Tips for replacing all your stuff after a move to Chicago.
May 19, 2012 6:45 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be moving across an ocean(the atlantic - from Birmingham, UK to Chicago) in a couple of months and in the process I will be abandoning 87.6% of my stuff (everything but sentimental knick-knacks, some clothing and laptops). I'd like advice on rebuilding my stuff collection - furniture, appliances, kitchen utensils and all the other stuff you need to make an apartment livable. What would you do if you could do it all over again?

I'm already a big fan of minimalism - I don't like owning too much stuff and I like to find the sweet spot on the price-value curve rather than buying things for what economists call signaling purposes. I'm cool with used goods and make heavy use of ebay here in the UK. I'd like avoid Ikea flat pack furniture - I guess I have finally gotten sick of beech veneer! We already know roughly where we would like to be moving to (Lincoln Park ideally) and will have visas, banking and health insurance sorted. We know we need plug adapters (we are regular travellers and also Canadian expats so there less need to explain the quirks of North America (we are looking forward to some eye contact but not German levels of eye contact!) )

Things I'd like to know:

Chicago specific tips for bargain hunting are especially appreciated. Cheapish used furniture tips - best stores or online sources..
U.S. Online shopping tips for when yI'llou have to make a lot of purchases quickly and cheaply. Cashback sites? Amazon prime?
Best value department stores?
What to avoid? What mistakes have you made that you regretted?
How to survive the first week or two without stuff in an empty flat..

and anything else you can think of that would be useful.
posted by srboisvert to Shopping (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Craigslist will be great for furniture. I would recommend renting a van for a weekend once you have a place to stay and then craigslisting the big stuff. In Chicago you'll have plenty of selection, unless you are very picky.
posted by sulaine at 7:11 AM on May 19, 2012

Best answer: I have some suggestions:

1. Buy your bed new, since Chicago has a burgeoning bedbug problem.

2. Sign up for Zipcar, the hourly car rental service. They just recently added vans to their fleet.

3. Thrift stores are good for non-bed furniture, as well as kitchen utensils and dishware. The Ark is good for furniture.

4. Yard sales abound here in the summer. Good place for kitchen stuff and occasionally furniture. Bowmanville has theirs June 2 this year, probably a similar time next year.

5. If you need to replenish your pantry, go to markets that cater to immigrant populations, they are much cheaper than supermarkets here. Devon St. is especially good for spices.
posted by baniak at 7:36 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreed on the thrift stores for non-bed furniture, and I would suggest the Brown Elephant over the Salvation Army, depending on your politics.
Another, albeit more effort intensive / less assured of win, source of used furniture is if you can find out when the swanky suburbs have a spring clean-up garbage collection. People will put out some amazing stuff, and scavengers will come from miles around to rifle through the goods on the tree lawns. All that costs is effort and planning.

For the first week in an empty apartment: set up a tent in living room and pretend you're camping deep in the hardwood floor forest.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:52 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

What mistakes have you made that you regretted?

If you'll be staying put for a while, invest in cast iron and good quality stainless steel cookware, and in high-quality knives. Cast iron skillets can often be found used and, signaling aside, All-Clad pots, Wusthof knives, etc. are worth paying for if you cook a lot.

I wasted too much time and cash on cheap kitchen gear, and would have gotten better results all around if I'd just saved and invested in well-made things at the outset. It's one of the few areas where I've found a consistent relationship between cost and quality.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:57 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a place yet? If not, I would strongly suggest getting a furnished rental for a couple of months and "window shopping" for a while, to get to know the neighbourhoods/shops you'll eventually want to purchase in and the things you'll need. I've moved from Ireland to NYC and New York to Toronto, and both times was sorry I didn't take more time to purchase the big stuff - for saving-money reasons, because my daily patterns weren't set for quite a while, and because I missed out on stores I didn't know about.

I know you don't like Ikea but their "starter" boxes or whatever they're called with some plates and cooking utensils and so on are the cheapest and easiest way to get settled in and into the ol' domestic routine.
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:09 AM on May 19, 2012

Response by poster: I know you don't like Ikea

It's really just that I have become anti-Malm. I want to start getting stuff reflects my character rather than saying I like to build things out of fake wood with L-keys.

I actually like some of their kitchen stuff such as their large chunky drinking glasses and simple
posted by srboisvert at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2012

Estate sales are the best source for kitchen stuff, in my frugal opinion. Nice furniture too, but there's a lot of competition for those.
posted by RedEmma at 8:31 AM on May 19, 2012

If you're in the city (such as Lincoln Park) and don't have a car (which you won't need), getting to Ikea is nearly impossible. If you're in the city and have a car, getting to Ikea is a pain in the ass and not worth it. Target and World Market both have shops in a couple locations in the city and you can get that same Ikea level of merchandise (styling, cost, quality) at either. World Market furniture--in my opinion--is better anyway for things like chairs and couches.

P.O.S.H has great dining and kitchen stuff, but it's not exactly minimalist aesthetic.

The Children's Memorial Hospital White Elephant resale shop is in Lincoln Park (their own website is down this morning)--They are extremely picky about the quality of what they accept, so their resale furniture is all in nice condition, but if I recall correctly, they don't do beds. However, there is a Sears on State Street in the Loop, and they have inexpensive beds with regular sales. Delivery is usually painless from Sears on State Street.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:36 AM on May 19, 2012

If you decide on cast iron frying pans & griddles, I have had good luck on ebay. Despite the fact that they're somewhat collectible, they are not any more expensive than new ones, and they're generally of much better quality. The brands to look for are Griswold and Wagner (or Wagnerware). You might pay $20 for a 10" pan and another $15 for shipping, and still come out ahead.

If you can find them at yard sales or estate sales, so much the better, they'll be $5 and no shipping. Make sure they sit flat but don't be bothered by a little rust.
posted by mr vino at 8:41 AM on May 19, 2012

For your waffle iron, avoid a new teflon-electric -- instead, get a trusty old manual cast-iron Griswold on eBay, the kind with the ball-joint.
posted by Rash at 8:42 AM on May 19, 2012

As far as local deals in Chicago, there's The Brown Elephant (with several locations) and The White Elephant (a resale shop run by Children's Memorial Hospital). Go to Village Discount second-hand stores for simple things like drinking glasses and plates. People dump some pretty nice furniture second-hand stores, but they go fast, so you have to get lucky and be willing to wait for a good deal.

If you have the patience for thrifting, I've bought some amazing kitchen wares at garage sales in the 'burbs. I bought a seasoned wok from a family in Glenview for $10 and I've been cooking with it for five years. Any random weekend in the summer, there should be a dozen or so garage sales in any random suburb (the richer ones will have the nicer stuff, naturally). You just have to drive around looking for the signs.
posted by deathpanels at 9:15 AM on May 19, 2012

I've done this twice and the biggest mistake I made the first two times was panicking and buying ALL THE THINGS too soon. I ended up with a lot of disposable crap that I didn't really need anyway. I think the above mentioned idea of renting a furnished place for a few months first is an awesome one - you can familiarize yourself with the things you want to buy and have a chance to do some thorough comparison shopping.

I would definitely not buy furniture on craigslist any more these days. Bedbugs are everywhere, and the amount of money you could potentially save is vastly dwarfed by the time, money, energy, and stress involved in getting rid of bedbugs.
posted by elizardbits at 9:26 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I could go back and move to the US again (Bristol, UK -> San Diego, CA), I'd have avoided stores like Target and Walmart, shopped with for consumable necessities sooner (great customer service, 5% credit for everything you buy applicable to future purchases), and never stepped foot in a major chain supermarket (although Trader Joes are fun, your more regional chains have better deals on fruit & veg, especially the Asian immigrant stores). Amazon Prime... eh, unless you use Amazon a lot, wait and see until you've adjusted more to the country and developed a shopping routine.

Oh, and thrifting. I would have started thrifting from the very beginning. There's very little in this country that you have to buy new if you're comfortable with used goods - mattresses, linens (this is one thing I *would* recommend Target for, but nothing else) and any furniture/tools you need right now are some of the exceptions - and I've bought everything from cast iron pans to alarm clocks to clothes to all the picture frames in the world at various local thrift stores here.

Definitely agree with everyone recommending Craigslist for furniture being that you're moving to a major city. Without Craigslist, I still wouldn't have a chest of drawers.

Some info about estate/yard sales. Estate sales tend to be the possessions of people who have passed away, yard sales tend to be people unloading their extra crap. The former are better than the latter, especially if you like vintage furniture or housewares, but if they're run by a company, the prices will not be as cheap as a thrift store could be. And Americans start early with this stuff - you'd need a 6am start at the very least, and it's not always worth it. I've been to a few and got some great things (1940s homemakers book! Crafting supplies!) but I value my sleep a little more than the gamble of what might be left by the time I get there. But if you're an early riser, they're a brilliant way of meeting people and seeing a bit of American culture, and I'd highly recommend it.
posted by saturnine at 9:26 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I moved cross country and got rid of pretty much everything I owned. What I did was get a mattress, a desk, a pot or two, and a chair off Craigslist immediately for as cheaply as possible.

Then I figured out where all the thrift/salvage shops were in my area, and started stopping in regularly. That is the trick to finding things you want: just stick your head in whenever you pass by - a couple of times a week. I don't go in and do a deep search, I just go in and scan whatever furniture and household things they have, and leave as quickly as possible unless they have something I need.

If you do this enough, eventually the perfect chair or whatever will be there. I have found several vintage Eames chairs, a Kitchenaid mixer, Le Creuset pots, Pendleton wool blankets, modern teak furniture, a $3k classic vintage racing bike, etc. all very nice things that I would never have been able to afford if I had bought new, but were a couple of bucks. After a year or so of this my apartment looks like I spent a fortune furnishing it, but really it's all used stuff I dragged home from the Goodwill down the street.

Don't go out and get everything at once. Just buy things as you find or need them.
posted by bradbane at 9:34 AM on May 19, 2012

I like to get some of my kitchenware from restaurant supply stores that are open to the public. They carry dinnerware, knives, pots and pans, bake-ware, and glassware at great prices.
posted by annsunny at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2012

Don't acquire a lot of stuff until you settle into a place. Then deliberately design the look of each room. With that in mind, hit lots of estate sales, antiques stores, craft fairs, charity auctions or similar venues that match to your interests.

Buy only things that are durable, quality and match your vision.
posted by meinvt at 11:14 AM on May 19, 2012

I've moved transatlantic 3 times (UK to CA, back to UK and back to CA). Each time, I've ditched everything except very personal items - I live minimal and although it can feel wasteful buying new/used items at your new location is more cost effecitive than shipping.

On both side of the pond, Ikea was great in a fix, until I knew where I was going to be long term was able to take the time to pick something I liked. Target is also handy for furniture and other houseware basics. The local restaurant supply store was great for cookstuff and I also bought things from Overstock (inc a bed frame). At the time I didn't have a car and shipping is under $3 for any item on the site. Local Goodwill stores can be great for some things, also Craigslist. Zipcar (if you have it) is an easy way to get a vehicle for a target/ikea run.

If you so want to ship things - I got a recommendation for Seven Seas from this site, another friend also used them and they are great.
posted by poissonrouge at 11:52 AM on May 19, 2012

Short guide to moving to Chicago:

1. Surviving in an empty flat will be easy as far as food goes- take out and restaurants are relatively inexpensive here (relative to Euro or Canada). Many smaller take out Chinese places will have portion sizes that will floor you. Previously mentioned Trader Joes- which is an slightly upmarket Aldi with smaller portion sizes, and great for two. That neighborhood also has a Treasure Island, which will have all sorts of things from Europe, if a little pricey. lthforum is the best source for recommendations for going out to eat for excellent priced food - check out their annual awards list for the best

2. Shops to get stuff. The furniture I am happiest with is from Crate and Barrel and there is one nearby. It's nice.

3. I would also consider Costco, which is a membership warehouse, 55$ a year, and has some of the bestest food for excellent prices. They also have a great number of household goods, so this is where I would get towels, pillows, linens, etc. Their house line of pots and pans are also quite excellent, you certainly aren't paying for just a name with many of their products. Costco also cycles through seasonal stuff- I think you just missed their big furniture push. We got our bed online through them - excellent price and highly rated. You'll need a car for the store - everything is big sized.

4. Quite a few of the ethnic markets are selling lower grade fruit and veggies (cough stanleys cough, caputos) and the quality can be very poor and shelf life even worse - so I wouldn't just go to the nearest market on the assumption it will provide good groceries. Of course potatoes are just potatoes, so somethings would still be fine. Dominics and Jewel are the major local markets here and are not well loved. Your new neighbors will likely want to tell you where they get their food, if they like food, and their advice will be best for that area of Chicago.

5. Appliances: Sears and it line of Kenmore appliances are a good place to start (most popular here)- you can usually get some sort of store credit card (which you should otherwise generally avoid in the US, and yes, they will ask you every time you checkout everywhere) and get a decent package of kit for a good price. They practice the hard sell at many appliance retailers, so be prepared. Also consider Frys and Abt electronics, which both deliver. Both of those would be a drive, but excellent prices on name brand kit.

6. Target isn't far and will have a fine selection of all the other household accessories you are likely to be missing for reasonable prices - note these are inexpensive made goods.
posted by zenon at 11:54 AM on May 19, 2012

Response by poster: Is there a shop in Chicago that would be recommended for buying a used non-stolen mountain bike/hybrid?
posted by srboisvert at 2:44 PM on May 19, 2012

Response by poster: BTW - some great tips. I had completely forgotten about Costco or the Sears outlet as options for housewares! Zipcar also sounds like something that could suit us. Also garage sales! Completely slipped my mind which is bizarre because my family in Canada does one every single year! Every answer so far is best answer worthy!

We won't be moving into a furnished place though I understand the convenience of the idea. We just can't do it. I guess we are just too picky to live with other people's furniture choices. We will go short lease on our first place so we can relocate if we decide we like another neighborhood more or find something awesome somehow.

We are also well aware of bedbugs thanks to unfortunate London hotel choices. We definitely won't be buying any used stuffed furniture.
posted by srboisvert at 2:58 PM on May 19, 2012

About zipcar: I'm not from Chicago, but I am from a city and I don't own a car. I loooove my zipcar membership. It's the best. I use it for Ikea trips and Craigslist jaunts and even big grocery trips. Even helped a friend move once. I know I'm starting to sound like a shill, but you can even use it in other cities / countries. So useful!
posted by AmandaA at 3:29 PM on May 19, 2012

West Town Bikes, Uptown Bikes, and ads at the Chainlink are reputable sources for used bikes. Swap-o-rama and Maxwell Street are notorious for selling stolen bikes.

But there are a number of Chicago Mefites with better info about bike shops than I have.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just did this a year and a half ago UK -> Minneapolis. I was lucky enough to be able to move in with a friend who had a ton of nice furniture (I only needed bedroom furniture and my parents gave me a bed, nightstands and table) and this turned out being the best thing I could have done, so I could get a handle on where I wanted to buy stuff from. Plus, I found that there are lots and lots of people that I've gotten to know who have been willing to give furniture away so maybe just buy the minimal items for what you need to start off with?

Other than that, I got bedding and kitchenware at Target, where it's pretty inexpensive but the quality is still decent. Craigslist is also a great idea and I always keep an eye on it. I also like thrift stores, or one thrift store specifically - Unique Thrift Store in Minnesota. I see there is a chain of thrift stores in Chicago called Unique and I have no idea if it's the same chain but if it is, it is an awesome thrift store. TONS of stuff, and everything is REALLY well organized and clean. I also have found some good deals at the dollar store. Not everything there is great - they often just sell brand name stuff in much smaller packages so you might as well buy the full sized version at full price, BUT you can find some good deals there. Which is funny because I avoided Poundland like the plague when I live in England. :)

Anyway, good luck! I love living here and am so glad I moved back. Feel free to memail me if you have any other questions about the transition.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:40 PM on May 19, 2012

Consider if you really want a mountain bike. Chicago is flat and those tires and shocks are not needed (and really slow you down). You can also give Working Bikes a try for something used/cheap. Welcome to Chicago!
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:13 PM on May 19, 2012

Regarding bikes, definitely get a hybrid as opposed to a mountain bike (as Bunglegirl mentioned, mountain bikes kind of slow you down). All the previously mentioned bike shops are excellent, but I would also add this guy I mentioned in another Chicago bike thread: Kevin. He sells used bikes out of his garage near Belmont and Damen, for reasonable prices.
posted by baniak at 7:59 PM on May 20, 2012

Not entirely the question, but if she takes the Pill, she'd do well to get a year's supply from her GP before going to save money/hassle - my friend did this before living overseas for a year. I hear contraception is astonishingly expensive in the US.

Fabric is very very cheap in the US - the stuff I buy for dressmaking (Michael Miller/Moda/Cosmo Cricket etc.) is cheaper to import from the US and pay shipping on than buy from a store here. You could pick up some nice prints for making cushions or any other soft furnishings for comparatively little if you can't find something you like used.
posted by mippy at 6:41 AM on May 21, 2012

It is cheapest and easiest to buy a bike in the spring (a lot of places do not carry used bikes except in spring) or on Craig's List anytime.

Some people love Sears and some people hate Sears - there are a ton of mattress focused stores in your neighborhood that you will can get a better deal with.

As a Lincoln Park alternative to Ikea - I highly recommend Roys. The furniture (esp. couches beware bed bugs) is new and relatively inexpensive and stylish.

You can definitely get all your cutlery, plates, glasses from resale shops or garage sales. But invest in high quality cookware and knives. And for those first couple weeks, that is why there are paper plates, SOLO cups, plastic ware, take out, and cereal.

There are not a lot of ethnic stores in Lincoln Park, however it is well worth exploring the city and getting some good spices and bulk items (like 10 pounds of basmati rice or a box of mangos when you want make your own lassi).

And finally, cash works even better for getting a deal (sometimes little stores will not charge you tax for big items or on craig's list you can bargain down by saying "this is what I got" and using small bills).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 6:57 AM on May 21, 2012

My favorite thrift store in Chicago is Unique Thrift Store, where every Monday is half-off. It's enormous and the first place I would check if I moved back. I used to go to the one at 51st and Kedzie. Some good furniture finds, but housewares are great.

In an empty apartment, grab an inflatable mattress when you arrive at Bed Bath and Beyond (there's one on Clybourn in Lincoln Park) and sheets. Everyone in America collects the famous 20% off coupons, which come in the mail or online. Take the coupon in with the receipt (you don't have to bring the item) to redeem the coupon days or weeks afterwards, they will still honor it post-purchase.
posted by spaceheater at 10:25 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to the thrift stores and cheap furniture shops, I recommend hitting some antique shops for furniture. Broadway Antique Market and Edgewater Antique Mall are just down the street from each other, and there's a small knot of shops near the Damen Brown Line stop, too. You might also check out the interior decorating shops and thrift stores in Andersonville.
posted by me3dia at 10:16 PM on May 30, 2012

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