Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Shop Second-Hand part 1

Yesterday I sent Tom a text: "I just trash-picked a dresser, 3 extension cords, and a putty knife!"
He replied: "YEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!"

You see, all three of those items are things that we've been "needing" for awhile now. 

Our friends often ask us how we manage to find such great items and amazing deals on second-hand items.  I think I can honestly say that 90% of our "stuff" (not including food, cleaning products, and drugstore items) is second-hand.  Of the remaining 10% which came into the house "new", most of it was given to us as gifts.  We try never to buy something new if we can find it used in workable condition.

 And my first tip on how to do that would be, as demonstrated by yesterday's trash-picking scenario, to not be "too eager" to have something right away.  We try to make do without some item we want (or borrow it from someone else) while we wait for a good deal to crop up.  And if you always have a list of things you're "looking for" in the back of your head, you will definitely find some of them eventually if you're being attentive.

For example, Tom and I bought a filing cabinet from Goodwill when we moved to this house.  We didn't realize at the time that it didn't have the metal inserts in the drawers that you hang the folders off of.  It's annoying, but not an emergency or anything.  We priced them out at some stores, and they're way too expensive.  So we're just waiting for some to come our way, while our file folders sit in stacks inside the drawers.  A few months ago, we actually found ONE file holder at Goodwill.  So one drawer is good now!  The other day, Tom was tipped off about a closeout sale at Office Depot, and called to ask if there was anything we were looking for.  I reminded him about the file holders.  Unfortunately, they were already sold out.  But I just wanted to demonstrate my point: if it's something you can wait on, do so.  Eventually, something always comes along.

A motto I try to live by.  This print (from Etsy) is hanging on the wall, and is actually itself an example of "making do", since we were on the lookout for several months for a free or cheap frame for it.  Coincidentally, my dad was getting rid of one that was the exact dimensions we needed, so we took it and painted it white.

 Tom and I both enjoyed shopping at thrift stores and garage sales even before we started dating.  You can come across some great and unique finds there.  But once we were married and determined to survive on one income, a thrifty lifestyle also became a matter of necessity.

So where does all our stuff come from?  We go to thrift stores for fun.  Probably once a week or so.  If we're driving in a new neighborhood or town, and spot a thrift store, we get really excited and pull over to check it out.  In the summer, we check out yard sales, church flea markets, and estate sales (we pay attention to signs and bulletins for them around the neighborhood, and occasionally check the PennySaver).  We check Craigslist often when there's a particular item we haven't been able to find elsewhere.  We willingly accept cast-offs from friends and relatives (as long as it's something we'll actually use).  And, yes, we pick up furniture and other items left on the curb on trash night.  We don't dig through trashcans or anything like that, so I don't want to give anyone that impression!

I think this is an even more important tip about thrifting: you have to go often, even when there's nothing in particular you're looking for!  You never know what you'll find....pretty serving dishes, a useful kitchen gadget you didn't have yet, tools that you know you'll need "someday", a book you've always wanted to read...

But I think to really make the most of living with second-hand stuff, you have to actually enjoy it.  For us, it's fun to find great deals and cool things that you can't buy in regular stores.  We enjoy feeling like we've spent our money sensibly, and that we make the most out of things we already own.

And I really believe you can actually find higher quality things that are second-hand anyways.  I could go to Ikea and buy a crappy particle-board dresser for $50 that will fall apart in a year or two.  Or I can go on Craigslist and find a solid wood one with much more character for $30.  Or...I can find one for free in someone's trash.  True, the dresser I picked up yesterday should be sanded and repainted.  And we will probably decide to change out the handles for more attractive ones.  But the work is worth it for something that will last.

So, to re-cap the rules so far:
1. Be willing to wait for an item to turn up.
2. Check out thrift stores and other second-hand sales OFTEN, even when you don't know what you're looking for.
3. Enjoy it!

I called this entry "part 1" because I know I still have a lot more to say on the subject.  In future entries, I hope to discuss a few more useful rules/tips, some "strategies" for buying things second-hand (and what are some good things to look for), and maybe show some examples of some good finds we've made.

If you have any of your own thrifting tips to share, I'd love to hear them!


  1. I've never been that great at buying things second-hand, even as I admire those who always seem to find amazing things ... thanks for the tips. :) (I don't think I enjoy it very much, though ... I usually hate any sort of shopping that ends up being fruitless, so if I didn't find something awesome, I'd come away frustrated. :-/)

  2. "I think this is an even more important tip about thrifting: you have to go often"

    This is my problem. I've been wanting to go thrift store shopping for a couple of months now, and have not had the time. The few Saturdays that we haven't been traveling lately have been busy. My weekdays have been busy. And similar to what Rosemary said, if I didn't end up finding something, then the effort of squeezing it into a busy schedule would be wasted...

    But, I like your first tip--we do need to be better about just waiting for something to turn up.

  3. Next time there's a sale like that and they're sold out, have Tom get a raincheck for the sale price. I learned about this from one of my couponing friends.