Mir and Otto’s big shopping adventure

By Mir
March 17, 2012

You may perhaps remember that during the last few months of last year—having no idea how much 2012 was going to suck, and how much less I’d be working—we decided to give all of our spare moneys to our favorite contractor so that he and his guys could rip down our sagging deck and replace it, and then of course it ended up taking forever, including failing the first building inspection in January because the handrail on the stairs ends on the second-to-bottom step instead of the bottom step. (TRUE STORY!) (Know how you fix that? Your contractor comes over and attaches a piece of two-by-four to extend the railing, and uses a couple of pieces of scrap wood to anchor it to the existing railing structure, and then after the crabby building inspector signs off on it, the contractor takes it off again. VOILA!)

Anyway, that’s all been resolved for months, and the new deck is lovely, and the dog has decided that the $29 doggie door we installed so that she can let herself out of the screen porch to the great outdoors is the best thing in the whole wide world.

As the weather’s improved, we’ve spent more and more time out there, though we’re sitting on folding camp chairs and using a card table for when we need to play a rousing outdoor game of Balderdash, because it turns out that… we don’t really have any deck furniture. And we, you know, spent all our money on the deck construction. Whoops.

The old deck had that marvelous gazebo with built-in bench seats, so we put a table in there and had plenty of seating. But now the gazebo is gone and that table is too big for the screen porch (unless we want pretty much nothing in there but a table), plus we don’t really have chairs, plus we have grand dreams of a fancy outdoor seating area with an actual comfy couch and stuff AND a smaller table to eat at, and oh by the way wouldn’t it be AWESOME if the table was bar-height so that you could still see out over the deck while eating, and hey no problem, let’s just go shopping for all of that stuff and because I’m so awesome at finding things on sale, we’ll score some deals.

Guess when is the worst time to shop for patio furniture. GO ON, GUESS! If you said “Spring” or “right now” you win a pony. Except that I have to buy some patio furniture before I buy your pony, so please don’t hold your breath.

We have shopped online. We have shopped in stores. We have consistently fallen in love with furniture so far out of our price range, I find myself breaking out in hysterical laughter in stores (“OH OTTO IT’S ONLY SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS! LET’S BUY TWO!”) while my husband clears his throat, grabs me by the hand, avoids eye contact with other patrons, and says, “Ooooookay we’re done here. Let’s go.”

Things I have recently learned about patio furniture:
1) Bar-height table sets almost always have tiny tables and only two chairs.
2) Bar-height table sets which are large enough for four people tend to be made of petrified wood from a sacred forest and the chairs upholstered with albino mink skin cushions. Or so the price would suggest.
3) Outdoor couches and other “comfy” seating comes in two varieties: Affordable and ARE YOU SHITTING ME?
4) The affordable furniture is uncomfortable, and made of materials that spontaneously combust after one season outdoors. So when you sit on it (if shopping in person) it hurts your ass and when you read the reviews (if shopping online) it says things like, “Loved this until it turned to dust the third time I sat on it. I hope everyone at the store who sold it to me dies in a fire.”
5) The comfortable, pretty furniture costs more than the furniture in our living room.
6) And our dining room. And bedroom.

I was coming very close to admitting defeat. Our efforts to stalk Craigslist and eBay for decent used options (I don’t mind used! used is awesome, and by “awesome” I mean “cheaper”!) were coming up pretty empty, too.

Well, I don’t remember whose idea it was, though I’m pretty sure we were watching Storage Wars at the time… one or the other of us turned to the other one and said, “We should just go through the classifieds, map out a route, and just go to a bunch of yard sales and estate sales and stuff at the crack of dawn tomorrow.”

I don’t know why this seemed like such a good idea; there are many things I love deeply, and while I do love a bargain, I love sleeping in on Saturday even more. But it seemed like… an adventure. It would be fun! And besides, Otto had that route mapped out in no time flat.

At 7:20 this morning we were on the road, and that was, frankly, 20 minutes later than we’d intended. But we were pumped! Jazzed! PATIO FURNITURE OR BUST should’ve been painted on the side of our truck. We programmed the GPS and drank our coffee and and I looked over the long list of addresses and assured Otto that we couldn’t lose. Surely this would be our lucky day.

The different sales have all kind of blurred together in my mind, now, but here’s what I can tell you for sure: People who show up to yard sales before 8:00 in the morning are SERIOUS, man. Even though I used to regularly go to yard sales, years ago, I always went in the afternoon. Hey, I was poor, and people just want to clear our whatever’s left in the afternoon; it was a great strategy for me back then. The morning crowd? Completely different vibe. There are old ladies who will cut you to get to those potholders, so step aside.

There was NO furniture at the first four sales we went to. NONE. And that’s not because they didn’t have any, either (Otto had specifically only pulled listings that said they had furniture)—it was because all of the furniture was gone by 7:30, sold to people crazier than us. We did hit one giant church-consignment-sale-o-rama where they had some regular indoor furniture, but if they’d had anything for outdoors before we arrived, it was gone when we got there.

This was disheartening, but we did manage to spend a little money. At an estate sale, I bought a set of drinking glasses. EXCITING, YES? My children are 12 and nearly 14 and they still use plastic cups at the dinner table, possibly because our regular drinking glasses are huge and heavy-bottomed and they don’t like them because they are delicate flowers. So. I got some smaller, lighter-weight glasses. IN DIFFERENT COLORS. Because I’m fancy. And I’m really looking forward to them arguing over certain colors.

At one yard sale, Otto found a cool hand-carved box of dominoes, and we didn’t NEED it, but the lady said he could have it for a buck, so now it’s ours.

It was maybe the fifth or sixth sale when we pulled up and saw WICKER FURNITURE sitting right on the edge of the sale area, and we fairly bounced over to it in our glee, but alas, this particular furniture appeared to have survived a small but hungry dog, or maybe a cat with claw issues. All of the legs/feet were scratched and unravelling. Sad.

On about the seventh or eighth stop, there was an adorable little girl selling lemonade, so even though the sale was nothing but junk, Otto bought us two cups of lemonade. And then he ended up spending ten minutes talking about trucks with the guy who lived there, too, so that one was a cultural experience.

I was commenting that it felt like we’d been out ALL DAY when it was… 10:30. And still, we had no furniture. Otto asked if I wanted to stop at a little antique store he’d spotted, so we did. It was filled with things like animal heads and scary knives and pipes, so no furniture there either, but it was entertaining. From there we were able to walk to a few other places, and we were just about to call it a day when we spotted a store specializing in hot tubs and outdoor furniture.

“If we can’t find any good furniture, maybe we could just put in a hot tub!” said Otto, ever the problem solver.

We were in a cute (read: expensive) little downtown area and I knew even before we went in that this was only going to frustrate me. The very first couch inside the door was cute and comfortable and… $5000. [Aside: WHO BUYS THIS STUFF?? Do people really spend that kind of money on furniture that they’re going to leave outside for lizards to crap on? Really?] We wandered around, poking and sitting down on things and checking the price tags and me trying very, very hard not to do that hysterical laugh I do when I realize that no, they’re serious about that price.

There was a nice bar-height table and four chairs kind of off to the side in the main showroom, with a bunch of books of upholstery colors and such sitting on top of it. It didn’t have a price tag. “We should ask about this one,” I murmured to Otto, as we walked past it. “That looks kind of perfect. It’s probably three thousand dollars.” I began to giggle, so Otto dragged me over to a sectional worth more than our house.

Only one person appeared to be working, so we had to wait until she was done with some other customers to ask a few questions. The “casual seating” set we found in back, sans price tags, was brand new and, erm, priced accordingly. “And how about that set over there with the books on it?” I asked. “I want to make sure that price horrifies me, too, before we go.”

BUT! It turned out that that set was a floor sample. Of something they no longer carry. And it was half price.

Granted, half price was still… well, we all know what happens to me when I have to spend money on something. (Our tab from an entire morning of hopping estate sales/yard sales/consignment sales and making multiple purchases: $9.50.) But it was exactly the right size. And the chairs swiveled. And the cushions were Sunbrella fabric (and number 8 on my list of Things I Learned About Patio Furniture list should be “Sunbrella is the only fabric that comes with a decent warranty”) and Otto was giving me That Look. You know the look; it’s the look that says, “We have been shopping all morning and this is exactly what we’re looking for and it’s a really decent price and you don’t REALLY think you’re going to find us a dining set for a buck fifty, really, do you?”

Hey, we have a table and chairs on our screen porch, now. They’re purty. And maybe a couch or something will turn up on Craigslist in another month or two. Maybe.

I kept making jokes about one of the chairs flying out of the truck on the way home or me accidentally dropping my end of the table while we carried it in, and really, it was anticlimactic the way everything went so smoothly. We got it all set up in the right spot and admired our handiwork, and then we let the dog out to come admire it as well, but she seemed unimpressed and ran out the doggie door. In fact, I was feeling downright smug right up until Otto and I realized at precisely the same moment that we’d left the gate open while bringing in the table… and the dog was happily bounding through the forest.

She came back when we called her. I mean, mostly. It was just a brief chase.

Needless to say, Licorice is not allowed to sit at the new table.


  1. Navhelowife

    Congrats on the new furniture! And I know that look Otto gave you…I get that look too.

  2. Otto

    So, if the kids misbehave, will they not be allowed to sit at the new table, too? Because I bet we could have saved some more money by only buying two chairs …


  3. Anna Marie

    I love Otto and the comments he leaves. Happy Saturday!

  4. Karen R.

    I bet the colored glasses look really nice on it.

  5. Kathy from NJ

    Look at estatesales.net for sales in your area. In NJ listings there are lots of pictures. But please do get there early on the first day.

  6. brigitte

    Congrats! I found with the bar chairs, between hubby, kid and my own wants, I was climbing in and out of that tall chair way too many times to enjoy myself. Of course, my kid is younger and I’m only 5 feet tall, so that might make a difference!

  7. Donna

    I feel your pain. I have been in my house TWO YEARS and my deck is a barren wasteland for the very reasons you articulate. I did buy a small mosaic table (which is now upstairs in the library, because the only thing sadder than no furniture at all is a tiny, lonely little table). Last week I tried Lowe’s and scored a lovely catalog of outdoor furniture. It was in English and in Spanish but didn’t list prices in either language, so it’s clear that those pieces and my price range are on parallel lines, destined never to meet. Maybe I’m just meant to stay indoors.

  8. dad

    Congratulations on furnishing your lizard poopdeck.

    Incidentally, I correctly guessed that “now” was the wrong time to shop for patio furniture bargains. Please send my pony by express mail.
    I’ve waited a long time.

  9. Another Dawn

    Well done! I do love me a good bargain. (last month – $765 worth of Paderno for $299 – w00t!)

    But why are there no pictures? The peoples of the Innerwebs, we wanna see!

  10. Little Bird

    Please please send your dad a My Little Pony!!
    And if you can deal with a season of not much out there, check Craigslist at the end of summer. There are weird people who buy new stuff every year, in an attempt to keep up with trends.

  11. Chris

    This post brings me all kinds of joy, mostly because I can see that you have a tiny little extra room in your life to breathe. Even a millimeter, I’ll take it. Also, I can’t want to sit on the deck and take it all in…

  12. sarah

    Costco. You have to go to the actual warehouse, not the website, for the good prices. But their outdoor furniture is great and so reasonably priced.

  13. Chuck

    Cool beans. Glad you got a good deal, and it sounds like things are starting to return to normal around your house.

  14. theresa

    I would like to see a picture!

  15. Jessica

    Oh, geez. You are really reminding me of our shopping the past couple years. We finally moved to an apartment that has a tiny balcony off our living room. While we can’t sit out there most of the time (see: half the other neighbors are so kind to their own apartment inhabitants and decide to smoke on their decks, and the air flow is such that it flows directly through our deck area. See also: the guy who grills right across from us with lighter fluid, so it also comes directly into our apartment area … and this is against all fire codes, yes, because our buildings are about 20-25 feet apart and the fire marshal dictates that all grills must be lit no closer than 15 feet from the apartment buildings. I’m not sure how he gets 15 feet away from his apartment and ours right between. Ask me how I know the fire code! Because twice a year, our building management sends us a notice with nothing but the fire code about grills printed right on it. I guess the guy across from us can’t read…but this is getting too long already, so I’m going back to the non-digressive part of my comment now.), we do like to have good furniture for those times we can sit out there. I wanted two chairs and a little table for the two of us as well as a little table with chairs, so we can eat out there on the nights our neighbors aren’t smoking us out in one manner or the other.

    *coughs* Wow! Prices are…high. Very, very high. We got a little something to tide us over, but will be on the hunt this fall for something more permanent, I think. *sighs* I hate spending more money than I feel is worthwhile for something, you know?

  16. Jenne

    Love this! It’s vaguely anti-climactic when everything comes together smoothly, but still a great story. We’ve had great luck with ReStore, run by Habitat for Humanity. I don’t know if you have them down there, but they are a goldmine!

  17. addy

    Yay for perserverance. And patience and patio furniture. Our last set was donated by a friend that was moving and had no room for it. Saved us so many hours of hysterical laughter. And pointless wandering from shop to shop. I hate looking for furniture indoor or outdoor.

  18. Valerie Hartman

    Good times. Clearly, you NEEDED the drama of a good hunt! Your find mirrors ours. We finally fit a overpriced specialty nursery with one phenomenal discontinued floor model table/6 chairs. We couldn’t walk away. The cardinals and the doves poop on it. Great post!

  19. victoria

    An outing with your husband, and no offspring was ill! That must help to weigh against the lack of extra sleep :)

  20. Kelly

    If it makes you feel any better, we tried the – let’s buy it in fall because it’ll be cheaper then. Either 1) they were totally sold out and looked at us crazy like or 2) their sale price was still more than our house. It was ridiculous. And like you said, if it is cheap – it is not worth it. We already got rid of our last cheap wood set that feel apart.

    We did end up finding a good set, not great, at Sears Outlet by chance… I think you might have gotten the better deal. :) Enjoy with many frosted drinks!

  21. elz

    THIS is why I refuse to go to garage sales. those people are CRAZY serious. Hooray for you finding something. We want to redo our backyard and I looked at outdoor furniture recently-HAHAHAHA. No.

  22. mamaspeak

    I’ve had much luck w/Pier One & Cost Plus in this area of shopping. Often times they run percentage sales on your whole purchase, etc… I’ve got a slate & wrought iron table, from Pier One, originally purchased for a townhouse yard. We are two houses up from that townhouse, but later found two wrought iron chairs that go well w/it. Found those dumpster diving at a senior assisted living complex. (We were taking out the trash for my G’ma & they were sitting on the heap in the dumpster. I suspect that perfectly good furniture gets trashed that way often in places like that. (Family member passes, kids just want to get everything out of the place, so they dump it.) I’m not saying you should go dumpster diving at the old folks home, but um, you could do worse. ;-)

  23. JoAnne

    The end of this post made me LOL. Our neighborhood is situated around a large lake with 4,000 houses. Each season they have a yard sale day. Yes, I am the freak that takes the list and maps out each sale I want to hit while driving around the lake. I get a little high while I’m creating my map and get so excited when I find a good deal! LOL Although this is the only time I go yard sale shopping each year, it is too exhausting!

  24. Frank

    Another vote for a picture…. @Otto… just send the kids to the card table if the misbehave. I’d be like the ‘Kids table’ at a family gathering… I am SURE Chickie will LOVE that…. :)

  25. Katie in MA

    Otto’s right – all you’d have to do is bust out the new, pick-your-color glasses and they’d be banned to second-class seating! :) (Thanks for bursting my bubble, by the way. The girls are 8 & 6 and I wonder every.time. I do the dishes and the cups flip over in the dishwasher when I can give them up.)(The cups, not the girls.)

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