Some of the best secondhand deals don’t come from traditional thrift stores, estate sales, or flea markets. In a nation filled with consumer goods, smokin’ hot deals can be found in the strangest places.
Think creatively, look closely and don’t be a afraid to shop outside the box.
Here are some weird ways to find brag-worthy secondhand stuff.
1. Shop retail store closures
Several years ago, my brother and I stopped at one of the few remaining Ben Franklin stores. The old five-and-dime was closing shop and liquidating everything from unsold stock to commercial shelving. Though we didn’t spot anything interesting on the sales floor, we asked to take a look in the basement.
Filled with six decades’ worth of display items, the old stone basement was a treasure trove. We scored two 9-foot-long farm tables for $50 each and flipped them on Facebook Marketplace for $800 apiece.
Many times over the years, I’ve driven or walked past a neglected treasure in someone’s yard (think old flower pot, cast iron door-stop, or vintage patio chair). If the owner is outside, I’ll engage them with a friendly “hello” and ask if they’d consider selling the item. If no one’s around, I’ll leave a note that includes the item in question and my contact info.
Disclaimer: This method isn’t for the faint of the heart and may not be a safe idea in all areas. But for intrepid bargain-hunters, it’s just crazy enough to work (and in my experience, pays off about 50% of the time).
3. Dumpster dive
From the rag-pickers of the 1800s to today, people have been salvaging usable goods from the trash for centuries. Sure, dumpster diving may not be for everyone (and it isn’t legal in all municipalities), but the finds can be amazing.
Not ready to take the plunge? Check out Facebook Marketplace listings in your community. Members often post “curb alerts” with photos of discarded furniture and housewares they’ve set outside for pick-up.
4. Shop institutional surplus sales
Universities, hospitals and government agencies buy huge quantities of supplies. And every once in a while, they’ll liquidate used furniture, computers and specialized equipment.
Though private organizations handle their surplus sales differently, GovDeals hosts online auctions for many state and federal agencies.
5. Check out ‘the bins’
To many bargain hunters, Goodwill Outlet stores are affectionately called “the bins.” These stores are the last stop for items that didn’t sell in the chain’s many resale shops.
Bins refers to the way merchandise is displayed (and I use the term loosely) for purchase. Items are dumped into huge rolling bins and wheeled to the sales floor. Shoppers sift through mounds of random inventory and buy bargains by the pound.
Though the atmosphere at the bins can be “intense” at times, the finds are often amazing.
6. Make friends with metal recyclers
You’ve probably seen metal recyclers cruising around your neighborhood on trash day. These tireless entrepreneurs salvage aluminum, copper, brass and other marketable metals. But sometimes, the beds of their overflowing trucks contain more than just scrap.
A few years ago, I spotted an iconic midcentury Tulip Table perched on a pile of pipes, car parts, and old grills. After a friendly flag-down, I bought the piece from the recycler for $30.
7. Shop lost luggage
Surprisingly, our nation’s vast airline system liquidates all orphaned luggage through a single resale venue — Unclaimed Baggage. Located in Scottsboro, Alabama, the company’s 50,000-square-foot warehouse store offers everything from Gucci bags to musical instruments.
If a trip down South isn’t in the cards, shop online. I check out the store’s New Arrivals page a few times each month to see the latest in lost goods.