Goodwill Hunting: Ten DIY Recyclables You Should Never Pass Up

created on: 07/11/08

The thrill of the hunt quickly goes south when you realize the plaid Herculon sofa you snagged for $15.99 will set you back at least $500.00 to reupholster, not including the twenty some yards of fabric you have to buy.  Impulsiveness is part of the buzz, but if you're a thrift shopper who is seriously shopping for recyclable materials, you need a plan.  You'll save time as well as money if you know what you're looking for, within general guildelines, and limit yourself to one frivolous purchase a week.  Don't get me wrong, I veer, and I veer bad, but I'm getting better.  What you want to gather is a well edited supply of simple, basic materials to work with, kind of like a blank canvas with a little something unusual about them.  Below is the list and photos I've compiled after many expensive years of unfocused fun. I am pleased to share.

1.  Unique side chairs that are structurally sound. Always useful and easy to recover.

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2.  Low, plain coffee tables for a coffee table or an upholstered bench/ottoman.


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Couldn't pass on these charmers.

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3. Right now I'm loving the $6.99 computer chairs for reupholstery.

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4.  Real leather skirts and coats, odd colors are the best for making all sorts of stuff.

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Read It! Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design

Want to learn to reupholster anything? This book is for you. 

$23.33 on Amazon

5.  Tea carts-cool and lots of potential.

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6.  Pair of simple, upholstered chairs.  If there are two, buy both.

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7.  Retro or unusual lamps. You can plug them in to see if they work.  Shades can be found later. Same rule as above-buy two, if available.

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8.  Ottomans or footstools with unsual legs or a unique base.

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9.  Solid, unusual sewing machine tables-great for an entry table and twice the treat if the sewing machine works.  Take it out for a tabletop machine and use the table elsewhere.

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10.  Down filled pillows-I only buy the ones that seem barely used.

Here are a few extras I probably bought on red day.

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At Goodwill, you'll get half off during the designated "color" week.  If you're lamps are priced at 11.99 each, with a green price tag, and it's green week-you win!

Salvation Army seems to run random sales, mostly on clothes, but if the furniture tag has a date six months old or longer, it's half price. (These policies are somewhat subjective)

Garage Sales-always offer cash and less than the asking price.


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Karen Bajza on Jan 27, 2016:

Couldn't agree more! We refinished a sewing table (same one you have up #9) and our client is now using it as a table in between two chairs in her kitchen. Such an amazing and unique piece! We even build a shelf inside so she can open it up for more surface area. Would love to share a photo of it with you if you're interested? Thanks!

Anonymous on Oct 09, 2015:

Re-wiring a lamp is simple and inexpensive!! Don't pass a thrift store lamp up just for non working reasons. The hardware/big box stores sell kits.

Phyllis on Nov 05, 2014:

As a person who is a collector & restorer of vintage sewing machines, I beg you, please, don't separate the machine fron the cabinet. The vintage sewing machine community is very active, so if you find one of these machines, please consider buying it then selling it on craigslist or ebay. They aren't potential boat anchors and there are people who enjoy restoring them. Even the parts are valuable as these are the first machine to be brought into the home and are engineering marvels.

Lori on Oct 13, 2014:

To the person who mentioned how expensive it is to have a piece reupholstered: you can DIY, or do DIY slipcovers.  Upholstery fabric is expensive, but used drapes at the thrift store are not--and I have found some great fabrics that way.

To the person who asked whether people fumigated things: I put fabric things, up to the size of comforters, in my freezer for a few weeks, and of course everything gets thoroughly cleaned.  For furniture, I inspect carefully before buying, and again at home (smell everything), and I see it up close and personal when I clean it.  I also have a quarantine area in the garage if it's going to be a day or two before I clean it.  Learn about diatomacous earth.

Sheila on Jun 29, 2012:

I am so glad I found your blog.  I have acquired a terrible addiction to thrift store/garage sells.  It is awesome!!!!.  I have found a couple of wing back chairs and would love to attempt reupholstering them.  I saw a website that gives a basic diy step by step guide to doing it but it is a little intimidating.

Anonymous on Mar 03, 2012:

My husband and I have supplied most of our apartment with thrift store goodies. Our last apartment was 90% from goodwill and 10% items family members gave to us. We paid less than a $100 to furnish a 1,000 sq ft apartment. It's a great place for furniture.

elseajane on Jul 21, 2010:

Once a week my grown daughter and I load up and go thrifting (it's our bonding time). We make a day of it complete with a nice lunch at our favorite Mexican place. Sometimes we come home loaded to the gills, sometimes with nothing, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. Rock on Thrifters!

Oberstminga on Jun 02, 2010:

I just wanted to add a lot of ugly furniture, can be gilded with gold-like foil, which is actually alumnium or some other low-cost metal. The appearance comapred to true gold gilt is very favourable.The new appearance even over unfinished surface is a very interesting change- even more marked than changing colours.


Oberst Minga on May 07, 2010:

Do you fumigate the fabrics or woods? Not a criticism- merely wondering.

Anonymous on Feb 15, 2010:

It's sooo good to know I am NOT alone...

Ravenna on Jan 27, 2010:

Don't forget FreeCycle.org, though most of what is offered on there does need to be recon'd but hey you can not beat free!

DestinybyDefinition on Apr 04, 2009:

i never thought of collecting old leathers! good tip... i know there's allot of them in my local thrift stores.

ModHomeEcTeacher on Aug 11, 2008:

How did you like my spelling "expecially"?  Wow.  I need to proofread.

Faynilla on Aug 11, 2008:

i can imagine that color though, oddly enough, and i think it would look great. i was thinkiing of something like it. maybe the turquoise on the base and a glaze over top it to bring down the shade a bit. i dont know. right now i am fixated on greens. so i will see. blue is for the bedroom . i love the tranquility 

ModHomeEcTeacher on Aug 11, 2008:

Don't be afraid to try projects.  Every week I write a DIY project for the Indianapolis Star and I never know if it will turn out.  By the time I'm done, I am under a time crunch to turn it in so it has to be o.k.

I don't expecially like gold either.  It seems to be a little bit "in" right now so I try to go against my color prejudices.  I used to not like turquoise but now I'm ready to paint a bedroom turquiose-y smokey blue green.  Hard to describe. 

My advice--go for the projects.  Who cares if you mess up.  It's so much fun working on stuff.

Faynilla on Aug 11, 2008:

i love your furniture finds. i am not crazy about gold things, but the lamps and tables and chairs are interesting. here are some of my finds. 


i have two of these lamps, found at different times! for 10 dollars each at  thirft store

The lamp

and the big jack was 3 i think. and the silver pitcher was 1.99

i have found some awesome things, but i have never took on a big project. I am always afraid of messing it up.

thanks for the tips!




ModHomeEcTeacher on Jul 16, 2008:

It depends what kind of chairs they are and if the fabric was included in the estimate.  If you have photos of the chairs, email them to me at my other blog email  flipt@att.net, I'll take a look and give you some helpful hints.

yukirei on Jul 16, 2008:

Wow I'm so glad to find your blog- I'm a newbie to thrifting- especially furniture, but these are great tips! I did recently find 2 pairs of upholstered chairs for less than $100 per pair, but they need to be reupholstered and I've received estimates from $700- $1000 per chair... which now makes them not such a great deal, um... am I right? 

ModHomeEcTeacher on Jul 14, 2008:

Definitely check out the tables that are in good shape.  Some are sooo 1950's/1960's.

ruajennie on Jul 14, 2008:

My husband and I have replaced all my pre-marriage Ikea furniture in our living room with good quality mid-century thrift store finds. Luckily no one around here seems to know what they're actually worth! Other than that, I have a newly-discovered weakness for tacky vintage travel plates and oddities. Thanks for the tips--I usually avoid the sewing machine tables--too bad since I've seen lots of shapes I've liked. I'll have to give them a second look!

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