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Thrifting was the Post-Divorce Therapy I Didn’t Know I Needed

thrifting divorce therapy thrifting divorce therapy

I’d scoped out the seller ahead of time, creeped on his Facebook profile to assure myself he probably wasn’t a serial killer before I went to his home. “Are you sure that’s not a stain?” I asked, dragging my foot across a dark spot on the wool rug he’d unrolled just inside his open front door.

He dragged his foot the other direction across the spot. “Nope, just a trick of the light. See?”

“Hmm. Well, will you take $20?” It was an 8×10 100% wool rug in brand-new condition, with muted stripes in cool tones. It would look great in just about any room, and rugs like that are easily $300 new.

“Eh…”

“You selling the chair too?” I pointed at a mint condition Ikea rocking chair sitting off to the side looking like it didn’t belong in the room. It was a bold move, perhaps a little pushy even, but I was rushing because I had to get back in time to pick up my middle schooler at the bus stop.

“Yeah, my wife hates it. She just wants this stuff out.”

“How about I give you $30 for both?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. Just take ‘em.”

I had just scored $400 worth of furniture for a tiny fraction of that amount.

Cue adrenaline rush.

That wasn’t my first score. I’d been doing this for months, enough times that I’d furnished almost an entire house — my new house — in the early days of my divorce. Enough times to provide just the lift I need to not feel quite so anxious, so guilty, so terrified. So alone.

They say that after the death of a loved one, divorce is the most stressful life event a person can experience. This rings true for me. My ex and I separated a year ago and have been unraveling our lives in the time since. Coming to terms with the fact that we would no longer be a couple. Trying to make peace with uncertain futures apart. Breaking the news to our families. We’re still unraveling. Still trying to figure out how to be the best co-parents we can be, to always put the kids first no matter how frayed our own relationship is.

The past year has been a season of resentment and grief and one of “last” everythings, a season during which I remained under the same roof with my ex-spouse until school let out so our kids could finish the school year as normally as possible. For eight months, we didn’t tell our children we were separating. I think I aged ten years in those eight months.

We decided that my ex would keep our shared home and I’d move into a new place; that was my decision. I’d take only a few key furniture items — I didn’t want to make my kids’ other home feel unfamiliar by emptying out half its contents. So, a couch, a dresser, a pair of bookshelves, and my piano were all that came with me. I’d have to furnish my new home almost entirely from scratch, something I worried I wouldn’t be able to afford on my modest income.

Luckily, a huge piece of the furniture puzzle fell into place immediately, by pure dumb luck. The house I put an offer on was being sold furnished. Half of what they left was cool mid-century modern stuff I was thrilled to keep: a dining set and hutch, a sideboard that makes a perfect TV stand, an old record player, a couple of solidly built full-size beds with brand new mattresses. But the rest of the furniture was straight out of my worst 1980s nightmares: a floral-print sofa set with swirling wooden accents, a couple of angular bedroom sets in a pale, wood-look plastic veneer.

So, I had some furniture I’d need to sell and some furniture I’d need to buy. It was with some reluctance that I started cruising Facebook Marketplace, but I needed to get an idea of what I should charge for the stuff I needed to sell, and to see what was on offer locally.

It didn’t take long to get sucked in. Not only did I find tons of cool stuff from individual sellers, I also found listings from people who owned thrift shops tucked into out-of-the-way places, where I could go browse their entire shop in-person. And the prices! I could furnish my new house for just a few hundred dollars if I was patient and waited for great deals. Before I’d bought or sold a single thing, I was already getting super into it — saving items and making spreadsheets with budget estimates. It was something I could do that made me feel like I had some control. And it was a place where I didn’t have to compromise if I didn’t want to.

My first transaction was a sale to a woman who was starting a non-profit thrift shop to raise funds to assist families whose child had suffered a perinatal stroke, because her own infant grandson, now age nine, had experienced a stroke. She bought the entire lot of furniture I didn’t want, and we ended up talking for a long time about divorce, the single life, and raising neurodivergent kids (my son has ADHD).

I began purchasing items to fill the space left by the missing furniture. One of the first was a solid wood mid-century desk from a woman whose grown children were heading to college, and she was downsizing, moving to the beach. Her house already smelled like the ocean, I noticed, like she’d been bringing it back with her from across the river. The desk was impossibly heavy; her adult son helped us get it into my SUV but she warned me there was no way I’d get it back out by myself. I did, though, by taking out all the drawers and “rolling” it into place. I’m sitting at it now as I type.

Another woman sold me a barely-used fold-out Ikea couch that had come from her mother’s estate. “I just need to get rid of it,” she said. “All of it. She had so much stuff, and all of it reminds me of her.” That dose of perspective was exactly what I needed that day.

Facebook Marketplace — this unassuming platform for buying and selling — has helped me furnish my home, but it’s done more than that. It’s become a place where I can disappear and disconnect from reality for a while. I find comfort in scrolling mindlessly through strangers’ castoffs in the desolate hours of morning when sleep won’t come, or during the day when my panic and guilt threaten to swallow me. But Marketplace has also become a place where I’ve found genuine connection. I’ve met unique people in all kinds of situations, people who are often in a life transition just like me, people whose stories sometimes echo my own and sometimes serve to remind me that the world is filled with so much more than my immediate worries.

And, surprisingly, Marketplace has also become a testimony to possibility. I am more independent than I suspected and stronger than I ever could have imagined. If I can move a 200 pound desk from my SUV to a bedroom across the house, who knows what other magic I am capable of.



Kristen Mae lives on the Atlantic coast of Florida with her two children and her fuzzy little dog, Gizmo. She is the best-selling author of four novels, a freelance writer, and a classically-trained musician. Follow her on Instagram. and check out her novels.