The “good enough” DIY garage and garden renovation

Perfection: A worthy goal…sometimes

Perfection: A worthy goal...sometimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Work on my friend Susan’s garden and garage is almost finished. The garage is painted, the shade garden is an oasis of hostas and ferns, the yews are lacy shadows of their former selves, while new azaleas, rhododendron and hydrangeas are positioned to put down roots.

The result is a 1,000-percent improvement, a restful environment under the spreading limbs of a maple tree. But it is by no means perfect–and we didn’t aim for perfection. This is a garden project accomplished within the limits of time, energy, money and ambition of two working women of a certain age.

It’s the good-enough garden restoration, which fits into my philosophy of incremental improvement. Sure, we could have gone for perfection. If we had, we probably would never have gotten started, let alone finished.

An Imperfect--but

We painted Susan’s garage a mossy blue-green, to complement the shade garden to the right.

This isn’t a philosophy that comes to me naturally. Incremental improvement, in this case in the garden, means waiting until next year for the hostas and ferns–dug from the gardens of friends and neighbors–to reach their full potential. A good-enough paint job meant we didn’t reset every popped nail in the garage siding.

Ambersand Before

I have friends who are true craftsmen when it comes to building projects, gardening or handiwork. They might be appalled by the unfilled nail holes or the fact that we planted the hostas in the middle of July, rather than in spring or fall. My thought is, you gotta start somewhere. I’ve never painted a garage before–next time, I’ll probably get it done with a little more finesse.

I’m not saying you should do a sloppy job–some corners shouldn’t be cut, no matter what the task. Be realistic about your resources, then accomplish what you can within those limits.

So, if there’s something you’re waiting to do until you can “do it right,” consider plunging in and doing a good enough job for the time being. You can always go back and make it better.

The good-enough garage paint job

The garage before a good-enough paint job.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Sometimes that means going for what works for the moment and planning to circle back later for more improvements. Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some of it–whatever “it” is!

High/Low: Shedding light

Which lamp cost $9?

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Can you tell which of these lamps came from a thrift store for less than $10 and which sells online for 40 times that amount?

Both have solid, turned-wood bases, commonly called Barley Twists. One has a natural linen shade, the other a chandelier-style shade in cream silk.

Barley Twist Lamp for 475 This lamp is sold online for $405.

Barley Twist Lamp from Goodwill The base of this lamp was $6. The shade, also from Goodwill, was $3.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Elegant style and practical thrift, she believes, are not mutually exclusive.  


Girlfriend power

The bourbon-slush-and-buddy garden renovation process

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Sometimes all you need is a friend and a refreshing treat to get done what’s needed for so long to be done. Could be weeding out the stuff that’s accumulated in the china cabinet over the years, sorting through three Weight Watchers cycles of clothing, or parting with 14 boxes of college textbooks which are not only out of date, but available somewhere on the internet.

For any of these onerous tasks, a buddy can be the secret to success. The refreshing drink? That’s the reward for the friend willing to sally forth with you into the dark corners of your clutter.

I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of partnerships many times. This week, I’m the willing buddy. While visiting friends in St. Louis, my friend Susan Nell Rowe and I tackled her backyard garden. Five days later, we’re bruised and hobbling, but triumphant.

We did it the ResaleEvangelista way. Between Goodwill and the death-row plant tables at Home Depot and Lowes, as well as using things Susan already had—many of them hidden in the basement—we kept the cost under $750. That total included a new garden gate and painting the garage. (Yes, I said we painted the garage. I can’t believe it, either.)

The bourbon slushes—oh dear, I just noted that a mere typo would make that “bourbon lushes”—kept us going. Recipe to follow.

Anyway, the real key is what another friend, Laurie Vincent, calls your “body double.” This is the person with some special talent that you, yourself, lack.

Could be she/he is an organizational genius, has off-beat ideas for repurposing stuff, will firmly insist it’s time to discard the silk roses from your (first!) wedding (and the mauve china, too), possesses the tools and skills to repair almost anything, or simply has the patience to sit and talk while you work.

When you draft this person into service, some magical synergy occurs. Your own energy and abilities multiply, and you accomplish what previously seemed impossible. Like painting a garage.

I’d write more about the garden project, but Susan is tapping her foot. The garden is almost done, but there are pictures to be hung in the dining room. So, more details in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for bourbon slushes:

Bourbon Slush

  • 1.75 cups of bourbon
  • 12 oz frozen lemonade
  • 6 oz frozen orange juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar (optional—we do the diet version)
  • 2 cups strong tea
  • 6 cups of water
  • Mix the lemonade, orange juice, water and tea in a large pitcher.
  • Add the bourbon, stir and freeze in a large, flat container
  • Serve scoops into a glass, garnish with mint (optional)

Killer Stilettos

Going down the yellow brick road? Better call a cab!

Jimmy Choo Ruby Stilletto Shoes, #1466, from 2013-14 shoe season

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

These are not Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers!

You know—Dorothy, aka Judy Garland—from the 1939 MGM movie Wizard of Oz. Her size 5 ruby slippers rose a towering two inches, were made of plastic, covered with sequins and topped with a dopey bow. Worn with blue ankle socks and a gingham dress, the overall effect was sedate. Well, okay, virginal.

These Jimmy Choo’s, from the 2013-14 shoe season, would have belonged to Dorothy’s slutty third cousin, if she had one. They are best described as lethal, on so many levels. I found them at The Women’s Closet Exchange in St. Louis. Originally priced around $800, the Closet Exchange had them for $299.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers would carry her back home to Kansas.  I’m positive these ruby stilettos never carried anyone anywhere. The soles were barely scuffed, and no wonder. I’m sure the original owner was borne to her destination on a palanquin and was able to stand for a mere 30 seconds, if that.

I have always had red high heels—they’re a wardrobe staple, in my opinion. But never like these. There has never been an occasion, public or private, in my life which called for ruby stilettos encrusted with crystals. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to make that admission!


If only I hadn’t sworn off profligate spending, I might have bought them for their sculptural value. Or as weapons in case of a break-in. Sadly—or luckily—some woman richer or more adventurous than I has already added these to her collection. Again, sigh…

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. She’s not sure how these shoes would fit that criteria. However, they were too juicy not to share.

Basements, oh yeah!

Keep or ditch? That is the question…

Art must go in declutteringBy Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Everybody’s downsizing—or should be.

You know my motto: If you think you’re ever going to move—or die—start now. Several of my friends are, for various reasons, taking my advice and dealing with their clutter.

And most of them start with the basement. Oh, yeah, the basement.

Basements are repositories—make that dumping grounds—for items that “might be useful later,” that “should go into the next garage sale,” or once belonged to someone meaningful (possibly Great Aunt Tilly, who died eons ago, but you’re not quite sure) and therefore must be kept in perpetuity, no matter how ugly or unloved. The job is always daunting.

My neighbor Maryann never did a thing in the basement. That was her husband’s territory. Other than doing laundry, Maryann walked through on her way in from the driveway. What lurked in the far regions was, in her mind, not her problem.

Until, that is, she came home after a long weekend at work, walked in and found herself ducking under sleeping bags hanging from the rafters. “Just then, my eye began to twitch,” she recalls. “That was the moment I realized the basement was now mine!”

Maryann is one of those organized souls that I both pity and envy. Armed with a tape measure and an actual, drawn-on-paper floor plan, she commandeered her son, Joe, and got to work. It took a summer, but she no longer ducks under hanging sleeping bags on her way to the washer and dryer.

Sherman, on the other hand, is moving to a bigger house—Sherm, what are you thinking? Nonetheless, he’s purging, too. His reason? After his parents moved to a nursing home last year, he had to clear their long-time home of “stuff” that had accumulated through the decades.

“I don’t want my daughters to have to go through this exercise, so I’ve decided to get rid of stuff I haven’t unpacked in four moves over 10 years,” he said. “Besides, do I really still need a cassette player?”

And now we come to Lee and Terry. They’ve lived in their comfortable, four-bedroom suburban St. Paul home for 30-some years. Their kids are out of the house (but their stuff isn’t) and Lee and Terry are ready to move into something smaller. They want to sell their house.Lee's basement before

Before: 20 years’ accumulation

The problem? The basement, of course. Lee knows buyers will want to at least see the floor.

“Clear the Clutter” is a step-by-step guide to tackling your basement.

Where to begin?

Theoretically, you—like Maryann— will tackle the basement with a plan. The plan will detail specific areas for certain activities or objects. My reaction to this advice is “Uh-huh, right.”

I’ll tell you where not begin. Do not start by going through packed boxes or file cabinets. Those are snake pits of delay and despair. Once, when a California wildfire was literally burning up the hill toward my mother’s house, she started leafing through papers in her file cabinet, deciding what to save. I had to steer her out the door. This was no time to decide whether her kids’ third grade papers should be saved.

I would like to say you should just dispose of the file cabinets and any packed boxes that haven’t been opened for years, without ever looking inside. However, just as I was about to do that myself when I was moving, I opened a box in my garage. What did I find? My son’s baby book and a bunch of writing I thought was long gone.

So, move those boxes and, if you must, the file cabinets into a convenient corner. You can deal with the contents later. Besides, moving them out of the way should open space for processing other junk—I mean stuff.Lee's basement after

After Round 1: Four hours later

Note: There’s a difference between clutter and “stuff.” Clutter is an accumulation of broken, out-of-date, useless or unused, meaningless things. “Stuff,” on the other hand, is something useful that you actually use or which holds meaning beyond its function. There’s no question about clutter—it’s gotta go. Stuff? Well, maybe it stays—but it still has to be assessed with an eye to getting rid of it.

My approach, after moving packed boxes and trashing obvious debris, is to just dig in. That’s what Lee and Terry have been doing. (Should you work with your spouse? Oh boy, that can get complicated! I’ll leave it for another day.)

Join the challenge: 52 weeks to an organized home

I’ve been coaching Lee from afar on what to keep and what to jettison. For example, she came across a piece of art and emailed a photo.

“The dilemma,” she wrote, “it’s lovely and used to hang in my family home. But it’s been in the basement for 8 years. That should tell us something, right?”

Right. If you have to ask, you know it’s got to go.

Ditching something you actually like is very, very hard—the first time. After that, it gets easier. In fact, I got downright giddy. Of course, a deadline helps. The night before I closed the sale on my house, I left a 17-inch, nearly new television on my neighbor’s porch. (Off-loading useable items in good condition to friends is one strategy for guilt-free disposal. As in my case, it often works best under cover of dark.)

I asked Lee what items she found hardest to discard.

“The beautiful, cherry twin beds that I slept in as a child, that my daughter slept in when she was young, and that now sit in our basement…

“My grandmother’s sewing machine, the one she taught me to sew on, so high sentimental value for me, not so much for my kids—that was an “aha!” realization.”

“Sentimental things about the kids …How do you decide what’s the right thing to keep and what’s the right thing to remember—and then give away? And practical things, like toys that could have a useful second life when grandkids are around—like American Girl dolls and the PlaySkool Castle. How long do I hold on to these things? (Neither of Lee’s children are married, or even engaged.)”

She had no problem parting with Battleship and sundry other games, reference books made obsolete by time and Google, decorative baskets for storing magazines—complete with magazines from the last century, and bags of costume jewelry destined “for the garage sale.” In fact, anything destined for a garage sale went, instead, to Goodwill.

“If I don’t have it in the house, I won’t have a garage sale, which just saved me valuable time and hassle. Priceless.”


The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Having cleared her own basement, she is now nagging friends to purge their stuff, too. 

The Evangelista would love it if you share your own basement or attic stories in the comments section–after all, doesn’t it feel good to know you’re not alone?

House-sitting, with pets…

A dog-gone good way to vacation

By Susan Caba Resale Evangelista

Dot and I jHouse Sitting for Pets, by Susan Caba in Spring 2015 Bark Magazineust returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind my legs when approached by a larger dog, and snuffled delightedly through a pile of pine needles. … 

So begins my article on house-sitting in the Spring edition of The Bark magazine. My sojourn with Dot, a 10lb Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip, has come to an end. Her rightful owners have returned from India and Dot was happy to see them.

Dot and I got along just fine as roommates for close to 8 months. She was part of my year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location. House-sitting is a also great option for those who merely want to get away for a few weeks and don’t mind–or welcome–caring for a homeowner’s pet during their vacation. 

House Sitting Pets is a great way to see the world and live an artful life

My erstwhile roommate, Dot

I got to stay in the Kellers’ lovely home with a wraparound porch and woodburning stove while getting to know the area around Chapel Hill, NC. The Kellers didn’t have to worry about Dot and their three cats–who benefited by staying in their own home. You might consider this arrangement if you have pets that you’d hate–or couldn’t afford–to put in a kennel while you’re gone.

House-sitting arrangement are part of the new sharing economy. While house-sitting has been around for decades, the internet has energized the practice by making it easy for homeowners and house-sitters to connect without having to coordinate locations and simultaneous travel plans. One of the major factors driving the trend is people’s desire for in-home pet care.

Andy Peck, founder of–the site I use most–told me that 80 percent of the people looking for house-sitters have pets. “The most important thing to most homeowners is that they’ve got happy pets cared for at home. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.”

“It’s a win-win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job,” he said. “And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a “stay-cation” in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.” 

House Sitting with dogs, Spring 2015 Bark magazine

My dog, Frazier, now living in California

Some assignment involve luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury. Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica, country mansions in Great Britain, and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are  frequently among the listings, though these tend to be filled fast–often within hours. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. House-sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Canada is cool and green in the summer, but most listings are for winter months, fine for skiers. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers.

Shari Keller told me that Dot sealed the deal for me in getting their house-sitting assignment. Dot’s a shy creature at first but took to me almost on first sight. Within days of my arrival, she was already giving me the nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom. She started out sleeping in her own bed on the floor but rapidly insinuated her way into sleeping in my bed, invariably taking a spot in the middle. (I’m told that arrangement has come to an end and Dot is back in her own bed. Sorry about that, Dot!)

Browsing the pet photos in house-sitting ads are enough to make me laugh out loud. One couple wrote: “We live in South West Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs, and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.” The listing included pictures of Ginger, a doleful English bulldog, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow.

As always, I caution you to read the listings of house-sitting assignments very carefully. The listings are often mini-biographies that reflect the homeowners’ adoration of their dogs and other pets. Sometimes, that familial love can be a little over the top or the pets that need care are elderly or ailing. There is also the risk the animals won’t be as adorable as described.

A friend agreed to move into a Victorian house in Colorado for a month, only to find that one of the two dogs she would be sitting was a snarling hound of the Baskervilles. Her first clue was when the homeowner provided “the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” to lure the dog to his kennel.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. (I again thank the Kellers for getting rid of the two dozen chickens they had before they left for India. I didn’t think it would be a big deal taking care of them. However, when it snowed 7 inches one February day, I was very glad I didn’t have to go out to the chicken coop and hook up some heat lamps.)

I‘ve written about some of the more hilarious posts in Talk to the Animals.

If you’re interested in house-sitting, here are some of my earlier posts: More Talk to the AnimalsHave a Yen to Try House Sitting?, Tiny Houses, Travel and Defining Home.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need. She’s traveling around the country for a year, seeing how other people live.   

Mugged by my “stuff”

African mask purchased at Leland Little auctionThings accumulated when I wasn’t looking!

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Readers, I backslid.

While I was busy living with less, a bunch of stuff sneaked up and mugged me. I never saw it coming.

Oh, there were clues. The mattress pad and down comforter, purchased early on and cut down to fit my bed in Chapel Hill. The little microwave I bought when I realized I needed one to reheat my coffee. The two small paintings by intellectually disabled artists that charmed me in Asheville.

Art—that was the first telling sign I was slipping. The microwave and mattress pad, the $1 coffee cups and wine glasses from the PTA Thrift store—those I could rationalize as “needs.” There  were no easy rationalizations for the paintings. I liked them, they were reasonably priced and I felt good spending the $25 for a worthy cause.

I didn’t realize how far I’d fallen until it was time to pack up and leave the Kellers’ house. Stuff had accumulated. African masks, for example. A bigger and better coffee maker. Six cans of tennis balls and a hopper to carry them. A small oriental rug. Not to mention the mahogany dressing table which I bought because I wasn’t sitting on my bidding hand at an auction. Besides, it’s for my son’s girlfriend—not that either one of them asked for it.

You’ll recall that, despite rigorously culling over a two-year period, I have a 10-by-15 storage unit in St. Louis that is loaded front-to-back, side-to-side and floor-to-ceiling with my belongings. I arrived in Chapel Hill with a moderate amount of stuff in the back of the Subaru. I’m leaving with suitcases bungie-corded to the roof.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. It’s a well-written, research-grounded book about the motivations and emotions of hoarders. Whew! Glad I escaped that affliction!

I gotta tell you, though, some of the characteristics weren’t entirely unfamiliar.

We are attached to our things because of what they represent—opportunities, memories, and connections to significant people, places and events. Why else would I keep the musical mobile with panda bears that hung over my son’s crib, or the miniature buildings of a Greek fishing village my father brought back from a trip? Why would one friend treasure a tattered book of essays about our national parks she received as a child, or my former mother-in-law use her son’s baby bib—sixty years later—as a potholder every morning in her tea-making ritual?

“It wasn’t the objects themselves that she valued, but the connections they symbolized,” the authors wrote about one woman in Stuff.  “And it’s the same whether we collect celebrities’ clothing, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a deck chair off the Titanic or five tons of old newspapers.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.19.13 AMUh-oh. I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. My mother and youngest brother were there as it was being chipped into oblivion.

Jean-Paul Sartre said we learn who we are by observing what we own. Sartre wrote that “to have” is one of three basic forms of human experience, the others being “to do” and “to be.” William James said acquisitiveness is a human instinct, which contributes to our sense of self. “What is ‘me’ fuses with what is ‘mine’ and our ‘self’ consists, in part, of what we possess.”

Our stuff also represents our image of ourselves. Like the time I bought a cunning set of dishes thinking, “these will be just great for a luncheon.” Only after I paid for them did I remember I hadn’t ever had a luncheon. I don’t even like the word.

One woman described in Stuff had more than 300 cookbooks, kitchen counters hidden under cookware and gadgets, and a stove no longer visible under layers of kitchen accoutrements. “Much of her hoard allowed her to imagine various identities,” the authors said. “A great cook, a well-read and informed person, a responsible citizen. Her things represented dreams, not realities. Getting rid of the things meant losing the dreams.”

The anecdote reminded me of clearing the house of a woman who obviously intended to be a great cook—she had an unbelievable stash of baking equipment, mixing bowls, state-of-the-art equipment and serving paraphernalia. All of it was stored in the basement, unopened and unused.

Hoarders or not, it’s because we imbue objects with these layers of meaning that it’s so easy to acquire things and so difficult to get rid of them. Which brings me back to my 8-month house-sitting assignment in Chapel Hill.

It turns out that, lovely as my hosts’ home is, I needed my stuff around me. I brought a few photos of my son with me, but that was about it for personal mementos. My house in St. Louis—if I do say so myself—was an artful, art-filled environment. (Yes, maybe too art-filled!)

And so, reader, that’s how it happened—the African masks, the little Waterford pitcher I bought at Goodwill for $8 (and never used—it was one of those “irresistible bargains”),  the bird feeder, the framed picture of bathing beauties under a beach umbrella, the block-printed greeting cards, the bedskirts from the thrift shop (which I left behind), the frames for unframed children’s art and, oh yes, the DVDs for learning how to salsa dance (which I had to watch in slow motion and, even then, could barely see how the woman was moving her hips).

So, the Subaru is loaded again to the gills. But at least I gave away the lawnmower.

The ResaleEvangelista has culled her belongings, in order to create a simplified, more artful life.

If you’re new to the site, you might want to check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting.

Fires at home and abroad…

Fire comforts, until it scorches and kills

Logs on Fire
Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The last log of the evening ignites in the wood stove and I settle into the couch—cats on one side of me, dog on the other—to enjoy the simple luxury of watching flames.

My biggest aggravation at the moment is that Felix, my black cat companion, keeps nudging my hands from the keyboard, insisting on attention. At last, he lolls against my thigh, a miniature jaguar at rest. The strains of a cello concerto dance with the song of the blustery wind that makes a fire necessary. A glass of bourbon adds a complementary smokey note to the night’s medley of warmth.

That log, though, disturbs me. It’s holding its shape as it burns, flames licking and quivering up the sides from a thick bed of embers.  Finally, the shell of the log collapses with a small display of sparks.

The flames make me think of the Jordanian pilot not only killed recently by Islamic terrorists, but subjected to immolation—surely the most horrendous of deaths. I also think about Kayla Mueller, the young American woman held hostage by ISIS for 17 months, who died—one way or another—in the conflagration that is consuming so much of the world outside my circle of immediate experience.

Except now the conflagration isn’t outside my immediate circle. Last week in Chapel Hill, three young Muslims were gunned down in their apartment by a neighbor, ostensibly over a long-running parking dispute. The shooter’s wife insists he isn’t a bigot, in fact the opposite, since he reportedly disdained the religiously observant of any type. Does it really matter whether a hate crime can be legally proved? The crime was certainly hateful.

My son Max is a year or two older than the slain college students. He’s in the Army now, itching to be deployed (I swear, it’s testosterone poisoning). As a journalist, I should look up the statistics about how few families are connected to someone in the military, thus explaining why Americans seem detached from what’s happening in distant, disintegrating parts of the world. As a mother, I don’t really care about statistics—I just don’t want my son sent to fight in an endless war where the enemy is unidentifiable, insidious and seemingly intent on ever-more brutal displays of violence.

In the meantime, I fret about my propensity toward profligate spending. Admission here, readers: I bought three African masks, a Pakistani rug and a Chinese stacking box today at a local auction. The irony doesn’t escape me that these items originated in some of the very regions where my “struggle” to simplify would be incomprehensible, or maybe just ludicrous. In fact, the things I purchased for their beauty and decorative value were once the implements of daily life in those parts of the world where life is still so often difficult.

And I’m enjoying them, though academic research has verified that the purchase of things provides less satisfaction than the pursuit of experiences. (I have an explanation—okay, a rationalization—to offer: My enjoyment is from the hunting-and-gathering experience of finding a bargain, not the acquisition of, say, an African mask or an inexpensive Oriental rug). The fact I have the leisure to ponder—some would say navel-gaze—the differences between a simple life, a basic life and a life of deprivation is a sign I’m living either a life of luxury or one that’s quite simply frivolous.

In the meantime, as I muse, whole societies are ravaged by flames, metaphorical as well as literal. And I’m afraid  there are as many invisible, insidious and unacknowledged hot spots in the United States; the logs are burning hollow here, too. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said the U.S. will never be defeated from the outside, only from the inside. Doesn’t that sound eerily like what happens to a log as it burns?

Dot’s curled in her dog bed, absorbing the heat. Felix is pacing the back of the couch, mewling for snacks. The logs have collapsed into a bed of incandescent coals.

The Resale Evangelista is committed to creating a simplified, focused and artful life, but knows such a thing isn’t possible in a world of turmoil.

Shopping resale: Nature or nurture?

blue and white china

An inventive wall frieze of mismatched blue and white china  

Follow these rules

to make the most of resale dollars

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

So you think shopping resale is easy–just pop into Goodwill and walk out with something worth four times what you paid.

Au contraire, mon ami! I’ve honed my skills over decades, though I admit to a certain intrinsic talent for it. So I’m going to share a few guidelines for getting the most of your resale dollars. You can thank me later, with gift certificates to Rung or Upscale Resale (kidding, just kidding).

  • Develop a loop of your favorite resale shops and hit your circuit regularly. You become familiar with the inventory, you know how the pricing works and you’re tuned into the timing of sales and price reductions. New merchandise comes out on Thursday evenings at “my” Goodwill on Manchester Road in Brentwood, MO. That’s where you’ll often find me (and every other regular) on Thursdays.
  • Know your style and assess your wardrobe to see what it lacks. When you know what you need, you can grab it when you see it. The same thing goes for furniture and household items. I always wanted an Oriental rug with a dark background, but never saw one. Until one day, I did, at the Miriam Hitching Post. And I bought it.
  • Equip yourself for success. I carry a small tape measure in my purse. Because I’m interested in vintage jewelry–and because my eyesight is no good anymore–I have a jeweler’s loupe in my purse (cheap and available on the internet). Use your cellphone’s camera if you need to get advice about a piece. If you are looking for something with a particular space in mind, carry the measurements of the space with you. Same with fabric swatches and color chips, when necessary.

    German china, handpainted

    Thrift shop china

  • Pounce when you see something you really, really like–and know you will wear or use. Inevitably, if you take a day to think it over, the item will be gone when you go back. I have a friend who says “The only purchases I ever regret are the ones I didn’t make.”
  • Invoke the “if it’s meant to be” clause. If you find something you love but aren’t sure you will really wear, or that costs more than you want to spend, wait and watch. If you decide you want the item, it will still be there when you go back, if it’s meant to be yours. If not, it wasn’t meant to be. No tears. If you really wanted it, you should have pounced.
  • Be patient. Resale stores often reduce prices if something goes unsold for 30 days. If I see something that’s so cool, but impractical or too expensive, I’ll put off buying it. I recently bought a gorgeous belt with a big turquoise buckle. It was priced at $30 and I don’t wear many belts, so I passed. But it lingered, unsold. I finally got it on clearance for $10. It was meant to be.
  • Think ahead. I bought a beautiful, perfect black leather jacket at Goodwill in April for $20. Retail would have been around $300. What a Christmas gift it was for my son’s girlfriend. (See “Pounce.”)
  • Know thyself, discipline thyself! I really, really wanted some never-worn bisque suede boots (how practical is that?), priced at $60. I knew the precise date and time they would be reduced to a more reasonable $40. So I avoided that store for several days around that time. When I went back, the boots–thankfully–were gone.

    fox stole

    Fox fur to warm your heart (or at least your neck)

  • Be mindful of return policies. Most resale and thrift stores don’t allow returns. You bought it, there is no going back.
  • Use return policies to your advantage. On the other hand, Goodwill has a 7-day return policy. I can make a final decision on purchases at home because they can be returned (keep your receipts). Once, I bought six designer purses there–Coach, Kate Spade, MK. Some were dirty, but could be cleaned. The Coach purses were authentic (I Googled “Coach and authentic details”), so I kept and resold them. The Kate Spades were knock-offs (again, use the internet to check), and I returned them.
  • Don’t be greedy. Some stores don’t bargain, including Goodwill and most boutique resale shops. (Though, if you’re a regular and you’re wavering, or a piece is close to the 30-day mark, or is taking up too much space and is unlikely to sell to anyone but you, the store manager may give you an extra discount.) Antique stores usually do allow haggling–most will give a discount of at least 10 percent above a certain price threshold. But you have to ask. The accepted phrase is, “Can you do a little better on the price?” or “If I buy these items, can I get an overall better price?” For big-ticket items, go ahead and ask if the vendor will take a particular dollar amount. But don’t offer an insultingly low price, unless you absolutely know the value of that item. Greed just ticks people off.


Saving “brown furniture”

Don’t hold back–color it bright!

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

painted furniture, red paintA formerly ugly wooden dresser, now glitzy red

Thrift shops and resale stores are filled with solid wood furniture, most of it brown.

Brown as in natural wood, often with fairly glossy finishes. I’ve never looked at the potential for painting this furniture and therefore bringing it up to date, for two reasons.

painted wood furnitureFirst, I started buying furniture in the Eighties, a time when original finishes were sacrosanct. You just didn’t paint golden oak or walnut or mahogany. Second, I thought painting these finished pieces would be a pain–that they had to be sanded or scuffed up in order to take the paint.

Well, I was wrong. I still wouldn’t paint a beautiful piece of golden oak or walnut or cherry. But you know, a lot of the furniture from the second half of the last century is so boring, not to mention ugly. And any life to the wood is buried beneath the finish–it’s depressing.

Recently, I’ve seen several pieces of this type of furniture painted in rich colors. It looks great. And I’ve learned it’s not that big a deal to prepare the surfaces for painting, even if they are somewhat glossy.

That brown dresser in the photo? It’s the same one pictured at the top of this post, painted a glamorous, glossy red. I found it on, where Sucheta gives tips on turning ugly, boring brown furniture into pieces to be proud of. For example, she used Tulip Red by Fine Paints of Europe to get this gorgeous, rich red with a high shine. Generally, she said, “it takes 13 million coats of red paint” to achieve that finish. This job took only two coats of the Tulip Red.

“Red pigment is very transparent. Not only that, red also tends to be very dull, lackluster, meh…you get my point,” she says. “I won’t be exaggerating if I said this is the most vibrant red I have gotten my hands on.”

painted wood furnitureAs for sanding and other preparation for painting previously unpainted furniture, there are plenty of websites offering advice. They tend to be of two schools.

Traditionalists argue for thoroughly sanding the furniture before painting. Modernists (in my view) say that isn’t necessary–a coat of Kilz or primer should make the finish coat adhere just fine. If you want a flat finish, you can either use “chalk” paint, or just regular flat paint.

Ipainted desk‘m not going to offer any particular advice, since I don’t have much experience. Check out these sites or others. or

What I will say is: Go for it! Glamorize a desk, a dresser or a bookshelf. Change the hardware, add legs or take ’em off. Follow Sucheta’s lead: Transform that ugly brown furniture and make it yours. The world will thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need and making the rest more useful and beautiful.