Thursday, November 20, 2008

Second-Hand Furniture Love

I keep seeing this commercial for a credit card that starts with the tagline, "We are a nation of consumers, and that's okay." It then goes on to describe how this particular credit card helps you to be a more responsible consumer. Really? Okay, well I'm not up for arguing the merits of credit card purchases, but I will say that living beyond our means is one of the main reasons the economy is in such tough shape. Americans and America have been spending money we just don't have.

Of course, I understand that sometimes there are necessities that must be purchased. I'm suggesting a way though, to strike a balance between acquisition and consumption, which results in big savings at the same time - thrift stores. We often hear about the trendiness of vintage, but it is also an environmentally sound and inexpensive way to shop. And I, for one, certainly need to shop in a thrifty way right now.

If you have been following this blog, you know that my husband and I recently relocated from New York to Seattle, leaving most of our possessions weighing over twenty pounds behind. Don't get me wrong, there was still plenty to carry - photos, books, cats, but most of the furniture did not make the journey. And while I pride myself on being a minimalist, certain items, a place to store one's books and clothing for example, are a necessary part of any functional apartment.

So it was off to Seattle's second-hand stores for me. I won't bore you with the details of where I went since most of you don't live here (ask me and I will dish), but I will tell you how I searched for the best thrift stores, what treasures I found, and how much they cost.

I realize that some may consider it tacky to discuss price, but I do so only to emphasize what excellent bargains can be found in the world of secondhand. And whether the recession has touched you yet or not, thrift stores get their name for a reason, and reuse is also the ultimate way to decrease unnecessary demand for limited resources.

A note on what we did have: my desk, our bed, a bureau, a dining room table, and a few small tables.

I began my quest by trolling the ubiquitous Craigslist to see what the going rate was for a couch, shelves, bureaus, and the like. Many of the couches for sale were a bit sketchy - note to those out there using Craigslist to hawk your used furniture wares - clean up the used pizza boxes before taking the glamour shot - really. Nonetheless, I persisted through some funky photos and found a used couch. It was comfortable, clean, had down cushions, and cost only $250. Those of you who have shopped for couches in the last decade, know that I got a great deal, despite the less than ideal color.

Fine, but is it comfy? Three in the"yes" column.

I checked out Yelp for the reviews on used thrift stores and found one near my neighborhood that had received good reviews. After a bit of perusing, I found a beautiful bureau with a vanity mirror for $150.

And if you look carefully there's a brightly lit apartment with a curious lady on the other side of the mirror...wait. That's me.

My husband and I made several trips to the local Goodwill to round off our furnishings and found a huge bookshelf for $7, a shoe rack for $10, an admittedly rickety but functional desk for $15, and a TV/DVD stand for $15.

Lastly, our friends who knew we were looking for shelving offered up some metal shelves that had been spending quality time in their backyard. With a little cleanup, the shelves were transformed into an industrial chic bookcase.

Our new apartment is now completely furnished for under $500, and we did not have to buy one piece of new furniture. Here are a few thrifty tips I picked up along the way:

  • Ask the locals. Chances are, your friends will already know the best places to get some secondhand deals. Also, your friends may have furniture that they would be happy to unload on their new neighbors.
  • Look on community sites like Yelp to get the lowdown on thrift stores near you.
  • Check out virtual yard sales on websites like Craigslist and Freecycle.
  • Be patient; impulse shopping isn't good for your wallet or the environment.
  • Make a deal! Many secondhand stores will be willing to negotiate a better price.

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