Low-Cost Furnishing: The Multi-Year Craigslist Experiment

Today, all across the country, people are moving their belongings from one residence to another. Perhaps a new job has them headed for Atlanta, or maybe they’re interested in experiencing the charm of Portland life. Even empty nesters–people that haven’t moved in years–are downsizing. In each of these scenarios, folks decide what material possessions make the cut, and what doesn’t. As I go through the process of leaving my third post-college residence, I can’t help but reflect on my experience furnishing living spaces. Just like books, there are numerous methods to sourcing our appliances, tools, and furniture. After more than two years, I’m here to share the results of my multi-year craigslist experience.

My First Place

After moving to Seattle, I rented my very first 1-bedroom apartment. As with many apartments, I was wholly in charge of decor. Shortly after moving in, I felt a great amount of pressure to design my apartment in an attractive way. I wanted the room to emulate who I was. I wanted to impress friends and girls. I couldn’t be that guy without taste! If you’ve read about my story, eventually I left that apartment after feeling it was simply too much square footage for one man. However, throughout the process I learned quite a bit about my curation tendencies, sourcing methods, and saving money.

Quite frankly, new furniture can be very expense. And just like clothing, there are trends or styles jeopardizing the relevance of new furniture a few years after purchase. Even if designed to withstand the test of time, I still hesitate greatly buying new. One of the most difficult aspects of sourcing new furniture is realizing how bountiful our resources already are. There already exists a large surplus of used furniture of which the initial owner has consumed its depreciating value.

Thanks to modern-day websites such as a Craigslist, OfferUpFreecycle, and Buy Nothing, finding second-hand furniture quickly and inexpensively has never been easier. In addition to saving money, you reduce your consumption rate as well. In places as transient as Seattle, I’ve tapped into the incredible wealth of goods shuffling in and out of this fine city.

Leveraging some of the aforementioned resources, I spent a couple hundred bucks to possess thousands of dollars in furniture.

When you face the challenge of furnishing a space, I encourage you to first question whether or not you actually need what you’re seeking. Second, think about other ways to source a gently used model. And third, be sure to pass it on to someone else in your community.

My Craigslist Experiment Results

Over the past few years, I’ve collected a vast amount of furniture and sold it back for the same price–sometimes even seeing an appreciation from my “investment.” Below are a few examples of my successes.

Wooden nightstand purchased for $10. Sold two years later for $20.
Glass-top bedroom desk purchased for $40. Sold one year later for $40.
Black IKEA bookshelf purchased for $15 in April 2014. Sold over two years later for $20.
IKEA end table to display our apartment projector was purchased for $10. Sold one year later for $10.
Three delightful bar stools purchased on CL for $75. Sold one year later to a woman in my neighborhood for $75 via Venmo.
Very handy faux leather IKEA couch purchased for $90 + $50 U-Haul rental. Stuffed into the back of a Subaru one year later for $100.
Queen-sized bed frame squeezed into my Honda Accord for $50. Sold one year later for $40.
Queen mattress and box frame purchased and delivered for $400. Sold the USED set-up two years later for $150. Woah!
Bamboo-trimmed mirror purchased for $15. Sold two years later for $20.
Awesome in-home projector purchased for $90 from a gentleman in my neighborhood. After dozens of movies, sold one year later for $120.

Not pictured, but worth mentioning: hand-crafted, up-cycled wooden table with fold out leaves purchased for $20 from a local garage sale. Sold two years later to a furniture connoisseur $40. A black and white spotted IKEA floor rug purchased for $30. Sold one year later for the same price. After discovering Seattle’s bike culture, I purchased a Marin road bike for $135. Sold one and a half years later for $100. All of these items served a useful and frequent function in my life while in my possession–many times for less than $1 a month.

Benefits of Buying Used

As it turns out, marketplaces such as Craigslist are very viable options for acquiring your furnishings. While purchasing off craigslist lacks the immediacy of buying at Big Box stores, I throttle many impulse desires in doing so. Occasionally, I’ll lose interest in that additional end table for example, and eventually determine I simply don’t need. Not only does this save me cash, but it keeps my life possessions essential.

Just like everyone else, I have sudden urges for the quick fix. I immediately think of how much easier my life would be if I just had that one end table, but alas! Once I have these thoughts, I’ve also come to recognize them as a knee-jerk reaction. I think question if there’s a more efficient way to serve my need? I have a few beliefs in places (sourcing used items as often as possible) that help mitigate many of these impulsive buys.

Another excellent benefit to my acquisition style has been my ability to let things go. While I do enjoy the aesthetic nature of my furniture, the relationship I have with many items is strictly utilitarian. I recognize each pieces’ purpose and greatly appreciate its role in my life, but remain quite detached. Since I don’t buy new, I never experience buyers remorse. This makes it much easier to part with couches or bookshelves when the time comes. Furthermore, this results in me placing very little sentimental value in the furniture adorning my space. I treat it well, but can easily part with it.

In following this strategy, I’ve removed the production, sale, and discarding of furniture from my financial lifecycle. What my lifestyle has really instilled in me is a strong appreciation for the share economy. When I look at the IKEA couch I used for 12 months, I think of it as a temporary loan from the World. Thanks World for lending me this couch! Now I bequeath it back to you! My concept of sharing for the benefit of all has been forever change.

Each of the successful “loans” pictured above result in two canceling financial transactions. I spend a reduced price to receive the item, and get an approximately equal value in return upon the sale. While the financial benefits of this method is wonderful, I also take solace knowing I’ve keep a mirror, toaster, or picture frame from being tossed in our landfill. For me, there is great value in refining this methodology to reduce my overall waste production.

Embrace The Methodology

As moving across the country becomes more frequent, absorbing the financial blow of new furniture over and over again is taxing. The next time you walk into an empty studio, apartment, or house, remember that you have a choice in how you craft that space. Redesigning the way in which you source furniture translates to other areas of life as well: you align your values with sustainability, become less fixated on curating the perfect room, and are more likely to accept others way of life. From now on, focus on the experiences in your space rather than the materials in your space.

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