Buying Secondhand: DIY Projects, Ideas, and Tips for turning Secondhand Trash to Treasure
No stranger to thrift store and flea market shopping, second hand trash to treasure shopping is many American’s preferred way to shop. It’s amazing what you’ll find hidden in the aisles, in the racks, and on the shelves of your local thrift shop. Where else can you find a cool storage bench for your kids for their little reading nook?
Why shop for furniture secondhand?
The first reason is obvious; to save money. Retail furniture is expensive. The more affordable pieces are made poorly and the pricier pieces are tough on your wallet. This brings us to the second reason you should shop for furniture secondhand.
Second, you can find great quality for a low price. Let’s face it, they don’t make furniture like they used to. Much of the time retailers choose volume and profit versus quality and workmanship.
Third, trash to treasure is really a thing. When you take the DIY route, YOU pick the color. YOU pick the fabric. YOU create your own style with a one of a kind (almost) custom piece.
Fourth, there is an eco-conscious element. When you buy secondhand, you keep it out of the landfill plain and simple.
Shopping for Thrift Store Furniture
Only in a thrift store can you buy a piece of furniture for a few dollars and then with a little DIY magic, turn it into a one of a kind statement piece.
Plain wooden bar stools at thrift stores for a few bucks are abundant. Here is a tutorial and example of how to completely transform plain stools to something with much more character.
See that? Literally, another person’s trash to treasure!
Here are a few more DIY Inspired trash to treasure thrift store furniture makeovers.
- Wooden Side Table Makeover
- Coral Pedestal Makeover (I thanked Salvation Army for this one!)
- Upcycled Thrift Store Bench for Kids
- Blue Thrift Store Shelf Makeover (Five bucks at Goodwill!)
- Thrift Store Ottoman Makeover (Not bad for a $5.00 find!)
See? Thrifting is cool.
In fact, resale is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Goodwill Industries alone generated $6.1 billion in retail sales from more than 2,000 Not for Profit resale stores and online sales in 2021.
Newsweek said that “this year  alone, Americans will spend almost $179 billion on secondhand goods, up 96 percent from 2015, according to research from Mercari and GlobalData”.
Thredup.com did their Annual Resale Report for 2017. Sure this report is geared toward fashion, however those second hand store all have home sections. Their annual revenue in 2021 was $251.8 Million.
Here are some interesting facts we found.
- Millennials are 2.4X more likely to be motivated by eco-conscious factors when shopping secondhand.
- Women over 65 are 3.4X more likely to be motivated by value and savings when shopping secondhand
- Thirty percent of Millennials have shopped secondhand in the last 12 months.
- Ten percent of thrift store shoppers are millionaires and 36% of thrift store shoppers make $250K to $1M!!!
Let’s move on.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking for furniture at a thrift store:
- Smell it. Yes. Smell. It. Does it stink? If it smells old and musty pass on it. It is very difficult to get rid of bad odors.
- Examine it. What type of project are you doing? Will you reupholster or simply give it a fresh coat of paint? If it’s a reupholstery DIY, can it be easily taken a part?
- How much does it cost? In my experience, the prices at thrift stores are inconsistent. Ask someone who works there what the daily deal is. For example, Goodwill picks a colored tag every day and offers 50% off.
Finding Furniture at Garage Sales
The DIY Inspired team relates to those annoying people that will slow down in front of your driveway at your garage sale scooping out the goods and then speeding off if they don’t see anything they would snatch up right away. We are also one of those annoying people who will ask, “is that your best price?”
Garage sales kick ass when it comes to furniture hunting.
There are two strategies for finding furniture at garage sales:
- Go early. After all, the early bird gets the worm, right? Sometimes. Sometimes you run the risk of paying more.
- Go late. But you’ll miss the best stuff, right? Not always. It’s been our personal experience that we find the best deals in the afternoon right before sellers pack up and give up. They will practically give furniture away at the end of a garage sale. Why? It saves them time and hassle of calling the waste company to pick up the large items on a scheduled day or worse, from packing up a truck and hauling it to nearby donation center.
Finding Furniture at Flea Markets
Flea market furniture shopping is a different world. It also depends on what type of flea market you go to. For example, in Southern California, you will find REALLY cool and (trendy) vintage flea markets like the Long Beach Antique Swap Meet or the Vintage Marketplace. In Atlanta you’ll find some fun finds at Scotts Antique Market.
Please enjoy a short video of one of our trips to the Long Beach Antique Swap Meet:
How cool is that? You’re welcome.
Flea Markets Are Different
At a flea market, you are likely to find dealers and artist who already worked their DIY magic on old treasures they’ve hunted and transformed, for example, a door into an industrial chic hall tree.
So, for flea markets, we highly suggest you read the article we wrote on The Art of Flea Market Negotiation. In it, you will find my tips on how to dress, what to bring, and rules of thumb for good communication when asking for the best deal.
Are you still not convinced to shop secondhand? Fine.
Then do it because everyone else is doing it. Haha! Here are some awesome posts by DIY bloggers and DIY Inspired readers who have published a guest post on my site sharing their own secondhand transformations.
- DIY French Rounded Back Chairs Makeover
- Repurposed Pallet Porch Bench
- Marble Side Table Upcycle
- DIY Upcycled Marble Coffee Table
- Repurposed Wooden Cable Spool
Lastly, before you go, the biggest takeaway from this article is not about where to shop or what the demographics of thrifters are, rather where your mind takes you. What we’re talking about is imagination. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
If you can look past the ugly outdated fabric and the chipped paint, with a little imagination, underneath is a beautiful one of a kind piece of art waiting for you to work your magic and display it in your home.
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