How Flea Market Shopping Changed My Life

I walked into my routine shopping center with a familiar happiness settling around me. When I looked around at the crowded clutter of old DVD’s and strangely-colored furniture, I remembered a time when the last place I would be caught was at a flea market.

I’ve always loved the idea of buying things new, and the most marked-down items I accepted were at TJMaxx and Marshalls. I spent all of my middle school and high school years shopping in this highly irresponsible (and pretty snobby) fashion, until my new boyfriend taught me his very affordable and thrifty way of getting amazing deals: used items.

The first time he brought me to a flea market, I was a little cautious and skeptical. There is a lot to sort through in order to find a gem in all that stuff, and a lot of the time it can be expensive if you aren’t good at haggling (I’m not). But once you get past the fact that you aren’t in a super posh store with ultra bright lighting, you can see the beautiful vintage furniture, the genuine old leather jackets and other dusty treasures peeking out at you. I suddenly understood all those indie girls that love antique stuff because it has so much substance and time and history.

The more I opened my eyes to the wonder of second-hand shopping, the more outlets I exposed myself to: tag sales, Salvation Army and the widely-popular Brimfield Fair. I enjoyed seeing what fun things I could add to my bedroom or wardrobe, and I actually started turning my nose up at regular retail products.

One of the biggest trends in interior design and fashion is “shabby chic.” People go to stores like Anthropologie or Pottery Barn (don’t get me wrong, I love those stores) and buy “vintage” or “antique” sweaters and couches and quilts for hundreds of dollars. Browsing through a flea market is perfect for finding what is best for your next DIY project instead of buying a distressed dresser from a retail store and paying $1,000 for it. This new way of shopping gave me a sense of balance between the overpriced trendy store-bought items and the (sometimes) gently-used things you can find at any second-hand shopping outlet.

The thing about flea markets is that they taught me about quality.

It was hard for me to understand the importance of leather so smooth it felt like butter, or the way a stained wooden chair could be remade for your dream desk area. I spent so much time judging things by getting them new from a handful of stores all of the time. When I see a new trend emerging, I can easily pinpoint if it’s worth buying the supplies retail, DIYing it, or browsing through the items of our past and picking some unique and valuable pieces. It seems silly, because so many people have done second-hand shopping or visited flea markets their whole life, but as someone who was never exposed to them growing up, I can tell you it opens a whole new avenue in the way you shop. It also changed the way you look at decorating your kitchen, or how many H&M sweaters you should really have (I mean you really don’t need tons of $30 sweaters that are shrinking that fast).

I would encourage everyone in a shopping rut to visit a local flea market. They can make you appreciate new ways of picking out quirky accessories for your wardrobe or home . . . and you can even have one of those indie-girl montages that you envy from your favorite light-hearted films.

Heather Murray is a student is Boston studying fashion and communications. She runs a blog called Glitterbunnies and enjoys baking and decorating. You can find her binge watching TV shows and trying to make people smile.

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