Top Tips for Secondhand Shopping


As my regular readers already know, I am a big fan of antique, vintage and secondhand shopping. Not clothes particularly, though I do find a cool piece every now in then, but when it comes to house wares and furniture you can’t beat the quality and price of vintage. If you are a vintage shopper or want to be one, I thought I would share with you some of my personal tips.

Do your research!

Find out where to shop, whether it’s a flea market, antique store, or thrift shop you have to find them before you can shop them. The internet is a great source, Craigslist in the US and here in Germany are great places to find flea markets and yard/estate sales. Ask others who enjoy vintage what stores they like. Also ask the shopping locations themselves. I have a thrift store just up the street from my house, when I look at their flyer it turns out the same organization runs three other stores in the surrounding areas. One store I shop even had a book that listed all sorts of stores and what kinds of items they carry. Antiques stores are great about working together to put out a shopping guide of other shops in the area. You might also try apps for your phone. One I use often in the US is called Garage Sale Treasure Map it pulls up any garage sale in the area that listed on the internet and places them on a map.

Now that you have hunted down where the treasures are go, check them out. You will find some are good for furniture some are good for small items, if you like to shop for vintage clothes some will be better for that as well. You may also find that stores (especially thrift stores) in nicer parts of town will have nicer items but you may also pay a “nicer” price. So find your favorites.

Know your stuff!

Find out when the inventory goes out so you can be the first to see it? Are there discount days where certain items are cheaper?

Make friends with the sellers. If you go often and they know what you are looking for they may let you in on deals that haven’t made it to the sales floor yet or an antique dealer may even scout items for you.

DIY er? Think outside the box. Can items be re-purpose into something else. Can you use parts of a piece to save time? Lumber is expensive the wood can be up-cycled.

Most importantly, know what can and can’t be fixed. You don’t want to take something home you think is a deal only to find out it will cost more than it’s worth to fix it.

Be prepared!

My friends laugh at me because I carry two tape measures with me at all times. I carry a metal one for measuring rooms and furniture and a soft sewing tape for measuring circumference, fabric, and often the kids. They laugh but I can’t tell you how often I am asked to measure something. Always bring a tape measure (or two.)

If you are looking for something to go in a particular location, have those measurements handy.

Keep a list of what you are looking for. I have passed thing up thinking I didn’t need them only to realize later I had the perfect spot for it. I also keep a list of what friends are looking for, be each others personal shoppers and shoot them a photo if I see something while I’m out.

Most important know the measurements of your vehicle and what it can hold. You have  to get you finds home! Some thrift stores and shops will deliver for a price but you will save money if you can do it yourself.

Finally, dress for the outing. Sometimes the best deals is found in a giant pile of junk. You may have to dig for the deal and often times the items have not been cleaned so you may have to get dirty. Also if you decide on a purchase and have to load it in your vehicle you may have some trouble if you wearing stilettos.

Bring wet wipes. I tend to feel like I need to wash my hands after a good hunt so I try to have wet wipes handy, just in case.

Final Inspection!

Take a good look at your find before you buy it, are you missing any major imperfections?

SMELL IT! I can’t say this enough. Take this very seriously, years of cigarette smoke, pet odor, or a musty basement smell can be very difficult to remove. Furniture will hold smells, especially upholstery, unless you are planning on a complete overhaul, be wary of stinky furniture.

Closing the Deal!

Can you get a better price? Don’t be afraid to ask. For example many antique shops will do 10% off without even calling the dealer and if you are willing to name a price it never hurts to have the shop call the dealer and ask if they are interested. They may also do Lay Away, but don’t expect a great price and a payment plan, cash in hand is the best negotiator. Thrift store are also usually willing to negotiate.

See it, like it, buy it! If you go home to think about it, it may not be there when you get back. If you see a deal you better grab it!

GO OFTEN! GO OFTEN! GO OFTEN! Inventory moves quickly. What you see today could be entirely different tomorrow.

Now that you know my all my secrets, go out there and find some treasure!


  1. Annamarie H says:

    You said to ask, so I’m going to ask… Where did you take the photo? I’m in Stuttgart while I frequent markets and thrift stores regularly, I’ve never seen a place that resembles your photo.

    • Hi Annamarie, This is a place called Die Halle near Schwabache, just west of Nurnberg off the A6. It is a warehouse piled with stuff. They have some beautiful things but you will have to dig, so bring your wet wipes. The hours are a little odd so check the website before taking the drive.

  2. i love visiting second hand places – it’s like treasure hunt! i often feel overwhelmed with ideas, so your tipss will help for sure! =)

  3. These are great tips. I often shop antique markets. I know what you mean about bad smells. I have a sideboard that smells like moth balls. I love it so much I bought it anyway. You can only smell the odor when it’s open. I do put a box of baking soda in it, which helps. My only other tip when negotiating is to simply ask “is this your best price?” Don’t act too interested or the dealer will know you’ll take it for the asking price.

    • Very true Maureen, if you ask for their “best price” sometimes they go even lower than what you were going to offer.

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