Decorating Our New Home With Thrift Store Finds

My family was always thrifty. My winter coats came off the rack of the local Goodwill, my shoes never cost more than $10, and any time I wanted new clothing as a teenager my mother took me to the thrift store (to my horror). As a teenager, I hated it. I wanted the hottest fashions, the Pinterest-perfect room and picturesque life. I felt awkward in my cobbled together outfits and secondhand accessories.  

Since then, I’ve had a change of heart. For one thing, it turns out that you’re going to feel awkward as a teenager no matter what clothes hang in your closet. For another, I have recently been shopping to furnish our new apartment. I am perpetually taken aback by every price tag. A couple thoughts run through my head like, “You want me to pay how much for a couch?!” and “You mean to tell me that little rug is worth what?!?!”

Sticker shock aside, thrifting is about more than just money. Every item you thrift is another item that doesn’t need to go to a landfill. We had to get rid of a lot of stuff before our cross-country move. There were tons of perfectly functional items in great condition and yet I struggled to find people who would take them (local thrift stores were temporarily closed due to the pandemic).

At the last second, I had to put out a lot of useful items by the dumpster, hoping that some intrepid dumpster-diver might swoop them up to give them a chance. Now that I’m moving in, it’s time for me to find items begging to be reused. The tables have turned and now I’m the dumpster-diver (or as I prefer to be known: the thriving thrifter!) 

Note: there may be affiliate links in this post, which means I receive a commission if you click through to these sites, at no extra cost to you.

Our Thrifty Finds

In order to show you all the thrifting we’ve done in the last month, I took photos around our house to show you exactly what we spent. Some major pieces like our bed, couch, large carpets and desks were passed to Mr. Mechanic by his family and came with us from Portland. Everything else we had to find once we arrived on the West Coast.

First stop: the porch

Of all the items to thrift, outdoor furniture makes the most sense. It’s going to get beat up outside, so why buy new when you can buy tried and true! 

I prioritized nice porch furniture because I love spending time outside as much as possible. We eat outside frequently on our little patio set, and the flowers are thriving. It took a lot of moving things around to get the right setup because our porch is quite small, but we finally made everything fit. 

The Entryway

Even though the entryway is the first thing you see when you walk in the door, it was the last thing that we put together. Before, we had a haphazard shoe rack and a bare floor. With just a few additions, it’s now a little bright spot in our home.

Shoes now go in the baskets or tucked underneath out of sight. I am considering painting the piece white and changing the knobs, as a friend suggested. For now, I’m happy with how it all came together!

The Living Room

The living room has evolved like a Pokémon since we moved in. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the couch, which we received from family in Portland. For the first couple of weeks, we used upside-down moving boxes as our table. Then we upgraded to a glass-top table we picked up for free (peeking out at the top right of the photo) which we are now attempting to sell. Next, I swooped up the wood table that’s pictured below.

each item labelled in the living room

Another element I’m pleased about is the arc lamp, which was originally listed for $100. Even though it was a good deal, it was hard to justify buying a new lamp when Mr. Mechanic kept bringing home lamps he found for free on the side of the road. However, the listing sat for weeks and eventually we offered the seller $75 which she quickly accepted. 

Across from the couch is our media station:

We finally upgraded from our 32″ Vizio TV that Mr. Mechanic won in a raffle from his first apartment complex in Portland. We sold our old TV for $50, so it’s almost like paying just $100 to upgrade!

I posted in the Santa Barbara Buy/Sell Facebook group that I was looking for a few items. One guy told me I could have a TV stand for free, it just needed a good cleaning. A little bit of elbow grease, and now it is good as new!

The Dining Room

The living room and dining room are actually in one big space. To be quite honest, this table won’t see a lot of use until we have guests over (uncertain if that will even happen this year), but it was hard to pass up $150 for such a nice set. 

I’m in love with the three-tiered step ladder and accent table most of all. 

Even though these aren’t major furniture pieces, I knew as soon as I saw them that I wanted them. They bring me joy!

The Kitchen

We use our kitchen a lot, and we’re still finding ways to optimize space. 

My favorite find was a ton of utensils that we needed (can opener, spatulas, etc.) left in the trash. We gave everything a good soak and wash and now have all the kitchen tools we need!

The Bedroom

Our go-to color scheme in Portland was grey and dark blue, but it seemed a bit depressing in sunny Santa Barbara. When I found this bedspread on Amazon, I knew I had to have it. Now our bedroom is colorful and bright. The cat tree is a bit small, but the important thing is that MechaniCat can perch at the top and look out the window, one of his favorite pastimes.

(As an aside, if you’re interested in learning how much we really spend on our cat, check out this article.)

The Office

We have two offices, one for each of us. Mr. Mechanic’s isn’t pictured as it’s still a work-in-progress. However, my office is really coming together! Since I work from home, this room got special attention.

Since taking these pictures, I’ve actually resold the office chair for $40, and now use a chair we got for free from our local “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook. So far so good, but I’m open to upgrading again if it doesn’t meet my needs. 

Next up, we have the area behind my desk:

I’ve enjoyed this set-up, as it gives MechaniCat a place to hang out while I work, but otherwise looks professional and puts me in the right mood before starting work. I bought the industrial console table with no real plan of what to do with it (a thrifting no-no) but I loved it so much I knew we could make it work somewhere.

That’s it for the tour! Now to get into some things I’ve learned after hardcore thrifting for a month. 

Pros of Thriftiness

  • Adds character
  • Can try out different styles
  • Can flip items if they don’t work out
  • Many thrift stores donate proceeds to charities
  • Sustainability!
  • Unbeatable prices

Cons of Thriftiness

Obviously not many people are going to feel like thrifting during lockdown, but I had multiple porch pickups where people left items on their doorstep and I sent them money via Venmo so we have a contact-free transaction. I also give everything a good wash before it goes anywhere in my home. Here are some cons of thrifting to consider:

  • Must clean item
  • No returns
  • Some items (like electronics) might be faulty. For example, we got a great deal on our TV but it turns out there is one dead pixel in the screen. We don’t notice it while watching our shows, but it still is not a ‘like new’ television set.
  • Time investment – it’s taken a lot of trips to collect everything you see here. You also must coordinate times, places, and prices with multiple different people rather than making a one-stop shop.

7 Top Tips for the Thoughtful Thrifter 

1. Be patient while finding items

It can be difficult not to rush to furnish your home because an empty place doesn’t feel right. However, many pieces can wait if you’re willing to tolerate a little inconvenience. The longer you can bide your time and keep tabs on your local Facebook groups and thrift stores, the more likely it is you’ll find a great piece for cheap.

2. Don’t be afraid to haggle

If something is already an obviously great value, I don’t bother haggling. However, many times if I’m unsure just because of the price, I will offer a lower amount. In many cases I got $20-30 off just by asking. 

3. Get familiar with prices of brand-new items

If you aren’t exactly sure how much you should expect to pay for something, shop around. We spent some time browsing Target, World Market, Costco, and online retailers before thrifting. This gave us price familiarity and courage so when a really good deal came up we could pounce. 

4. Pick a couple favorite platforms and check diligently

Good stuff goes fast, so if you are furnishing from scratch, you will be rewarded by picking a platform and checking it often. As you might guess from the photos, I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed Facebook Marketplace for both buying and selling. Of course, Craigslist still has a solid user base, and eBay is always a strong contender (though I’ve used it very rarely).

I like FB Marketplace because the chat functionality makes it quicker to contact sellers, is easy to use, and keeps the information all in one place. You can list items in multiple different groups, and best of all it’s very mobile-friendly so I could browse just as easily from my couch or on the go.

Items I’ve sold on FB Marketplace

5. If something goes in, something else must go out

As we’ve been furnishing our house, we’ve also been actively decluttering. We donate back to our local Goodwill and also post some items for sale in local groups. If you don’t intentionally get rid of things, you might end up with a bunch of projects on your hands you might not finish.

For instance, we currently have three coffee tables and need figure out what to do with them. Don’t make the same mistake I did!

6. Consider flipping

Related to point #5, once you start thrifting, you get a better feel for the market on certain items. When you find something that’s underpriced, you can feel better about trying it out. If the item doesn’t work for you, you can just flip it! For example, we found this futon for free on the roadside:

Later, I came across an IKEA Queen-sized sofa bed that seemed much better suited for our guests when they visit. It was just $50 (originally $200), so we carried it home, swapped them out, and listed the futon for sale at $35. It sold within a couple of days.

Add a cover, mattress topper, and fancy new duvet and poof! A great guest bed.

7. Find out when ‘moving season’ is

If you live near a University or anywhere with seasonal employment, keep an eye out for people moving. You won’t believe what people will just throw out!

I noticed a young woman putting a load of stuff in the trash bins behind our house before driving off. It took very little scrounging to find a Le Creuset dutch oven, several utensils we needed, an electric kettle, a few art pieces, and even my favorite cookbook, Jerusalem. Here’s a photo of just some of the things I salvaged:

I found all of this in the trash.

I wouldn’t expect to find stuff like this all the time, but when people move they are forced to toss perfectly good items in the trash. Look around actively during popular moving seasons to boost your chances of great finds.

Make Your House A Home For Less

The bottom line is that there are few downsides to thrifting. Each frugal find is a win for you and for the environment. Help the Earth and your wallet by giving pre-loved things a second life.

I hope you enjoyed the little tour of my home. The decor will keep evolving and it is far from finished (we still need curtains!), but I’m pretty happy with what we have accomplished in just a month. 

What Do You Think?

How much do you thrift?

What’s your favorite “that’s a steal!” moment?

What do you think of our decorating so far?

Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. I love your space!

    As a child I thought I was traumatized by being forced to wear Goodwill clothes. My mom started taking the thrifted clothes and putting them in a Walmart bag so I would think they came from the store. (I need to send my mom some flowers or something!)

    Now as an adult I love the thrill of the hunt and enjoy looking around my house and seeing all the things that were saved from the trash, repurposed or remade to make my space beautiful. I try to seek second-hand or thrifted items first and only search new after doing diligence to find what I need elsewhere.

    One of my favorite objects is an antique wooden door that was converted into a desk (pipe legs and glass top). We bought it from Craiglist for less than the price of the glass alone. I love it’s charming functionality and uniqueness.

    1. I’d love to see that desk! It sounds beautiful.

      It’s funny how your opinions on thrifting can change. My mom did similar things with our presents too! Sometimes she would even move tags around to make it look like it was from a different place or cost more than it did.

  2. Thanks for sharing an inside look at your new home! You have so many good finds for great prices. I particularly love that coffee table and the pottery barn decorative side tables. Best wishes in your new home!

  3. What a fantastic post! I loved this, especially as we’re moving this Friday (eek!) and are definitely in that position of, “Toss everything that we can’t give to someone.”

    Did you have to redo any of the furniture pieces, or is this the condition they came in (after you cleaned them, that is)?

    1. Good luck with your move! This is the condition everything came in as received, we haven’t redone anything so far.

  4. I agree that shopping 2nd hand for furniture is both frugal and better for the waste stream. Although I have some new furniture (my desk after spending a year trying to find one used that fit, and a couch that I regret but we’ve kept for 11 years) almost everything in our house is 2nd hand – gifted, purchased from thrift stores or vintage/antique shops or through craigslist/FB marketplace.

    Just recently we decided that we needed additional rugs in our house after our dog had a back injury and now slips and slides on hard floors. I told myself i’d just pick up a few runners from Home Depot or Target but I’ve had good luck buying antique wool rugs on ebay so checked a few shops there too. I was able to purchase a 10′ wool kilim runner for $27 including shipping (cheaper than a new poly rug) and from the same shop won an auction for a 5×9 1930s hand knotted wool rug for under $200. I know I would have been okay with the new rugs and they would have been quick to buy but they wouldn’t last and I wouldn’t feel proud to have them in my home or pass them on to another after a few years.

    So many young people fall into the trap of buying new furniture once they can afford it because they want to “rise above” the thrifted/free furniture of their student days. But I’ve walked into some of those homes and I know they feel like everything is nice and new and “classy” but I want my home to have life and soul and warmth. And if you’re willing to take the time you never know when those great deals on really great furniture or rugs will spring up. Someone near me just nabbed two 8×10 antique hand knotted wool rugs for $50. I was debating if it was worth driving 45 minutes to get them but someone else beat me to it.

    1. We bought a runner rug from Costco for $10, however we were baking pizza and didn’t have proper oven mitts so in an emergency my partner put the pizza pan on the carpet… it melted. In these pictures you see the replacement rugs we got also for $10, but much better quality than the Costco one!

      Absolutely true about young folks who start jobs and think they should be buying new. I visited a family member’s home and she had a gorgeous place, but I later learned that all the brand new furniture was on credit. It’s a good reminder sometimes that nice and new and “classy” isn’t necessarily best. Thanks for sharing your experiences buying wool rugs!

  5. It’s crazy how much furnishing a home can cost! I’m amazed at how you were able to comfortably find all the pieces you needed secondhand and how much you were able to save. Bravo to you!

    One big question I always have for people who bring home furniture they find on the street or purchase secondhand — how do you clean and ensure the pieces are clean? I’m deathly afraid bringing in bedbugs into my home and that has always stopped me from picking up furniture secondhand or from the street.

    1. Thank you!

      Each item is different. Some can be washed with warm/hot water and soap. Others I might leave out on a sunny porch for a few days and then give it a good disinfecting wipe down. For me, it feels like how people felt about Uber when it first came out: “You want me to get into a car with a random stranger?” only now it’s “You want me to take this thing from a random stranger?” I find that most things come from good houses that just need to declutter a bit. So far, not a bedbug in sight. Hope it stays that way!

  6. Everything looks great! Congratulations on your move.

    My awesome wife has been thrifting for our family ever since we’ve been married. There hasn’t been much we’ve ever bought new in the last 15 years other than phones/laptops, undies and food 🙂 I wish we’d been keeping even a rudimentary accounting of it all–the amount we have “saved” is probably astronomical!

    One thing that sicks out–here in the PNW, everyone has almost constant need of a good raincoat, and there are some pricey options (Columbia, Patagonia, etc). Thanks to Goodwill, we have never bought a new coat for either of us or our children, but every year we all have 2-3 “new” ones to wear, most usually for ~$5 each. It is a nice feeling when your 8 year old loses her 3rd Patagonia of the season on the playground and you can just say “eh, that’s ok, go grab another one out of the closet.”

    1. Thanks Dan!

      I’m sure all those savings add up over time to a lot! It would definitely be nice to not have to worry about losing nice jackets– I know I found a Columbia coat at Goodwill and it’s served me so well in all types of crazy weather. Coats can get expensive so it’s great you have alternative methods for getting them!!

  7. Very cool to see your set up. I’m currently collecting furniture and household goods for a new rental apartment I’m moving into, starting mostly from scratch as I put my nomadic lifestyle aside for a while. FB Marketplace and Gumtree (similar to Craigslist) have been great for me.

    Also had some luck with the local Buy Nothing group, including when someone was posting goods from an office clean-up. I scored an office chair, a microwave, a set of shelves, a matching in-tray/magazine holder set, and a portable heater.

    Most of my belongings are secondhand. I love being able to redirect items away from waste and give them a second life. Plus, there are many quality items out there that were bought by others for much higher cost; by the time I get them, the steep loss in value / cost of depreciation has already happened from when the item moves from new to used. Often, items I get secondhand will keep their resale value at what I buy them for, so it’s almost like renting them for free when I can sell them for my same purchase cost later.

    1. I’d love to see a post on all of your thrifting! Office closings seem like the best bet for nice office chairs, I’m holding out for a standing desk but we’ll see! And you’re totally right about letting others take the depreciation hit but being able to enjoy a quality item afterwards. Also being able to turn around and resell if it doesn’t work for you is a great motivator to just try out something.

  8. The space is looking great and looks like you found some great deals! I love “shopping” on the neighborhood Buy & Sell page. Recently I grabbed some new chapter books ($2 each) and a kid-sized guitar ($5) for my 7-year-old. The guitar needed a new string ($5 for a set on Amazon) but it’s a great learner tool. We just picked up a pair of monitors today to improve the WFH situation which were less of a deal – I had to order HDMI converters ($6/each) and they’re looking a little shabby, but hopefully they run well – I guess not a terrible gamble at $20!

    1. Monitors for $20 is a steal! We’re on the hunt for monitors for Mr. Mechanic as well. It’s great to be able to ‘shop’ without spending a ton, and I’m glad you got some learning tools for them!

    1. That was my thought as well! The family was about to move and was in a hurry to sell it, so we got a great deal.

  9. That’s an eclectic collection!

    I really enjoy the way you’ve used the actual photos from your place and overload all the labels with the relevant details in the bubbles. That’s a cool visualization. Well done.

    And of course, congrats on getting your new place put together after the move!

    1. Thank you! A bit tricky to read on mobile, but I hope folks can still get the idea. I love the way eclectic things can come together to look quite nice in the end 🙂

  10. I really love thrifting as a sustainability option and reducing waste! I find if you hunt around wealthier areas or use FB marketplace targeting those areas, you can find some very expensive, designer items for not a lot of money. It’s a great way to decorate and honestly, if you don’t want anyone to know, it would be impossible to guess they weren’t bought brand new. 🙂

  11. 2nd hand is always better for the planet , and the wallet!!

    Also, even though I know what it’s like packing up to move as a student , I just cannot imagine throwing out a Le Creuset 😱😱😱
    I have one of those and I treasure it!

    1. Thanks Lisa! Luckily our cat doesn’t care for plants but it’s always a good reminder to do the research before buying any toxic plants. Unfortunately I was not able to keep the Pothos alive so I will replace them with more cat-friendly options.

  12. It’s a great source of knowledge; I think it will be helpful for lot of people who are looking for decorating our new home with thrift store finds. Thank you very much for sharing this article, this is really helpful for me, thanks again and looking for more in future!

  13. Ms. Mechanic, your decor looks amazing! I especially love your dining table and chairs set. I am stunned at the thought of buying dining room furniture new, considering many people use their dining rooms just a few times a year.

    My husband and I are blessed to be well off, but most of my clothes & household items are thrifted now. I am the queen of FB marketplace & Craigslist. I honestly think thrifted second hand furniture usually looks better than new furniture.

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