Moving into a new home is expensive enough without having to furnish a house to boot. Thrifting furniture can help. We’ll show you how.

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When you’re on a budget, you already know secondhand is the way to go. But while thrifting your latest concert tee or toy truck for the kiddo is easy enough, finding decent furniture for your new house is a much harder proposition.

If you’re like many of us, you’ve had a difficult time trying to thrift furniture in the past. From shady Craigslist dealers, secondhand shelves that fall apart when you try to set them up or online outlets that lie about condition, it can be a gamble.

We’re here to tell you, though, that there’s an absolute goldmine of amazing and low-priced furniture out there, if only you know where to look. Whether you’re moving your family across state lines and want to minimize mover costs, or heading out on your own for the first time, these easy tips will help you thrift furniture like a pro.

The Smart Way to Thrift Furniture

Women inside of thrift store

When you make the decision to thrift your furniture instead of buying it new, there are a few things you need to know. The process is not necessarily harder, but it’s definitely different than your everyday delivery of pre-built or DIY-build furniture.

On the one hand, getting already built furniture (which thrift furniture almost invariably is) makes your life a lot easier. However, if you want to find the right items, you’ll need to take a few extra steps.

Know the Best Places to Thrift Furniture

If there’s one thing to know about thrift furniture, it’s that you have to be willing to dig. The best places to look are:

These are all excellent options, and contain tons of quality pieces from estate sales and from people who have downsized. Also, your neighborhood vintage and secondhand stores frequently have great options.

Explore Local and National Online Options

Online is a great place to find used furniture that’s still in good shape. Some metropolitan areas may have their own dedicated dealers, like Kaiyo in New York City. Etsy is also a great source for vintage and used furniture, and you can usually find exactly what you’re looking for, but be prepared to pay sizable shipping costs.

Be Smart When Buying from Private Owners

If you do want to use online sites such as Craigslist or OfferUp to thrift your furniture, don’t shy away. However, you need to take the right approach. Never rely on the posting pictures or the fact that a seller seems nice; always inspect the furniture when you arrive to buy it. If it doesn’t look good, don’t get it, no matter what you’ve already told the seller.

Many people find NextDoor a better alternative to the above outlets because you have to prove you’re a member of the neighborhood by providing an address. This simple gatekeeping method majorly reduces the chances of scammers, but on the flip side, also reduces inventory by a lot. Still, it’s worth checking.

Pop in Often

As with any other secondhand venture, it’s smart to check in often. Stores such as The Salvation Army and Goodwill, flea markets and vintage shops, and online sites all move inventory quickly. If you check in weekly (or more often, when first setting up your home), you’re much likelier to find that amazing leather couch or pristine solid oak bookshelf than if you languidly stop by once a month.

If it helps, you should target places on your way to or from work, school or your kids’ activities. That way you can stop by more often without going out of your way. Only have a car? No sweat. Most places will deliver or can furnish you a list of movers with whom they work to arrange dropoff.

Don’t Take Thrifted Furniture at Face Value

Many people, when they thrift furniture, walk through a store searching for Ikea lookalikes at discount prices. That’s not realistic, because you’re unlikely to find pieces that have shiny finishes and perfect upholstery. Instead, look past the surface of a piece of furniture and try to see its bones. For instance:

  • Is a dining room table made of quality wood?
  • Is that armchair still stuffed and comfortable?
  • Do those chairs have solid seats and backs?
  • Is the lamp you love whole and uncracked, with working elements?
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If so, it’s time to rehab!

Rehab Your Thrift Furniture with Simple Home Supplies

When you thrift furniture, you have a golden opportunity: You can make your home to much more closely align with your interior decorating scheme. Simple household items such as paint, finish, glue, hardware and decorative elements can turn a Plain Jane dresser or bed into the piece of your dreams. A few ideas include:

  • Upholstered headboards for beds, which allow you to either attach a headboard to a bed that doesn’t have one or transform an existing headboard
  • Reupholstered chairs, which is a simple matter of removing the staples around the base of the seat, pulling off the old fabric and putting on the new
  • Revarnished dining room tables and chairs
  • Repainted bookshelves, dressers, side tables, stools or benches

Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to reimagining a piece of thrift furniture, so just make sure it has good bones and go from there.

Practice Patience and Get Good at Scheduling

Despite the fact that you can thrift furniture and rehab it on the cheap, overwhelming tasks like “refinishing a dining room table and eight chairs” tend not to get done because, well, they’re super overwhelming. You can make these tasks way less intimidating by breaking them down into smaller chunks, such as:

  • Buy sandpaper, screws, paint, varnish, etc.
  • Remove upholstery, take off furniture pads, replace loose screws
  • Sand
  • Refinish
  • Reattach upholstery with new cloth
  • Add new furniture pads to the bottom of the item

If you need to, store items over the winter until the weather warms up and dries out enough to refinish and paint. Don’t make the mistake of painting, staining or varnishing during damp months, no matter how eager you are. This will bake moisture right into the finish and it will remain sticky for life.

Set Up a Storage and Renovation Studio

Refinishing furniture inside your home isn’t a good idea, especially if you have kiddos. Flying sawdust and toxic fumes are good for no one, and it increases the likelihood of you finding a handprint in your freshly painted side table.

Instead, set up a temporary “rehab” studio, where you can store your pieces in there until you’re ready for them and undertake projects once you are. Along with providing more room at home and enabling home renovations, storage units are the perfect place for this. Just make sure you get a big enough storage unit to move around in, and don’t forget to drop cloth to avoid paying fees later.

Of course, you can always use a garage or shed as well.

Don’t Forget to Thrift Other Household Items as Well!

In addition to thrifting furniture, there are plenty of other household items you can find gently used as well. Think linens, silverware, pots and pans, and flowerpots. You can find many of these at your local used goods store.

Used home supplies are also awesome. Whether you buy a fixer-upper or just want to put a fresh face on a room, you can get amazing cut-rate supplies if you’re willing to go secondhand. Many home supply stores carry doors, wood trim, cans of paint and tools at a fraction of the cost you’ll see at your neighborhood home supply store.

Again, consider places like The Habitat ReStore or look for a local option, such as The Rebuilding Center in Portland, Oregon.

Ready to fill out your new home with thrifty furniture on the cheap? Make sure you keep these ideas handy, along with your apartment move-in checklist or ultimate moving checklist and printables. It’s never been easier to stay organized from start to finish!

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How to thrift furniture

About the Author

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Sarah Moore

Sarah Beth Moore is a professional writer and published author who earned her master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. A moving and relocation expert, Sarah has even moved internationally to Belize in Central America. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, two kids and two dogs. When she’s not contributing to the Life Storage blog, Sarah shares her thoughts on writing and location independence on her personal blog, New Leaf Writing.

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