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Wabi-Sabi Wednesday: Tips for Successful Flea Market Shopping

2/23/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Wabi-Sabi Wednesday, wabi-sabi, flea market

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailOn Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my upcoming book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, which will be released in April. Shopping at flea markets and thrift stores is a great way to cultivate sabi, the ability to find beauty in age and rust. 

Wabi-sabi lurks in flea markets, hidden in piles of musty old junk. It takes a trained eye and hours of rifling through rusty hardware to find a piece with good history and character that also serves whatever need you’re looking to fill. You have to be wiling to stop in thrift and antique stores anywhere and everywhere (it helps if your traveling partner likes flea markets, too), and above all, you have to love the hunt. More often than not, you’ll leave empty handed—but you will have spent a pleasant afternoon.

Flea market success requires agility, flexibility and dedication. There’s an antique mall, thrift store or flea market of some sort in every city of any size across the United States. When you find one, it’s good to be prepared.

            —Make a plan to help guide your search, but don’t be attached to it. Flea markets’ beauty is their unpredictability, so go with an open mind. Be ready to scrap your plan based on what you find.

            —Bring a list of items you want or need, along with specific sizes and room measurements.

            —Know the market value of the items you’re after. (You can find that online at

            —Bring paint samples, fabric swatches and photos of the rooms you’re decorating.

            —Bring a tape measure, a notebook, tote bags and cash.

            —Be prepared to haggle. Antique dealers and flea market sellers admit that a 20 percent price adjustment isn’t unusual.

            —The best selection happens early; the best bargains come at the end of the day.

            —If you love it, buy it—but remember, most purchases are final.

flea market 

Flea markets are full of dusty treasures, but you may have to do some digging. iStock photo 


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