Shop secondhand first and make a house a home

Ok, so last month I wrote about letting go of things that no longer serve you. I didn’t mention much about what to do with the stuff that you let go of, so I am going to pick up there and talk about how I think you should make a house a home and shop secondhand first. People are letting go of good quality things all the time and it’s a fraction of the cost. That’s just off the top of my head.

Shop Secondhand

It may seem obvious, just walk in to the thrift stores and look. But if you are anything like me – and can see possibility in most things, love shopping and are emotionally moved by inanimate objects then I suspect you could use some tips and ground rules to keep from getting overwhelmed or buying things you don’t actually need. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of “I want to shop secondhand but it all seems like old junk where do I start?”


Let’s start with the idea of considering secondhand firsthand and then go from there.

For me, an artist and up-cycler I find great pleasure in taking “garbage” and turning it into something new again, something ugly into something beautiful. I love the treasure hunt of finding the gem amongst the rubbish. But I realize this is not a skill nor a desire for most. Look at it this way, it starts as an idea. Have you even thought to shop secondhand firsthand? It never crossed my mind until a friend told me about flipping vintage in efforts to pay for the things she finds for her self. It struck me….the things you find for yourself. Of course, why not buy things secondhand for yourself. Historically I only shopped secondhand for costumes.

Shop secondhand for wood bowls

Since then some of my greatest purchases have been secondhand ones. Take my favourite wooden bowls, I use them for popcorn and chips. To be honest I am having a bit of a love affair with popcorn lately so these bowls are getting a lot of mileage for the small amount I paid for them.

Not to mention my greatest valuable find was pretty exciting. I found this little flippy brass container of sorts that had a real regal, polished look to it. I paid $2 for it not even knowing what it was. It took me awhile and a lot of time googling its simple description before I realized it was an iconic ashtray designed by famous Dutch designer Arne Jacobsen, most known for his Egg Chair. The ashtray was designed for Sas Hotel in the 1960’s and is now listed on different sites ranging from $800 – $1500 Canadian dollars. I won’t be selling this one. It’s become a little reminder in the value of secondhand and will also be a powerful reference for me.

It took me a little while to figure how to shop secondhand first therefore I want to inspire you and make the process a little easier for you. I definitely have learned the hard way and hope you can take a few pointers from this blog and save yourself some trouble.

Where to shop secondhand first?

My first rule of thumb is to know what you are looking for. It’s great when you find something unexpected but it’s important that you start with a mission. Sometimes the impulse things become the items that get purged sooner than later, because they never truly had a home or a purpose. So first things first, make a list. Set out with a mission, and consider secondhand before going to the big box stores.

The big secondhand shops

In Edmonton; there are a couple ways to thrift. One way is the big box stores like Value Village and GoodWill. They are all over the city and usually have the biggest selection. It makes sense because most people know about these places and they make it easy to donate. Value Village has a great system with a 20% off coupon when you donate. I take advantage of this if I know I am looking for something I need right away. I take in a small donation – look in a linen closet, a junk drawer, a bathroom cupboard and do what I call an “insta purge” and then take that with you to get your coupon. Might as well save an extra 20%.

The hole in the wall secondhand shops

Now the real good finds, and the best prices are at the independent shops like MCC Thrift on 149st, Mission Thrift store on stony plain road, and for all my St. Albertonians LoSeCa. My personal fave is FIND Furnishings on 119street.

I love these for the local community aspect. And the work that they do behind the scenes for Edmontonians is inspiring and makes you feel good for buying something new-to-you.

Look for quality when buying secondhand first

Solid wood, brass, glass, copper, linens, plastic just to name a few materials to keep your eye out for when shopping secondhand.

Shop secondhand Wood

Solid wood items like serving bowls, picture frames, kids toys and furniture to name a few. These things made from wood are great items to buy secondhand. They are much stronger and more interesting quite frankly.

Shop secondhand Brass and Copper

Look for brass and copper when you need a table centrepiece or a decorative element for the bookshelf or mantel. There are so many interesting animals, bowls, trays, sculptures, & candlesticks to be found secondhand. These materials elevate those display areas with a regal aspect and look expensive even tho most of them you can find for under $5.

Shop secondhand glass and bone china

Glass and bone china is another thing to look out for secondhand firsthand. Think new stemware, juice glasses, salad bowls, serving platters in fantastic shades of green, amber and even pink. Jazz up your daily glassware with vintage shades of loviliness for a fraction of the cost. You may need to accept odd numbers or leave one on the shelf if you have to have even numbers because quite often people will donate a set because one broke. If you collect over time you might even find the missing one. I currently have a set of 25 black stemmed champagne flutes, martini glasses, white and red wine glasses that I picked up 2 – 3 at a time.

Shop secondhand linens

Linens. Linens can be tricky because you have to watch out for stains, but if you have the time you can find great tablecloths, table runners, silk scarves, cushions, placemats, even drapery! I love looking for the unique handcrafted or high quality materials like silk. Blankets are also super available, kids themed ones especially.

The big box stores mass produce those super soft character blankets and sell them for so cheap, everyone ends up with them for Christmas or “Just cause” and then your kid moves on to the next theme and could care less about Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol next year. So if you have to satisfy that urge to buy the trendy character blanket look secondhand first.

Shop secondhand ceramic

This is an incredible opportunity to get some of the most amazing handcrafted secondhand pottery. When you think of the time that goes into creating something out of nothing it will blow your mind the value of purchasing secondhand. New ceramic can cost up to $50 for a single mug or vase and even go up from there depending on the artist and where it is sold. Now I am cautious to not take away the value of supporting the local artisan at the market, they work hard to build their beautiful collection of handcrafted pottery. But this post is about what to look for secondhand firsthand, and ceramics is definitely at the top of my list.

Overall, look for items that are made from strong materials to begin with. And look for details that make it well built. IS it structural sound? Is is assembled with real screws and glue or is it half hazardly put together?

Stay away from secondhand cardboard.

Cardboard. This one baffles my mind. How many things are made from cardboard to begin with. Things like jewelry boxes, kids toys, & costume treasure boxes, come to mind. This is JUNK! Don’t buy it. It will at least break down in the landfill but it will likely breakdown in your house first, and then you will be left with the metal or plastic accessory it came with…and no function. Just don’t do.

Things to think about when you shop secondhand

Can it be cleaned easily?

Shop secondhand easy to clean items

If you can’t give it a good scrub don’t buy it. Be safe when it comes to germs and buy secondhand items that you can sanitize easily in the wash or with some good old elbow grease. To me this rules out things like kids toys that have intricate details you can’t really get into and cardboard! Again that bloody cardboard thing. You can wipe it sure, but chances are it’s going to just breakdown to fast. Think tupperware and glass jars, they are so versatile and super easy to clean.

Most household items can be easily washed, just think about it before you buy. The odd sneaky thing can look good on the shelf and then you get it home and can’t clean it. Yuck.

Look for damage

Make sure to look for damage. If it’s not an easy fix (for you) don’t buy it. Take your time to look for small chips, or cracks that may not be obvious at first. Especially in pottery, the smallest little hairline crack can bust apart on the way home if you hit a bump. Look for missing elements, sometimes this is not as obvious as you would think, but I have brought home a jewelry box and the bottom drawer was missing. Didn’t even notice in the store.

Depending on your own level of craftiness and handiness don’t buy things that you are not confident you can fix. These items will just pile up and become a messy distraction and keep you from your personal home goals. In fact, I think its safer to stay away from damaged items all together unless you really are good at that sort of thing.

Top secondhand items that are always around and you should never pay full price for

Shop secondhand glassware

Shop secondhand first for things like Tupperware, trays, stemware, mugs, sweaters, cookbooks, gardening books, baskets, canisters. These things are always around and they can be under $20 in the thrift store, even under $5 sometimes but as high as $65 in the big box stores.

The best trends, but not always around

Shop secondhand serving bowls

Copper + brass bowls and watering cans, milk glass, wooden bowls, ceramic serving dishes. These items are so hot in design right now. Little vignettes capture these items so nicely and the big box stores all have their versions. If you come across them snap ’em up fast they are not always around. But look great in the home.

Shop secondhand first

Shopping secondhand first can help to reduce landfill waste. It can help to reduce your own personal budget and it can be so exciting to find something unique and original that serves your purpose. Especially for the everyday household items like tupperware, this stuff does not break down! It is often in great shape and costs a fraction of the brand new price.

To me it’s a no brainer, secondhand items are where to start when making a house a home. Intentional planning, conscious thought and thinking outside the box (store) can be so rewarding. I encourage you to give it a try. It is not always a guarantee like shopping online and finding the exact thing from the comforts of home. But it has so many more rewards that I think add to the layers that make a house a home.

Disposable living and instant gratification is dead. Up-cycling, repurposing and thinking about secondhand first is ALIVE and thriving. It may take a little more effort and even a little more time, but are we not most satisfied by the things we think thru?

Shop secondhand. Still not your thing?

Now, with all those great tips I hear ya! You are just not going to shop at the thrift stores…but that is why I am hear. I love the thrill of the hunt and if you are looking for a unique piece of furniture to recover or refurbish contact me here. And still not interested in secondhand first but you love the idea of making a house a home, customized with intentional thought then guess what!? I am still your girl. With a love for custom designing solutions with all of that in mind I can help. I work with local tailors, craftsmen, artisans and installers to bring you handcrafted unique solutions to your home. Want to collab? Contact me and let’s chat!

Happy Homing! 

XOXO, Kim 

Kim Neeser

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