Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Find: You're tagged!

The generous guys over at Tag Sell It! asked me to contribute a blog posting to their Website last week, so I talked about what I know best: The Find and how to shop for vintage and thrift. I though it was worth repeating here, especially coming off of a holiday weekend.

People ask me all the time how The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details (Clarkson Potter) came about. Honestly, the simple answer is that it was the result of a truly serendipitous journey where I met a lot of talented people who were gracious enough to share their stories and their creative environments.

The other question I’m asked all the time, especially by those who’ve never imagined decorating their living and entertaining environments with goods from a garage sale or finds from a flea market, is how to shop. So I’ll share with you some of my favorite tips:

Respect your budget: Always know how much you want to spend before heading off on a thrifting adventure, and tell yourself that you won’t spend a penny more than you’ve allotted. (Well, maybe a penny or two more!) One good way to stay within your means is to always shop with cash. Once the cash runs out, the shopping is over. Additionally, paying with cash quite often offers you negotiating power.

Buy quality: Most of us are not shopping at flea markets and tag sales for investment pieces, so I say forget about designer names and fancy brands and focus on buying quality. If a piece of furniture is sturdy, doesn’t wobble and creak and fits your purposes, then go for it. Avoid purchases that require major overhauls. Since reupholstering can get expensive, purchase upholstered pieces that are free of stains and odors and come in a fabric that fits your decor. However, if you’re willing to pay for the upholstery job – or you’re one of those talented souls who can do it yourself – just make sure that the frame in good quality, of hard wood and isn’t cracked or warped.

Keep a mental list: If you are in need of a new dresser, but all you can find are dining tables, well then don’t buy a dining table. The prices are so low in thrift stores that it’s tempting to over-buy, often leading us to go over our budget and create cluttered spaces. That said, I like to add….

If you love it, buy it: Should you fall head over heals for an item that fits your budget and you can’t go home without it, then by all means purchase it. If you find something that so enamors you that you just have to have it, you’ll find space for it. If not, be prepared to sacrifice something you already have to make room for your new, beloved purchase.

Open your mind. Might you use an outdoor table inside or clean up that dirty desk that’s masked behind years grime and filth? Try looking at potential purchases with new eyes to discover the beauty and use that might be hidden.

Charm your vendors: Remember, many vendors love their items as much as you’re attracted to them. They have spent time and energy acquiring these goods, so be respectful. Get to know them and their goods, and avoid having “How much?” being the first thing out of your mouth.

Be fair: Anyone selling vintage at a shop or on the lawn of a suburban home is just like a retailer. They have placed a value on the goods they’re offering, so don’t try to lowball them in negotiating. If you’ve gotten to know the vendor before talking price, you will already have an edge in getting a lower price. I know from experience. I am more inclined to offer a better price if the person shopping is interested and polite because, of course, I want all my cherished items to go to a happy home.

Don’t be a Thriftzilla: Just because you have cash in your pocket doesn’t mean you should gobble up all the goodies in your sight. I believe in creating good thrift karma, so take a breath and buy what you will, but leave a little something for the next person. You never know when you’ll want that goodwill to boomerang around in your direction!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

Stan Williams --The Elegant Thrifter


  1. Great information, most days I would rather have a nice worn peace. I love to sit back and look at one of my treasures (at least they are in my mind) and wonder where they have been and what they have saw. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Excellent advice! I've only really gotten into shopping thrift shops and estate sales in the last few years -- since blogging, really -- and it's great fun.

    This weekend I bought an odd-looking centerpiece bowl at Goodwill for $7.00 and it turned out to be a piece of Majolica worth hundreds.

    You never know!

  3. Well said! I so agree with the "good thrift karma", what goes around comes around.



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