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Writing a Garage Sale List

Twice a year, a master-planned community near my house has a neighborhood garage sale.

I like being able to go to several sales in a short period of time.

I make it a plan to take a list with me. I go to this semi-annual sale with my mom, so I take 3 copies of my list: one for me, one for her, and one to hand to the person having the sale. I don't always use the third one, but if someone asks if I'm looking for something in particular and they have several things for sale, I'll hand them that copy of the list. This has helped me several times. Once, a woman said, "Oh, I had one of those out at my last garage sale and forgot to put it out this time! I'll go get it!" which resulted in this:


A beautiful metal embroidery hoop, with a date on it of 1917. This is definitely my oldest embroidery hoop. I paid $1.50, and it was in a bag with several other vintage items for that price. It's my favorite hoop now (it's actually much smaller than you see here; I love the small size as it prevents my hand my cramping).

Another time a woman noticed I was looking for sidewalk chalk. She had a large coffee can full of it, which I most likely would not have seen has I not given her the list. When I asked how much, she said I could have it for free!

My list does a lot more for me than that, however. I use my list to specifically shop for clothes and gifts for my family.

I write down each person's name in the family, along with what clothing items they need, and the number of items that they need. For the children, I write down anything they need next year and the following year (the next two sizes up). If they still need anything for this year I will include that as well, but in general, I am shopping ahead for them. By shopping for the next two sizes, I am better prepared for sudden growth spurts. It also is important because sometimes it is difficult to find anything in the sizes I need; having two years to find something helps a lot.

For example, one person on my list might look like this:

Cyrus (age 10 1/2)

4 short-sleeved shirts size 14
6 long-sleeved shirts size 14
3 pairs shorts size 14
1 pair dress pants size 14
2 pairs jeans size 14
3 pairs long pants/corduroys size 14
1 tie

7 short-sleeved shirts size 16
6 long-sleeved shirts size 16

By having a specific number of items, I can be certain not to overbuy. I purchase enough for a week's worth of clothing (including church clothes) for both hot weather and cold weather.

I aim to pay 50 cents to a dollar for clothing items. I will occasionally pay more ($4 for a coat, for example), or $2 for a new items with tags on it, but in general, most items I buy are in the $0.50 to $1 range. This means that, in the example above, for a year's worth of clothing in one size, I am out the same price as one brand-new shirt at Target.

(This does not not count socks, underwear, pajamas, or shoes--just other items of clothing. I purchase socks and underwear on back to school sales. I make pajamas, usually repurposing sheets for these. I look for sales on shoes).

Most of my boys' clothing is used, from garage sales as well as hand-me-downs from friends. I like preppy, vintage clothes, and for the boys, it is usually quite possible to find button-down shirts and polo shirts in like-new condition, as these items are worn less often than t-shirts.  I find it harder to buy my girls clothing that I like, but I do find things for them on occasion (especially cardigans and jeans). I love vintage-style dresses, so I tend to make those, but I have found several jumpers and occasionally a few dresses.

Besides clothing, I have other items on the list.


I have listed both types of books as well as certain books that we are wanting. I have often found specific books that we wanted. I use these for the whole family or for individual children. If I plan on keeping it for a birthday gift or a Christmas gift, I put it up until that time. I pay .25 to $1 for most books. (I did buy a few last year for $2 each, that were hardcover books in like-new condition--and they were books on my list).  I will also pick up books in like-new condition for us to give as gifts to friends; these are often books that we already own and my children love, so I know their friends will like them as well. I put those in my gift box.

My list includes items that I know the children would like for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I find those items and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I find items that I know they will love that aren't on my list; that's okay, too, of course! (A couple of weeks ago a neighbor on my street was having a garage sale that included several like-new games, all marked $1 each. One was Harry Potter Uno. I've seen that on Amazon--for $53! I bought it and put it aside for Cyrus' 11th birthday later this year).


This vintage Ball jar was a garage sale purchase.

If there is anything I need in the kitchen, I'll put that on my list. Right now, for example, I'm looking for a metal pie server. I have one, but I would like another one for when we have several kinds of pie at once. I have an idea of the style I would like. I'm not in a hurry, but it's an item I would like to have, so I'll look for it.

Any other needs I have are also on there. This year, I am looking for a few bicycle helmets.

I have a few items on my list that I would like for sewing; I am looking for some specific shades of velvet and wool. Often these two items can be repurposed clothing items, so I look for pieces in good enough shape to cut up for those projects (a velvet skirt can offer plenty of fabric to make a girl's dress bodice). I aim to pay $1 for these. Garage sales are also a great place to look for sheets (to use for sewing) and blankets (to use as-is).

The white quilt on my bed was a garage sale find for $15. I have purchased blankets for the children at garage sales, too.

I usually take $35 to $45 with me. Most times, this is money that I've made from my own garage sale. I plan to go to this neighborhood sale in April and October; I might go to one other sale a year (this year I went to three already, as two were on my street and one was two streets over).

My list has also served another purpose for me for the past several years. A friend of my mother's (a woman whose children are long-grown) goes to Oregon and Washington each summer. She loves garage sale shopping while she is there, and she offered to look for things for me before if I would give her a list. She brings back several bags of clothing (usually including a few costumes), along with a list of what she paid for each item. She looks for items in the same price range as I do (most items she picks up for 50 cents each). I email my list to her.

I'll be going garage sale shopping at the community garage sale this Saturday. I'm looking forward to it!

Have you ever written a garage sale list? Do you use garage sales to buy the bulk of your family's clothing?

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  • Michele April 21, 2014

    I only keep a list of books that I need. I keep a...

    I only keep a list of books that I need. I keep a spreadsheet in Excel of different series that my kids are reading - such as Magic Tree House or Encyclopedia Brown. The rows are the different series and the columns are the number in the series. I put an "X" in the cell that I already own. This way when I shop at thrift stores or yard sales I don't buy duplicates. I learned the hard way! But I donate the copies to friends or our school if I mess up.

  • Jennifer O April 18, 2014

    Wow, I never thought about using cake domes in the...

    Wow, I never thought about using cake domes in the garden. Fabulous idea! Thanks!

  • Jennifer O April 18, 2014

    I keep a running list of things we need--either cl...

    I keep a running list of things we need--either clothing that has been outgrown or worn out and needs to be replaced or appliances that have broken--my Crockpot cracked several weeks ago and I'm dying to replace it but I don't want to pay full price. But, I've never created a garage sale list before, that's really a great idea. I usually stop when I see one but I'm never at one with a purpose.

  • Athanasia April 14, 2014

    I kept the glass cover to a Corning ware French wh...

    I kept the glass cover to a Corning ware French white 2 qt casserole for 5 years after someone broke the bottom. Browsing the goodwill and found a replacement last year. HandP, hold out hope....it could happen.

  • Honey and Pappy April 14, 2014

    I do make a list each year of things I'm looki...

    I do make a list each year of things I'm looking for during that year. Try to think of all occasions I will need things for. The oddest thing on my list right now is the bottom rectangle type tray of a butter dish! We use real butter, and keep two sticks out all the time. One of my butter dishes was mysteriously broken while sitting on the kitchen counter. I kept the lid, and just know one day I 'll find another bottom.

  • The Prudent Homemaker April 14, 2014

    The zinnias are from last year.

    The zinnias are from last year.

  • Athanasia April 14, 2014

    By the way ,Brandy, I love your pink zinnias! Ar...

    By the way ,Brandy, I love your pink zinnias! Are those from this year already?

  • Paula April 14, 2014

    Kelly, sometimes garage sales have been "pick...

    Kelly, sometimes garage sales have been "picked". I have a friend who has a sale once or twice a year and sells really nice things. There are two women who were regulars at her sales for a few years and then asked if they could have first chance at her sales the night before, which she allows.

  • Kelly April 14, 2014

    We have done that as well...put large items out on...

    We have done that as well...put large items out on the tree-lawn with a free sign on it. Gotten rid of an old exercise bike, an old push mower and my son's old bike that way.

  • Kelly April 14, 2014

    I don't live in a very affluent area as you do...

    I don't live in a very affluent area as you do. My community is down-trodden, a victim of the poor economy, if you will, with many of our residents receiving government assistance for generations. So when I do see yard/garage sales, the clothes there aren't very well maintained and reek of cigarette smoke and stained. Needless to say, I rarely shop at yard sales in my community. The large yard sales in the well-to-do communities in my area are so well-attended that the 'good stuff' is usually picked over by the time I get there, too high priced. The sellers think that people are gonna pay $5 for a piece of used clothing at a yard sale! C'mon now!! Nowhere to park....so basically, it's not worth my time. I'm hard to fit. My son, even though he is almost 10, wears an adult man's size M shirt and an adult man's size 9 shoe! Clothing is one area where I don't need to be frugal. I also dislike shopping for clothes as I despise trying them on!

  • Becky @ Becky's Place April 13, 2014

    I don't take a list. But I also do not go to r...

    I don't take a list. But I also do not go to rummage sales terribly often. When I do, I never feel the need to purchase "something", which I have found my mother feels she should. If there's nothing I need or want, I just say "thank you" as I walk away. However, my kids are now 20 and 16, and it seems most sales I've found typically have baby and small childrens' items. As my son's grown up I have noticed that it's near impossible to find boys' clothes. Most of their clothing has come from clearance racks or end of season sales, sometimes bought new with great coupon codes combined with sales, such as at Kohl's site. But I do like to go and take a gander now and then, just in case someone's got something that I could use and never gave much thought to.

  • Luba Rokpelnis April 13, 2014

    What an excellent article, Brandy! I have read yo...

    What an excellent article, Brandy! I have read your blog for a long time. You never cease to amaze me at your resourcefulness and wisdom. It's also great to learn from your readers. I don't do much garage sale shopping, but we have been blessed and don't really need much now by way of clothing or household items. This is a great article for future reference, though.

  • Maydijo April 13, 2014

    I'm certainly not above taking freebies off th...

    I'm certainly not above taking freebies off the street - I've just never had much luck!I remember a funny story I heard on the radio a few years ago - This woman and her family were moving into a new home. As I recall due to parking restrictions they had to park the van across the street. They would unload several items from their moving van, and then take a few loads to get them in the house. During this process their dining room table was taken. They were furious - How could someone be so rude as to just nick off with their dining room table in the middle of moving?Several months later she was visiting with her next door neighbour, who recounted the story of how she'd found this gorgeous dining room table, just sitting on the curb, and was so excited to bring it into her home and claim it as her own. She couldn't understand why anyone would get rid of such a lovely piece of furniture!Yep. One and the same. The dining room table was returned to its rightful owner and there was much embarassment from the (unintentionally) thieving party.

  • Becky April 13, 2014

    My husband loves garage sales and our youngest dau...

    My husband loves garage sales and our youngest daughter loves to go with him. Because we live so far out in the country, and we drive to get everywhere, he can often find sales on his way to wherever his is headed so there's no extra gas involved. He buys very few items. A few things he re-sells, but mostly he will get clothes for the kids if there are any that are inexpensive and fit. They just love doing it. I don't, so I leave it in their capable hands.The clothes I get for myself are almost all from gift cards my relatives give me for birthdays and Christmas. My aunt will occasionally give me some clothes she doesn't wear anymore. My husband wears a big and tall size that is very hard to find at yard sales. The Goodwill store is outrageous around here--$5 or more (way more) per item of clothing.We find that in the towns nearby, Friday is the better day for yard/garage sales. In one nearby town, Thursday is also becomming a good day. Like one friend commented to me, "Doesn't anyone work M-F anymore?" She was surprised because she sold more on Friday than Saturday at her sale she just finished yesterday. She made several hundred dollars. They plan to buy a play structure for their daughter who is getting a little older and needs a larger structure and they earned more than enough for that.We plan to have a sale in 2 weeks. It is worth it to us to pack our stuff in boxes and go to Rob's mom's house to sell the stuff. It's more work, but we get many more customers in town then we do out here in the country. At this point in life, after 31 years of marriage, we actually are trying to send more out the door than comes in. I keep reminding myself there aren't so many kids at home anymore (only 3) so I don't need as much stuff. When we price items, we also are of the mindset that we want to clear out the house. If we get lots of $, it's a really nice bonus, but we want it gone! So, we sell it for low prices. It is also a blessing to those who buy it when they can get things they need for low prices. The leftover things go to a local thrift store in town, or we save it for the 4-H garage sale. We make a pretty good chunk of change each year for our 4-H club having a sale (again in town), and use that money to make the club meetings better and for community service projects.

  • The Prudent Homemaker April 13, 2014

    Also, I have been able to buy quality clothing at ...

    Also, I have been able to buy quality clothing at garage sales, including Lands' End and Rothschild coats. Paying $4-$6 for these coats (the wool coats can be over $100 new) is also totally worth it to me.

  • The Prudent Homemaker April 13, 2014

    Paula, I have done the same for clothing for mysel...

    Paula, I have done the same for clothing for myself (most of my clothes were bought 11 years ago and I bought in multiples, too) and I hand down clothes for children, but I do have to buy things for the oldest children (and occasionally a few items for younger children). Whether the time is spent shopping at a store, shopping online, or shopping at a garage sale, time is still spent shopping for needed items. I don't have sales myself all the time (usually one a year), but making several hundred dollars selling items I no longer need is worth the time to me. We do the sale on our driveway with the garage closed.Of course, I've also invited readers into my house and my backyard to see our garden, so I've definitely had strangers in my home!

  • Chef Owings April 13, 2014

    I have my list, I also call my grown children and ...

    I have my list, I also call my grown children and ask if they are in need of anything. One right now is out of work (company closed) and she can get things for the kids like clothes and stuff but no one thinks of dish towels, bath rowels, curtains etc for running her own.Mom and Pop used to haul away storage units that didn't sell at auction...tons of household and clothes in those.

  • Paula April 13, 2014

    We have never been garage sale people. When we we...

    We have never been garage sale people. When we were working, those leisurely cozy Saturday mornings at home together were too precious to waste getting out of bed early to go to garage sales. We've never had a sale, either, partly for the same reason. We've never wanted a ton of strangers at our house at the crack dawn.We get rid of things a lot of times by donating them to a homeless rescue mission that uses proceeds from their own sales to buy part of what they need, and to help the working poor who live nearby them. Other times, we run a free bargain column ad in the newspaper for items worth no more than $100. That way, we just deal with one person coming at a time, at an agreed upon time. I HAVE bought a few things from other individuals through the bargain column. A while back I bought several still in the box bras that retail for at least $25 for $10 each. The woman who sold them found them when clearing out her late sister's house. Sometimes you can get an excellent piece of furniture this way.I can surely understand why people with rapidly growing children garage sale for clothing, but it just isn't for me. (I confess to something of a squeamish factor, too.) Most all our clothes are bought on very good sales. When you buy good quality classic style clothing and take care of it, it lasts for so many years that the cost per wearing is almost too low to calculate. Right now, my dress clothes are mostly career separates I bought when I was an office manager fourteen years ago. My every day clothes are mostly several years old. When I find things that are perfect for me, I buy in multiples, but that makes them last a lot longer than wearing the same ones over and over.

  • Moriah Lee November 16, 2015

    You could try estate sales, depending on the area, they can be quite amazing! I used to work with some gals who did them in Aurora, CO. Up until then I had never even heard of them, but now, I love them!

  • Theresa F April 13, 2014

    It must be great to live in a place that has garag...

    It must be great to live in a place that has garage sales year round. In Canada, garage sale season is from the end of May until about the end of August. It is harder to find clothes as most people are told that clothing doesn't sell well, and so don't put it out. I usually end up at thrift stores or Old Navy for clothes for my son. My daughter loves vintage clothes, so thrift stores are usually where she shops. She refuses to wear name brand anything :) Love it!!

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