Garage Sale Shopping Tips

Day 352

A friend of mine was telling me a story once and she was trying to describe someone’s compulsive behavior so she started her narrative by saying, “You know how you have this obsession to stop at every garage sale even if you have to make a U-turn?”

Well, uhm…I don’t know that I would describe it as an obsession….

Sunny Saturday

Sunny Saturday

But then we stopped talking about it because I had to pull across three lanes of traffic to check out a small handwritten sign on the corner that turned out to be a “Lose weight, call now”  placard.


So, it appears I have a bit of a garage sale habit.  It must be under control however, since none of my friends have tried to stage an intervention. I do enjoy the Friday or Saturday morning hunt– but I could quit anytime…

Since spring is upon us, the much anticipated rummage sale season.  I thought I would offer up some of my tips for successful garage sale shopping.


  1. Be organized-  Keep a list of things you want or need with you.  Don’t be shy, I have found things as mundane as wooden barbeque skewers and as specific as size 2 soccer cleats.  I also add “ongoing” items like art supplies and casserole dishes. This will keep you from buying things like Go-Go Boot covers (yes, I have seen these at a garage sale, and yes, I was intrigued, they were furry)
  2. Don’t underestimate snobbery-  I have a handful of clothing brands I like for various reasons.    I don’t even bother with what I consider substandard brands*  You gotta draw the line somewhere.
  3. Develop some OCD– When you find clothes that might work, check them thoroughly for stains.  Make sure all zippers and buttons and clasps work and if you have the recipient there,  try them on.  My children will automatically raise their arms for me to drop a dress or nightgown over their clothes while standing in some stranger’s driveway.   They don’t even flinch.
  4. Be skeptical– Open boxes to make sure it is the item advertised on the outside and all the pieces are there.  Also, don’t just trust clothing sizes.  If I my kids aren’t with me, I try to bring a couple articles of clothing that fit them to hold up against the potential purchases for comparison.
  5. Consider safety first– If you are shopping for kids gear, you can download an app from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that can give you info on product recalls.
  6. Hoard–  If you see something you are even sort of considering, pick it up and walk around with it.  You can always decide not to buy it when you check out.  Otherwise it might be gone.  And then you will spend all day kicking yourself that someone else bought that DVD copy of Deadliest Catch’s first season.
  7. Make class distinctions- Not all garage sales are created equal.  Consider what you are shopping for.  There will be more children’s items in neighborhoods with kids. Duh.  If you are looking for collectibles, older more established communities.  I like to shop in newer neighborhoods whose houses are above the median price range.  This way they are affluent enough to shop at nicer stores but aren’t so well off that they won’t spend a Saturday trying to make a few hundred dollars.
  8. Don’t be lazy– Not to insult your intelligence, but go early, the selection is better.  I never go before the sale opens (because that is just annoying), but I like to arrive as early as possible. That way, I am usually done before 10 AM and can enjoy the rest of the day. The number one reluctance people seem to express is, “I don’t have time for that.”  Which I think might translate to , “I’m a little embarrassed to be pawing through other people’s castoffs.” But that is just a guess.  Anyway, I spend about 2-3 hours every other week “shopping” or so during the summer months.   I would guess, most of those same naysayers spend that much time weekly negotiating the aisles at those giant box stores. Have you ever been to a Walmart on a Saturday afternoon? Now THAT, is embarrassing.
  9. Just pay up-  If there is something you really want, don’t try to negotiate, just pay them, which is contrary to what most garage sale “experts” will tell you.  In my mind,it is going to be cheaper than buying it new and more environmentally friendly.  If you can live without it, feel free to try to haggle, but don’t whine if they say no.
  10. Don’t get crazy- I have had to learn this the hard way.  In my lifetime, I have purchased far too many items that are “smoking deals” that I didn’t really need and they eventually made their way to the donation box.  This is how I am now in possession of a fuchsia and blue paisley Vera Bradley purse (so not my style) and six crystal pitchers of various shapes and sizes.  My (somewhat new) rule of thumb when shopping at tag sales, if I wouldn’t pay full price for it, I don’t buy it.  I have to either need it or think it would make a perfect gift for someone I know.

I consider garage sale shopping a win-win.  It is a bit of a social outing as I chat with the proprietors, buy their kid’s watery lemonade and talk to the other patrons.  I save money on things I need and feel like I am lessening my environmental impact.


BONUS  TRACKS (because this list is really too boring to be its own post)*

Here are my favorite brands of kids clothing as far as resale (they seem to hold up).

  1. Hanna Andersson (my very favorite resale brand)
  2. Gymboree (basics, jeans, leggings, t-shirts)
  3. Mini Boden
  4. Old Navy
  5. Lands End
  6. Gap Kids
  7. Garnet Hill
  8. LL Bean

Here are some that show up quite a bit, but I think typically don’t hold up that well.

  1. Justice (colors fade and it tends to be a little hoochie mama for children)
  2. Circo (However, this Target brand will hold up for a season, so if it is like new, you can usually get some wear out of it)
  3. J Crew Kids
  4. Gymboree (anything with embellishments or from outlet store)
  5. Hartstrings (plus they run a size small and that irritates me)
  6. Faded Glory (Walmart brand, Walmart quality, Walmart quantity on the second hand market)
  7. Beverly Hills Polo Club (department store brand)
  8. Lilly Pullizer (at the price it should last forever, sadly the colors fade and the construction is often poor)
  9. Crazy 8 (Gymboree’s low end)

Baby clothes are a different matter, up to two years, they don’t wear them long enough typically to matter.   Just check very carefully (in good light) for bodily fluids.  Although, if you aren’t squeamish, Oxyclean will get out a multitude of things.

*Keep in mind this is just my opinion and while I have been called a know-it-all before, I’m not sure they were referring to clothing brands.