How to Furnish Your Home 100% Secondhand
In March 2018, we moved overseas to Switzerland. Here’s how we minimized waste and our carbon footprint by furnishing our new apartment 100% secondhand.
Moving is a giant task that can have a massive carbon footprint and create a ton of waste. But with some simple steps, it can actually be quite easy to minimize the damage without adding on layers of stress. During our move from the States to Europe, we used 6 strategies to reduce our trash by sorting, packing, and moving smart (read about them here.) Then, once we arrived in Switzerland, we wanted to find a way to furnish our new apartment from scratch while minimizing our negative impact on the planet.
Given the current state of our global environment, the idea of extracting new environmental resources to furnish our home was not appealing to us. Especially since there’s already such a wealth of abandoned quality furniture out there looking to find a new home.
Scavenging for secondhand household items and furniture options has become one of our family’s favorite challenges. This was the second time we would furnish our home entirely secondhand and it was GAME ON. Not only do we absolutely love the feeling of salvaging these perfectly good items and giving them a new life, living off the waste stream has saved us tens of thousands of dollars over the past 3 years.
Here are our 7 tips for furnishing your home 100% secondhand:
- Track down the bare essentials, then patiently look for secondhand items
If you need to furnish your new home from scratch, it’s of course easier to go to one single store to repurchase all of the new items you need at once rather than collecting secondhand furniture as you find it. But if you have a little patience, you can just get the main essentials to get by in the first weeks (like beds and a high chair – secondhand or new), and slowly furnish your apartment in the following weeks by going to thrift stores. If you can afford it, you can also hang out in an AirBnB for the first few weeks while you track down the items you want. There are also thrift store that specialize in furniture, so it’s easy to do one large furniture haul if you contact them in advance.
In our case, we knew we wouldn’t have a car, so we wanted to make sure to get all the bulky items in one go. The rest we could carry from the stores since we live in the city.
- Ask your family and neighbors
Are you moving near family or friends? We moved to Basel, which was a 3 hours drive from where my father lives in Geneva. We got lucky because there was a ton of furniture that my father wasn’t making use of in his house, like mattresses, chairs, bedside tables, a TV stand, small dressers, crates, a small table, an old desk, carpets, and lamps. It really helped us get the basics and he was happy to pass them on to us.
Telling your family & friends that you’re moving and on the lookout for furniture will also help spread the word! My father let everyone know and within days he had hooked us up with neighbors of his down the street that were moving out and were looking for folks to take items off their hands. They passed on a ton of furniture to us for free, including a couch, a coffee table, and shelving units, and even threw in some kitchenware. My father put all this in his garage and it was waiting for us when we landed in Basel.
- Go thrifting!
Thrift stores have a wealth of items to stock your kitchen, your office, your kids’ playroom, your balcony, and every other room in your house. We even found secondhand stores that specialize in furniture. So if you’re looking for large items like beds and dressers, you can pick them up all at once. We found almost everything we needed at thrift stores including a microwave (guilty pleasure – don’t judge!), a kettle, a strainer, and pots for the balcony garden.
- Search Craigslist (and international equivalents)
Craigslist is where we turn to for those more specific items that might not be easily found in thrift stores. Craigslist is available in Switzerland but not very popular, so instead we used websites like Anabis, Tutti, Ricardo, eBay, Kalia, and then local lists like Glocals, UniBasel Market and CERN listings. Other options include Facebook Marketplace and phone apps like Poshmark, Mercari, Letgo, OfferUp and Gone (Learn more about these apps here). My video-game loving partner managed to find an X-box the first day we got to Switzerland for only 55 CHF, a large TV for just 30 CHF. He was playing video games within 24 hours of landing! We also used these websites to get our rice cooker and sonicator.
- Flea markets
Switzerland is big on flea markets! On the weekends, everyone piles into the town square to sell knick-knacks, antiques, old electronics, and – let’s be honest – potentially some stolen stuff. I love the lively atmosphere and the variety of goodies available. Within our first couple weeks here, we checked it out and got the electrical converters, pans and bowls that we needed.
- Hit the streets!
Just venturing along the city streets will have you bumping into perfectly useful items. People put out their large items for garbage pickup, so if you make it before the garbage truck does, the goods are yours! I have seen tables, mattresses, books, bins, shelving and much more lying on the sidewalk. I found all the hangers I needed just blocks away from our home.
- Yard sales
Since moving to the city, we’ve only come across one yard sale so far – and scored big! Just a few blocks from our home, a friendly man who was moving homes gave us free gardening pots and a free ball for Luna. Then for just $40, we purchased a super comfortable office chair from him, as well as a chair massager, a saw, brooms, and a marble coffee table. He was even giving away a second marble table for free! But we left that prize for the next lucky scavengers.
Other options to look into for furnishing your apartment are rummage sales or swap markets, but we didn’t use those strategies this time around. In this post, I focused mostly on how we furnished our Switzerland home 100% secondhand. But prior to this, we also furnished our Chapel Hill home 100% secondhand using a lot of these same strategies. In fact, those strategies are what helped us get 90% of our daughter Luna’s baby gear secondhand (check out our post on 7 tips for secondhand baby gear).
We hope our story motivates you to look into what secondhand options you have near you to furnish your home! Careful, it gets addictive – practically everything we buy now (clothes, books, electronics) is secondhand. 😉 It’s a ton of fun and soul-satisfying to save these items from the dump and value these resources.
Will you give these strategies a try? Comment below!
Related BP: 6 Zero Waste Packing Tips for Moving Overseas
Permaculture principles applied:
In nature, there is no waste: it’s a cyclical system. In our modern society, we live in a linear system where resources are extracted, then sent to the landfill. Recycling is only part of the answer, because it’s energy-intensive, not everything can be recycled, and new resources are still being extracted. Many substances (like plastic) can only be recycled several times before they are sent to the dump. How do we design ourselves out of this throwaway culture? It starts by analyzing how we are responsible for trash, to what extent we demand new resources to be extracted for us, and rethinking our habits.
In a world polluted by waste, we can start by discouraging wasteful activities in our own lives. Where could you make changes to reduce the waste in your life? What items already exist that you can attach value to?
This is really the main principle for this post. By valuing resources that are available to us, nothing is wasted. By being resourceful, we can save perfectly good furniture and household items from the dump. Someone else’s “waste” can be your gold.
When we step back to observe patterns of the waste stream, we can design ourselves out of the problem by refusing what we don’t need (brand new furniture), reducing what we have (an excess of “stuff” in our homes), reusing what is available (secondhand items on their last stop before the dump), recycling (what we can’t refuse, reduce or reduce), and composting our food.
When you’re in the middle of a move, it’s tempting to take shortcuts. But if you get your hands on the bare essentials for your new home, try practicing a little patience to furnish the rest of your apartment secondhand. In our case, within 2 weeks, we had everything we were looking for.
When you’re refurnishing your entire home, it’s unlikely you’re going to find everything you need by looking in only one thrift store. Diversify where you’re looking: use our checklist to make sure not to miss useful resources for finding secondhand items.
Our current linear economy is designed for us to produce waste day in and day out. But if we carefully observe where the main sources of our waste come from, we can intervene and design ourselves out of it. With zero waste, perfection is not the goal. Do what you can – there’s a lot more that’s in your power than you realize! 🙂