When you’re on a budget, buying secondhand is the way to go. But while thrifting a concert tee or a toy truck is easy enough, buying used furniture for your new house is a much more challenging task. Thrifting furniture gets a bad reputation from shady Craigslist dealers, items falling apart when you try to set them up, or online outlets lying about their condition. The experience can seem like a gamble.
Despite the potential risks, thrifting can uncover an absolute goldmine of amazing and low-priced furniture if only you know where to look. Whether you’re moving your family across state lines and want to minimize moving 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
When you decide 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-built furniture.
Getting already–built furniture – which thrift furniture almost invariably is – makes your life a lot easier. However, you may need to take a few extra steps to find the right items.
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. Some of the best places to look with national locations are Value Village, The Habitat ReStore, Goodwill, and Salvation Army.
Most areas have local thrift shops or consignment stores with many quality pieces. Shopping estate sales or from people who have downsized are treasure troves for furniture.
Explore Local and National Online Options
Online is a great place to find used furniture that’s still in good shape. Some metropolitan areas, like Kaiyo in New York City, may have dedicated dealers. Etsy is also a valuable source for vintage and used furniture, and you can usually find exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’re shopping online, be prepared to pay sizable shipping costs. Evaluate the total cost to determine if it even makes sense for your budget.
Be Smart When Buying from Private Owners
Don’t shy away if you want to use online sites such as Craigslist or OfferUp to thrift your furniture. You can successfully find furniture on these sites. However, you need to take the right approach.
Never rely on the posted pictures or the fact that a seller seems nice. Always thoroughly inspect the furniture when you arrive to buy it. If it doesn’t look good, don’t get it.
Many people find NextDoor to be a better alternative 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, it also dramatically reduces inventory. It’s still worth checking.
Pop in Often
As with any secondhand venture, it’s smart to check in often. Stores such as The Salvation Army and Goodwill, flea markets, vintage shops, and online sites move inventory quickly. If you check in weekly (or more often, when first setting up your home), you’re more likely to find that amazing leather couch or pristine solid oak bookshelf than if you only stop by once a month.
If it helps, you should target places on your way to or from work, school, or other errands. That way, you can stop by more often without going out of your way.
If you’re worried about not having a truck or large vehicle, don’t sweat. Most places will deliver or can furnish you with a list of movers with whom they work to arrange dropoff. If not, enlist the help of friends or neighbors with big vehicles.
How do I find good furniture thrift stores near me?
Searching how to find thrift stores near me will populate some options you can try shopping at, but how do you know if they’re any good? The best way is to check them out. Pop into the places around you periodically, and you’ll notice a trend in which locations have the best items. Before long, you’ll discover your favorite thrift stores you can always count on for must-have products.
Don’t Take Thrifted Furniture at Face Value
When many people are thrifting furniture, they walk through a store searching for Ikea lookalikes at discount prices. That’s unrealistic because you’re unlikely to find pieces with shiny finishes and perfect upholstery. Instead, look beyond the surface of a piece of furniture and try to see its bones. For example:
- Is a dining room table made of quality wood?
- Is an armchair still stuffed and comfortable?
- Does a set of chairs have solid seats and backs?
- Is the lamp you love whole and uncracked, with working elements?
If the general structure of a piece of furniture looks good, consider rehabbing it.
Rehab Your Thrift Furniture with Simple Home Supplies
When you thrift furniture, you have a golden opportunity: You can make your home more closely align with your interior decorating scheme. Simple household items such as paint, finish, glue, hardware, and decorative elements can turn a plain dresser or bed into the piece of your dreams.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Upholstering headboards for beds allows you to either attach a headboard to a bed that doesn’t have one or transform an existing headboard.
- Reupholstering chairs consists of simply removing the staples around the seat’s base, pulling off the old fabric, and putting on the new one.
- Revarnish dining room tables and chairs.
- Repaint bookshelves, dressers, side tables, stools, or benches.
The sky is the limit when it comes to reimagining a piece of thrifted furniture. You can customize your furniture to create unique pieces and, likely, not something you could buy from a traditional furniture store anyway.
Practice Patience and Get Good at Scheduling
Even though 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 the task can feel super overwhelming. You can make these tasks much less intimidating by breaking them down into smaller projects.
Here are some small task ideas:
- Buy sandpaper, screws, paint, varnish, etc.
- Remove upholstery, take off furniture pads, and replace loose screws
- Reattach upholstery with new cloth
- Add new furniture pads to the bottom of the item
If you need to, store furniture over the winter until the weather warms up and dries out enough to refinish and paint. You can find high-quality furniture all year long, but rehabbing during cold months is not always doable. 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 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 aren’t good for anyone. Plus, it increases the likelihood of finding a handprint or pawprint on your freshly painted side table.
Instead, set up a temporary rehab studio where you can store your thrifted furniture until you’re ready to undertake projects. 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 use a drop cloth to avoid paying fees later. If you’re unable to rent a storage unit, consider using a garage or shed.
What time of year is best to go thrifting?
There are two key periods when thrifting is best: following holiday weekends or during spring and summer. On holiday weekends, people have time to clean and purge items. Thrift stores see an influx of donated items. Similarly, spring is a season for cleaning, and while people are spring cleaning, they’re getting rid of items.
Consider Thrifting Other Household Items
In addition to thrifting furniture, there are plenty of other household items you can find gently used. Silverware, pots and pans, flower pots, and home decor are good examples. You can find many of these at your local used goods store.
If you’re rehabbing, you can also find used home supplies. 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.
Ready to fill out your new home with thrifty furniture without breaking the bank? 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.
This post originally appeared on the Life Storage Blog on 4/18/19 and was revised on 7/11/23 to provide new information.