2017 total: $12105.73


10 Tips for Buying Used or Damaged Furniture

Nearly every piece of furniture in our house was purchased at a bargain price because it was used, scratched, dented or just flat-out broken. I love to troll garage sales and the scratch-n-dent sections of stores for a hidden treasure or two. How else can you get a gorgeous couch for under $100?



Yes, REALLY. We paid $98 for that couch (new!) because the back was completely broken off on one side. The trick is that we know when something can be fixed and when it's a lost cause. That particular couch just needed a little wood glue and was as good as new.

It can be daunting to consider buying used or damaged furniture, but the potential savings can really make it worth your time. How can you spot a worthwhile piece of furniture if you're interested in reconditioning or fixing it? Here are some tips:

1. Price. Price. Price. Before you investigate the amount of damage on an item, look at the price. I'm willing to do a lot more work on a $6 dresser than I am on a $200 dresser.

2. Find furniture that is well made. Wood furniture is easier to repair and/or paint than laminate.

[Editor's Note: Action shots taken with a phone.]

Laminate furniture is often REALLY shiny, or will have tell-tale "I was cheap and somebody assembled me" stickers inside drawers or on the back.

3. Don't be afraid of scratches. Many scratches can be fixed with stain markers, which are available at your neighborhood home improvement store. You can tell how easy a scratch will be to fix by checking its depth. If you can slide your fingernail over it without it getting caught, that scratch will be very easy to conceal with just a bit of stain. If your fingernail gets caught? Well, refer to #1.

That dresser was at a local furniture store. The scratches vary in depth, but some are as much as 1/4" deep. That means I would need wood filler to level the surface, I would have to sand things smooth, AND I would have to stain the area until it is a close match.

While that is a lot of work, that dresser was solid wood, well made, and marked down from $800 to $69. If I had a need for a tall dresser, I probably would have bought it because that, to me, is a good price for the quality and style of the dresser.

4. If it's truly broken, walk away.

That sofa table is missing the entire corner. There is no easy way of fixing that. You could try to sand it smooth and perhaps use some wood filler and stain to disguise the damage, but it's still going to be there. (It doesn't help that the store was only discounting it 25%. I personally would expect at least a 75% discount for that severe of damage.)

5. When you're shopping garage sales and antique stores, look for items that haven't been repainted numerous times in the past.

The white dresser above had "great bones." It was well-made and sturdy, but it had been painted at least twice before. The best way to refinish that dresser would be to completely strip the paint off of it. That's A LOT of work, so I would pass on it.

6. Don't be afraid of worn items.

The top of this desk has seen a lot of love.

And while the stain is completely worn away in most places, the top is still very smooth. That desk would be an excellent candidate for a coat of paint. (For best results, use a paint with primer in it or start with a coat of primer.)

7. Test it out. Open all of the drawers, lean on the desktop, sit in the chair, or try wobbling the table. Furniture should feel sturdy, even if it's old.

8. Smell it. Yes, really. Smell furniture before you buy it, because there is nothing worse than getting a gorgeous table home and realizing it smells like dog pee.

Oftentimes, furniture that smells musty can be brought back to the land of reasonable just by leaving it outside in the sun for a day or by wiping it down with soap and water. You should be sure you can live with an odor before buying, though, just in case the odor can't be removed.

9. Ask yourself if you can learn to love the imperfections.

With some clean-up and some new knobs, that white dresser could actually be pretty cute in the right room. It has a lot of wear, but sometimes that works. If you love a piece of furniture just as it is, that's OK! You don't have to refinish everything that you find at a garage sale.

10. Price is everything. What's that? I already mentioned price? Well, it's worth repeating. If the piece of furniture isn't worth the price, walk away. Keep in mind, though, that often you can negotiate the price of used or damaged furniture.

When I try to buy damaged furniture in a store, I estimate what I think repairs will cost in terms of money and effort before I ask to speak with a manager. I then say something like, "I really like this china cabinet, but these scratches need wood filler and the door hinges need to be replaced. Since that's going to cost around $25 to do and will take several hours, would you be willing to accept $100 for it?" Sometimes the manager goes for it and sometimes they don't. Either way I'm a winner, because I've given serious consideration to the amount of work needed. I know what I consider to be a fair price, so it's easy to walk away if the manager isn't on the same page.

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Putting New Meaning to "Fight Like Cats and Dogs"

If you've ever been to my house, you might be under the impression that you're special because Max saw you, lit up like a Christmas tree, and was all, "LET'S BE FRIENDS, FRIEND!"

I'm sorry to break it to you, but you're not special. Max loves everyone. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E.

The kid who traumatized Ali when she was a kitten, thus turning her into the wussy fluff of cowardice that she is now? (Long story...I won't bore you with the details.) Max loves that kid.

The guy who once came to fix our fridge and ended up making it sound like we have a drum kit in the kitchen? Max was in looooove with him and his groovy pipe-banging beats.

The herd of kids who were at our house for Alexis' birthday party? Max made sure to introduce himself to every single screamy one of them. Twice.

Max is super-friendly because Max is a punk. He will steal food off of a plate, walks across my kitchen counters, and opens the door when I try to go to the bathroom. Total punk. But because he's so damn loveable and friendly, I forget that he's a punk and end up picking him up and squishing him with love. His ability to love anybody and anything is what keeps him alive.

Of course Max's propensity to love extends to the latest fuzzball to enter our home. When we showed up with Penny, Max greeted her with open paws. If I'm not mistaken, he gave her a basket of cookies and a fern as a housewarming gift. Max doesn't actively seek Penny out, but he's certainly willing to share space with her.

Even if she is five pounds of spunk and mischief.

The thing with Max, though, is that he's more than willing to admit that he loves having Penny around. He doesn't just cower in the corner and wait for her to waddle away, he tries to give her hugs.

He smooshes her chubby cheeks and tells her that she's cute.

Max lets Penny borrow his tail for a prosthetic leg.

And he invites her to take a nap with him.

Seriously. SO. MUCH. LOVE.


Black Bean Soup

I'm about to use the word "we," but I feel the need to publicly declare that there is no "me" in "we." To be slightly more blunt, IT'S NOT MY FAULT. Ahem.

I don't know how it happens, but "we" have a habit of ending up with eight open jars of salsa in our fridge. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. Seriously. Open our fridge. I bet you find multiple open jars of salsa. I'll bet you $1000, in fact, because I KNOW I WILL WIN. Apparently it's really fun to open new jars of salsa? I don't know.

Regardless, because we always have open jars of salsa in the fridge, I'm always looking for ways to make them go away before they turn into some sort of science experiment. One of my favorite tricks for making small amounts of salsa vanish is Black Bean Soup.

This is a super easy and basic Black Bean Soup recipe. There's plenty of room for improvisation if you'd like, but it's pretty fantastic in all of its simple glory.

Simple Black Bean Soup

2 cans black beans (don't drain them)
1 can broth (Chicken or vegetable. Your choice.)
1/2 cup salsa
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Shredded cheese for garnish, if desired
Sour cream for garnish, if desired

This is going to be super complicated, so try your best to stick with me. Start by throwing the black beans, broth, salsa, chili powder, and paprika into a large pot. Stick it on top of your stove and turn the heat on to medium. Stir. Stir a little more. Stir a little more. Once the soup begins to boil, you're done.


I'm sorry that was so hard.

You can make it a tiny bit more complicated, if you would like. If you like your black bean soup to be a bit "creamy," smoosh some of the beans with a fork or potato masher. Or, you can get SUPER fancy and use an immersion blender. Whatever makes you happy is fine by me.

Garnish the soup with shredded cheese and sour cream, if that's your sort of thing. It's definitely *MY* sort of thing. This kid, though? She likes her Black Bean Soup straight up.

(Oh, and the sandwich in the second photograph is a Chik'n Parmesan sandwich. Morningstar Chik'n patty + 1 slice of parmesan cheese + a few tablespoons of marinara + some sort of hoagie roll = YUM.)