Sign me up for all things garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. Our home is filled with great finds, many coming from my husband’s Grandma Lil. Although now retired from her garage sale days, she was a true master in her day. Her collection of treasures grew to be extensive and she would often invite us over to “shop” her great finds. Lucky for me! I’ve learned from the best how to spot a good deal and I’d love to share the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.
Make a list. Check newspapers, social media, and posted yard sale signs. Most communities have a popular location where signs get put out. Make this your first stop. Family moving sales and couples downsizing are great sales to attend. Also watch for community sales. Usually these sales have many contributors, which equals lots of inventory.
Bring cash. Know beforehand what you are prepared to spend and have the cash on hand. There are no debit/credit machines and people may not be ok with taking a personal cheque. If you do get caught without enough cash, you can always ask the owner to hold it for you while you run to the bank.
Go early. There are many garage sale goers out there like Grandma Lil and they are waiting for the owners to open. If you are serious about finding treasures, go early. You still may have success if you go later but it’s not as likely.
Barter. This is common at garage sales. It takes work to host a sale, whatever doesn’t go has to be donated or packed up again which means more work. The owner is motivated to sell. Bartering works especially well if you are getting more than one item, it’s easier to group a few things together and round down to an even number.
Know value and what to look for…
Furniture. Look at how the piece is made. Does it have a stamp of the company who made it? How are the drawers made? Dovetailed drawers point to higher quality. Is it solid wood? Is there any damage and can it be repaired easily?
Dishes & Pottery. These items are great buys, especially if your mom or grandma already have a collection you can add to. Check the markings on the bottom of the dish. Look for chips. Milk and Jadeite glass are classic. Sugar bowls, serving dishes, and pitchers bring personality into your kitchen. A collection of antique plates can be displayed as art. A cute little bowl can hold a pot scrubber next to the sink. A vintage tea set is great for a child’s playhouse.
Textiles. Look for rips, fraying or stains. What’s it made of? Wool is great but can’t be washed easily…although it may be worth it if it’s in good shape. Quilts are a beautiful addition to any space. If you can sew, garage sales are a great place to pick up fabric for future projects. If you’re an artist, sheets can be used to make a canvas…plans for a DIY canvas tutorial is in the works so stay tuned!
Clothing & Jewelry. What shape is it in? Vintage scarves, kids clothing…especially costumes are good finds. Unique jewelry pieces can be found but only buy if you love it and know it’ll get worn. Scarves can be framed and hung on a wall or used to wrap a special gift.
Toys. If you’re touring garage sales with your kids, this will get tricky! I often limit my kids to one item for the day and encourage holding off unless it’s something they really want. These finds often get recycled into the donate bin, small price to pay for bringing them along! There are some toys you do want to watch for. Vintage games and toys made of metal or wood. These make great display items for kids rooms and bookshelves.
Accessories. Can it be added to a collection? Does it provide storage? Does it remind you of someone or something? Treat accessories like art, it should invoke a good feeling when you look at it or at least serve a purpose. I have a wooden cutlery box that I painted and replaced the interior with fabric from my grandparents cabin. It now sits in my living room and is storage for papers, magazines and books. It serves a purpose in my home and now that I’ve customized it, it also means something to me.
Books, Music & Movies. This is really a personal choice. There’s no shortage of books, music and movies at garage sales. Only buy them if you plan to use them, either for their intended use or as art in your home. I have vintage children’s books that I love to display on a bookshelf. Damaged books and vinyl records can be used as art.
Electronics. I personally don’t go for electronics. Vintage cameras, record players and radios may tempt me though… If you are interested in buying electronics for use, ask to test it to make sure it’s in working order.
Tools & Outdoor. Metal toolboxes, hand tools, wheelbarrows, outdoor planters and rain barrels are all good finds, often a fraction of what you would pay new. Outdoor furniture made from iron can be cleaned and painted for a fresh new look. Be wary of garden hoses, sprinklers, electric tools or anything else that may not work properly. Ask to test it or be okay with taking a gamble.
Art. If you find a piece you love, buy it. It doesn’t have to be a traditional piece in a frame. Art can be found in any of the items I’ve listed above, it’s in the way it’s displayed that makes it “art.”
Always look for quality materials and undamaged pieces. If it does need fixing, can you do it yourself? If it’s not serving a specific purpose, is it something you love that you’ll use as art? Go early, bring cash and don’t be afraid to barter.
Garage sales require patience and persistence. You will go to a lot of sales and not find anything. That’s okay. Keep it up and you’re guaranteed to find unique and quality pieces that will make it worthwhile…you’ll also learn the art of the garage sale drive by, knowing how to spot a sale that’s worth parking and getting out of the car for!
Happy hunting! I’d love to hear about your found treasures and strategies you use.
Follow my Pinterest board, Garage Sale Finds here.
Disclosure: All featured pictures represent items that have been acquired through garage sale finds or gifted from family. All items are second-hand and represent examples of garage sale finds.