When my husband and I were furnishing our flat, we wanted to do things the easy way and buy everything from one shop in one go, using GSS promo codes.
But as it turns out, getting everything brand new costs a pretty penny, even with discounts. And after purchasing our dining table set, our couch, and our bed from Castlery, we realised that our house was just a shoe cabinet and a wardrobe away from looking like a Castlery showroom.
As much as we wanted our furniture to look cohesive, committing too hard to a single theme by going full-on matchy-matchy would likely result in something that feels boring and impersonal.
We were also eager to fill our house with personal knickknacks and decor, but we didn't have enough surfaces to display them, let alone a clue where to get them from. Sure, there's Taobao, but my illiteracy in Mandarin and the long shipping times deterred me from using it.
Which is when, while browsing through homeowner's Instagram and TikTok accounts, I realised that I could try Carousell. Many of them, such as The OHKUR House and The Broke BTO, have beautified their homes in a unique way by purchasing thrifted coffee tables, rugs, and more on the platform.
In fact, the owners behind The Broke BTO only spent $2,184 on furniture and decor costs - and it's not like their home has a minimalist aesthetic.
But know I what you're thinking: "Eeee, preloved is dirty!" Or "Ehhh, so troublesome to deal." Or even: "Errr, secondhand stuff could be cursed, you know."
I also had my doubts, but videos and TikToks like this one convinced me to at least do a search to see what is available:
One solid oak sideboard, one discounted Scanteak TV console, one vintage porcelain lamp, one rattan shoe cabinet, and several books later, I've started to see Carousell as a treasure trove of home goods, rather than as a dump for unwanted items. (And so far, despite the presence of old things, my house doesn't feel haunted.)
Not everything on Carousell is secondhand either - some sellers even offer brand new curated and custom furniture.
But because Carousell is such a large platform, searching for the item of your dreams can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Here are some things I wish I'd known when I started thrifting home items on Carousell.
1. Filter by "recent"
By default, Carousell shows you listings by "best match". To avoid seeing the same things over and over again, click "more filters" and sort by "recent". That way, you'll be able to browse through new listings - hopefully before any of your competitors do.
2. Use general search terms
You might have an ideal item in mind - say, a vintage rattan dining chair - but not all sellers are that specific in their descriptions, so you'll have better luck broadening your search terms. For instance, you could try searching for "vintage dining chair" or "rattan chair". You could even go broader and just enter "dining chair" or "rattan" - after all, there is a wide spectrum for what constitutes something as vintage, and the dining chair of your dreams could be buried within a listing for a collection of rattan home items.
3. Use the photo search function on the Carousell app
I was today years old when I found out that the Carousell app has a photo search function (FYI, this feature does not work on a desktop browser, hence my boomer self manually typing things like "Ikea Ekedalen extendable table" into the search bar for months).
If there's an item you love, but that you can't bear to buy brand new, simply save a photo of it onto your phone and upload the image via the search bar. You'll either find something similar, or you'll see a listing for the exact item, but discounted.
4. Use the "following" feature on the app
Nowadays, Carousell is so much more than just a platform for getting rid of random items. Plenty of sellers use it as an e-commerce site. You'll find pages for custom-made furniture, porcelain tableware, lamps, you name it, there's a page for it.
Following responsible sellers or sellers whose style you like will increase the likelihood that you'll hit the jackpot twice - who knows, maybe the seller who sold you a mid-century modern coffee table will create a listing for a TV console in the same style a couple of weeks from now.
5. It doesn't hurt to be kiasu
Fastest fingers first! When you find something that's truly a score - affordable, in good condition, in trend - then make an offer ASAP and don't lowball. Chances are, the seller has received other offers, so make yourself the most attractive buyer possible.
Here's what happened to me: after weeks of searching for a sideboard, I finally found one that looked perfect: it was lightly used, made out of solid wood, and had been shipped here from the UK, meaning that it looked different from all the other mass-produced sideboards from local franchises and Ikea.
When I messaged the seller to ask if it were available, he said that it was, but that he'd received a few other offers, and was wondering when I'd be free to pick it up.
As much as I was inclined to bargain a little (this was, after all, Carousell), I checked the price of the item against its price from the shop it was purchased from in the UK, and saw that the seller had already lowered the price by more than $200, not including shipping and sales tax.
I loved that sideboard so much, that I didn't care if the seller were weighing other offers or if he were just saying that to create a sense of urgency. I made the deal, told him I'd arrange my own Lalamove, and got it early the next morning.
In other words, if you're so-so on the item, then bargain away. But if you love the item and would regret being ghosted by the seller, treat Carousell like an auction. The highest bidder wins!
6. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the item's condition
That being said, "lightly used" or "very good" are subjective. They also don't indicate the item's usability. If the description is lacking, here are some questions you should ask:
- What are the dimensions for this item?
- How easily do the drawers open and close? Do I need to oil any of them?
- What kind of plug does this item use?
- When was the last time this item was cleaned?
- How stable is this item?
Just this week, I chanced upon a pink ceramic vintage lamp on Carousell. It was adorable and I wanted it immediately. But alas, it had a two-prong Type A/B plug.
When I asked the seller what kind of adapter I would need, and if this could cause any voltage issues since the lamp is presumably quite old, he assured me that it would work with a standard multiplug adapter, and even offered to give me a spare three pin plug.
So if you're a little unsure about an item, don't hesitate to ask for more details. Most sellers are very accommodating, but while the occasional seller might get annoyed all the questions, it's better to be ghosted than to bring home something that has fleas, could potentially cause a fire, or could fall on a child.
7. Prepare to give your items a little TLC
Every now and then, you'll come across an item that is either heavily discounted or free, but that looks a little worse for wear. Maybe the paint is chipped, the surface is scratched, or it has a rather large wine stain.
If you're up for a new project, treat it like a new DIY - and if you need some inspiration, check out how The Broke BTO restored their beautiful rattan shelf!
Finally, searching for items on Carousell can be rather tedious. Browsing through dozens of new listings a day, corresponding with sellers, and comparing prices can take hours. We're guessing you don't have time for that (and really, who does?).
Plan a set number of hours for browsing, and stick to it. Don't let the app become your equivalent to a slot machine. Your shopping list might be 10 items long, but focus on getting one thing at a time and don't get hung up on items you miss out on - there will always be another, and anyway, your tastes might change over time and you'll be thankful bought something else after all.