By Yvonne Marquez
When my girlfriend and I moved to Dallas a few years ago, we didn’t own any home furnishings to create the stylish yet cozy apartment we wanted. Since we had to start from square one—and on a tight post-grad budget, we decided to “thrift” our way to our dream space. It was definitely worth the time we spent hitting up all the garage sales, vintage furniture shops, and online Craigslist postings to find the right pieces that fit both our tastes and personalities.
Thrifting for furniture and home accessories is a great option when you’re on a tight budget but still want unique pieces and a fun facelift for your living spaces. Here are some tips I learned along the way.
Before heading out on your home-makeover adventures, make sure you curate a list of what you’re looking for. You may be overwhelmed with all the options you find and lose track of what you truly need. If you’re looking for a piece, like a foyer table that must fit a specific space, make sure you have the measurements on hand. I also suggest taking photos of the areas you’ll be decorating—it will help you visualize whether or not a piece’s shape or aesthetic fits with the space and other items you’ve already purchased.
Location, Location, Location
Thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, consignment boutiques, and vintage specialty stores may have some great furniture options, but they’re often priced way higher than they should be for being secondhand. If you’re really looking for a deal, check out local thrift shops, garage sales, estate sales, and Craigslist. People are usually desperate to get rid of their stuff at these sales, so they might sell that nice desk and throw in those weird squirrel bookends you’ve been eyeing, for a lot cheaper than originally priced. Local thrift stores are great because there’s a high turnover of furniture pieces. If you don’t find the perfect piece the first time you stop in, try returning the next week to discover something you can’t live without.
Don’t Be Shy, Negotiate
If you’re heading out to garage and estate sales, make sure to take cash. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a fair price. The more you buy from a seller, the more likely you are to get better deals—all you need to do is ask.
Stay away from upholstered furniture, as it’s harder to sanitize. Questionable stains, harsh dust, and bed bugs are all worries when it comes to this type of furniture. If you do decide to go that route, I would keep the cost of reupholstering in mind. My girlfriend and I were considering getting a beautiful vintage French sofa priced at $250 at a local thrift store, but the cost of getting it reupholstered pushed it out of our budget.
Check It Out
Once you’ve found something you’re interested in, check it out for problems. Open the drawers and see if they slide right back in. Check for cracks, nicks, or scratches. Test it for wobbles, and determine if it’s real wood or just veneered particleboard. You may find the item will need repairs. All of these factors will influence how much—if anything—you’re willing to pay for the item.
My girlfriend and I gave new life to two small, beaten-up wood dressers that we got for $25 each. We sanded them, stained them, and replaced the pulls. Once we were finished, they looked good as new! That’s the fun of thrifting for your home—there’s so much possibility with each item you find. A bright, fresh coat of paint can do wonders for a thrifted table you’ll use as a vanity. Something that was once old and abused can be transformed to continuously bring joy to your life—all at a fraction of the price for new pieces. And remember, think creatively but also within your skill range! If a piece needs a total overhaul—and you’re not into the whole DIY scene—then don’t buy it. Otherwise, go forth and explore all of the creative possibilities your living space embodies.
Yvonne S. Marquez is a senior editor at autostraddle.com and a Latina lesbian living in Dallas, Texas.