A while back, Chrystina of the blog Chrystina Noel asked me if we could go thrifting together. She was planning on throwing a fancy dinner party, and wanted to thrift all the things she needed for her tablescape. It turns out I also have a dinner party I’ve been planning, so we decided to go together and hunt down all the decor pieces we needed.

A few weeks ago, we headed down to Philly AIDS Thrift (one of my favorite shops in Philly.) Thrifting with Chrystina was a blast, partially because she’s a thrifting novice, and it was so much fun to show her the ropes and to remember what it was like to discover thrift stores for the first time. (You can read all about her thrifted party decor at her blog, including some pieces of advice I gave her while we were shopping!) I’m usually a solo thrift shopper, so it was a completely different experience going through the store with someone else.

philly AIDS thrift furniture room

I love Philly AIDS Thrift because it is HUGE. There are two floors, absolutely packed with stuff. It’s impossible not to find what you’re looking for.

Here’s my advice for other solo thrifters who want to go shopping with friends:

  • Have different goals: The best friends to thrift with are the ones who are looking for different stuff, so you can help each other find what you’re looking for rather than compete for the same items. This can be as simple as thrifting with a friend who’s a different size or has a different personal style. For me and Chrystina, we were both looking for decor pieces, but were planning completely different parties that demanded different decor styles. It worked perfectly!
  • Always follow the ‘who saw it first’ rule: Even when following the above advice, sometimes you’ll find great items that both people want. Agree to stick to the rule that the first person who saw it gets first dibs, and your friendship should last this thrifting adventure.

philly AIDS thrift fabric section

We started off by combing through the linens, and both found tablecloths for our respective parties. I also found some gorgeous 1960’s floral fabric that I’m turning into a romper.

  • Combine expertise: One of the best tools when thrifting is the sometimes esoteric knowledge that lets you know when a good find is a good find. Go thrifting with a friend who has different interests, hobbies, and knowledge than you do, and suddenly you have two times the thrifting acumen. Chrystina is a font of knowledge about throwing parties, while I was the thrifting veteran. Together, we were definitely able to complete our mission more successfully than had we each gone alone.
  • Get a second opinion: Be open to advice and suggestions, and you’ll walk away from the thrift store happier with your purchases. Maybe your friend will hone in on the potential of an item you overlooked, or talk you out of a needless purchase. Sometimes I find that just talking out my thoughts about a potential buy helps me make my decision.
  • Go again: Once you find a great thrifting buddy, make going together a habit! I’m already looking forward to thrifting with Chrystina again in the future.

philly AIDS thrift dishware room

With Chrystina’s help, I started the collection of mismatched china I’ve been dreaming about for years! This is just one corner of Philly AIDS Thrift’s room full of china and silverware.

I love how Chrystina’s party turned out! Chrystina’s blog is a wealth of knowledge about party planning. Here are some of my other favorite posts:

how to go thrifting with friends

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I’ve been keeping a travel journal ever since I can remember, and my journals from my time living abroad are some of my most precious possessions.Even for short trips, I love to bring my journal to record what we’ve seen and done. This weekend, Crystal and I are getting away for a very quick weekend trip to Washington, DC, so I thought it was a good time to share my travel journaling kit.

travel journaling kit
My kit has evolved over the years as I’ve figured out what I need and what I don’t. It’s the perfect balance, I think, of simplicity and creativity. It lets me add sketches and color to my journal pages, glue in ephemera, and jot down my memories while keeping things simple and less intimidating. I like to get more creative later on in my Project Life album, and writing down everything in my journal on the fly helps collect my thoughts for that project later on, too.

Here’s what I include:

  • Parker Jotter Pen – This is my go-to pen that I carry with me everywhere, all the time. The ink writes smoothly and perfectly and I love that it’s refillable instead of disposable.
  • Le Pen and Stabilo markers in black and gray: I love how fine the point is on these markers, which makes them perfect for either journaling or adding lettering to my journal pages.
  • Glue stick: Simple, basic, inexpensive, and perfect for sticking ephemera of all kinds in your journal. Sometimes I’ll bring along my tombow glue runner, too, because you can never have enough adhesives.
  • Sketching Pencils: Sometimes I bring the whole box, but usually I’ll just pack a couple. I love keeping one in my bag along with my journal, so when I get tired from walking I can sit and sketch. I’ll usually journal around the sketches later on in the day.
  • Prismacolor 12-set: My tin is completely dented from being thrown in my suitcase so many times. I love how easy this little set is to pack, and it’s great for adding a small amount of color to lettering and sketches.
  • MagicRub eraser: MagicRub erasers are truly magical. I love using this for carefully erasing away journaling lines in unlined journals, and for cleaning up sketches.
  • Scrapbook ephemera: I don’t use embellishments that much on my actual scrapbook pages, so I always have way too many. I’ve started throwing them in this little tin to add into my journals.

The pouch:

I bought this little pouch from HO::LO in Warsaw while I was living there several years ago, and it’s held up extremely well even after being carried all over the world. HO::LO makes bags out of upcycled advertisements.

packed travel journaling kit

My journals:

I’m currently keeping two journals. The first is a Moleskine journal that I try to write in daily in longform, where I also write down the bulk of my travel journaling. The second is one I bought recently, a Midori Traveler’s Notebook — found used on eBay! This is my blogging notebook, and I carry it with me to write down blog post ideas on the go. When traveling, I find it to be a really useful place for writing down itineraries, because it’s easy to return to when blogging about a trip or doing Project Life pages later on.

how to pack the perfect travel journal kit

Do you keep a journal when you travel? What do you bring with you?

* Links in this post are affiliate links.

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For 2016, my main New Year’s resolution was to buy nothing new. Instead of shopping at any traditional retail stores, I would thrift everything I needed. This came partially out of a need to cut back my budget, being in grad school, but also from wanting to become a more ethical consumer. Now thats it’s July, I’ve gone over half the year buying only secondhand. 2016 has flown by!

circle thrift in fishtown, philadelphia

5 Things I’ve Learned:

  1. It’s often more expensive than buying new. This has been the biggest surprise but also one of the most eye-opening aspects of my project. Even thrift store prices on used furniture can be higher than shopping at Ikea. Thrift stores often mark up the prices on designer clothing, so it could be pricier to buy a used pair of jeans than to buy a new pair at H&M. I thought that buying secondhand was they key to becoming an ethical shopper on a budget. I’m realizing now that this can still mean paying more, even when thrifting.
  2. It makes me realize how much extra stuff is in the worldI touched upon this already in my blog post about shopping at the Goodwill outlet. But even at my regular thrift store, it’s overwhelming to go in on a regular basis and see completely new stuff every time. It makes me feel good about only buying used, but it also makes my contribution to trying to combat our national obsession with consumption to be small and insignificant.
  3. It makes letting go easier. Doing Konmari changed my relationship to stuff, and this project is changing it again. I’ve begun to feel less precious and sentimental about the things I own. I feel less of a need to hang onto things, because I can always find them used if I need them again. Like I mentioned in this post, this is particularly true of books. I’d rather know that books I’ve read will be read again than hoard them on my bookshelves.
  4. You can get almost anything used. When I needed new glasses, I thought I’d have to break down and buy them new — until I remembered about Fabulous Fanny’s, a vintage glasses shop in New York City. I thought house paint would be impossible to find used, until I discovered the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Between buy-and-sell Facebook groups, apps like OfferUp, and eBay, there’s little that you can’t find somewhere secondhand.
  5. Those too-good-to-be-true finds are really out there. My wardrobe has undergone a complete transformation, and is now filled with Anthropologie, a few designer finds, and vintage dresses, all found for $3-5. The secret? Patience and persistence. I outline some of my thrifting techniques in this post.

Moving Forward

I wish that I had blogged more consistently about this project so far, so I think I’m going to start trying to do monthly recaps. The budgeting aspect of this project has definitely been my weak point, so keeping accountable here will help.

Looking ahead to next year, I think my goal will be to consume ethically, whether or not that’s new or used. I really miss supporting local makers and businesses that aren’t secondhand shops. My budget is still a concern, but since there are few things I really need, I can thoughtfully make signifiant purchases occasionally.

what I've learned from buying nothing new

I’m curious what readers have to say about the ethics of buying new vs used. Is this something you think about? How do you navigate it?

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This is an updated and expanded post from my old blog. Links found in this post are affiliate links.

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, one of my priorities when planning my wedding was the invitations — I had my heart set on beautiful letterpress invites. Part of the design inspiration was knowing that I wanted to mail them out using real vintage stamps on the envelopes.


When my great-grandfather passed away when I was ten, I inherited his stamp collection. I always shared a strong connection with him, and using some of his collection on our invitations seemed like a beautiful way to make him present at our wedding. Finally sending these stamps out into the world felt right, somehow.

Because I didn’t want to use the whole collection, we supplemented it with additional stamps bought on eBay. Buying vintage stamps in bulk can easily be done for less than face value, so we ended up with a beautiful design element that actually saved us money.

If you’re interested in using vintage stamps on wedding invitations (or any other special piece of mail!) here’s what I learned.

How to Use Vintage Stamps on Invitations:

1. Source your stamps: There are some websites that sell vintage stamps in bulk, but I found eBay to be the best place to look. The best listings to look for are ones where estate stamp collections are being sold.* Stamp collecting was a huge hobby in the mid-20th century, and many collectors were fanatical about saving unused stamps. Now that stamp collecting has fallen out of favor, the value of these stamps as collectables is minimal… but they’re still perfectly valid postage.

2. Keep organized: I got a large craft organizer meant for embroidery floss (similar to this one)* and separated out all my stamps by denomination. Keeping organized will make the next step much easier!

3. Assemble Into Groups: As of this blog post, the cost of a first-class letter is 49 cents. If you have a heavy wedding invitation, it will likely cost more than that to mail, so I’d take one to the post office and have it weighed first.

Once you know how much postage you need, start playing around with your stamps to figure out how to make them add up correctly. It’s a delicate balance matching value, size, and color, so set aside some time for this and be patient! Once you have a couple combinations down, it’s easy to replicate them across the rest of your envelopes.

I prefer a bit of a random, asymmetrical look, but you might prefer to keep your stamps even and orderly… try a few things out and see what works for your style!

4. I’ll admit it – I licked my stamps: Is that gross? I tried using a damp sponge, but found a lot of the stamps were too fragile for it to work well.

5. Ready to mail? Have your stamps hand-canceled: You’d probably do this for wedding invitations anyway, but definitely have vintage stamps hand-canceled.

If you’re also in Philly, I highly recommend taking your invites to the Ben Franklin Post Office in Old City. The employees there were lovely and patient about canceling my invites for me, because that’s 90% of what they do at that post office — they even use an historic postmark, making it extra special. They charge a small fee when hand-canceling a large number of envelopes at once, but it’s well worth it.

Have you ever mailed a letter using vintage stamps? I’d love to hear about how it went!

* Links in this post are affiliate links.

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upcycled gilded wood frame

One of my goals for our home is to replace all of our cheap Ikea frames with solid wood. While Ikea frames can be a great option for achieving a uniform look on a budget, most of ours have started falling apart, and I hate how hard they are to hang. I thought stepping up the quality of our frames on an extreme budget would be a fun creative challenge.

So this is the first post in a series on achieving a high-end frame look on a budget. And because I’m all about being transparent on this blog, I’m starting out with a project I wasn’t totally thrilled with.

Upcycling a Wood Frame with Gold Foil:

The starting point:

I found this wooden frame at our local thrift store, and it happened to be the same size as our wedding invitation (5×7). I’d been wanting to frame and hang a copy of our wedding invites for a while, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.

original frame, pre-gilding

(This is what the frame looked like to start with. Cat for scale.)

Our wedding invitations, designed by Ladyfingers Letterpress, were one of my favorite details from our wedding. I really wanted to create a frame that looked at home with our decor, while also living up to the beautiful design of our invitation.

I decided this was the perfect chance to try my hand at gold leaf. I debated between gilding one of the inner bevels of the wood and doing a dipped look. I went for the latter because it sounded a lot more forgiving– which it was– but I also feel like I’m three years late with this project in Blogland.


frame gilding process

There are a lot of tutorials around the internet for applying gold leaf (I think this video is a good one), so I won’t replicate one here. My frustration, though, was that they all make it sound like these projects are super easy. While it’s not exactly an expert-level project, it definitely takes practice and patience.

Applying gold leaf essentially takes three steps: you start off by applying a base coat of adhesive, carefully apply and burnish the gold leaf, and then finish with a spray sealant.*

  • The adhesive and sealant should definitely be used outside.
  • I found burnishing the gold leaf harder than it looks, but it definitely gets easier with practice. I ended up lightly sanding the gold foil to give it more of a distressed look.
  • Each layer of sealant takes quite a while to dry, so set aside a whole afternoon to complete it.

The result:

framed wedding invitation

I’m a strong believer in upcycling, but I don’t really think it’s upcycling unless the finished project is better than the original — and I’m not quite sure I achieved that here. Regardless, I’m really glad I tried my hand at this technique, because I know it’ll only get easier with practice.

Have you ever tried applying gold leaf to something? How did it turn out?

* Some links in this post are affiliate links.

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