5 Mistakes You’re Probably Making at the Flea Market

published Dec 8, 2022
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I may or may not have a flea market problem. If it’s a weekend morning and the weather is nice, odds are I’ll be out hunting for treasures. People are always asking me how exactly I find diamonds in the rough at my favorite haunts, and I thought I would share the love by telling you what not to do at the flea market. Avoiding these five common mistakes will help you score big the next time you go secondhand shopping — I promise!

You’re deliberating too long

Let’s face it: Flea markets are best for impulse shoppers. If you’re the kind of person who likes to put items on hold at the store and come back to them later, you’re going to need to change your mindset to succeed in a secondhand shopping environment. In the case of vintage and often rare items, regret is all too real if you don’t act quickly, and you miss the boat on something. I try to shop with the attitude that I can always resell an item down the line if I redecorate or tire of it. I’d just rather act too quickly than spend night after night wondering why I didn’t just fork over $30 for that fabulous painting. Trust me: There’s nothing like regretting something you didn’t purchase and then being unable to locate it or the seller the following week at at an IRL flea — I’m speaking from personal experience here! If you see something you love (or even just really like), it’s best to purchase it ASAP; it could be long gone by the time you take your second lap around the market.

You’re sticking to a strict shopping list

Arriving to a flea market with a specific set of items in mind may sound like an ideal strategy — lists ensure focus and efficiency, right? Well, when it comes to secondhand shopping, following a list can be a little too limiting. For one, you’ll be extra bummed if you don’t end up scoring any of the items you came searching for. Additionally, if you stick too closely to a list, you may miss all of the awesome miscellaneous items around you. I generally don’t head to the flea market with any goals in mind other than to find cool things, and I’d say that strategy has worked. For example, would I really have stumbled upon an amazing vintage Dior suitcase if I had been focused on solely scoping out dinnerware? Most of my favorite finds are items I never could’ve imagined coming across in the first place, like a stunning vanity mirror, a vintage music stand, and yes, that suitcase! Keeping your eyes — and mind — open can work wonders.

You’re not coming prepared to shop

Whether you’ve traveled to a new part of the country to explore a legendary flea market there (I’m looking at you, Brimfield and Round Top) or are just strolling through a venue in your own neighborhood, you’ll want to leave your house prepared. This means packing the essentials: Your wallet (obvi!), some cash, and things like sunglasses, a sweater, or whatever else you need to stay comfortable as you shop. While credit cards and other forms of electronic payment are widely accepted today (but not always), it’s smart to bring some good old fashioned cash with you. (Even if you don’t arrive with a stack of bills in hand, plan to identify a nearby ATM in case you need run off and make a quick withdrawal). Additionally, note that sometimes, cash can also help you score a better deal, as sellers are often eager to avoid credit card processing fees. Spending five minutes packing your tote with the essentials will set you up for success. Don’t forget a measuring tape, too; if you scope a bigger piece of furniture out, you’ll want to make sure it will fit into your home and in your home.

You’re not showing up often enough

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a city with a weekly flea market, by all means, go to it as often as you can. I’ve found that going to the New York City flea markets regularly pays off. I now have a sense of what to expect at my regular spots and am well versed in pricing, openness to negotiation, and the like. Plus, inventory really does change week after week, so why not follow a little Saturday or Sunday ritual every weekend you’re in town? Waking up early and heading down to the flea market on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee in hand has truly become one of my favorite things; I love that I never know what exactly I might find on a given day.

You’re staying home when the weather changes

Don’t let chillier temperatures keep you away from the flea. If your favorite spots stay open all year, that means treasure are still available — even if it means layering up and grabbing a pair of mittens before heading out the door. Keep in mind that flea markets can be great for sourcing seasonal decor, too. I’ve seen many filled with vintage ornaments and other holiday trinkets. You may even more buying power in the winter because so many shoppers stay home.