Even more benefits of buying used

The last time I took it upon myself to buy nothing new I was in the process of moving from my parent’s place to an apartment to be closer to work, and I decided, in the spirit of the challenge, that I would only furnish my apartment secondhand. January is far from yard sale season but luckily Craigslist still dredged up a couple moving sales, and I spent an entire Saturday driving up and down the peninsula in search of something, anything to help me set up camp in an unfurnished 10’ by 12’ room.

I was looking for dressers, a desk, bed tables.  I found a small bookshelf and a TV stand instead.  Nothing else was the right price (cheap), the right size (small enough to fit in the back of an Accord), or the right weight (light enough to be manhandled by one person).  Along the way I happened upon an estate sale where most items were out of my price range, but discovered a really great antique-reproduction lamp that I picked up as an impulse purchase.  “Ah, lighting,” I thought.  “That could be useful.”  Total spent that day: $34.

I packed up a couple weeks’ worth of clothing and bedding, borrowed a folding card table, folding chair, floor lamp and foam futon pad from my parents, squeezed the TV stand into the backseat and the bookshelf into the trunk, placed the thrifted lamp as my prized possession in the front seat, and drove off into the heart of San Francisco.

I laugh whenever I think of those first few months in the apartment.  I was living in a drafty converted dining room, folding up the futon during the day for a place to sit.  My clothes were stored in the bookshelf, my crafting supplies in the TV stand; my shoes lined the fireplace and my laptop sat atop a rickety table that was barely large enough to hold the computer.  I stuck books on the ledge in the fireplace, placed photo frames on top of the fireplace.

It was good as a temporary solution, but lacked that feeling of “home” to really settle in.  I still had piles of clutter on the floor that had no permanent storage place.  The card table made it difficult to craft or write, activities I usually used to decompress from work.  A natural homebody, this forced me to spend more time socializing with friends to relieve the stress of work, and as a result grew much closer to new friends than I otherwise would have.  This period of time also illustrated the importance of home as sanctuary in my life.  It was a trade off, but taught me valuable life lessons.

Still.  It was livable.  I hadn’t broken my vow to furnish the apartment second hand.  In May I bought a couple pieces of furniture off my brother’s graduating college friends, picked up more lamps, took the card table home and brought up my sewing machine instead.  I nailed hooks into the walls to hang up clothes and purses.  I borrowed a bookshelf from my brother to eliminate the final piles of clutter on the ground.  My room saw every furniture rearrangement possible.  And so, through improvisation, thrifting, scrounging and borrowing, the entire apartment was furnished secondhand, albeit in stages.

As I learned in furnishing my apartment, the used market can successfully fill your needs.  It requires advance planning, improvisation, patience, and the ability to “get by” as you sift through what’s available to suit your needs.  Part of the fun of thrifting is the thrill of the treasure hunt – you never know what you’ll find, like when I stumbled upon a matching pair to the abovementioned reproduction lamp while looking for a desk.  The flip side of the coin is that it can be quite difficult to find an exact piece of item at any one given moment in time.  This is where it helps to put the word out to family, as it was my brother who eventually tracked down not one but two desks for me (it worked for me to have a writing desk and a crafting desk, and then I really had little space for anything else).

In return, you gain as much from the end results – fuller wallet, helping the environment, providing loose change to the former owner or supporting the charities that benefit from thrift shops – as you do from the process.  Thrifting is not just a treasure hunt but also fosters creativity through improvisation, the ability to look at old materials in new ways.  And whose career hasn’t required that same skill?  Parenting, keeping the magic alive in relationships, handling life’s day-to-day problems, managing a household all benefit from this outlook.  I carry these lessons with me every time I move to a new place, in crafting, in finding new ways to bring friends together.  The benefits of buying used, as with so many other aspects of wellness, carry over into all aspects of life, and continually pop up in surprising places.


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