garage sale 7

Jennifer Magid

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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?

Garage Sale 2Photo credit: Jennifer Magid

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?

garage sale 3Photo credit: Jennifer Magid

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.

garage sale 4Photo credit: Jennifer Magid

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. 

garage sale 5Photo credit: Jennifer Magid

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.

garage sale 6Photo credit: Jennifer Magid

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.

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