Five Tips for Not Feeling Disgruntled While Antique Shopping

Antique shopping is one of my favorite things to do.  Flea markets, garage sales, second-hand shops, estate sales and sometimes even someone’s trash (yes trash!) can all be great places to find those one-of-a-kind pieces. I love sifting through objects with a sense of history, finding treasure amongst the “junk,” and scoring a great find for way less than what it’s worth. But there are many times when I find nothing at all, and oh man, it’s frustrating. Perhaps you are able easily access great antique shops like the ones features in this article by  Invaluable.com; but if you are not, you might be suffering from a bad case of weak antiquitis. Trust me, I can relate. Unlike the booming flea markets and vintage shops I see on television— you know the ones with the quirky sellers who always have awesome period furniture, many of the flea markets and vintage shops I visit often do not have what I'm looking for.  But I find the more experience you have with antique shopping, the better you’ll get at scoring those unique vintage pieces. So if you’ve been a little disgruntled lately about making what may seem like wasted trips looking for antique treasures, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way that may make you feel like it’s worth your while.

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1. Be Consistent. No matter how fed up I get when I come home empty-handed from antique shopping, I keep going back to the same places, often to flea markets or secondhand stores where I’ve found great vintage pieces at least once before. In psychology, we call this intermittent reinforcement because I’m being reinforced by the idea that there’s always a chance I’ll find another great item “this time.” Many expert antique shoppers take full advantage of this method by going to the same shops consistently to increase the chances of finding those special pieces. In fact, I know antique hunters who spend hours and hours a week searching for their “buried treasure.” Now I know what you’re thinking, who has time for that? I get it— most people including myself, have full-time jobs and other responsibilities that make it difficult to make elaborate trips during the week to a flea market 30 miles away. But maybe there are some local stores you can hit en route to or from work. Perhaps you pass the Salvation Army or a little vintage shop every day. Take a few minutes to stop in. You may be finally able to catch those one-of-a-kind pieces you’ve been searching for. And just by going into the store more often, you’ll be familiar with the merchandize, develop a sharper sense of what you like and don’t like, and spot something new and interesting much more quickly than you would have if you didn’t visit the store more regularly.   

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2.  Do Your Homework. While consistency is key, you also don’t want to feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall by constantly going into a store that almost “never” has anything you are looking for. So in order to avoid this, do some homework, and find out about other sellers in your area. Estate sales are a great place to shop. You can almost always be sure to find one, and unlike garage sales, the owners are not in the home during the sale so they’re not likely to raise the prices of things they are emotionally attached to. You can go on to estatesales.net to find a bunch of estate sales in your area. Every home is different, and you can find a lot of interesting pieces. I find it so fascinating to go into people’s home and see how they lived, particularly older folks who may have had the home for fifty or more years. It’s kind of like being in a museum and often the price points are varied so there’s usually something for everyone.

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3. Be Timely. If you’re antique shopping with a specific purchase in mind, and you know where to find it, you may experience an underlying sense of urgency.  I've often rushed to purchase something for fear someone will get it and I’d regret it for the rest of my life. But while we're all bound to miss out on a great sale or two, there are some things you can do to minimize the chances of missing out on those must-have items. Most of the highly sought after antique pieces are often sold quickly, so you’d want to be among the first customers on any given day to avoid missing out on the chance to buy the good stuff. With flea markets and garage sales in particular, the converse is also true. That is, it is good to go at the end of the day, when sellers are reluctant to keep large items and will likely lower their prices to get rid of their stock. However, this usually works for items that are not in high demand or the sellers have more than one of the item you are looking for.

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4. Keep an Open Mind. Often when I am out vintage shopping, I try not to be preoccupied with any specific purchases I may have in mind. While I'm all for hoping for the best, I usually remind myself to relax and keep an open mind about it. Often, I find the best things when I’m not looking for them, or I find things I may not have thought I wanted at the time until I saw them. Shopping this way is much more carefree and if you don’t find anything special, you won’t feel like you lost out so much. As for those specific pieces I want,  I try to be more deliberate in my search for those items by searching for it online instead of leaving it up to chance when I’m out antiquing.  This way, I'll be less likely to feel let down by not finding it.

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5. Enjoy the process. While you may not always find great vintage pieces, you are probably learning a lot more than you think  just by going through the process. Personally, I enjoy learning about the history of different objects, learning what shops are good for which items, and all about the coolest antique stores from shopkeepers or other shoppers. And all of this works to make me a more experienced antique shopper. So when you’re feeling a little bummed out about coming home from a shopping trip empty-handed, realize that it is all part of the process of becoming a pro antique shopper, which is nothing to feeling disgruntled about.

What are some of your experiences while antique shopping? Feel free to share your shopping tips in the comments below!