My No. 1 Secret Sourcing Weapon

Walking into a flea market, auction, estate sale, barn sale, or antique mall and being face-to-face with all the amazing goods scattered about on tables and in booths is so exhilarating. I can feel my pulse quicken and have to fight the urge to skip around in giddy excitement!

But that adrenaline and the sheer quantity of goods can sometimes lead to visual overload, feeling overwhelmed with where to start first and what to look for. 

So today, I'm sharing one of my favorite secret weapons for picking of any sort, at any venue.

This one item is always in every bag whenever I'm out sourcing. Beyond my phone, some business cards, a sharpie pen, I never leave home without it. Obviously, my bag has more than just four things, but that’s a totally different blog post!

And the secret is... (drumroll, please....) 

A Hot List. 

What's the purpose of a hot list, you ask?

For me, as a shop owner, it is the sure fire way to keep focused on items that I'm either hunting personally for my own collections, for the shop's merchandise or specifically for clients and regular customers who have shared something(s) they want. As much as I would love to spend the day meandering the sale at a leisurely pace, I need to stay hawk-eyed and on point. An old schoolhouse portrait of George Washington will never be purchased out from in front of me, again! *cue the Gone With The Wind theme music*

Everyone has their own methods that they love, but hopefully there are parts to the Hot List that you can implement in your own personal shopping and sourcing. 

And I've put the key components in a neat infographic for you!


1. Start with a notebook of your choosing.

Do you crush on Moleskins? Prefer something spiral bound? Whatever your choice, find something that is the right size to fit comfortably in your hand and will easily stash away while you're shopping. Too large and it will become bulky. Too small and you'll find yourself squinting -- or apt to misplace it. And I would totally suggest picking out a BRIGHT color so that it's easy to find rummaging in a large bag or will stand out if you set it down in a vendor's booth.

2. Divide and decorate it.

So that it doesn't become a hodge-podge and I'm not flipping through pages looking for a scribble, I parcel the notebook into sections for different categories, like any reference book. I cover the corners of certain pages with washi tape so I know where to flip for each section. (I keep another book with only my client and customer requests that I jokingly refer to as my "little blue book".) Definitely put your contact info and cell number inside the front cover, in case it is lost. Want to use tabs or paper clips? Or decorate the cover in metallic sharpies? Make it your own.

However, the first rule of HOT LIST making is this: THE HOT LIST IS ONLY FOR THE HOT LIST AND NOTHING BUT THE HOT LIST. This isn't a notebook to scribble down grocery lists or appointment reminders. This is going to become your tried and true encyclopedia. You are going to want to have plenty of space to get specific and organized.

3. Fill 'er up -- or at least start!

Don't feel pressure to fill every page instantly, but start putting pen to paper. These notes are going to be lifesavers when you're out picking, and a nearly empty book won't be as helpful, trust me.


I split my hot list into the following categories. You can always work with fewer, or possibly one or two more, but seven is a really great average. Find what suits you the best and call them whatever you'd like!

COLLECTIONS: This is where I list out my loves. The must-have's. The can-never-walk-away-from goods that make my heart sing.

MEASUREMENTS: When you're looking for a piece of furniture, it's important to know just what space you have where. Knowing if it really WOULD fit will help you make a decision one way or the other and eliminate the guesstimating. This will help you avoid the regret of buying something that doesn't fit or being haunted by the ghost of a "perfect" piece that got away.

SKETCHES: When in doubt, draw it out. Floor plans. Furniture. You're not going to cart around a photo album and we all know how hard it is to scroll through a photo roll in a hurry (or in bright sunshine) on your phone. Keep visual aids to help you envision what you already have or an object you're hoping to find. 

INSPIRATION LIST: Did you see something on a blog, social media feed, or in a magazine feature that you thought was superbly charming? Record it in a quick snippet. "Champagne bucket to hold glass fishing floats." "Birdcage turned terrarium"

WHITE WHALES (OR UNICORNS): The dream bucket list of once-in-a-lifetime finds. 

FRIENDS AND FAMILY: One of my major love languages is gift giving. It is a huge pillar of my personality and there are few things I love better than gifting a friend or loved one with an item for a collection or something personal to them. One dear friend collects antique copies of Pride and Prejudice . Another loves religious lithograph cards and objects of faith.

PICKERS AND SOURCES: Your own personal "Where To Find It." More details on this section when we get into how to utilize your Hot List.


So you've started your Hot List. Now comes the most fun part -- using it. I find that I use it differently, depending on where I am in the picking process.


I spend time reading back through my notes in key sections before I go shopping. Either the evening before, the morning of, or even while traveling if I'm not driving. I keep the information fresh. This isn't a cover to cover read. More of a cram session to just put it back in front of your eyes one last time. I tend to specifically go over my INSPIRATION, WHITE WHALES, FRIENDS AND FAMILY, and PICKERS AND SOURCES sections.


Once my cross-body bag is slung in place and I've got my market cart rolling, it's go time. There are delights to find and things to see. Having your nose in a book is totally counter-productive. I only pull out my Hot List if I need to check measurements or want to check a sketch or floor plan. This is when it becomes imperative that your notebook is a good balance in size/weight. Because the one time you decide to leave it at home or locked in the car is the time that you're begging a dealer to hold a large item for you so that you can trek back to the car to get the book or phone someone to find the book at home and check it for you. (Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything....)


Once the hunt is over, and the "junk drunk" of your finds has worn off, now is the time to refine and refresh the Hot List. Add or remove things as needed. The Hot List is always open to editing as some things are found or new inspiration strikes. I'll try to add anything from the day as soon as possible so as not to forget it, and then keep the Hot List handy during my day-to-day life for new inspirations and ideas. If it isn't in my bag, it is on the side table beside my favorite chair where I'll read magazines or browse inspiring websites or social media platforms.


This is probably one of my most critical sections, personally. If I stop at an antique mall on a whim and fall in love with a certain booth, I make a note of it. Met a vendor at a flea market or show that I just adore and love everything in their booth? Once I'm done making my purchases, I ask them for a card or their contact information. Inquire what their show schedule is like and if they will be anywhere else close in the near future. Summarize what sorts of things they specialize in. I'll even call some of my favorites and sources-turned-friends prior to a trip to confirm they are going to be at a specific show and if they are, where they are set up. And it is so unbelievably handy! I had acquired a vintage marquee letter A for my display behind the cash wrap a few years ago. When a customer came in and admired it, remarking that she wanted something similar, I could go right to my Hot List and give the dealer a call to see what other letters she had in her stash.  

So there you go. I've shown you behind the scenes on my process and given you all the specs on one of my favorite go-to secret weapons for shopping. I hope it is helpful to you during your upcoming trips out to find amazing things for your home. 

Happy shopping, lovelies!