Updated on 11.17.09

My Garage Sale and Thrifting Toolkit

Trent Hamm

I really enjoy visiting garage sales, yard sales, and thrift stores. I almost always find an item or two that I’m either looking for myself or I’m sure I can sell on eBay for a small profit. Plus, I’m always amazed at the things other people have largely decided to throw out.

Whenever I head out for a few hours of visiting yard sales and thrift stores, I take my backpack along with me. I usually have several items in it that help immensely with a big day of yard sales and thrifting. Here’s what I pack.

A list of thrift stores and yard sales. I’ll usually check the local newspapers a day or two before I plan on heading out to see where the sales are going to be. I make a list of those sales. I also usually make a list of local thrift stores, but I pretty much know where they all are within a twenty five mile radius, so that’s reached the point of being unnecessary.

A map and/or a GPS unit. Just because I have an address of a yard sale two towns over doesn’t mean I know exactly where that is. A local map can help somewhat, but I’ve found that the GPS is even more useful. I simply punch in the address and go. Quite often, I’ll punch in all of the unknown addresses the night before so that I can just click a button or two and go when I’m out and about the next day.

A simple meal. A sandwich, a few vegetables, and a few bottles of water take care of any food or rehydration needs I’ll have when I’m out. This way, I’m not tempted to overpay for some unhealthy food on the go, which would pretty much undermine any benefit of hitting thrift stores or yard sales.

Cash. Yard sales usually operate on a cash-only basis (and thrift stores are quite happy to take cash). Thus, when I’m out, I do my shopping on a cash-only basis. Part of that means making sure that I have an adequate amount of cash on hand before I leave to cover anything I might possibly buy.

Sizes. What size clothes does my wife wear? My kids? Me, for that matter? I make sure to have them all written down so that I can easily identify clothes that would fit each of them.

A list, along with certain measurements. Are there any particular items I’m looking for? Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. When there is, I make a list of those items so I don’t forget. For example, if we need boy’s shirts, I’ll write that down. Also, if I’m looking for items of a particular size – like a desk, for example – I’ll measure the desired dimensions of the desk and write those down.

A tape measure. If I’m going to be measuring an item – like a desk – I need to have something to measure it with. A tape measure is perfect for that task.

A notebook. I usually have this on hand anyway because I always carry a pocket notebook with me. However, if I spy something interesting at a yard sale but I don’t know if I need it or not, I’ll make a note of it, go home, and check. Sometimes I’ll even return to the yard sale to pick it up.

A rope or short bungie cord. Yes, every once in a while, something comes along that’s just too big to fit properly in a car trunk. In those cases, you might have to tie it down for the drive home. That’s why it’s handy to have a rope and/or a bungie cord on hand to secure the item.

All of this stuff fits easily in a backpack and can be packed the night before (excepting the food, of course). Going prepared makes it much more likely you’ll find the things you actually need when you go thrift store and/or garage and yard sale shopping.

Good luck!

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  1. Great tips for having a successful garage sale day.

    Having a tape measure is a great idea. I sometimes find furniture I like but of course I never have a measuring tape.

    Another tip to be sure that you are not spending money, just to spend money is to have a list of things you are looking for. This way, there is less of a chance to waste money by buying things you don’t need.

    – Single Guy Money

  2. kristine says:

    Question- why the GPS? If you punch them all in the night before- why not Mapquest? It’s free, you can add multiple locations and this way you can even structure a circular path, and calculate the cost of gas! It’s not perfect, but it’s darned close.

    In addition to the measuring tape, If you are purchasing an item for the house, such as a blanket or curtains, it’s good to bring a paint chip of the room. When I paint a room I also paint a small piece of paper, so I always have it handy in a drawer. It has a sketched floor plan w/measurements of the room on back.

    A bungee or rope (and scissors) is a good idea to have in the trunk at all times. You never know when you will see an excellent curb find.

  3. lurker carl says:

    Amy Dacyczyn, of “The Tightwad Gazette” fame, wrote almost exactly the same thing about 15 years ago. She called it “Power Yard-Saling” instead.

  4. Wow,

    Thats about as all-inclusive as it gets.

    I’ll keep that in mind beofre I venture out this Saturday AM.

  5. Craig Ford says:

    One of the best things about garage sales is you never know what you’re going to find. To add to the adventure I never look in the paper or map our my trips. while a map might be more efficient I enjoy stumbling upon a great garage sale.

  6. Chris Cruz says:

    My mom used to go to garage sales every week when my parents first moved into their new house. But she mainly went to garage sales in more affluent neighborhoods. She’s found alot of high end furniture at garagesales like Thomasville for dirt cheap. Garage sales have tons of baby clothes and toys. My mom would pick out garbage bags full of name brand baby clothes sometimes unworn and give them to her friends grandkids. All those clothes only sold for a few cents.

  7. MattJ says:

    I second Kristine’s last paragraph. A length of rope is good safety equipment that should be in your car’s trunk (or behind the seat of your truck, like mine is) at all times.

    When I had a car I had my rope in a plastic tub along with jumper cables, road flares, first-aid kit, duct tape, WD-40, a couple of dispable rain ponchos, an emergency blanket, wheel chocks, along with some other things I’m probably forgetting about. You can fit quite a bit of preparedness into a tub that’s about twice the size of a showbox.

    I wish there was room behind my truck seat for the whole tub.

  8. That way you are ready to take the most advantage of any item that pops up!

  9. CathyG says:

    I ride my bike to garage sales in my neighborhood. Gives me a chance to get some exercise, and it limits what I think I need to buy. I carry a backpack for a few small items, and I can ride home to get the car if I find something big. Since it’s so much trouble to transport big things, it helps to make sure that it’s something that I REALLY want – no more impulse buys.

  10. anne says:

    and bring a screw driver (or two)

    this week i saw a white wooden laundry sorter w/ a folding lid.

    i bought it, then couldn’t fit it in the car.

    so i walked to the hardware store and bought a screwdriver (which will stay in the car.)3

    i took it apart and put it together at home.

  11. Jesse says:

    Another time-saver is GarageSaleTracker.com. You can search for specific items or find sales closest to you through their iPhone app.

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