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Jun 2, 2012

Flea Market Strategies for the Sane and Solvent!

Friends, today has been a very challenging day.  Not only did I visit my local flea market, as I often do on weekend mornings, but my apartment building complex (ten high rises) held its annual flea market today as well.  As you know, despite my decluttering victories, I remain at very high risk of recluttering setbacks!

What works for me -- most of the time -- is to shop with specific strategies, and I thought I would share them with you today.

1) Budget before you go.  I generally am unwilling to spend more than $20-25 total.  To some of you this may sound like very little money, to others quite a bit.  But unless I stumble upon something extraordinary -- and even then -- I think it's best to limit how much money I can spend.  At the Chelsea Flea Market, $20 can go a long way.  Obviously it won't buy you diamonds or Singer Featherweights, but you'd be surprised how many things you can buy that are beautiful, fascinating, valuable, or all three!

2) Know your dealers.  At my flea market, there are dealers I always visit.  Their stuff is interesting to me, is reasonably priced, and moves quickly.  I hate going to dealers' tables and seeing the exact same stuff from the previous week (unless it's selling for a lot less than before): it's boring and not what a flea market is supposed to be about.  That said, I remind myself that these dealers aren't out there all day just so I can get a steal.  They have ever-rising expenses -- gas, set-up costs, etc. -- and they deserve to make a living.  I'll bargain on a high-ticket item but if the price seems right on something cheap, I don't haggle.  (Of course, the more you buy, the better the deal.)

3) Remember some simple shopping truths and commit them to memory:
  • The world is full of stuff.  There will always be beautiful things you'll want to own but just because they're beautiful doesn't mean you have to own them.  How will they serve you?  I find a photograph is often enough (Ask the dealer first before snapping!); I don't have to own everything I like.  I'm not furnishing a house or building collections -- in fact, I'm trying to do just the opposite.   That said, if I decide something is truly going to give me pleasure and if we're talking just a few dollars, I might indulge.
  • It's OK to let someone else enjoy a good deal once in a while.  Only last week, I could have picked up a Featherweight for $100.  I already own two and I wasn't interested in cluttering my life with any more sewing machines.  Someone else must have purchased it because it was gone today, and they got a good deal.
  •  There will always be something better down the line, or if not, something just as good.  If you spend all your money today, you're not going to have it available to you tomorrow.  Unless it's something truly necessary -- the exact pair of opera-length gloves you need for your vintage photo shoot, in precisely the right size and color -- let it pass.
  • It may be old, but that doesn't mean it's rare.  Many fun things -- old movie magazines, vintage costume jewelry, beat up Barbie dolls, old Singer sewing machines -- are extremely abundant to this day.  Can't it be fun enough to simply admire them at the flea market?  Must they move in with you?  You'll always find another and it may cost less.
My weakness is price.  I would never think of spending $30 on an old women's hat, but for $5, wrap it up!  I love to walk away with a $10 bag full of great stuff.  And even if I fall out of love with something tomorrow, hey, it's only $10.  Don't deny yourself too much.  Just be selective.

And now on to today's finds!  I spent $22 today -- a little more than I'd have liked -- but I found some great stuff.  And this has been a rough week.

I love this vintage Thirties Mondaine makeup compact, complete with original lip creme, rouge and powder.  It's not in perfect condition, but so what?

Cathy can always use vintage wedge shoes, especially in the summer, though the uncomfortably snug (but seemingly unworn) brown ones may end up as an MPB giveaway.  Who's a size 8?

Love these glamorous vintage cat-eye sunglasses!

I usually pass on photos, but how about these glossy 4" x 5"  movie star photo originals -- $1 each!  Luscious Lana...

Lovely Liz with pet chipmunk...and more!

PLUS, three rolls of "Hug Snug" rayon seam binding!

Sadly (or happily, as the case may be), my building's flea market was a bit of a bust, though I find the crap being sold there -- Shakespeare next to Suzanne Somers, drip coffee makers by the dozen, the contents of people's clothes closets dumped on the street -- fascinating.  I think this is how the economy of tomorrow is going to look, just like in the former Soviet Union: barter.

Thankfully I bought nothing, but I took a ton of photos which you can view here  -- along with more pics of today's Chelsea flea market finds.  I'll bet most of you will recognize this stuff if you don't actually own some of it yourselves.  Fess up!

So who's up for a visit to the Salvation Army?


  1. Eeek I am a carboot sale fiend. I am also a collector of virtually anything! My daughter (7) often says 'Mummy do you really need that?' (I think my husband taught her to be my sensible 'head' ;)

  2. Here we have a neighborhood monthly freecycle where every one brings what they don't want and you can take things. I dont' have much luck at flea markets but we have a wonderful thrift shop, you have to keep going back but sometimes you hit it right - my latest treasure is an Ann Taylor Loft linen fully lined summer skirt with the tags, they forgot to put a hook and eye closure so it got donated. I sewed one on and it's good to go-

  3. Hm, I recognise this. I just have to visit the few second hand stalls at the market each week. And I just can't pass up nice old things for 5 euro or less. Gloves, handbags, shoes...
    And don't get me started on vintage (sewing) magazines sold online...

  4. make me miss Chelsea, so!!! I love that area. Gotta get back to NYC soon.

    W. :)

  5. Oh, LOVE, LOVE the old photos!

  6. I go every Sunday morning to my local flea. I concur with all your tips - budget, restraint, big picture point of view. Here's another tip: when there's something too expensive, too large, or too "something" to bring home, but so wonderful, fascinating, exceptional that you hate to walk away . . . take a picture of it. It's a free way to take that item home (sort of). My husband jokes that I'm "going to church" when I leave on Sundays. I say, yes, I'm going to amass!

  7. I have set myself the same sort of rules.
    I do have to admit, I looooooove that compact.
    It would fit lovely in my collection.
    Must resist buying more compacts!

  8. YPeter, you tout a selfless zen, which we should all try on for a few days.

    The allowing something for others has such a healthy aspect to both the act and the residual feelings.

    My pile of donations for the thrift store is going to grow even more. An unused rice cooker/steamer is going (and I'll still have two rice cookers).

    Having "lots of stuff" is symptomatic. Self-healing vis a vis MPB.

  9. Peter Dearest!

    Where is this flea market and how often is it held? I'm going down to the Big Apple to visit my aunt the second week of this month and I'm not leaving without a Featherweight under my arm!! You certainly will never find one here in this "valley of desolation," so I have to start plotting my strategy!

    Bye the way those rolls of rayon binding are great! You were soooo smart to snatch them up......... they are far more superior to the polyester crap they make today!

  10. Really good advice; I always tend to go crazy at flea markets. It's really true, though: there will always be beautiful things to look at/own, but I don't need ALL of them. Great post!

  11. The compact is lovely, as are those sunglasses. They look fab on your face shape, I have quite fat cheeks so have never yet found the cats eyes which look good on me :(

    Penny Dreadful Vintage

  12. Peter: For a while there, the chipmunk was nearly as famous as Liz. His name was Nibbles, and Taylor wrote a book about him titled "Nibbles and Me." Copies still surface, though obviously, Taylor fans snatch them up pretty quickly. Nibbles' presence dates the photo to around 1946, when the book was published.

  13. I LOVE those glasses. Can't wait to see them in an upcoming Cathy shoot!

  14. ME! ME! I'm a size 8. Ooh I love the shoes.

    Great advice.The flea market can be a money pit if you don't budget. Fortunately, here in Nashville ours is only once a month.


    1. Are you the same Tia who just won stuff during Laura Mae's recent give-away?

    2. Yes. I was so thrilled to get those DVD's.

  15. Glam compact.

    There are numerous blogs with tutorials on 'fixing' broken cake makeup. Essentially, break up the cake, add drops of alcohol, smooth it out and let dry.

  16. OO! OO! I'm a size 8 (and those shoes are stinkin' cute!)

  17. I don't have any flea markets close to me. I wish I did. When I lived closer in to the city (Seattle)I used to regularly go to Sat morning garage sales. I usually didn't find much, but they were interesting. There was the "camera guy" who only wanted cameras. There was also the "orange backpack guy" who had a gigantic backpack and a bike. One time we saw him load large speakers into it and pedaled off. We would often see the same stuff. The one that got me was the electric donut maker. I'm amazed at how many people had one. I'm jealous you have such regular entertainment.

  18. Your truths are really excellent. This one is especially for me:

    "There will always be something better down the line, or if not, something just as good. If you spend all your money today, you're not going to have it available to you tomorrow."

    For me it's specifically fabric. I don't understand people who lose their jobs and say, "Thank goodness I have this huge fabric stash!" I would think, "Why did I spend all that money on fabric? It would be nice to be liquid right now."

    I have a weakness for sparkly brooches but don't have an insane collection. DC vintage stores are too well picked over to have even a hope of finding one and I don't know of any flea markets here that are not cheap recently-mass-produced junk. I have got to come to the Chelsea flea market!


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