Tuesday, October 2, 2012

31 Day With ME: My Secrets to Second Hand Shopping

Today is day 2 of my 31 Days Series (yeah baby!), welcome!

I am not sure when it happened...I think I was in my 20's when I discovered a love for second-hand shopping. It was probably out of necessity too, living in an apartment in Morehead City, NC with nothing but the matching bedroom suite with me that I had growing up...that's probably what we all had. You look around yourself with your hands on your hips and there is nothing to sit on and nothing to eat at. I think I remember being a little nervous too when I first started, but that is not the case now...super speed 20 years and I can dig around like nobody's business. Somewhere along the way necessity turned into love and logic. It makes complete sense to me to first seek something second hand than to buy new. Things were just made better. Nothing adds to the character of a room than a good piece of vintage furniture. I'm going to throw the tree hugging card in there too, keeping all of our 'stuff' out of landfills. It is 'living green' as they call it, but I have been doing it since I had long hair and curled my bangs.

So let's talk about where I "shop". Typically, I like to shop locally and help support my community, but I also seek thrifties out when I'm in other towns, especially big towns. Big towns=more selection (I find that to be true in regular retail too). Know your town, use the newspaper, use your Maps app on your phone (if you're out of town), worse comes to worse, use the phone book. :)

The prime places I find goods are (in no particular order): Goodwill, Salvation Army, small business second-hand stores, Church-founded thrift stores, yard/garage sales, estate sales and auctions.

Here is my permanent shopping list: Furniture (no laminate), Lamps/Chandies, Artwork, Glassware, Dinnerware (especially high-end, Mikasa, Noritake, Johnson Bros., etc), Accessories (vases, candle sticks/holders, etc.), Linens (no bed linens though, unless I have a project in mind to repurpose), jewelry (estate sales), nearly anything silver or brass. This list keeps me tight and in line.

How I shop at second-hand stores (ie Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.): I call myself a "scanner", I head to each department (furniture first) and scan what I see. If something jumps out at me, I stop...I'm not a look-love-linger sort of shopper, I'm pretty fast. Don't forget to look on the bottom shelf either. As my eye improved (over time), I see the potential in furniture and accessories in a jiffy.

How I shop yard sales and garage sales: Now it has taken me a while to get comfortable with this type of shopping, it's just my personality, but I hesitate going up to a complete strangers home and start rifling through their stuff...but realistically, the are having a sale and have it out in the yard/driveway etc, get over it, Michelle. They are just trying to get rid of their stuff, and make a little money while they're at it. Simple. And I have found some great stuff. Confession though: my MIL has caught the 'yardsale' bug so she is usually with me, so I feel more confident. Shop with a buddy!!!
Same thing as if you were in a store, scan, scan, scan. Don't be afraid to leave empty handed either, if you don't see anything, walk away.

How I shop Estate sales: Shopping estate sales is a lot like yard sales, but the stuff is usually better, and the prices are a little higher (not much though) and you need to be there super early. All the good stuff is gone if you go late. Usually, there is a service that is handling the estate sale (which accounts for the higher prices)...there are different associates that help around in the different rooms, and a check-out area when you are done. I do, however, and this is my personality again, feel a little sad at estate sales...you know someone has passed away and this is their children thinning down the household, it's just sad. So I do sort of mosey through the home, room to room keeping my eye out for good stuff...again, scanning. Also, estate sales are where I find a lot of great vintage jewelry.

How I shop Auctions: Now I am fairly new to auctions, but find them to be quite fun. I've only been to estate auctions (sad again, I know!) versus Auction Houses. Estate auctions can be found in your newspaper, or online. First, get there a little earlier than the scheduled time....and plan to stay late, it's an all day affair (and I recommend leaving the kiddies at home for auctions). I walk around and find the things that I think I want to bid on...you have to be stealthy and quiet. Don't visibility show interest in anything or you'll call other people's attention to it and the stakes could possibly go up.
Whisper a lot. If you are with your shopping buddy and need to share your excitement over something, you can, just whisper. This is the time you find out whether you even want to stick around or not.
The auction can begin, you've got your mental list prepared from doing your recon earlier, and you can bid on said items. I do have a cut off point though...I let things go (ie lose) if it's beyond it's value, or what I'm prepared to spend...however, I have 'won' things for very little and known the value is much greater....that's the fun part. The other fun part, and I'll throw this one in there for free, is watching what other people will bid on....it's the 'people watcher' in me that finds it fascinating to see what people bid on, for example, a box of plastic ducks...I know, I know, each to their own....they've probably done their mental list and plastic ducks was on it!

I have seen crazy bids too like, a crappy set of beat up old wicker furniture on it's last leg go for more than a solid oak dining table and chairs in excellent condition...I've seen people argue with the auctioneer to the point the law might be called....you just never know what will happen at an auction and it's a thrill.

I look for things that are well made, classic pieces that have stood the test of time. Even in accessories, I avoid trendy collectibles and look for timeless pieces that represent an era. 
Some weekends are good some are not, but if you go frequently enough and hone your eye, you will find pieces that you'll love. Keep an open mind and visualize what it could be.

And one more thing, don't you think things were made better 20 (even 10) years ago than they are today? I figure too, if it's lasted for 10, 20, 30, 40 years already...it's going to keep on going. Money well spent.

Get out there and go thrifting!



  1. I love second hand shopping. It's funny though I feel more comfortable at a garage sale then I do a thrift store. I'm always some what embarassed that the sales clerks recognize me, and say things like..."your back again"....or "your here every day" (which I'm not)

  2. I caught the bug about 3 years ago and I'm kicking myself for all the wasted years of second hand shopping ....one mans junk is another's treasure!

  3. Replies
    1. I am new to your blog and absolutely LOVE IT! You are such an inspiration! Every post is wonderful and I have already used so many of your ideas. Am excited for the next 29 days of posts.

  4. So true about having a firm mental list. I've thrifted my whole life (not so much the other venues) and you can totally blow money buying great deals on neat things you don't need! Even at those low prices.

  5. Great pointers here! I think my basement storage room is starting to look like a resale furniture store. We have so many pieces from his family, my family and things we bought years ago that we can't use them all. My kids aren't all that interested and don't have room for anything else. So...here it sits until we come up with a better plan. We started going to auctions before we were married and they are fun. We actually went to one a couple of weeks ago for a friend who had a brother selling her father's things at auction. We bought things for her...so it was a great way to go for us. We had the fun of the bidding, but we didn't keep anything we bought!

    Thanks for the prayers for Luke. He is such a sweet little guy and has been through so much, the road ahead for him is really a tough one.

    1. Sounds like you need to rent a booth space! That's what I have done and it's fun taking care of it, like my own tiny store.

  6. Great tips! You said it is sad at estate sales because someone has passed. Not always true...many are downsizing to a retirement community.

  7. I agree about estate sales. I had to help with my grandmother's after she passed and I kept thinking "don't you people feel bad?! you didn't even know her!" of course her house was full of rare primitive antique (over 100k worth!) and there were tons a deals from around the country...but still.

    Where do you find out about estate sales? I'd be interested in going to some for antique/vintage finds, but don't know where to look!! Thanks!

    1. Katherine, I usually find the estate sales in the local newspapers. Here in my area, there is a special paper that has a lot of auctions and estate sales.


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