When I was pregnant with my second baby I needed to add more furniture to the tiny bedroom that the new baby and her older sister would be sleeping in and my mother took me shopping — or rather — she took me covertly looking for furniture at The Salvation Army.
My mother always bought second-hand furniture and she bought it from the Salvation Army store. It definitely wasn’t dereguer to be buying second-hand in the early 1960’s — it was just being poor — so she didn’t advertise that that was where she shopped.
She had a terrific eye however, and always had a sensationally decorated home.
“Find a small bookcase and paint it white,” she said. “Nobody will ever know.”
I kept that little white bookcase through the years and moved it with me from house to house, unwilling to let go of all the memories that it held.
To this day, I still buy all my furniture second-hand.
I like the idea of not having to make hard decisions about furniture and that what might happen to it has probably already happened to it. If it’s a dresser, the slides in the drawer have already warped or if it’s a trunk the hinges have already rusted. I like it that what I see is what I get and somebody else has already given the piece a dry run.
All I have to do is enjoy it exactly as it is.
Another thing I like is that I can act out my creative urges on second-hand furniture. I can sand it, paint it, put mosaic tile on it or take the shelves out and turn it into a headboard or use it upside down for a coffee table. No matter what I do to it, I’m not damaging it. In fact, it was probably damaged when I bought it and I’m hiding damage with my artwork.
Unless it is designed by a name furniture designer, furniture does not appreciate and second-hand furniture is a great value. It’s like a new car; the minute you drive it off the curb its worth a lot less than you paid for it.
I once had my own second-hand furniture store and when I went shopping at yard sales for inventory I paid ten cents on the dollar for it. It was typical for me to buy a dresser for $20.00 or a bookcase for $5.00. Today, 15 years later, yard sale prices aren’t all that much higher – and if they are, it’s because the price of new furniture has gone up with inflation. The ratio has pretty much remained the same.
I am a person who changes my mind a lot.
What I like on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll like it on Wednesday and owning a piece of second-hand furniture gives me flexibility. I don’t have so much money invested that if I see something I like better or I just want something different, I can’t put the old piece out on the curb or put it on Craigslist and buy something different. It’s a way of keeping all my options open furniture-wise.
When it comes to the environment, buying second-hand makes me part of the solution, not part of the problem. I’m a consumer, just like anybody else, and second-hand allows me to satisfy my desire to have something different and to do that with what has already been out there for years instead of what has recently been manufactured.
I honestly believe that there is nothing I want or need that I cannot find in the second-hand market.
None of that means that I can find exactly what I want when I want it. I can’t. Sometimes I have to have faith and be patiently diligent in my search.
I am happy to say that today, it isn’t like it was when my mother would take me around to the Salvation Army stores hoping that no one would see us. Today there’s nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of and over the years I have learned the great lessons that can be applied to life in general when it comes to buying second- hand furniture:
1) Take things as they are;
2) Use creativity to solve problems;
3) Everything is damaged and everything is temporary;
4) Flexibility makes room for change;
5) Be mindful of the environment; and
6) Be patient and all things will come to you.
As for the little white bookcase I bought for my second baby, I still have it. But it’s not white any more.
My brother’s wife had come to my house to visit, to heal and to cry, in the aftermath of the tragic death of her baby from SIDS.
I owned my store then and was painting furniture for inventory. I suggested to Mary that she and I paint that little white bookcase together.
“Paint it for the baby,” I told her. “Paint it for Dominic.”
It is now 20 years since my sister-in-law painted “Dominic’s Bookcase,” and a lifetime since my mother took me shopping for it. Today it stands in my kitchen, a blazing turquoise, orange, red and yellow shelving unit that proudly holds all of our glass ware — which leads me to the 7th life lesson that applies to buying second-hand furniture.
7) Everything in the universe has a story to tell.
This weekend I bought an old end table. It has nicks and scratches on it and looks like somebody must have made it in their high school shop. Who knows what the wood underneath all the paint is?
I can’t wait to spray it Chinese red — and put it next to my computer.
Author Bio: Carmelene Melanie Siani
Carmelene writes stories from every day life and how life itself offers lessons to help us grow, expand, and put our feet on higher ground.