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Just because it’s “OMG so cheap” doesn’t mean you actually need it!

Navigating the world of Thrift, Consignment and Flea!

Once I’d committed to diving into the world of thrift, consignment and flea markets, for all the right reasons, I began to realize that what I’d learned RightSIZING came more into play there, than anywhere else. When the price is super cheap, compounded by the threat of knowing it won’t be there tomorrow the impulse-buy trigger shoots through the roof!

So the good news is that with a focused eye you really can furnish an entire home elegantly, chicly and with a ton of character at a quarter of the price. The bad news is that the temptation to purchase with the thinking, “Well it’s so cheap, if I don’t like it, no big deal,” is why most people’s garages are filled to the rafters and why there are billions of square feet of self-storage in this country.

While we THINK we’ll simply toss or give away what doesn’t work in our homes, we rarely ever do. We put it out of sight and pretend it doesn’t exist but it never actually gets out from under our roofs. Why? Because the chore of purging can’t match the thrill of the ‘get’!

So before you enter the world of treasure hunting do your homework.

In setting up my new household from scratch, I visited all the places I’d have normally gone to buy the basics that in the end, totally add up. You know, the measuring spoons, shower curtains, paper towel holders, muffin tins ---that kind of stuff. I first went to the stores I’d normally have gone if only for ease (Bed n Bath & Beyond, Pier one, Target, Ikea, TJ Max…well you get the idea).

I looked at all the stuff I wanted and noted the price of each item and made a list on my Smartphone. Sure, I could have done it on line, but for me it’s easier when it’s all in one place and I can pick it up and examine the quality in-person.

The prices were frankly all over the board. Things I thought would be cheap weren’t. Stuff I thought would be out of my new mandated price range was reasonable because often we tend to shop-by-store rather than by manufacturer deals.


By the time I hit the thrift venues I was armed and ready. Had I not known the listed new retail prices, I’d have made some huge mistakes in an environment where it’s easy to think that because it’s pre-owned it’s cheaper. There was a mini Cuisinart food-processor I’d circled back to three times (brand new still in the box). On the spot, not only checked my list but also Goggled it. Lo and behold, the price of a brand new one was exactly the same price as the pre-owned. So frankly I rather have a new one with a warrantee. Had it been say, $12 bucks, I’d have grabbed it and taken my chances since the sticker said; “tested.” Places like Habitat’s Restore are good about testing stuff but many don’t. So I carry and long extension cord with me so I can plug in any of the simple electronics or lamps.

That’s Entertainment!

On that note, fairly current DVD movies are usually a buck to two bucks apiece. I noticed a grandmother, purchasing for her grandkids had brought a little portable player with her to test one to make sure it played. So smart! She said once the kids came over, popcorn in the bowl ready for the evening’s entertainment and two of the DVD didn’t play and it was a real bummer. She also said that much of what’s offered on TV seems inappropriate for kids. However, purchasing DVDs that were produced at a time when “Family Programming” actually meant something, allowed her to breath easier and keep her kids offline and occupied. Interesting.

Cra-cra Pricing:

When it comes to say, furniture pieces, you’ll soon find that the word “Antique” is very subjective and the most often and liberally used term is “mid century”. --Umm mid WHAT century?

Often many consignment shops represent multiple, independent household suppliers (meaning people like you and me who also want to make a few bucks on stiff they no longer need). Often it’s they who set the prices, not the shop owners. Knowing this is important for two reasons.

Markups can markdown

Firstly, if you walk into a shop and turn over the first price tag and think it’s, like… outrageous, don’t turn around and walk out. That single price is rarely indicative of all the pricing of merchandise in the store. Literally two feet away could be an absolute steal (by a SANE supplier) so keep looking!

Don’t shoot the messenger

Secondly, don’t bust the storeowner’s chops over pricing and get them on your bad side. Since usually they didn’t set the price, if it’s something you really want, they are your first line of defense in negotiating the price down to something more reasonable since it’s their client. I found a gorgeous set of custom-made drapes that I adored but were priced at what the pre-owner must have paid for them at the time. So I took the shop owner aside and said, “You know, these drapes have been here for awhile and I suspect they’re not selling because one can have them custom made for close to the same price. The shop owner replied, “I know right?” with the roll of her eyes. Bingo! We were buddies! She said, “You know let me call her. Do you have a minuet?” I said, “Sure, I’ll just be roaming around.” A few moments later she approached me saying, “How does half price sound?” I said, SOLD!

Put a price on your time:

Be honest about the time you have to actually rehab a furniture piece. Frankly if it’s more than a coat of paint and knob replacements (basically something you can do in a single weekend) chances are you won’t do it and it will end up in basement of potential rather than in the room it was meant for. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you will.

Do the real math:

The whole flea market craze continues to mount do in great part to TV programs where teams get a hundred bucks each to rehab then sell for twice as much as they paid. Don’t be fooled. Having produced hundreds of hours of lifestyle programming I know the drill. What they forget to calculate as that part of the profit margins is the fact that the expert (on staff) labor (the soldering dude, the custom glass cutter, the metal pipe fitter…) was free, and the cost of materials are rarely seen in the real total. So before you buy, do the math! Paint, brushes, tack cloths, knobs, saws, unexpected retrofitting…blah, blah. My point is don’t do it because it’s cheaper, do it because the process will give you as much joy as the finished result will be one-of-a-kind (if, in fact you’ll actually get the project done). Otherwise skip it. Let’s don’t and say we did!

Time is your friend:

I suppose this part is more for me than you since I still have the tendency to decorate as though cameras are arriving at any moment. The other part of me is, well, just completely impatient and old habits die hard.

I have to keep telling myself that my home is not a set, which must be finished. In fact it never should be…it’s a fluid organic living part of my spirit. It’s an environment where I have the opportunity to carefully curate each item to accurately reflect the new me. If, for a bit, my dining room table is a card fold out…so be it until I discover the one that’s really supposed to be there, which I’ll cherish. If I don’t love, it doesn’t visually feed me or I don’t use it as often as I should, what’s the point of it being there in the first place? Right?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!



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