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!)
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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.
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.
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!
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!
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.)
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
- 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.
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.
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 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!