How To Shop The Flea Market–My Shopping List!

Several of you have commented about having trouble figuring out what to look for when you are out vintage and flea market shopping.  Depending on where you are shopping, it can definitely be overwhelming at times.  Some special vintage shopping events are extremely well displayed and merchandised which makes shopping a breeze.  Other less organized situations can be extremely daunting as you look at what seems to be a sea of chaos and try to discern if there is a treasure among all that stuff!  I have learned that I am much more successful when I set a few “goals” to help me stay focused in either situation.

Flea Market Shopping Sign

 If you have followed me for even a short time, you are fully aware that I shy away from the word “rules” when applied to decor and design!  However, I absolutely believe that a bit of forethought and planning helps keep you motivated and on track when doing any type of shopping.  It’s the reason we make grocery lists in order to be get home with all necessary ingredients for a recipe.  This wee bit of forethought will make your shopping experience far more enjoyable and keep you from either spending too much, or from getting home having passed on something that would have been the perfect solution to a design dilemma in your home simply because you forgot you needed it.


Flea Market Shopping


The Basics

Start keeping a running list of basic items that you want to look for any time you are out.  This could be pieces for an existing collection or one that you are trying to build.  I simply keep my list on my phone so that it is easy to keep updated and to refer to as I’m shopping.  Reviewing the list prior to my shopping excursion helps me keep my eye fine tuned to cut through the clutter and hone in on the types of items on my list, even when confronted with a jumbled space full of all manor of “treasures”.

For instance, over time I put together an assortment of mismatched fancy silverware in patterns that compliment each other to use when I entertain.  It is inexpensive, beautiful, and I don’t worry if a piece goes missing as I would with a finite set of expensive silver or flatware. During the collection process I kept a running count of knives, forks and spoons still needed until my collection was complete.

Without further ado, here is my current list of must have basics that I always keep an eye out for at flea markets, estate or garage sales, and vintage markets.


Vintage books add structure and height to vignettes.
Vintage buttons add interest when thrown into a small bowl.
Old window used to frame vintage flag.
Vintage transferware and ironstone add form and function to cupboards and vignettes.
Vintage silver pieces can be used in so many different ways in home decor.
Vintage sweater clip combines with a drapery tassel adds a bit of glamour to a simple lampshade.
Vintage watch faces tied with raffia to adorn a farmhouse cabinet.
Antique frames are beautiful even if they are not in perfect condition.
Vintage Books - Vintage books can be a tremendously valuable weapon in your decorating arsenal! Stack them as platforms, fill bookshelves with them, or use really tattered versions for crafting. Check out the tutorial to make a gorgeous book page wreath by clicking the picture!


The Wish List

The next consideration for adding to the list are the specific items that you are on the look out for.  These are the one and done type of items that you want to add to your decor and my be larger items such as a particular piece of furniture needed for a certain space or function.  Or, perhaps, the objects of your affection are particular unique accent pieces that will lend the perfect touch of your personality to a space.  Either way, putting them in a section of your shopping list as you are brainstorming design solutions will help you remember the types of objects to watch for when your senses are bombarded with any number of choices.

My current wish list contains three items:  a large wardrobe to use for fabric storage, an authentic dressmaker’s form with metal skirt hoops and iron stand, and last but not least, a petite-sized market scale for the kitchen.  Be sure to make note of any size specifications for larger items when you add them to your list.  Ideally the wish list will experience a natural ebb and flow as you are able to mark off items found, and then add new ideas as they develop.  Don’t lose heart if an item remains on the list for an extended period of time.  The dress form has been on my personal wish list for several years.  Though I have seen many, those that I have located that are in decent condition are either marked NFS (not for sale) or are out of my price range.  Be patient!  You will find exactly the right piece eventually!!!


The Wild Card

This is where my inner rebel takes hold!  Lists are a fabulous way to keep on track and help to battle the “junk blindness” that can develop if you go into a flea market shopping excursion without any idea what to look for.  Everything just starts looking like, well, nothing at all!  In this case, however, your list should not constrain your imagination!  There will inevitably come a time when you are stopped in your tracks, your heart will skip a beat and the angels will sing as you are confronted with a treasure that you had never imagined that you needed.  However, it will be clear from your reaction to this particular treasure that it is your destiny!  Seriously though, be open to unique items that you may have not pondered to this point, but that totally make sense for your home.  Buy it!!!  Make it your own!!!!


The Budget

 Let’s be honest, my friends, most of us must always keep the almighty budget in mind.  The great news is that vintage and flea market shopping can actually offer you very affordable alternatives to satisfy your decorating needs, but a little preparation is in order here too.

Do your research.  Look around.  Take note of the going price ranges in your region for the items on your list.  You might want to check Craig’s List and  eBay also.  All of these sources together should be helpful in coming up with a realistic price range that you are willing to pay for the items on your list.  This will help you avoid overspending and the subsequent buyer’s remorse that follows paying more than you should have.  I am not suggesting that you should never spend a little more than you planned.   After all, your price projections are best guesses and we are talking about a market that specializes in the unique and, sometimes, one of a kind.  If you run into this situation, only you can decide what an item is worth and what the budget can stand.

I have walked away from far more pieces than I have purchased!  I adhere fairly strictly to my planned price range for items that are on my “Basics” list.  As for items on the “Wish” list and the potential “Wild Card”, I do my research and make decisions on a case by case basis.  Take into consideration the condition of the item, the reputation and pricing practices of the vendor you are buying from, and lastly, how long it may take you to find a similar item.

 Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price if the situation warrants it.  Since this is predominantly a second hand market, the vendors are basing their pricing on what they paid for the item along with the very same research on which you are basing your willingness to pay.  There are definitely times that it makes sense to ask for price adjustments.

Most vendors will be willing to consider price adjustments on the last day of an estate sale or vintage sale event to avoid hauling merchandise back home or risking items going unsold.  Though it presents the risk that the item you wanted may be gone, it can be a fabulous time to snap up some real bargains!

 If you are purchasing multiple items it makes it less expensive for the vendor to do business with you so it is not unreasonable to ask for a discount. Don’t get crazy when making an offer!  Ten to fifteen percent is a good starting point when asking for a price adjustment for quantity purchases.

 Lastly, if the price is questionable given the condition of the item, make an offer that takes into account the amount of time and money it will take to restore the item.  Always ask politely and be reasonable in your offers!  After all, the seller can always say no if they are not comfortable with a price adjustment, but many will be happy to work with you.

Hopefully you picked up some tips that will make your next vintage or flea market shopping excursion enjoyable and successful!  Go forth and shop!



P.S.  Don’t forget to share this with a flea marketing friend!  You can also connect by following along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to stay up to date!  Just click on the icons under the word “Connect” near the top of the sidebar! See you soon!

Flea market shopping can be daunting! I'm sharing my favorite tips for making the most of your vintage shopping excursions!


9 thoughts on “How To Shop The Flea Market–My Shopping List!

  1. Nice list you put together!! I love going to flea markets, but I know some get overwhelmed with trying to figure out what to buy, what to spend, and when to walk away 🙂

  2. Roxann

    I have started using these principles only recently. Before I would wander around and after the shopping, getting back home I’d recall certain pieces that I wished I’d have purchased.
    Followed here from StoneGable! Glad I did.

  3. Allison Herron

    I might be called an “professional addict” for flea markets. I love seeing something with nice “bones” and try to figure out how to make it useful. All good ideas, thanks!

  4. Jacqueline

    Getting ready to do a remodel of my kitchen and these are helpful tips for some unique items I am going in the hunt for!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *