My husband and I just bought our first house this year at the end of January, mere weeks before Coronavirus took over the world! We moved in with some hand me down furniture and started acquiring inexpensive used furniture to fill in the empty spaces.
I am so incredibly glad that we bought when we did so we could use our quarantine time on organizing, renovating furniture, and putting in our garden beds. Those have helped us stay focused and positive and I love having garden time every day!
However, we had this grand plan for our year, like many others. My husband was in school for a medical program and he was set to graduate around May. We figured that we’d stretch to buy the house in January and then I could cover the mortgage and expenses, which would work but be tight, until he got a new job. Then, certificate testing stopped, which is required for employment.
It finally started up again about a month late and he passed the test, but very few clinics are hiring. Plus, I both lost and regained my job this spring.
This financial insecurity reaffirmed our love of used furniture!
Although we talked about buying some newer pieces, we decided to stick with our values and save some money. We’re so glad we did and have found pieces we really adore!
Why You Should Buy Used Furniture
There are multiple reasons to buy used furniture beyond the lower price.
1. It is always better to be a secondary consumer than a primary consumer.
Let’s say that you want to buy a brand new piece of American made all-wood furniture. The wood has to be harvested, milled, dried, and shipped to the manufacturer. The manufacturer has to cut the wood, piece the part together; sand, stain, and varnish the piece; add hardware; market the product to a distributor; and ship the product to a distributor.
If you purchase the piece from someone beyond the company, the company has to store the items somewhere after receiving them from shipment and then spend time and effort marketing the products. Once you make the decision to buy, the furniture will most likely be wrapped in plastic for protection and then be shipped by truck. If the piece is flat-pack, there may also be additional foam inserts and cardboard packaging.
Problems with being a primary consumer
This process requires a lot of fuel and packaging. Especially since most furniture today is NOT made to last, you may be going through this process faster than people in previous generations and purchasing products that require more dangerous processing. If you spend even a little time researching how sofas are made, you’ll be surprised!
All of this work happens just for the first person who buys the furniture. That’s 100% of all the fuel, water, and packaging burden on them. If you go through the same process, then now there is twice as much fuel, water, and packaging being used. However, if you are the secondary consumer, you do not start the process over! Especially since most used furniture is bought nearby and trucked home with a personal vehicle, your level of additional waste is minimal. This is the most eco-friendly way to source furniture that I know.
2. Older pieces may be more durable.
As noted above, there has been a rise in inexpensive, flat pack furniture in the world. This furniture often has manufactured wood instead of real wood. Although many of these pieces are certainly durable and can last a long time, many pieces are not. Think about some of the flimsy furniture sold at places like Walmart. Those products are not built to last.
Plus, a lot of furniture is being made as “fast furniture,” meaning it is meant to fit a specific trend. Naturally, once the trend passes, so does the furniture. This leads to unnecessary waste.
3. You’ll find more American-made used furniture.
I’m a big believer in supporting industry in our country, especially sustainable manufacturing. From creating jobs to reducing fuel waste for delivery, American-made furniture is a great choice! However, it is now hard to find quality American-made furniture at most furniture stores. Even if the product says “Made in America,” that may not be entirely true.
4. You can curate your own unique, eclectic style.
I don’t think this is just me: I love a mix of furniture styles! Many of us are not interested in the matchy-matchy furniture sets of previous generations. Have you price checked a new bedroom set lately? Often, you’ll see individual pieces being sold for hundreds, if not close to $1,000, dollars. Yet, these pieces are still not Made in America and are not all real wood.
I love seeing a piece of furniture styles and textures in different rooms. It adds history and dimension, especially to a new space. I also grew up with antiques in the house and have an appreciation for well-maintained pieces that tell a story. I am still hunting down the pieces I want to adopt as future heirlooms for my family. We love this 1930s possum belly table we found!
Also, since so much used furniture is inexpensive, you can customize it with new stains, paints, finishes, and hardware, creating custom, unique pieces for less than new.
5. The cost differences are shocking!
Most used furniture often sells for a mere fraction of what it’s worth. I’ve picked up furniture for free before or for $5 a piece!
I’ve also seen used furniture, especially antiques, priced pretty high at certain local antique malls and consignment stores. However, the pricing is often inconsistent. I’ll notice an antique side table priced at $150 by one vendor towards the front of the store, but an antique desk priced by another vendor at the back of the store for $50.
Depending on where you shop, you can save some big bucks!
What is the one piece we don’t want to buy used?
Although I grew up with used couches and agree that there are great deals to be found out there for these items, we are saving up for a new couch. However, I’ve heard about ridiculously good deals for used couches! A friend of mine bought a used Costco sectional that retailed for close to $2000 for $50!
We are totally using hand-me-down couches right now, and would consider buying something used if it’s the right price, quality, and condition. We are always skeptical about bringing furniture with fabric into the house since it is so hard to clean, though! But again, I grew up with used couches my whole life and we never had any problems…
Okay, I guess it’s clear I’m still totally open to buying a used couch! Especially if it’s gently used in a house with no pets.
Update: We did buy a new couch! We ordered it from a local manufacturer in Oregon and it has a lifetime warranty on all parts except the fabric. It took 6 months to get in, but we love it and look forward to having it a long time.
Best Places to Buy Used Furniture
Let’s get to it! WHERE on earth can we buy good-quality, but cheap used furniture?
Here are some of my favorite places.
Now, there are cheap thrift stores and there are expensive thrift stores. There are thrift stores where most furniture seems wobbly or damaged and thrift stores with nice, sturdy pieces.
I have purchased furniture from Goodwill before, but it was never very sturdy or in good condition. I’m sure that excellent pieces do exist out there, so I always peek in the furniture section when I’m in there. My local Goodwill was a gold-mine for home decorating pieces, though! I found an antique milk glass lamp for $8, a 100-year-old crock for $1, and many other wonderful finds. Still, I usually do not come home with furniture.
Habitat for Humanity Restore
This is a great place to check for cheap used furniture! Similar to Goodwill, not every piece is a gem. However, I’ve seen some excellent quality furniture there for way less than retail. I’d definitely add that many of the pieces I’ve seen at these stores could benefit from some love ranging from basic cleaning to refinishing.
The prices are often so ridiculously low, even for antiques, that it’s worth it for me! You will find some poor quality furniture, like a lot of the stuff from the 90s and early 2000s made with lots of particle board, and I usually avoid those. We scored our bedside tables from here years ago for $5 each(!) and only just now refinished them. $5 each for 3 and half years of use and many more…
We have a large thrift store here called St. Vincent’s that is a GEM. It’s not fancy and it’s sorted generally. For example, furniture is by furniture and dishware is by dishware. Also, there are aisles of mix and match items. We’ve found great antique tools next to used lamp shades next to sprinklers. One of my favorite items ever is this great antique stoneware bowl I found for $3 next to electronics and terracotta pots. It’s a little random, which means you have to hunt a bit more.
We recently bought an old TV cabinet someone painted blue for $15 as a bathroom cabinet to store toiletries and extra toilet paper. I love the color and details of it so much! I was so close to spending $100 for a new bathroom cabinet and am glad I found this one for so much less. Plus, this cart tells so much more of a story and adds so much more character than another white wooden box.
I think I live on Facebook Marketplace sometimes…It’s like an online garage sale that I can access all the time! This is how we found our dining table and the glider for our bedroom. I really like that I can see a broad range of items, haggle on prices, and often pay digitally instead of tracking down cash. I also like that you can extend your search so if you’re willing to drive a bit, you can find more items.
Also like a garage sale, you’ll often find really good deals on pieces. Some people want to recoup their initial expense and charge quite a bit while others just want to get the piece out of their home.
I live in a military community too, so there are ALWAYS people clearing their houses. There’s a really well off community not too far from me, and I check their postings religiously. They are notorious for selling really good, high-quality furniture for very little, like $50. It’s like they don’t know how much their products are worth or they just don’t care. This is where I bought my possum belly table from!
In the past two years, I’ve also purchased a solid oak dining table with leaves and six chairs on Marketplace ($125). I found a 70s hutch that I repainted green and updated with fresh hardware. I picked up a glider for my reading nook, an old dresser for $50…It’s been a goldmine!
Local Buy Nothing Groups
The Buy Nothing Project is a movement to reduce consumerism and share generously within your community. They recommend that you “give where you live,” and share your excess with your neighbors. These groups are usually on Facebook and are targeted to specific parts of your area. For example, my local group is one of 4 for my small city. In these groups, you’ll see people post a variety of objects for free from kitchen dishware to furniture!
I often go back and forth on garage sales because I think a lot of people try to sell off poor quality furniture that wasn’t meant to last anyway. However, that’s not always the case! The prices at garage sales are often so low here…I recently bought a box of 20 milk glass vases for $1! I finally found table lamps priced at $5 each!
In the town where my husband is from, they do a whole town-wide garage sale day in May where you can park and walk up and down neighborhoods hunting for deals. I’ve found some gorgeous stuff that way!
So, my whole family is from Wisconsin. When I visit Wisconsin most summers, I love to check out the antique stores and antique malls. I’m not totally sure why this is the case, but there are WAY more antiques there for WAY better prices than here in Washington. I found similar experiences in other states I lived in, like Georgia and Virginia. Out here in Washington, antique stores are not nearly as common and you’ll often find these boutique antique resellers with people who paint everything in chalk paint. I want the real stuff: not refinished and worn.
However, I’ve found a few great antique malls near me with really good deals! They usually have products from a variety of vendors so there are stalls of people reselling old VHS videos and DVDs or homemade doll clothes next to stalls with lovely old furniture. The prices vary across the store. Some resellers may stick to higher prices while others ask for much less.
Vintage Antique Boutiques & Fairs
There are “antique stores” and then there are those cutesy, shabby chic-obsessed vintage antique resellers that sell handmade candles next to really expensive chalk painted hutches. Are they a thing where you are? I think there are like 10 near me and normally they are really expensive! However, this is not always the case. I can sometimes find simple pieces priced for less, especially ones painted an unusual color. This is a great way to score some great furniture for updating, but I don’t usually buy the totally refinished pieces from these stores…
We also have these traveling vintage furniture and decor fairs that come to our local fairgrounds throughout the year. They tend to sell a mix of renovated antiques and some handmade furniture. I have not always found great prices on these pieces, but I’m certain there are some gems hiding if you look close enough!
I’m including this one although I very rarely go to estate sales! I do often see online posts for estate sales though, and they are certainly a great place to find nice used furniture. I often see online estate sales that use an auction model and I’m too lazy for that! I’m way more interested in buying something right away instead of fighting for it, so this isn’t an avenue I usually go. Also, a lot of furniture at estate sales seems more classic and less of the rustic farmhouse look I like, but that’s a generalization and I’m sure there’s a lot of great stuff out there!
We recently went to an estate sale and score a vintage drop-leaf table for ONE DOLLAR. I threw in an old chair to go with it and told the guy I’d pay $5, but he would have gladly taken $2. I can’t wait to clean it up and style it!
Coworkers, Family, and Friends
When other people in your life know that you’re looking for furniture, you start getting texts and having quick “oh, by the way” chats. This can be a great way to find pieces that work for you, although then you may have to deal with the awkwardness of telling a family member you don’t want their weird-looking table. The best scenario is when someone passes you a family heirloom! One of my friends was going to get rid of this awesome bright red dresser that was her grandma’s and I told her she couldn’t! I wiggled it in my car and have it today.
Just let people know you’re looking and usually, you’ll at least get a good tip for a place to go!
This list is totally based on my own experience and you may have an excellent source of used furniture where you live that I don’t! For example, we don’t often have flea markets here, but I know lots of communities elsewhere in the US have flea markets all the time!
Where do you usually find your used furniture? Tell me below!
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