I don’t have the knack that some people do for finding a diamond in the rough. Dumpster divers, thrifters — I salute you. All I see is a mess of stuff that no one wants. So it goes without saying that I’m not one to frequent garage sales; people’s old, used stuff frankly grosses me out. But when I was challenged to attend an actual garage sale, held in an actual person’s garage, with piles of stuff they wanted to get rid of, I expected to be disgusted. I was actually surprised.
Given my tendency to scan a room of used stuff and see nothing I want, I brought along little helpers: My 5-year-old, who seems to have an innate intuition for digging through trash to find little trinkets and treasures; and a preteen, who would absolutely be honest about whether something is garbage or hidden gold. We hit up a garage that was packed to the brim — the perfect place to fully experience a garage sale at its finest. But where to begin?
Immediately, little helper made a beeline for the pile of china. It was exactly the kind of stuff I expected to see at a garage sale: old, fancy plates. Some people may be into it, but the last thing on earth I wanted was more damn plates. Little helper had other ideas. She honed in on a container with little china tea set pieces, perfect for playing tea party with her dolls. At this price (not even a dollar per piece!), she could have some mini tea cups and break them immediately without a worry. She happily moved on to the next area, testing chairs and digging through boxes of old Steiff bears, begging for some used teddies. I know these bears are possibly worth something, but I realized that if you don’t have a solid sense of what an object's value is beforehand, it might not be worth the buy. I possibly made a huge mistake and passed on them.
Then I noticed an old Coach backpack. I didn’t want it for myself, but could I shine it up and resell it for more? As I looked around, I pondered a hypothetical question: If you love going to garage sales, is it to save money on things for yourself or to find things that you might make money on?
Wandering on, I passed racks of old clothes, bags, and container after container of old jewelry, getting more and more flustered. Do I open this bin or that bin? Do I dig under that pile to see if something good might be hidden? I found myself standing there, frozen, surrounded by stuff while watching people more talented at deal hunting do their thing. The preteen came across an awesome beaded bracelet that said “Badass” — that was a yes. Little helper managed to find a complete Shopkins Lego set for herself (a yes), and tried to talk me into piles of costume jewelry and a freaky-looking doll, both of which I vetoed.
But then the biggest coup happened. My husband, a vintage shoe addict, asked me to send him photos of any old men’s shoes I saw laying around. I sent him a pic of some Alden oxfords that looked like something I would typically toss in the garbage for being worn out. “Those are worth $600 new!” he texted back. At the garage sale, they were just $10. A pair of Allen Edmonds for $5? “Worth a couple hundred new!” He surmised that for the grand old price of $15, he would be able to spend some minimal time fixing them up a bit and make at least a couple hundred bucks selling them.
All in all, I ended up spending $35 total for a couple pairs of shoes for resale, fun jewelry, delicate china, and a bunch of new-looking toys.
And this, I learned, is why some people adore garage sales. If you know the value of certain items and are willing to dig, you can find a steal, whether for yourself or to resell. But the biggest surprise was that, despite not buying anything for myself, I would consider going to one again to hone my searching skills. I went in thinking garage sales were not for me, but realized that if you look carefully, there can be joy in the search.
For more great garage sale tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.