The Five-Part Furniture-Finding Plan

It’s Works-for-Me Wednesday, so here’s the system by which Daniel and I have furnished our home:

When there’s a piece of furniture you’d like to have,

  1. Wait for it to come along.  When you can wait no longer,
  2. See what you can scrounge from what other people are discarding.
  3. Go to yard sales.
  4. Go to used-furniture stores.
  5. Buy new furniture.

We figured out these numbered steps in a conversation just a few days ago, but we’ve known them for a long time.  We learned them from the examples set by our parents.  However, as the economic downturn brings features about “how to save money” to every publication and television show, it’s becoming obvious that not everybody knows this stuff.  Certainly I’ve been in many homes in which all the furniture appeared to have been recently purchased new.  What a waste of money!

The trick to this plan is to make do with what you have while you seek the furniture you’d prefer.  For example, I lived without a file cabinet for 9 years even though I keep a lot of papers in folders.  I put my files in very sturdy cardboard boxes with a divider in the center, which I got for free from my job in a campus dining facility; they originally held 15 pounds of frozen French fries in each half.  I decorated the outsides of the boxes.  When I moved (6 times in those 9 years, but only locally), I could lift these 30-pound boxes into and out of a car, and even stack them, so there was no need to take out and put back the files.  Then a file cabinet came along: A friend found a 4-drawer, legal-size, solid oak file cabinet on the curb awaiting the garbage truck!  Apparently its owner thought it was no good because it had a small amount of mildew on it.  We wiped off the mildew with a rag soaked in vinegar, and it never came back.  I would never have spent the extra money for a wooden file cabinet if I were buying it, but having happened to get one, I love the way it coordinates with other wooden furniture.  (It’s a good thing I stopped moving so often, though–an oak file cabinet is very heavy! It takes six scrawny geeks to get it up a staircase!)

Step 1 often brings us unexpectedly to Step 2 or 3.  We’ve often scrounged, or found attractively-priced at yard sales, great stuff that we’d only vaguely thought we might like to have someday and hadn’t yet sought.  Included in this category are the furnishings I chose to keep from my grandparents’ homes after they died when I was a teenager: I crammed most of it into my room in my parents’ house while I went away to college, and my uncle kindly stored a table for me for several years, until I had my own home to furnish.  These things aren’t collectible antiques, but they’re family heirlooms to me.

Even once you “can wait no longer” for furniture, usually it’s possible to make do for a few weeks or months while taking each step in turn, and it’s often worth the wait!  For example, our current home doesn’t have any built-in cabinets (a common feature in houses around here, something we’d always had before), so we needed something to store our large collection of card and board games.  We thought maybe an old chest of drawers, and we left space for something like that in our living-room layout, stacking the boxes of games in that space meanwhile.  We did Step 2: asked around to see if anyone had unwanted furniture, looked for useful things on the curb.  We went to yard sales and read classified ads.  One night, Daniel showed me an image in a computer game of a very solid, classy-looking chest of drawers with a fancy carved mirror on top, and said, “I wish we could get that for our game cabinet.”  The very next day, at a yard sale, we found a beautiful old chest with matching mirror for $75 including delivery.  (It wouldn’t fit in our car.)  Some knobs were missing and the others were cheap dingy-looking replacements, and there were a few chips and scrapes in the finish, but it was sturdy, the drawers pulled smoothly, and the mirror was in perfect condition!  We splurged on new knobs that cost $3 each but make that chest look like it’s worth thousands.

Sure, we sometimes get to Step 5!  We bought our rocking chair and our child’s highchair new, after all the other steps failed to turn up what we wanted.  (We wanted a wooden highchair with a tray that swings over–nothing pinchy–and found it and the rocker at a store that sells furniture made by Amish folk here in Pennsylvania.)  We bought our kitchen storage unit and a few bookcases at Ikea, despite the smelliness of the particle-board, because they were the right size and look at a reasonable price.

Then there are the times when furniture acquired in one of the earlier steps eventually proves to be so unsatisfactory that we wind up replacing it with Step 5.  For example, we had a sofa in our living room for nearly a decade after our former housemate’s friend gave it to us because it wouldn’t fit up the stairs to his new apartment.  It was reasonably attractive, aside from the armrests clawed by some cat we never met; it was long enough to sleep on; its color coordinated with our smaller sofa; and it had pleasantly velvety upholstery.  But we did sort of wish we had a couch that unfolded into a real bed for guests.  Slowly, this couch became less comfortable to sit on because a broken spring created a low spot, and all the cushions would slide into it.  This got worse and worse, and we began to worry that the spring hanging out the underside of the couch would gouge our hardwood floor.  Finally we bought a futon-couch and put the old sofa on our front porch, where we hope to get a few more years out of it!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

5 Responses to The Five-Part Furniture-Finding Plan

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