Tips for Shopping Second-Hand Furniture/Decor

Learn where to shop, what to look for and what to avoid when buying second-hand furniture.

When my husband and I moved into our first real “adult” home, it felt like a castle! Much larger than the 1,500 square foot apartment we had just come from. We had no clue how and no money for decor and furniture shopping! And that’s when I realized we needed to get creative and start considering second-hand stuff.

Or risk sleeping on the floor every night!

At the time, going back to 2013, there wasn’t the same availability and options we have now. I spent my weekends perusing the aisles of our local Habitat for Humanity in hopes of finding a treasure or two. And sometimes I did!

But often, the same dusty arm chairs and dated brass lighting fixtures sat waiting to be adopted. It would take a century before we could fully furnish our home, if I kept this up. I needed to find other, more creative outlets.

If this sounds at all familiar and you’re left worried about a half-furnished, undecorated home, fear not! I see you…

Why Purchase Second-Hand Furniture/Decor?

If you’re considering making a second-hand furniture or decor purchase but finding yourself doubtful about quality or practicality, keep reading. Here are five of the best reasons to shop second-hand to furnish and decorate your home.

Financial Reasons

Economically, it’s a much more realistic option especially when starting out. After all, you’ve just spent a chunk of change on your dream home/apartment (whether you’re buying or renting, it ain’t cheap!) and it’s not viable for most people to purchase everything brand spanking new.

Not to mention, furniture sadly does not hold its value. Kind of like a car, it begins depreciating the moment it’s taken off the showroom floor. So, think about where your money is best spent and always consider second-hand as a great option!

It’s More Environmentally Friendly

These days, minimal living is all the rage. Kind of the “less is more” mentality that many home owners and interior designers have adopted. A more simplistic way of living also means you are more conscious about over-spending, over consuming, and always purchasing new.

Being environmentally conscious is never a bad thing, especially if you are the DIY-type that doesn’t mind a fixer upper project.

Shopping Second-Hand is Fun!

Being on the hunt for your next treasure is like finding the best deal on Black Friday. There’s a sort of frenzy that stirs up inside of me whenever I’m scouring the aisles of a flea market or even scrolling through furniture listings Facebook Marketplace (more on that below).

And since there’s plenty you’ll find while shopping that WON’T necessarily be for you, that moment when you actually do stumble on a great piece feels that much more rewarding.

Second-Hand Items Have a Story

I’ll never forget the most incredible dining room breakfront my best friend discovered on the side of the road one day while driving. She immediately called me and after some quick inspecting, the decision was made to grab it. The piece was magnificent and we couldn’t understand why someone would just toss it to the curb.

Once it was stationed back at her place safely in the garage, we opened the drawers and looked inside each for any signs of its history. And what we found was the stamped inscription of one of the oldest cabinet makers in France. After Googling it, this piece was from the 18th Century!

Like I said, second-hand items always have a story to tell…

Allows for Creativity

No one ever took a fresh can of furniture paint to a brand new polished coffee table…right? When you purchase second-hand, there will normally be repairs and changes that must be done. This is the opportunity to throw on your DIY hat and head to Home Depot for some supplies.

And with sites like Pinterest and YouTube to guide even the newest DIYer through restoration projects, it’s easier than ever.

What to Look For in Second-Hand Items

When shopping for second-hand pieces, it’s best to use the rule of thumb and never judge a book by its cover. Just because something looks good at a first glance, do not assume it is a well-made, quality piece. And if it’s in fact NOT, keep searching.

Questions to ask the owner of any piece should include age, type of material, any damage, how it was used. This will give you a good sense of how well it was taken care of and what level of repair/refurbish it might need.

When to Walk Away

Warping caused by water or intense damage might mean the piece will require more repair work than you’re prepared to handle.

Notice tiny holes in the surface of the wood? This could be caused by seasonal wood worms and can be a major headache. Avoid like the plague!

What to See Past

Broken hardware or hinges are easily replaceable and these days, can be purchased in literally any retail store that sells home decor. Updating hardware to something more current is a surefire way to immediately transform any piece.

Small chips in wood can be repaired with a furniture putty. Water stains on any surface can also be dealt with rather easily by applying a mixture of olive oil and salt to the area and letting it sit.

And of course the color of any finish is also something to see beyond and can easily be changed. With a can of furniture chalk paint like Annie Sloan or Rustoleum, a good brush and a clear wax or polycrylic sealer, you could have a brand new show piece in your home!

Where To Find Second-Hand Furniture/Decor

Fast forward from the days several years ago when my greatest second-hand asset was Habitat for Humanity. Today, there are loads more options for finding beautiful pieces…and for inexpensive too! Not sure what I’m referring to, here are best places to start.

Social Networking Sites

Facebook Marketplace, Wallapop, TooGoodToGo and eBay have turned a shopping activity into an opportunity for social connection. These sites offer convenience, simplicity and are way more productive than spending your entire Sunday afternoon strolling around a flee market.

Typically, transactions on one of these sites is cash and the buyer must pickup the items themselves (unless shipping or delivery is included). Negotiations are always possible

Estate Sales

Consider estate sales the jackpot of second-hand furniture/decor shopping. When a realtor friend told me about estatesales.net, I was forever grateful. Yes, it can feel slightly off-putting to be combing through someone’s home and personal things. But estate sales have come a long way and are organized quite professionally these days.

The website allows you to get email notifications by zip code for upcoming sales. This was my favorite thing to do during the week, scroll through pages of photos hoping for a new coffee table, set of dining room chairs or armoire. And if in fact, there was an item worth showing up for, I would be sure to have my bargaining hat on and cash in hand.

Higher end estate sales will be “by appointment only”, while others will allow for walk-ins. if the sale is good, I mean really good with loads of great furniture and household items, people will be pushy. But don’t worry – its all part of the fun and excitement.

Bulk Pickup Days

Time to put your pride aside, grab your car keys and take a drive around your neighborhood the day before bulk pickup. You might be surprised at what you find! Remember my best friend who found that fabulous breakfront on the curb? That could be YOU!

And the best part? Whatever you find is FREE. No negotiations, no bargaining, no arranging of pickup. Take it or leave it!

Remember the old saying, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”. I would by lying if I said several of my best pieces came from bulk pickup days. Just be sure to watch the weather. If it rains the day before bulk pickup, don’t bother. The water damage has already been done!

Antique Fairs

In my experience, these can be great places for finding second-hand decor items, less furniture. Candle sticks, baskets, vases, linens and serving platters are some of the treasures I’ve found at local antique fairs.

And since these types of events are usually run by churches or charitable organizations, the items are typically dirt cheap. Unless of course you are dealing directly with antique dealers. In which case, the items will be considerably more expensive – often over-priced. Move on, if that is the case.