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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 11 posts in the Garage Sales category for this blog.
First "Garage" Sales of the Year!
Monday, March 07, 2011

I went to my first two “garage” sales of the year on February 26! The date is important because every year my sisters and I have an informal competition as to who will be the first to attend a “sale.” (I know that I am late writing about them, but a lot has been going on!) One sale was took place in our town’s senior center and was sponsored by a local mom’s group. The other was a 10-family sale held in a church basement in a neighboring town.

Don’t you just love a sale where everything is 25 cents unless marked otherwise? I found my first Christmas present of the year—the rather alarming frog sconce—and a NEW 6-liter, stainless steel pressure cooker someone bought from QVC and then never used. (I’ve come to the conclusion that we Americans are a bit weird about pressure cookers. We like the idea of them, but we are scared to death to use them. I’ve noticed on the web that other countries have whole shops of nothing but pressure cookers, but outside of the Presto brand, they are as scant as hen’s teeth here.) I could have gotten the pressure cooker for 25 cents because it wasn’t marked otherwise, but I would have felt guilty every time I looked at it. The woman checking me out charged me $2 instead!

I also found a hot plate in mint condition for $2 (another item I can cross off my Master List—still haven’t found a Vitamix yet)!  It will come in handy when my husband takes the cooktop area apart to tile the counter and retile the backsplash. I figure if I could get along without an oven for 6+ months, I can do without a cooktop for a while, too. My pressure cookers will come in handy then!

Most of the things I found were useful things I am using to replace stuff that is worn out. The stout Chinese basket will hold my stationary and letter writing supplies; the soap dish will replace a chipped one that has seen better days; and the diskette labels are just handy. The baby stuff will go to my daughter in law. The candle holder is something I didn’t need but just wanted. The mini-beanies are from a FREE box and will go to missionaries.

I think that ONCE AGAIN I am the first in my immediate family to have gone to and purchased items at a garage sale (two actually!). I don’t want to hear any SNARKY comments girls (Who’s the woman?—Who’s the Woman?!) about whether these can actually be considered “garage” sales, because they were held indoors and in public buildings! No nitpicking or sour grapes—you can always try again (futilely, I’m sure) to be FIRST next year! Begonia


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Garage Sale: Vintage Tinsel
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I finally had that garage sale I’ve been talking about all summer but kept having to delay because of road work. They put down the last layer of asphalt and painted the lines early last week, AND it is Indian Summer (that magical time when the weather warms up briefly after the first frosts). We were selling all kinds of items we had outgrown: elementary-level homeschool materials; clothing; household items; toys; furniture; and all kinds of odds and ends. All were priced to go–except for my vintage tinsel.

You meet a lot of different kinds of garage salers when you put on a sale from hardcases like myself (I’d garage sale even if I won the lottery) to dabblers, dealers, and hobbyists. You learn all kinds of things when you talk to all these people. We had two older gentlemen who reminisced about having a radial arm saw just like the ancient Craftsman we were selling “as is” because we thought it was broken. Between the two of them, we figured out what was wrong with it and had it running before the end of the first morning! (My husband ended up taking it back into the garage!)

Every garage saler has their weakness. I met several “rocking chair-oholics”; one sheepishly admitted to having five already.  Another woman was obsessed with magazines. One lady loved to collect plants and commented that they were like children to her, “They’re my babies!” One gal gazed longingly at my complete set of Fire King Fleurette dishes but walked away empty handed because she had too many sets at home already. (Another blog about Collecting Things of Little or No Value in the wings!)

My weakness is vintage Christmas decorations. I rarely can bear to part with any of my decorations once I have acquired them. The one exception was the metal tinsel I had for sale last weekend. I should say the metal tinsel I tried to sell last weekend. (I was selling it because pets eat tinsel and get deathly ill, and we have a housecat.)  I watched person after person pick a package up, squint at it, then put it down and walk away.

Finally, I started talking up the tinsel to these people and every one of them would shake their head and tell a harrowing tale of being forced by some elderly relation to carefully remove each strand from the tree at the end of each festive season and carefully place it over a piece of cardboard, painstakingly smoothing each strand. One man laughed and said, “And you’d better not break even one!” Some folks even went so far as to iron the strands before storing them away for next year!

I came to the conclusion that there is no nostalgia attached to this type of tinsel because it was either something that drove you crazy or something that you threw away along with the tree. No nostalgia equals No sale, but I packed it up carefully anyway and saved it for next year! Begonia


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Garage Saling: Free Electric "Wood" Stove
Friday, October 01, 2010

The garage saling season is drawing to a close here in Wisconsin. We are due to get our first frost this coming weekend, and I am enjoying the final flush of fall garage sales before having to resort to a winter of cruising the thrift shops (which I consider way too expensive for most things).

I found some great bargains: vintage Mother Earth News magazines for 10 cents each, a pristine rotisserie grill for $5, vintage stationary (I have a weakness for fine stationary) 10 cents, insulated flannel shirt jackets for $2 each, hard- and softcover cookbooks for 25 cents each.

But you know, the best things in life are FREE!

I was garage saling in a nearby small town that a lot of people overlook—I always do well there.  I had just paid for a miniature, decorative clawfoot ceramic bathtub for the bathroom counter that perfectly matched our newly installed Habitat ReStore sink and a large turkey candle for my growing turkey collection, when I spotted the little stove. It was set off to one side with a "free" sign on it. It was clean and bright and shiny. I love shiny things.

I asked the woman running the sale why it was in the driveway. She said the heating unit no longer worked. I replied that it was okay because I only wanted it for the beauty of its electric flame. (I’ll admit that I can be shallow at times!) I’d seen and coveted one of these pretty space heaters at a friend’s house. She hadn’t been using it to heat at the time, just enjoying the flicker of the “flames. “ I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for one of these little jewels.

I later found out that the heater was probably bought at a local big box home improvement store for about $100. It would have cost its previous owners some hassle (The manufacturer will only sell you a replacement part if you send them a picture of the stove first!) and $40 for a new heating unit and the expense of shipping it from Quebec, Canada.

I plan to put the stove in our guestroom/library space later in the year. We may even decide to fix it so it isn’t just a “pretty face.” Either way, I will get extra enjoyment from knowing that it was FREE! Begonia


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Collecting (Things of Little or No Value): Mug Mania
Friday, September 10, 2010

Mug collecting—it is a mania that runs in my family. My sisters collect mugs, my mother collects mugs, my MOTHER-IN-LAW collects mugs, but I won’t write about those because they are Royal Dalton Tobies and actually have collector value!

My mother‘s mug collection is so large that she rotates them. She has a few boxes stashed in the basement that she exchanges with the ones in her cupboard from time to time. I think it is a clever way to enjoy an extensive collection, don’t you?

One of my sisters works in a lab. She used to scoop up the organ (the internal kind) mugs whenever the drug reps brought them in as freebies. She regularly sips her morning brew from a liver- or kidney-shaped mug. (This would put some people off their Wheaties, but we Kiefer gals are made of sterner stuff!)

I find most of my mugs in church basements and people’s garages during the saling season and in second hand and thrift stores during the colder months. (I enable my mom and sisters’ mug habits with my 10-cent finds from St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill.) I did break down and buy a beautiful brown transferware china mug with a Royal Palm turkey on it for 99 cents at the Hospice resale shop. I presented it to my mother as a Thanksgiving present.

 One of my favorite finds came from a local church rummage sale.  Their garage sale isn’t the biggest, but it sure is interesting. You never know what will turn up. One year, I found the wall oven ($25) that will soon replace our present museum piece—another year, a wicker rooster and a collector plate of the Pilgrim Memorial Monument. The last great mug I found there was what we call “Beduin Tent,” a mug emblazoned with an image of Liberation Tower, “STATE OF KUWAIT” (in English and Arabic), and an oasis scene of a large, low tent; a mom camel with a baby camel nursing, a guy in native dress, two gals in burkas by what looks like a well with some clay jars nearby, and some folks off on distant dunes riding “ships of the desert.” Why endure the danger and expense of travel to distant locales when you can get it all on a commemorative mug (for 25 cents) from the basement of the Zwingli UCC?

The next time you run across a mug (or platter or tablecloth or lamp. . . . ) that speaks to your inner collector (of things of little or no value) don’t resist—especially if it is priced under a dollar! Begonia


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Garage Saling: Stocking Stuffers
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hit some great sales this past weekend. Once again, it was quality not quantity. I shop for Christmas gifts year ‘round. This week I found a bonanza of stocking stuffers. If you wait until the Christmas season and buy at retail prices—even with the great sales during the holidays—you can still end up spending a king’s ransom for the contents of the Christmas stockings!

 My husband brought the tradition of Christmas stockings to the marriage. When the kids were small, it was easy: cheap toys and Christmas candy! When they were teenagers, it changed to mostly BAGS of Christmas candy! Now they are adults, health conscious, and much more discerning in their tastes.

It’s a lot more fun shopping for them!

I still put some candy in the stockings, but I also add things like soap, stationary, books, pens, Christmas mugs, vintage bottle openers, themed tree ornaments, mittens, candles, toiletries, perfume, soap, movies, small kitchen items, craft supplies, jewelry, and other odds and ends. Unless they are vintage or books, they have to be “new.” I find them all at garage sales within 12 miles of home.

Here’s a list of what I found just this week:

  • Amy Butler (Whoever she is!) desk set—50 cents
  • Large bar of rose soap—50 cents
  • Two lilac Colonial Candles votives—25 cents for two
  • Two sage green tapers—25 cents for the pair
  • Lavender Hand Cream—50 cents
  • Set of four shower gels–$1.50 
  • Peach glycerin soap—50 cents
  • Stationary set–$1.00
  • Mandarin bath gel and lotion—50 cents for both
  • Yankee Candle Christmas Wreath Tart—25 cents


I think the reason I find these luxury items regularly at sales is because the personal tastes of the giver and receiver clashed. They didn’t like the color or the scent, or the husband can’t stand scented candles (Good, more for me!).  All this ends up in the garage or driveway at insanely low prices as a result, and they are all new, unopened, and ready for gift giving.

The next time you are passing a garage sale on fine summer morning, stop and shop with Christmas stockings in mind. Begonia


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Garage Sailing: My "Spare" Shelf
Saturday, July 17, 2010

I’ve been to five garage sales this week. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is quality rather than quantity that counts, although I’ll take both when I can!

The first of my two favorite buys was a trendy top for my daughter. (The tags were still on it—$25. I paid $1! Pam in California if you are reading this, I hope you’re impressed.) My other favorite find was a Belgium waffle iron in mint condition that I picked up for $1.

I have to confess that I already own two waffle irons: one Belgium and one regular. I prefer Belgium-style waffles, but the family doesn’t like to warm them in the toaster because they have to be turned as they toast or they burn. They prefer the regular square waffle iron for waffles that can be taken from the freezer and reheated in the toaster without needing a chaperone.  

What does a person do with waffle iron No. 3? Stash it on your Spares Shelf! My spare shelf holds only things that are hard to find in the model I prefer or that I would buy immediately if they lost the victory in the “off season. “ (That would be roughly mid-November through Late April here in Wisconsin.)  I could go to a thrift store during that period and buy, say a coffee maker—but I am just too cheap. Plus I find nicer ones at garage sales.

My Spare shelf began with a $70 toaster that grandma never used because it had just too darn many buttons!  I found it at a church rummage sale for a couple dollars. (I love church sales—the prices are great and the stuff is sanctified!) We use a particular type of toaster because of my husband’s love of bagels, which are too fat for your run-of-the-mill  two-slot unit. I also favor a particular two-beater bread machine that is no longer made (but I can still get parts). To replace it with a new machine by the only remaining maker of two-paddle models, would cost over $200. When I ran across one of the discontinued models for $10, I snapped it up.  After a short tour of duty with one of my children, it now resides on the Spare Shelf.

If you have some room in an out-of-the- way closet or storage area, you should consider setting up your own Spare Shelf—it could save you a bundle. Begonia


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On Garage Saling: Arriving Late
Thursday, June 10, 2010

There are many strategies for getting the best deals at garage sales. Sometimes if you can’t be the FIRST person there when the garage door opens, it is best to be the LAST person!

Not everyone is looking for the same things.  You never know what you are going to find at the end of the sale, and it is often going to be cheaper than it was at the beginning of the weekend! 

Items will be half-price, bag sales happen, and the free box overflows in the final hours of the average garage sale. Don’t be shy about dickering. Build a pile of stuff and make an offer.  If you are crafting or gathering objects for charity, ask if they would be willing to donate.

Sometimes they have already started to throw stuff out or pack up by the time you arrive. As a courtesy, I always ask if I can junk pick if good stuff is on the curb while the people are still present packing up. I also always ask permission to shop if I arrive when people are in the process of closing their sale. If they don’t want me there, I politely withdraw.  Don’t take it for granted that you have a right to rummage!

 Many people hit the end of a sale and just want everything gone.  Others will scrape up every scrap of junk that should have gone to the landfill and pack it up for next year’s sale! When I have a sale, I’m firmly in the “I just want it gone” camp. I don’t bring anything out of the house that I want to bring back in at Noon Saturday.

 I used to have group garage sales regularly, involving someone who was breaking up housekeeping for one reason or anotherfantabulous stuff priced to go. We were just about to pack up one of these sales when a fifteen-passenger van pulled up. A woman and a man got out and wandered around. The woman bought some Gourmet magazines and then the man came back and asked if he could make an offer for everything I had left! I just looked at him dumbstruck, then glanced over at my sister and said, “Take it all for FREE. I just want it all gone! Here, we’ll help you pack it up!”

It definitely was a missed opportunity for a little more profit (by that time, it was all my stuff), but I loved the looks on their faces. I figure that everyone should have a little unmerited favor in their lives. I sure have enjoyed more than my fair share of it. Begonia

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On Garage Saling: Arriving Early
Monday, June 07, 2010

How many spring, summer, and fall mornings have I spent parked on a residential street with a cup of coffee, a sweet roll, and a good book waiting for some sign of life at a certain address? Am I a stalker, an undercover officer, or a private eye? No, I’m a dedicated garage saler waiting for that garage door to open so I can start my day of bargain hunting!

Why so early? When that garage door opens, all car doors open promptly.  As all hard-case salers know, the best “stuff” disappears quickly. Looking for a nice couch or power tools? Better be there early.

How early is too early?  There is some disagreement on this point. My sisters feel it is cheating to start shopping when the “door” opens if it opens 20 or 30 minutes before the time published in the local paper or ad shopper.  If the seller's response to my polite inquiry, “May I look around and start shopping now?”  is “Sure! Go right ahead!” or “OKI just want to get rid of the stuff! “ my attitude is, in the words of the immortal bard, “All’s fair in love and garage saling”!

What kind of stuff have I found? I was out for a pregarage sale walk with a friend when we noticed a man with the garage door open setting up a sale. He let us in to look, but we didn’t have any cash with us. He agreed to let us reserve items to buy if we promised to come back right after our walk and haul them away. (I love it when men are in charge of sales because they usually price low and just want to get stuff off the property as quickly as possible.) That is the morning I found my $5 grandfather clock.

 Was it the most expensive clock when it was new? No, we think they got it free with the purchase of a new sofa or dinette set,  a midrange value—not the cheapest, but not the most costly. The guy told us it didn’t work.  After breaking every rule of transporting grandfather clocks to get it home, my husband put it back together and adjusted the works. It now ticks gently and keeps perfect time as I type on my laptop. (In the spirit of complete transparency, I must note that it doesn’t chime—a disappointment to me but not to the rest of my household!)

I have also found that you have to be Johnny on the Spot or earlier for new building supplies, such as  flooring and fixtures. I bought an unopened case of recessed lights for $10 that my husband used in remodeling our laundry/bathroom. I have some nice tile in my entrance way and some high-quality laminate flooring in one of my bathrooms for 50 cents a square foot because of arriving early at the sales of tradesmen and general contractors.

I also find lots of gently used, big-ticket household items, such as my cook top, wall oven, and clothes dryer for $25 each.  My salvaged, high-end stainless steel kitchen sink cost us $3 at a local garage sale.

Don’t be shy about showing up early. There are plenty of bargains out there for all of us. Begonia



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Garage Saling Again: My Latest Find!
Saturday, May 01, 2010

I went to my first village wide garage sale of the season in a nearby small town. A lot of people pass up this town, but I always find it a good start to “the season.”

This year my favorite find was a Hobart-made K-5 Kitchen Aid heavy-duty mixer with bowl, spatter shield, and dough hook for $25. It cleaned up nicely with some Simple Green spray and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It works fine.

My old K-5 pooped out and resisted repair after 14 years of hard service with me—it was well broken in when I purchased it for $70 with multiple attachments. (We are keeping it as a parts machine). I will be selling my stop gap wimpy stand mixer at our next garage sale. 

The new Kitchen Aid mixers are made in China. After some research and reading a number of unfavorable reviews on line, I came to the conclusion that they are inferior to the now discontinued American-made Hobart models.  (Hobart makes heavy duty equipment for commercial bakeries.) Besides, I can’t afford a new Kitchen Aid or anything heavy duty and new anyway!

Needless to say, I was elated to spot this neglected and greasy jewel on the back table among the flotsam and jetsam at a more than reasonable price. I did enquire as to why it was in the garage sale, and the woman, a bit taken aback by my candor, replied, “Well, it’s older and I don’t use it much anymore.” I though fine by me and said, “Sold!”  It turned out to be a good day for both of us. Begonia


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Garage Sale Master List
Friday, March 12, 2010

Have you started your master list yet? Our village-wide garage sale, and those of other towns around here, will be beginning in about six weeks. I get the bulk of my “needed stuff” at the first couple of village-wides of the season. People who don’t normally have a garage sale, as well as the “regulars,” have sales during these Festivals of Economy, so the pickings are excellent! Now is the time to prepare: make your list and start enveloping some cash each week if you haven’t started already!

Having a list helps me stay focused on what we need and slows my impulse buying. I find that without a list I forget or fail to budget for the things I will need in the household in the coming year. (I journal what I spend at each sale, so I know on average what I spend each year at garage sales. That amount becomes part of the household budget line the following year. See  my 2/23/10 blog.)

I carry with me at all times my master list and index cards containing clothing and shoe sizes and the measurements needed for shopping remodeling and decorating items (such as paint, flooring, tile, baseboards, molding, curtains, and countertops).

Here’s an example of my master list so far:

·         Electric chainsaw

·         Freezer (20 cubic feet—chest, 2 or 3 years old)

·         Flooring for living room and family room (wood and tile—300 sq. ft.)

·         Bathroom sinks and or counters

·         Bathroom faucets (new)

·         1x2-inch wire fencing (3-4 ft. width)

·         Split rail fencing

·         Bricks and patio block

·         Ceiling and wall paint

·         Plywood

·         Plastic fruit ripener

·         Extra two-paddle bread machine

·         Extra adjustable slot toaster

·         2 sets of King Sized sheets

·         Bicycle Repair Stand

I can’t wait for the season to start in earnest. It’s been a long snowy winter. I’m looking forward to some real bargains. I hope you are, too! Begonia


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First Sale of the Season and Garage Sale Journaling
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I went to the first garage sale of the season this past weekend, and I believe that I have skunked all of my sisters and my DEAR mother in having attended the first sale of the 2010 season. True—this was a sale held in a church basement, but it was listed in the local ad shopper as a “HUGE 9-Family Sale.”

We have a friendly competition within the family every year for who will be the first to attend a garage sale. At this time of the year in Wisconsin, these sales usually take place inside! I did pretty well. Here is what I got for $15.50.

  • NEW One pair Wool men’s Wigwam socks  (for my husband to use cross country skiing)—50 cent
  • NEW Home Interiors Very Berry column candle—25 cents
  • NEW Tyler Candle Co. Limelight votive—25 cents
  • Five newborn t-shirts (for Midwife Kits)—$1
  • Vintage flower pot—25 cents (I collect)
  • Vintage ice cream scoop with red Bakelite handle—$1 (I collect)
  • Stainless steel measuring cups: 2 cup, two 1/3 cups, ½ cup, 1/8 cup, and ¼ cup—$1
  • Jergens and Victoria Secret lotion—2 tubes for $1
  • Two short Gap hooded and zippered sweatshirts: black and white—2 for $4
  • Trendy, short, black and white sweater with three-quarter length sleeves, shawl collar—$2
  • Two V-neck shirts for layering—$1.50
  • Two camisoles: black and white—50 cents
  • Three black shirts for layering—$1 (All ten clothing items are for my daughter who just went through another growth spurt—I keep trying to avoid taking her to the mall.)
  • Two knit cotton dishwashing cloths—$1 (I know—a princely sum, but I wanted them.)
  • Faux pearl multistrand necklace—25 cents
  • FREE quilted zipper shoe bag (Gotta love those free boxes!)
  • FREE hair scrunchy

How and WHY do I keep track of all this stuff? How—I keep a journal of all the stuff I buy, the date, sometimes the place, my impressions of the day, and how much I paid. WHY—I get most of our household goods, craft materials, books, entertainment (CDs/DVDs), clothing, and home improvement items at garage and estate sales. (I’m not an auction gal, although I love auction-goers’ sales!) In order to budget, my husband and I need to know where the money is going.  Also,  some sales are consistently good or bad, and I like to remember where they are located—to get there early in the first case and to avoid wasting time in the latter case! (I know that this isn’t very noble, but sometimes I just like to reread the journal just to gloat!)

Have you been to any good garage or estate sales yet?  I’d love to hear about your latest best deal! Begonia

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