Furnishing a house: The minimalist, sustainable, affordable way

We did it! We moved across town. It wasn’t pretty. It took several days, and on day one, I managed to maim my foot on the door of our new place, so it’s mostly been Josh moving us, and me unpacking, since I couldn’t really carry anything heavy.

We did manage a fairly minimalist move, without renting a truck or buying a bunch of supplies. And – most exciting of all – I managed to furnish our entire new house for $150, about half the budget we had set. As you may recall, we lost most of our furniture (except for the bedrooms) in the flood, so we were very nearly starting from scratch. A few bookshelves and the china cabinet survived, but we’ve been figuring out the rest from Craigslist, thrift stores, yard sales, and word of mouth. My best score was a vintage $40 couch from Craigslist, which I love, and have to fight for a seat on:


I don’t know how to describe my love for this couch. It’s curved. It’s brocade. It’s grandma’s living room sofa, and it probably makes me a hipster, but I adore it, and Josh promised that I could pick whatever furniture I wanted, so long as I stayed under budget.

For fifty bucks, I got this awesome vintage table and chairs from another family who were moving (and it has pink vinyl chairs, you guys. They’re ridiculously awesome!):


Josh says I insist on turning our house into a fifties diner. I don’t see the problem with that – at all – because I love vintage, it’s more sustainable than buying new, and I just furnished our house for ninety bucks. Boom. Add on a bit more because we bought supplies to build a kitchen pegboard ourselves, I found an amazing eight dollar bar table at the thrift store and converted it to an end table beside the couch, and we bought a bookshelf and another end table from a friend who was selling her stuff before a move to D.C. Still, I’m way under budget, our new place is furnished, and we’re living in a hipster’s paradise. Whatever. I can’t help it. I love what I love. I think what makes it so appealing to me is the nostalgia for my grandma’s house, and Josh’s grandma’s house as well, and the knowledge that old stuff tends to be sturdy and well built. Besides, it lends itself to some pretty spectacular family photos:


Look at that ennui. Ha!

My tips for scouring Craigslist, yard sales, and thrift stores:

  • SAFETY FIRST! I always take Josh or another friend with me to pick up Craigslist items. I don’t go alone, because I’m carrying a handful of cash into the home of a stranger I met on the internet, which is basically the safety equivalent of climbing into the transfer van of a man offering candy. Craigslist is a team sport, people.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but don’t low ball, especially if someone is already asking a reasonable price. Don’t take advantage of their not knowing what the item is worth, either. If you know it’s worth a lot more than what they’re asking, at least pay the asking price. Do unto others. No, I wouldn’t let someone sell her grandmother’s Knoll tulip table for ten bucks. I would tell them what it’s worth. I’d rather have the karma than the table. Make your own decisions, but know that this strategy has worked out well for me, and I sleep well at night.
  • If you really really want the item someone is advertising on Craigslist, offer to show up that day with cash in hand (the full asking price) and a truck to take the item home. And send your phone number with the email, that way they can contact you and know that you’re a real person.
  • Borrow a truck from a friend, if you can, or rent one if you have to, but don’t expect the yard saler or Craigslister to be able to deliver a heavy piece of furniture to you. That isn’t usually how it works.
  • Ask the nice lady at the thrift store or vintage store to give you a call if a specific item that you’re looking for comes in. Be really nice. This works better if you’re a regular.
  • Go to yard sales EARLY on Saturday morning. Spend an hour or two Friday checking out the yard sale ads to map out your route. Look for the words “multi-family” or “estate.” I usually avoid the homes where I know there’s a yard sale every Saturday, because it’s the same stuff every week, and they don’t drop their prices as much. I love multi-family sales. I also put the word out among friends who yard sale as a hobby about what I’m looking for, that way they can call me if they spot it!
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re looking for (probably don’t get more specific than “a mid-century table”, though). They’ll be able to keep an eye/ear out for you, especially if they know your style.
  • When I’m looking for an item, like a vintage dining set, I check Craigslist at least twice a day, and I check the thrift stores at random, every time I’m near one (I check my favorite one probably once a week until I find the item I’m looking for)
  • Keep an open mind. You’re probably not going to find that white Eames rocker at your local thrift store the week you start looking, but you might find an awesome velvet armchair instead. Thrift store shopping means learning to love the item you find, rather than having a too-specific idea in mind and never finding it. It also means learning to mix and match pieces from different eras and styles, which I think is part of the fun.
  • The most important questions are: do I need it? Do I love it? Will I use it? And (this might be the most important question of all) does it fit the space and life that I have right now? If it doesn’t fit the house you live in, don’t do it. Not worth it. Remember that the world is full of stuff, and there will always be more stuff – it’s learning to be selective about what you acquire that is the real skill!

Happy Craigslisting, people.



2 thoughts on “Furnishing a house: The minimalist, sustainable, affordable way

    • You know it! That’s our top priority in all home related decisions: will it match our cats? I think our minimalist cat color scheme of orange, white and black has lent itself to a mod-retro sort of vibe. We should branch out, and find a purple cat, or perhaps a green one.

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