Vintage Shopping: Connecting to the Past with Less Junk for the Future

by Erin Freeman

I feel most at home amongst a hodge-podge of relics. Most of my possessions have been around longer than I have, and I hope that they find new homes when it’s time for them to leave mine. I’m a sucker for twentieth century aesthetics; each decade has its own color palette, style of lines, and distinct version of a floral pattern. These styles are so connected to their era that they can lend their connection to you and your home with each use or view.

While the sentimental and nostalgic reasons to choose vintage shopping are already plentiful, our generation’s growing eco-consciousness lends a more practical spin on it. The dark repercussions of man-made objects’ tenacity is becoming more pressing, and using them instead of supporting the creation of even more future landfill inhabitants is a wonderful way to show our planet some love (and to stick it the capitalistic man!). Whether you have an affinity for a particular era, share my mix-and-match attitude, or are looking to shop secondhand for ethical reasons, I’m here to send some nostalgia-packed decorating tips your way. 

Furniture and Decor

The dreaded combination of a college budget and apartment living makes decorating in any style intimidating. Fear not! While not being able to control the wall color or carpeting of your space is limiting, vintage furniture can actually be more kind to your wallet than buying new. Don’t let boutiques and up-scale antique shops convince you that all vintage furniture is out of your price range. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for yard and estate sales and check out thrift stores and warehouses. You should be able to find affordable pieces in good condition, or you could pay next to nothing for something that you can put a little elbow grease and spray paint into. If you have your heart set on a cohesive style, you’ll have to put in extra hunting effort, but don’t be afraid of letting pieces from different eras co-mingle. Even having one vintage piece amongst newer furniture can add a little quirk to a room. If vintage furniture seems like too much of a commitment, you can always incorporate things like clocks, knick-knacks and picture frames to make your room feel more subtly eclectic.

Books and Records

Opening up a used book to see that someone else’s grandma has written out a happy birthday inscription in fragile cursive has a certain kind of magic. There’s no way of knowing if the birthday girl ever read this book or how many people have read it since, but by reading it now you get to share the story with all of them. I get a similar sensation when I’m feeling extra sentimental and put on a record. Singing along to a Cyndi Lauper record can connect you to any number of previous owners, long-over parties and emotional moments from a stranger’s life. 

Aside from the time-travelling aspect of used books and records, they both also lend an eclectic air to a room. Fill a bookshelf with any combination of used and new books, and sprinkle in a few vintage knick-knacks to break it up visually. Records can be stored in any appropriately sized box, but favorites can also be propped up on shelves or carefully pinned on walls for decoration. New Paltz has several used books and record shops and thrift stores that also have smaller selections with lower prices.


Plates, glasses and bowls are an often overlooked way of injecting some nostalgia into your everyday life. Thrift stores often have several sets to choose from and usually don’t require that you buy the entire set together. Because vintage dinner sets are so abundant, it shouldn’t take long before you find something that suits your tastes. I found my ‘70s floral set of plates in a Goodwill for a quarter a piece, and they make me feel cozy inside every time I see them. I may not be eating jello with fruit floating around in it off of these plates, but they still give me a hankering for a Brady Bunch marathon.

So much of what humans make sticks around far longer than they stay in style. Luckily, we don’t have to be confined by current trends. If pink Pyrex baking dishes or art deco lamps make you happy then take advantage of them. They’re already here, and bringing them into your home keeps them out of landfills and furthers their legacies.


A version of this post originally appeared in “Tenacity” The Teller October 2019 Issue #7

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