30 Before 30: Buy a Piece of Furniture at an Estate Sale

#24 from my 30 Before 30 list: Buy a piece of furniture at an estate sale

I’ll consider this one… “close enough.” It started out as a failure, but in the end I found what I was looking for.

My goal was to go to an estate sale, which is basically like a garage/yard/tag sale where you can buy pretty much anything inside the house, and find a piece of furniture for my apartment. Lately I’ve been wanting to get a coffee table for my living room. I used estatesales.net to locate local sales and signed up for their email alerts. Earlier this week, I received a notification about a two-day estate sale in Lancaster, which is about an hour from where I live. The photos showed an antique steamer trunk and a vintage toy chest, either of which could make for a good coffee table. When I called at the end of the sale’s first day, the estate sale company assured me that both pieces were still available.

Antique steamer trunk - $75. Vintage toy chest - $20. Both 50% on the second day of the sale.
Antique steamer trunk – $75. Vintage toy chest – $20.

I had my alarm set for 6:30 AM – far too early for a Saturday morning. I arrived at the estate sale a little before the doors opened at 8:30. The street was lined with cars, and there were people already waiting to get inside. As soon as I walked through the front door, I asked where I could find the toy chest. They directed me toward the kitchen, where one of the estate sale workers helped me clear off the towels that were sitting on top and remove the random assortment of toys that were inside. It would make a perfect coffee table. I got in line, made sure they accepted checks, and told the cashier what I wanted to purchase. She told me the toy chest would only cost $10, because everything is 50% off on the second day. Wonderful, I thought.

And then someone said, “Wait!” Standing with the worker who helped me move the towels and toys was another customer, who apparently had already claimed the toy chest. She entered the house before I did, so she had first dibs. The worker offered me the steamer trunk for $20, but it smelled like a wet basement. Pass. As I walked around the house to see if there was anything else worth buying, I heard the customer call out to her husband, “Hey, honey! I got the toy chest!” Yep. You did.

Waiting in line to enter the estate sale
Waiting in line to enter the estate sale

I left the estate sale empty handed and a little bitter. The cashier apologized but said their new consignment shop sometimes gets other toy chests and trunks. She took down my phone number so she could call if something came in. I drove away but didn’t turn on my GPS. I just headed in the general direction of home, wandering around Lancaster County in a post-sale rage. Maybe not rage… but I was not happy. I eventually ended up on a familiar highway and decided to see if Salvation Army or Community Aid had a coffee table for me instead. Both were a bust.

It was now 10 AM, and I still did not have a coffee table. I was pretty determined to find something – anything! – so that the trip did not feel like a total waste. According to a paper I picked up at the estate sale, the company’s consignment shop (Diamond Estate Sales Consignment Gallery) had just opened for the day, and since it was just in the center of town, I decided to give it a shot.

I couldn’t find the shop at first. It was located in a small office complex, but their entrance was on the side of the building rather than through the main doors. The shop contains several rooms filled with ceramics, trinkets, jewelry, furniture, and other odds and ends. I found someone’s marriage certificate – on sale for 25 cents. In one room, I found two potential coffee tables. One was a small wooden table with sides that folded up, converting the round tabletop into a square one. The other had a glass surface that rested upon two large dolphins. No thanks. I looked through all the other rooms in the store but didn’t find anything until I reached the last room. Tucked away in the corner behind old suitcases and a set of bar stools was a wooden coffee table with a glass top. Perfect.

The table was marked $20, but all furniture was 25% off. The cashier also offered me whatever vinyl records I wanted for 5 cents each. In total, I left the shop with a coffee table and stack of records for less than $17. On one hand, I was disappointed and frustrated that I had driven to the estate sale and back – two hours of travel – only to find what I wanted just five minutes from my apartment. On the other hand, I did find a pretty sweet coffee table for an excellent deal.

Lesson learned: Estate sales aren’t for me. I’ve experienced it once, and that was enough. I just prefer my bargains without the competition.

My new coffee table!
My new coffee table!

Where Has the Time Gone?

This isn’t a “My 5-year (actually it’s 6, but they forgot about it last year) high school reunion is in April” post. It’s not even a “Christmas is in 23 days” or a “I can’t believe it’s already December” kind of post. No, when I ask “Where has the time gone?” I mean, “It’s already midnight, and what do I have to show for my day?” Some nights I sit down with a list of things I would like to accomplish, and before I know it, 1 am is rolling around and there are only a couple things crossed off. I tried creating a detailed schedule for each day of the week, with “shower” and “dinner” blocked out in color-coded fashion. In spite of this effort, I find myself wondering what I’ve done with my evening and trying to decide if I feel like brushing my teeth before going to bed. Aside from brushing my teeth, I have a small list of things I would like to do during my day if I had made the time.

Make Your Mauve Dress - $139.99

Sew – Almost every time I go on Facebook (I seriously need to limit how much time I spend on that site…), I see an ad for ModCloth.com, the online indie/vintage clothing store. The first time I heard of ModCloth was almost a year ago, when a friend considered one of their dresses for us bridesmaids to wear in her wedding. I really love the pieces in their store – especially their dresses and tops (here’s my wishlist). The beauty is in the details – buttons, pleats, prints – and the color palette provides a wide range to suit changing moods and seasons. I would really love to add some of those dresses, shirts, and sweaters to my professional wardrobe and begin to wear something more stylish to the office every day. Working in the art field, I would like to wear something with a bit more flair and expression than my typical khakis-and-button-downs. However, I can’t quite afford ModCloth yet. Sale prices for dresses start at $24, and most pieces I have seen run in the $30s and $40s. Right now my budget is more in line with Goodwill and  Salvation Army than ModCloth, but I would still like to achieve the look. “If I had the time,” I would like to buy my clothes at a thrift store and use my somewhat limited sewing skills to customize them in order to create the style I see at ModCloth. I find Marisa Lynch over at NewDressADay.com rather inspiring for this possible fashion endeavor! Perhaps I will start out small and see what in my closet can be modified with some hand-stitching and scissors.

Design – You would think that as a graphic designer and a former art major (I graduated in 2009), I would constantly be creating. Instead, I sometimes have to push myself to start an independent project. Once I get started, though, there’s no stopping. I have redesigned my online portfolio several times, and one time within this past year I was up until 4 am working on it. As they say, time flies when you are having fun. It’s the getting started that is difficult. I tried doing a daily design series where I took a headline from the Newseum‘s Top 10 and created a typographical design. That lasted for about a month in May and a couple days in September. My goal would be to finish by midnight, a la On Kawara, but motivation to begin disappeared when I finally sat down at 10 pm to look at the day’s headlines. I tried taking a photo a day in 2009, but that didn’t last very long either. I soon realized that each day was shockingly similar to the day before, and I was running out of photo ideas. “If I had the time” – or the motivation or inspiration – I would do something creative every day, whether it was working on graphic design or photography. My current design goal is to hand-make Christmas cards, and with a quickly approaching deadline, I should get started soon.

Journal – Rachel Scott was one of the Columbine Massacre victims. She left behind many journals filled with her thoughts, prayers, and drawings. I read Rachel’s Tears, a book by her parents, which included excerpts from and images of her journal. That inspired me to begin a journal of my own, so that if I died unexpectedly, I could have something to leave behind. I began writing in my journal somewhat seriously during junior high or high school, and since then my journal has evolved from a legacy for me to leave behind into a private arena for processing my thoughts and emotions. During college, my journals helped me make sense of my mother’s cancer diagnosis, upcoming graduation, and impending unemployment. The journals I have accumulated over 10 or so years are now in a sealed plastic container next to my sister’s sealed plastic container of journals in the attic. Recently, I haven’t had the motivation to write in my journal. It never seems like there is anything worth noting, or when there is, I am just too tired to sit and write. My last entry was November 10. Since then, I visited a recently quasi-laid off friend, attended a house warming luau, watched the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert Movie, had a doctor’s appointment, visited my injured mother, flew to Florida and spent Thanksgiving with family (but without my parents). And for some reason, none of it seemed important enough to qualify a journal entry. Or maybe none of it seemed more important than going to sleep. “If I had the time,” I would journal every day, even when it seems like nothing important happened.

Read – I used to be quite the avid reader. Nowadays, I rarely read. Summer 2009 was somewhat my return to the literary world, as I had a lot of downtime between work hours in Boston and spent it reading for pleasure. Over that month and a half, I read several short stories and novels. The following summer, I got partway through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which I am still trying to finish. I really would like to start reading more, and I have plenty of unread books on my shelf to help with that. Like design, I lose motivation to read, because by the time I get around to start, it is already time for bed. And I’m rather sleepy. So “If I had more time,” I would something every night before going to bed, and I would finally finish this book!

Exercise – When I was only working part-time from 9 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, I had the opportunity to go to a local women’s fitness center every day after work. I took 2 Zumba classes each week, lifted weights, took a core-strengthening class, and did some cardio work. I even got a personal training session on a Pilates reformer, which my body regretted the next day. As the months went by, I went to the fitness center (they don’t call themselves a gym) less and less until I finally cancelled my membership this past summer. I liked working out, pushing myself to just a little more than last time, feeling myself getting stronger. Now I feel myself getting lazier. A recent glance at 2007 medical records showed me how much weight I have gained over the past few years (especially since starting a desk job a little over a year ago). A few weeks ago, just before it started getting colder, I started walking around the neighborhood on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. It is a 1.6-mile loop around the town-homes and houses outside of my apartment complex, and the walk was brisk and refreshing. I would walk every day, but now that winter has arrived, the sun has completely set when I leave work. And honestly, walking in the morning would require me to wake up earlier than I would like. In addition to my 2 hours of dance class each week, I would like to incorporate more physical activity into my schedule – “if I had the time” – so that I can maintain physical fitness and get back that feeling of being healthy.

Devotions – I definitely don’t MAKE enough time for devotions. I’ve realized that when it comes to spending time with God, it’s not a matter of having time but of making time. I could easily use the hours spent each day on Facebook for reading the Bible or in prayer, but I don’t. I could easily attend a small group meeting during some of the 7+ hours normally dedicated to television, but I don’t. Becoming a part of a small group through my local church is something I am hoping to do soon. I need that source of accountability and people who are going to encourage me continually to grow in my faith – something that, honestly, I have not been doing.

I need to reevaluate how I am using my time, figure out what is wasting my time, and decide what changes need to be made in order to make time for God and the little things I want to be a part of my day.

Back to School Savings

or, things I wanted to say to the teenage shopper at Target.
Seeing as I am currently unemployed, I’m sure these tips will still come in handy for myself and others who are not going back to school.

She was leaving the store with her dad, a cart full of dorm room “essentials”, and some charges on her parents’ credit card. It was pretty obvious that she is college-bound, leaving home in the next few weeks. As I watched her walk away, I wanted to sit her down and tell her all the things she needed to know about going to college and saving some money. Her parents probably don’t know any better – from the looks of her purchases, she is probably their first child going to the big school. Any parent who has already sent a child to college would have already known Tip #1:

1. Don’t buy what you don’t need.
This, dear teenage consumer, includes that neon green folding chair sitting in your cart. I’m not talking about cozy butterfly chairs or pod chairs, but the plastic church picnic type that usually require a bit of caution upon landing. You won’t be needing that chair, but you could probably use the $9 (that is the actual cost of the chair pictured, also available in black and white). Colleges provide desk chairs, usually more comfortable and industrially sturdy, for your study time – that is, if you even use a chair while cracking the books. And folding chairs don’t make for comfortable lounging. Beds, however, make for comfortable and readily available (and FREE!) seating options.
1b. A little research comes in handy when doing dorm room shopping.
Make mental (or written) notes when visiting college campuses or talk to students who have already lived in your dorm. Find out what you can leave at home, what’s essential, and what comes in handy. You won’t need a full-length mirror if there’s already one permanently mounted to the back of the door. You won’t need shelving units if there are book shelves built into the walls. AND you won’t need toasters, 5-arm lamps, or candles since they are more than likely prohibited by your school. ALSO talk to your future roommate to figure out what they are bringing. Perhaps they have inherited a mini-fridge from their older brother who inherited it from a roommate who… etc., which means you won’t need to buy one.
Bottom line: You don’t need to buy everything on the list, or rather, everything the commercials make you think you need.

2. Make friends.
This is an obvious tip for your social life, but your wallet will also thank you for it. Remember that mini-fridge that was passed down from generation to generation? Free, thanks to some friends. That’s how I scored the mini-fridge that I used for 3 years. During my first year, I lived across the hall from some juniors who were leaders on our floor. The apartment they were moving into for senior year already had a fridge, so they gave it to us for free. They got the fridge off their hands, and we got a free fridge. After I graduated, I passed the fridge on to one of my friends. I also passed along a loveseat and a rocking chair, both of which I got for free. It’s amazing what people want to get rid of. I have also been able to get free clothes from friends – and strangers, too. Whether it was the changing trends or the Freshman 15, they had plenty of clothes that they didn’t want anymore. Some floors set out boxes in their common areas, as a mini-Goodwill of sorts, where you can rummage through and take what you want or leave things of yours for someone else to claim.
Bottom line: One man’s trash can be your treasure, though you don’t have to go dumpster diving to find it.

3. Buy second-hand.
Speaking of Goodwill (or Salvation Army), buying second-hand is a great money saving tip and a fun outing for friends. The Salvation Army by my campus, or Sal Val as we lovingly call it, has half-off Wednesdays on top of the outrageous bargains you will already find there. It may take some searching, but you can find some quality items for great prices, including some vintage wear or ridiculous 80’s dresses that make for some fabulous costumes. Besides the money saving, it’s fun to go through the racks with friends and see what fun[ny] outfits you can put together.
Bottom line: Buying second-hand gives you first-hand savings. It’s like giving your wallet and your wardrobe a high-five.

Well, it’s now after midnight and apparently I’m out of ideas (for now). Stay tuned – I will update when I can think of something other than “Don’t spend money”.