Turning a House Into a Home on a Thrift Store Budget

house into home

I’m joining the How to Decorate Series 25 bloggers sharing great tips all week.

If I were a billionaire, I’d still shop second-hand.


Pair of chairs $35 each from Salvation Army, Dresser: $18 yard sale, Lamps: $8 each Thrift Store, Chalkboard: $1 Yard Sale with a $12 sea fan from HomeGoods spray painted white and hot glued to the chalkboard, Sailfish: $350 Craigslist, my biggest splurge ever and worth every penny.

Finding unique, storied, beautiful items for our home second-hand, is not just a necessity because I like to save money, it’s a fun treasure hunt for hidden beauty all over my town.

white sofa

I don’t buy everything second-hand (wouldn’t that be fun though?!) Just like with the clothes in my closet, I mix a few little splurges with a lot of great deals. Like this gallery wall, everything was second-hand, or super discounted, except for the hand-lettered Come Thou Fount canvas, the Impossible print, and the silhouettes of my boys. Since I mix inexpensive frames with photos and fun art, I can afford both.

lysa & nester

This week, I’m hanging out with the lovely & fun Lysa TerKeurst and making over a family room for our friend Alison using what she already has and a $250 budget. We’re thrifting, shopping the house and painting all sorts of things. There’s video, before and afters, and me, all sweaty and having the time of my life. Come see what we are working on!

tips for shopping second hand

1. Go with an open mind. Don’t walk in looking for a 20-inch green leather ottoman. Instead have a general idea of things you could use like a wooden chair, a lamp, a large decorative vase, etc.

2. Ask yourself, “If this was in Anthropologie would I love it and want to buy it?” If the answer is yes, you should buy it now!

3. Look first at size, shape, condition and function of items. You can usually change the color and fabric if you like it.

4. Don’t expect to find something every time you shop. Grab a drink from Sonic and enjoy the process of looking through the items. If I can hit five stores in one day, I usually (but not always) end up with a few interesting items.

5. Start small and work up to bigger risks. Don’t buy the $150 dresser from the thrift store in hopes of refinishing it if you’ve never tried it before. Instead, start with the $7 night stand. What’s the worst that can happen? You hate it and lose $7. But if it works?! You now have a nightstand you LOVE for just a few dollars; this is SO worth the risk.


Arm chair: $35 Salvation Army, White Table: $15 Yard Sale ( I KNOW, right?!) Mirror: $25 Thrift Store, Table that the mirror is on: $35 Goodwill (same table on the cover of the book)

Creating a beautiful, meaningful home, doesn’t have to be daunting, life-consuming or expensive. Start with what you have and work your way out from there. Quiet the house, move your furniture and begin to love the home you’re with. All you need to start with is one hour.

nesting place book


Be sure to visit today’s posts in the How to Decorate Series:

Donna, Funky Junk Interiors: How to Turn Worthless Junk into Decorating Must Haves

 Beth Hunter, Home Stories A to ZHow to find your decorating style
Courtney Fernan, A Thoughtful Place: Gallery Wall Styles
Stacy Risenmay, Not Just A Housewife: How to decorate with plants

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  1. Love the “if this was in Anthro” tip as well as the importance of having a sonic while thrifting :). Great tips! Watched your cute video and looking forward to seeing the magic you cook up. Thanks for joining in my series!

  2. Great video and I can’t wait to see how you guys pull this room together. So fun.

  3. Baileywife @ Irishman Acres says

    I love when I open up my computer and find that THE NESTER and I have blogged on the SAME TOPIC on the same day! (However, I’m slightly more dorky). *Feeling a little cool now* ~Kim

  4. I LOVE scrolling through your home. There’s something always unexpected that has me wearing a smile in no time!

    I think that’s another beauty of 2nd hand… we flat out probably wouldn’t buy or even try (or risk) some of the combinations we ‘find’. There’s just nothing to lose this way. Thrifters Unite!

  5. Myquillyn,
    Oh! how I needed this post today!

    My husband and I are moving and we are in the throws of sorting and boxes and messes and… Yuk. You have reminded me that “this too shall pass,” and that we will be our new (to us) home before we know it. (Renting can be such a trial…our landlords are selling the home we are now in.)

    Thanks for sharing the beauty of your home. It truly “rested” my soul and inspired me. Now, I’m off to pack another box…

  6. I love this post! I love seeing your finds and how much you got them for! It’s kind of like my fascination with looking at homes for sale and their asking price. I have done a similar post of my garage finds and tips if you are interested in checking t.hem out.


  7. Erin in CO says

    I’ve always loved thrifting and seeing/looking for something that could have endless possibilities. Sometimes I get stuck, though, and this post was perfect for helping me have new eyes for some things…I absolutely adore your ability to think new thoughts about how a room should look. I’m making a plan RIGHT NOW to go to our Habitat store.
    I do want to know more about your chandelier over your great thrifted table in your dining room…I LOVE IT and I want to copy it somehow in my kitchen. Is it a thrifted find as well, repurposed with twine around it? or did you buy it the way it is?
    : )

  8. Your personal decor style is so UNIQUE and I am simply in awe of it. I love, love love it :)

  9. wow, Myquillyn! i have been reading your blog for years and am SO excited to watch you make over someone else’s space this week. i always feel uncertain about how to shop when i walk into a thrift store, but i want to learn and i know watching your process will be helpful. you all were super cute in the video and i am looking forward to the rest. :)

  10. I love this post! It brings me so much more pleasure to find a unique treasure at a yard sale than to pay retail prices. My biggest problem is trying to keep my mouth shut, when showing off my treasures. I always want to brag about the prices of my great finds!

  11. I love your thoughts/suggestions!
    One I want to add is: shop with a buddy! Plan your whole day around spending time together thrifting/antiquing/yard sale-ing. Meet for coffee in the early AM, stop for lunch somewhere (a lot of antique stores have tea rooms!), and spend the whole day just browsing, catching up, and helping each other look for new finds!
    This is esp. great to do with someone you haven’t seen in awhile!
    PS-leave the kiddos at home! :-)

  12. Wow! Your finds are almost unbelievable! Those white/brown velvet chairs are incredible. Do you have any tips for thrifting in a small town? Seems like we have a tiny pool to draw from so great items get snatched up too quickly!

    • I live in a small town too now. But we still have great places to shop, they just all start at 30 minutes away. And every now and then I’ll drive an hour away so I can hit a group of 7 stores all at once. I think if it’s something you enjoy, plan ahead, find a friend and see how close you can find a group of shops that are worth driving to. I’ve also noticed that the stores that are more out of the city of Charlotte (where I’m near) seem to keep my kinds of things, better than the busy stores that are in town. So rural areas where there are a cluster of stores seem to work well for me right now. And? I LOVE antique malls, I’ve been going there more than thrift recently–the prices are a little higher, but when you get there, it’s like 400 thrift stores all in one place with ONLY home stuff!!! YES!

      • Love your idea of making a day of it. I did a little googling and found an antique mall with 70 vendors about an hour away from my home. Thanks for the tip! Really looking forward to this now.

  13. I can’t get to my favorite thrift shop fast enough! I love love love the idea of this project and I’ll be following along!

  14. I love these tips! Sadly the thrift stores in Mississippi don’t have good stuff like this in them. I will have to find my way to bigger cities to thrift shop like this! I love all of the stuff you have found!

  15. Ok, I need to get out and thrift more often. I’m not patient enough but you’ve inspired me. Thanks for the great ideas!

  16. These are great tips! We have just started a home renovation and it always seems the budget keeps creeping up and up, leaving me with less and less to spend on furniture and decor.

  17. Two of my favorite people! What an exciting partnership! Congratulations and I love this post!

    I ditched my beautiful dining room table that we bought when we got married because it was what I “thought” I liked and instead replaced it and everything else in my dining room with thrift store and side of the road finds!! :)

  18. Agree with Beth! Love the anthro question. You have such an eye. I adore how you mix finishes and everyday items. . . such beauty.

  19. Great tips. I love seeing your home evolve. To me, it looks like you’ve invested more money but in actuality I think you’re honing in on your own look while still buying second hand and DIYing. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • We for sure have purchased some new things–because of the move mostly, the two wing back chairs are 10 months old, but, even though they are new, I got them at a big discount because I shop at Joss & Main after saving up credits for referring people on facebook & pinterest — that counts too, bartering, trading, selling a piece you don’t need and buying something you can use better now are all GREAT ways to get stuff for your home without paying all of your cash. And of course we started with knocking down the kitchen so that is all “new” (I even count my 6 year old range from Craigslist as new because it’s new to me!) too! Sometimes just a change of any sort, even changing the direction of the dining room table helps keep a room feeling fresh when you see it every day! xo

  20. I wish I had room to put thrift store finds. I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for cool stuff, but since I share a condo with four other people right now, it’s hard to have too much. I am in the market for a dresser, though.

    • Anonymous says

      You know, i think there’s something wise when you know when to stop. So GOOD FOR YOU! In this home, it sounds like you are currently almost done! Keep your eyes open for that dresser and you don’t even have to worry about anything else right now!! yippie!

  21. Very good finds in thrift stores and backyard sales. It’s amazing that you can buy so many useful things not giving a ton of money! And the best part is that with little refreshing work you can give it a new live and a completely different look according your style.

  22. I love these tips, can’t wait to try these out for myself!

  23. Thank you for reintroducing us to Lysa. I remember her heartfelt, tearjerker story years ago on Oprah! Wonderful ladies you all are!

  24. I can’t wait to watch the makeover unfold! And I feel really stupid that I’ve been pronouncing your name wrong in my head for a long time. (I thought it was “Mickey-Lynn.” *Face to forehead*)

  25. I am loving the videos! Can’t wait for the reveal tomorrow. xo

  26. Oh my goodness I am so glad I found your blog! You helped me feel so free to do my house my way for me and my hubby and no one else! (Empty nester) I have always weighed myself down with the ” what if my friends etc don’t like it?” You are the cutest, humblest and brightest little star in the decorating world! I can not wait to have your book in my possession. The last 2 days I have gone through my house dipping baskets in white paint, painting fireplace logs and lining them up in my fireplace, creating slightly off kilter gallery walls, and so much more! And I looove those stumps, in fact I am so happy “it doesnt have to be perfect to be beautiful” I am a yard sale, thrift store, diy aholic and love creating spaces…but now I will no longer place limitations on myself. THANK YOU!

  27. I love that you and Lysa are collaborating! I saw her speak last year and I’m in the middle of her book “Unglued” right now! When I saw her speak, I thought right away that you guys had some similarities. How funny that you’re actually friends! And what a fun project!

  28. I so agree with you about shopping second hand even if I were a billionaire! We recently moved into a larger home and lost all our belongings in the move. Insurance is paying to refurnish, but I had to start from scratch and didn’t want our home to look like a catalog. Craigslist and Goodwill have provided a nice age and lived in feel to the new pieces. I’m not even halfway finished yet, but our house is starting to feel lived in.

  29. We should not abuse the empty space
    If we try to use the empty space, our house would be messy and distracting.

  30. “Be a Fountain, Not a Drain” ~ Rex Hudler: http://www.quotes.center/pin/rex-hudler-sayings/

  31. Hi Myquillyn, I am looking for good thrift stores in the Charlotte area for home goods. Are you able to tell me any that you like in the area?

  32. I found this article because I hate DIY-ing. I mean, in my mind, I feel like I can do it. But my life is so crazy right now – a husband in grad school and a busy little toddler. When do I have time to DIY!? But then I think about the near future – when my hubs gets his first job (yay!) and we move into a bigger space and actually need more furniture than we have. CRAZY EXPENSIVE! So I’m going to take your advice and start small. I’ve done some projects before (painted dressers, etc.) but I need to re-energize myself to do it. These are great tips and I’m going to give it a go! Maybe this weekend I can find a tiny treasure and start practicing!

    But… another take… there is a local business in my town that specializes in refurbishing old furniture. I have seriously considered taking some thrift store finds to them and letting them do the hard work!

  33. gorgeous idea to make my house into sweet home. thanks for sharing with us. i want that my home looks like sweet home but i could’t afford the things.

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