, but surprisingly it didn’t stink and was in great condition. It just needs a slipcover.
7.) Talk to people. Just about everyone I know, knows that I love antiques, vintage pieces, furniture, whatever. And I have people offer things to me all the time because of this. I get freebies from family members, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, lots of unexpected places. I even talk to people at yard sales to see if they have more furniture that they are looking to get rid of. You wouldn’t believe some of the things people have pulled out of their garages to sell to me for a few dollars. I’ll leave my card with people who are selling good furniture at reasonable prices and tell them to call me when they want to get rid of anything else. I also get to know the people who work at my local thrift stores. They’ll often give me a better price on something because they know me. I got the piece pictured below (salvaged from a sewing factory in Gettysburg) from a woman at the parking authority when I was paying to rent a spot for the day. She told me that she was moving and wanted to get rid of some things and invited me over to see if there was anything I wanted! She gave me several of these interesting wooden pieces, some antique windows and shutters.
This beautiful 100+ year old piano was given to us for free as well. It didn’t sell at our church yard sale, so the receptionist asked my husband if I would like it. My sweet guy rented a U-haul, enlisted some help, and surprised me with it one evening. In addition, the owner of the piano gave us an antique pram that was in mint condition. I also got a ridiculous amount of antiques and furniture from my neighbor, including this pocket watch for $2.00 (and it still works.)8.) It’s ok if something isn’t perfect. In fact, you should expect that it won’t be. There are a lot of things that have been and are currently on my wish list that are very expensive if bought in antique stores in mint condition. I learned that I need to be willing to compromise if I want to get a bargain. I had wanted one of these enamel pitchers for years, but they were always too expensive for me. I finally found one at an antique store for $18.00……the bottom was rusted out, but since I wasn’t planning on filling it with water, it wasn’t a problem for me. This gorgeous French rocking chair was only $10.00, because it was dirty and there was a rip in the caning. Both things I could either fix or live with. 9.) Get to know Craig. If you have not checked out Craig’s List, you must! It’s basically an online yard sale. I know “The Craig’s List Killer” and stories of robberies and fraud may have frightened some of you away, but that is the rare exception, not the norm. Some Craig’s List tips – be particular, never pick up something alone, don’t be afraid to negotiate, and if something doesn’t sound/feel right, just let it go. I purchased both of these pieces on Craig’s List (these are the “after” pictures.) The desk was $15 and the hutch was $30.
10.) Go to Auctions. I went to my first auction a few months ago and I feel like I’ve been a sucker for years for shopping at antique malls. You can find really cool stuff at rock bottom prices at auctions. I’ve come home with a van load of furniture and antiques for less than $80. Auctions are amazing. You can check out local sales in your area at Auction Zip. A few tips:
~ Don’t get carried away with your bidding (it’s very easy to do)
~ Come prepared. You have to take things home with you that night. With small pieces they actually carry it to you and drop it in your lap. Don’t bid on something you can’t get home or discuss arrangements with the auction house in advance
~ Know how the bidding and payment works. Sometimes you have to pay a buyer’s premium at auctions. This means there is a fee added to what your bid was. The auction house I go to charges a fee if you use a credit card and you have to be pre-approved to use a check. Just know what you’re dealing with, so there are no surprises.
~ Wait to bid on something until you feel comfortable. Some auctioneers can be very difficult to understand. Make sure you know what’s going on before you raise your number. It goes fast and can be confusing.
~ Talk to “auction veterans” and ask questions. Most people are happy to help (as long as you’re not bidding on something they want!) You can normally tell the people who are there for fun and the people who are dead serious about it. Talk to the former, not the latter!
The woman who owns our shop found this antique toy phone in a box with other vintage toys for $4.00. I loved it so much she gave it to me. This would’ve cost a great deal more in an antique shop.
So, get out there and score some junk! I hope this is helpful and valuable information. I get giddy about finding things, so I am happy to pass my secrets along to you!
I am finally finished with the shop move, so I’m taking some time to work on my house. I’ve just started arranging my fabric in my new Craig’s List armoire. Here’s a little sneak peak…
I’m also going to try to get my dresser finished, some sewing, painting my bathroom, painting my dining room set, cleaning the workshop & basement, on and on… Of course, I’ll share it all with my lovely readers.