10 things I buy at garage sales

Few phrases excite me more than "city-wide garage sale."

And tomorrow is the opening day of Inver Grove Heights' three-day city-wide sales, which run from Thursday, Aug. 25 to Saturday, Aug. 27.

Neon signs are starting to crop up at intersections, and my heart is aflutter. I picked up the $1 directory outlining the 47 participating sales -- a drop from last year's turn-out, which featured about 60 -- and am now color-coding the map, which includes the categories of items for sales and hours. (There are a handful of early birds opening at 7 am, though most begin at 8.) 

I have always loved garage sales, but they've taken on far greater value since I became a parent. My four main reasons for hitting them up: 

  1. Financial savings. It's impossible to underestimate this point. Do you care if another baby once sat in that high chair, stroller or bumbo if you can sterilize it and buy it for $3 instead of $40? You can save an incredible amount of money. Some of the prices are shockingly low, untouched by the hands of time and inflation. Round up those spare quarters; they will go far. 
  2. Broader selection. I like to describe garage sales as a curated market, partly because it sounds fancy but also because it's true. When you go to Target, you get this season's collection. When you shop at garage sales, you access multiple collections over multiple years from multiple stores -- and you're drawing from the best of the best, the items that caught local shoppers' eyes and appealed to fellow parents. The variety makes them so fun; you never know what you're going to find! 
  3. Passed-on wisdom. The moms running these sales deal in dollar bills and nitty-gritty mechanics: how the swing glides, where the monitor swivels, why the Munchkin snack catchers work so well. The sleepwear comes with advice on how to get the baby to sleep. I love that my garage-sale purchases are attached to pointers, object lessons. Gymboree outfits from the mom who washes her kids' clothes on cold, inside out, to keep them in better shape. A mint-green Easter dress from the blonde down the hill who advised me against highchairs with cloth-seat covers. (Plastic seat covers, she said, are way easier to clean.) Twenty-five cent smocked dresses from the mother of three who lives by my church and extolled footless sleepers for late-night diaper changes.
  4. Environmental value. It's green to shop garage sales! What better way to recycle the things you no longer need than to give them another go-round in someone else's house? And, on a broader scale, it can help send a message about our production needs in this country. 

City-wide garage sales run throughout Minnesota from mid-April to early October. Here's a list with many of this year's dates, including additions noted in the comments section.

In addition to the neighborhood sales here in Inver Grove Heights, I never miss the Woodbury sales in May, which feature hundreds of homes and a greater proportion of kid sales than ours. But I'm oriented to the east metro and would love to hear your tips! I bet Maple Grove has a good one...

To wrap up, I'll share the 10 things I most often snatch up at garage sales: 

  1. Children's clothing. This is my biggest draw. Whether you're looking for inexpensive playclothes, knowing they will soon be stained or outgrown, or formal options, you'll find ample options. I usually see at least a few NWT -- new with tags, to use eBay parlance -- at every garage sale, which always excites me. Then I'm set when a neighbor or cousin has a baby. 
  2. Nursing tanks. I like to stock up on these, but new ones aren't cheap. I've also purchased unopened Medela products, such as the Quick-Clean Micro-Steam Bags, which are great for cleaning bottle parts and pacifiers (especially if you're trying to ward off thrush).
  3. Halloween costumes. At these prices, you can grab one for Halloween and a few others just for fun. 
  4. Baskets. Ahh, I love baskets. We use them for organizing and storage -- books, shoes, hats and mittens. We collect them to give out as May Day baskets each spring. Toddlers love to play with baskets (and look adorable doing so). And I like to display a gift in a basket, especially when I'm building a theme. It's a fun, quick way to dress up a present -- even something small, like a loaf of banana bread tucked in a litle basket and topped with a ribbon. Which leads me to: 
  5. Ribbon. I'm crazy about gift wrapping and have snagged a ton of ribbon at garage-sales. I also pick up super-cheap Christmas ornaments, which I use as gift toppers. 
  6. Children's books. Can't. Get. Enough. Especially of the vintage variety, like the Giant Little Golden Books illustrated by the likes of Richard Scarry. They make me nostalgic, and the girls love them! 
  7. Rain boots. Generally I'm not keen on secondhand shoes, which have already been formed by another foot (and seem germ-ridden), but I'm happy to buy secondhand rubber rain boots and just run a sterilizing wipe over them. They get so little use -- and the kids' feet grow so quickly -- that it can be hard to justify new ones. 
  8. Puppets. Love these! You can also find darling puppet theaters. (This upcoming Inver Grove Heights garage sale is advertising puppets and a puppet theater on Craiglist. In addition to my official directory, I usually peek on Craigslist for more details, plus pictures, on local sales. Only a handful of the sales are posted there, but it's still helpful.) 
  9. Craft supplies. Cardstock paper, buttons, scrapbook paper and punches. At these prices, you can let the kiddos have at it.
  10. Sticker books and other activitites to occupy toddlers at church or in the car. (More on this in another post.) 

And now it's time to finish color-coding my garage-sale map. 

See you out on the trail! 


Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two young girls in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at christina@mnparent.com.