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We’ve only got a couple weeks left of our Choosing Secondhand Furniture posts! Today, we’d like to just throw out there some miscellaneous tips we have about thrifting that didn’t fit nicely into one of the other posts.

Here’s what we’ve got for ya:

Measuring Tape: If you’re a serious secondhand shopper, take a measuring tape with you. Just get a cheapo one from the dollar store that isn’t heavy and can fit nicely in your bag or pockets. Most places, like antique shops or specialty vintage stores might have a measuring tape on hand that you can just ask for. But some places, like Goodwill, you’ll have to hunt somebody down and it’s just easier to pull out of your own. If you forget your measuring tape, just get creative by measuring with your body. Stretch your arms out and remember the length of a piece. Say the length comes up to your shoulder, then when you get home take your measuring tape and measure how long that is and you’ll have a better idea if the furniture will fit in your house.

Take Measurements with You: Make sure to write down the measurements of spaces in your house that you need to fill with furniture on an index card or something that can just travel with you before you shop. For instance, Mary would really like to find a furniture solution for her kitchen because the space is small and in need storage. So, she measured out the space needing furniture and wrote the numbers down on an index card to carry around while shopping. Remember to also measure for potential obstacles, maybe the space is a certain size but a door has to open against that wall or there is a light plate. Jess is currently searching for exactly this kind of piece and she’ll tell you that it can be so frustrating to think you’ve found the perfect piece but not know if it will fit.

Paint Swatches: When Mary first moved into her house and was decorating, she needed to be able to pick out complimentary colors to match items to the curtains. Since they were an olive type green, she just picked up some paint swatches on a trip to the hardware store (because it seems like you’re there all the time when you first move into a place), brought them home and then chose the one that best matched her curtains. Then you can leave the paint swatch attached to your measurement card while out shopping. You can do this for so many things like floor color, wall color, cabinets, bedding, etc. You could easily just label each paint swatch and that way you have a quick reference or reminder of the true colors you have in your house.  Jess carries around all of the paint swatches that go with her house so she knows if a complimentary piece is too far from the color palette she wants.

Time: When shopping for secondhand furniture, it’s just best if you take your time if possible. Look around the shop multiple times, be willing to walk back through at least twice, and if you see a piece take the time to inspect it. When Mary found her Lane chest, it was on the second pass down an aisle. That proved taking time can really pay off and and lead to a great discoveries.

Odor: Can’t remember if we’ve mentioned this or not, but if so it’s definitely worth mentioning again. Make sure you always check for odor. Especially cigarette smoke! The smell of cigarettes is almost impossible to get out of wood and upholstery. Over time it may fade, but more than likely it will just stink up your home if you’re not already an indoor smoker. Also, the smell of mold/mildew indicates that the piece has been exposed to moisture. Sometimes, you might be able to just place it outside for a few hours in the hot sun to get rid of that. But when that’s not an option, it might be better to just leave the furniture be. Jess really recommends this post on reducing odors in your home from Offbeathome.com. It’s amazing the things she learned in there — and don’t forget to read the comments! It may really help you feel like you can tackle an odor if you’re already stuck with it or fall in love with a piece that needs a little bit of work.

Pests: YUCK! We started to write this paragraph and realized it’s maybe a much bigger consideration. Plus, Jess likes to joke that she spent part of her master’s degree passing around little bags with dead bugs that infect museum collections so she has some good advice to offer. Check back next week for a choosing secondhand furniture post on pest control so we can give you more information than what fits in this (already long) post!

Notepad: If you decide to leave the store, it’s helpful to have a notepad on hand to jot down some tidbits about the furniture you just saw (i.e. location, size, what room it would go in). Because if you keep shopping at other stores, you might forget those things you wanted to remember. Also, keep a notepad with an ongoing list of furniture you’d like to have in your house. Right now, Mary’s contains a storage solution for her kitchen, 9 drawer dresser for the bedroom, nightstand for the guest room/office, and something for the TV. Jess uses a combination of apps to keep track of what she finds in stores and online. Lately, that’s Springpad which lets you organize photos, lists, links, etc. Similar to Evernote but much prettier. It helps keep all my notes about shopping in stores and all of the inspiration I find around the Internet gathered into one well-organized place.

(Nate Berkus’ Home Tour via Apartment Therapy)

View your house as a collection:  This was said last week, but it bears repeating. Your home doesn’t have to be filled to the brim right now. Any collection takes time to accumulate, and most of the time folks don’t have the finances to load up on everything. So, it’s worth it to wait until the right piece comes along. Nate Berkus said on Oprah once that he went a couple of months without a couch because he was waiting for the right one for his space. I love this concept. We live in a culture where everything needs to be instant and complete. Because of this, people go out and load up on brand new furniture that they have to put on credit instead of just taking the time to accumulate over a period of time and save up for. When you view your home as an ongoing project to decorate, it becomes something you work hard for and love.

Not everything will be a good deal: Recognize that there are some things that just aren’t going to be a good deal. Either your market or your need for them to not require a lot of elbow grease will mean that you’re going to pay a certain amount for something and you need to be ready to pay what it’s worth. For Jess, this list includes hoosier cabinets, library card catalogs, and quilts. She loves all three things but knows that she doesn’t want to take the time to sand the nooks an crannies of a hoosier cabinet in bad shape so she won’t be getting one until she’s ready to really pay for it. As for quilts, she thinks she might as well just learn to sew one that’s outstanding and just what she wants. If you know the right prices for things, you’ll be able to identify when you have an outstanding deal. Maybe, like Jess, you’ll be the one person willing to drive an hour outside of the Craigslist region to pick up a library card catalog because it’s 12 drawers and only $50.  That, friends, was totally worth the adventure.

Shopping frugally sometimes means not shopping at all: It’s easy to want to shop constantly to find secondhand furniture that fits your space. You might feel a lot of pressure to finish a room so you have a complete space or you might just be worried that a piece is going to get by you if you’re not looking for it. Even if you’re just looking for a big item, it’s easy to find a $20 deal that you can justify and you end up nickel-and-diming yourself out of savings for the furniture you really want or need. If you really need to cut back on your spending, cut back on the things that make you want to spend money. Avoid your favorite antique or thrift stores, don’t slow down to rubber-neck a garage sale, stop checking Craigslist and eBay, and stop poking around on Etsy. Save money! We promise we’ll do our part to help you get your furniture/home decor fix while you’re not spending.

Bargaining: One overarching tip when shopping secondhand, is don’t be afraid to bargain on the price! Yes, even at Goodwill or other major chain stores. This is, of course, a personal choice and how far you’re willing to go is up to you.

Do you have any other tips to share? What do you take with you when you thrift shop?

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3 responses to “Choosing Secondhand Furniture: Other Considerations”

  1. Patty says:

    This intrdouces a pleasingly rational point of view.

  2. I love it! elephants are my daughter favorite animal so they have a special place in my heart. And that one has so much personality. 🙂 With that much green grass, he's right at home I'm sure. Have a great evening. Xoxo

  3. Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

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So Eclectic is a blog dedicated to great ideas for home design. Austin, Texas-based writer Mary Marcum and Savannah, Missouri-based writer Jess Rezac feature affordable decor, decorating solutions, and inspiration. At So Eclectic, we experiment with design together. So Eclectic posts new content every weekday.

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