My top 3 DO’s thrifting for furniture

My living room was the worst. I take my job in making our apartment feel homey very seriously, so this really bothered me. We were given a houseful of furniture before moving, for which I couldn’t have been more grateful -but we only had one couch. Imagine guests sitting awkwardly hip-to-hip in a straight line in front of the television making shifty-eyes back and forth. We tried to not have many people over.

It was necessary to start shopping for another tiny sofa if we ever had hopes of entertaining (which we did.) We also realized the most fun parts of furniture shopping were making fun of really bad prints, and not looking at price tags. The comfy ones were going to cost us.

Having put a pin in that project, a trip to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore for something else surprised me with our seating solution –and I loved it.

Thrifting for furniture can be a terrifying, smelly waste of time –but it’s all about mindset.

Rule #1:  Keep an open mind. Focus on the bones of the piece; don’t fixate on things like hardware or wood finish that can be altered–that’s the fun part. If it has great lines, the 20-year water stains and rusting, gold hardware should be invisible–look for potential. Things like knobs and handles are always replaceable; funky alternatives to tailor pieces to your home can be found like these from Anthropologie or these from Hobby Lobby (but really, what can’t you find there?)

Even if you aren’t looking to completely refurnish, but rather add decorative accents, thrifting can be your friend. For example:  nasty, old artwork. Good thrift stores stockpile the ugliest art because their previous owners looked inside the frame instead of at the frame.


What was a mounted, colorful print of the anatomy of a plant is now the bulletin board in my office. Why the former ever counted as art was beyond me, but I scored a seriously inexpensive, large, ornate gold picture frame perfect for mounting a cheap cork board. Similar pieces can get expensive. Frame and board combined, I made my Goodwill version for under $15.

Rule #2:  Make sure you can use it. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. If you can use it and it’s cheap, that makes a good deal. Before going, have a general understanding of what will/wont fit in your space, and what your needs are. Once you’ve opened that mind, it starts to feel like you can fix everything, but should you?

Once you start thrifting, you ride a fine line between upcycling treasure and hoarding junk. (Please don’t use this post as a green light to start hoarding useless junk that doesn’t fit your home.)

Tip:  Carrying a pocket tape-measure in your purse to make sure your find is useable is never a bad idea. There is nothing worse than finding the one, then going home for measurements, to have someone else swoop in and carry off the antique buffet table of your dreams (trust me, I’m not over it yet.)

Rule #3:  Make sure you can fix it if it needs it. I get sort of carried away really quickly. Quickly. I have a bit of a confidence issue in that I have way, way too much confidence in my ability to create absolutely anything my brain can cook up. This stems from being moderately good at being able to create some of the things my brain can cook up. (My brain is constantly cooking.)

Don’t consider this a point of discouragement, but rather a point of caution for overzealous “projecteers” such as myself. Make sure you have the right tools, or can obtain the right tools while still maintaining your find was thrifty (don’t buy a $5 door to repurpose into a shelving unit, when the table saw to complete the project could cost you $650. At that point, you could have just bought a much cheaper shelving unit that somebody else made out of a door.)

While a bench seat may be an easy upholstery job, I broke the news to myself recently that I cannot reupholster an entire couch. I had no intentions of thrifting for a sofa then, because what were the odds of finding exactly what I was looking for? And a clean one, at that? Shame on me. (See rule 1 about “keeping an open mind.”)

I did not intend on buying a rust-colored, plushy love seat that looked like 1973 –but being ready to design a quick Plan B when you find what you weren’t looking for is a big part of it.


Sure enough, I fell for this one. After inspection, the only thing wrong was a missing back cushion –it wouldn’t need any new upholstery -absolutely no tears or stains. For me, this was an easy fix that I could handle because Austin and I didn’t care if the back cushions perfectly matched – and it was so darn comfy.

I actually prefer now that they don’t match, I like our weird little love seat (and I like that we could afford it.) I feel like it adds the good kind of character to our home –the kind you go looking for in thrift store projects to begin with.

Do you have any thrifting success (or horror) stories? Share below!

2 thoughts on “My top 3 DO’s thrifting for furniture

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