When I saw the garage sale sign, I pulled over to the curb. Children’s toys littered the lawn around the open garage door. In the yard behind the house, I spotted a swing-set. I thought to myself, “This place looks like the perfect place for me to shop.” Inside the garage I spotted several tables heaped with household items and clothing. Across the back of the garage was a rack of children’s clothing.

After a few minutes of looking through the sale items, I realized that the family putting on the sale had daughters just a year or two older than mine. I picked out several items of clothing that my growing daughters needed. Everything was in good condition and clean. Feeling like I’d found a buried treasure, I rushed to pay for them. If I had bought the same items in a store, I wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The woman took the money from me with a big smile. It was a win-win situation. She needed the money and I needed the clothes.

Being the youngest child of my family, I grew up familiar with the concept of secondhand clothing, otherwise known as hand-me-downs. When I became a mother, I quickly realized that with children constantly changing size until their teenaged years, it makes sense to reuse clothing. The minute I take my garage sale purchases home, I put them in the washer and add soap. That instantly makes the secondhand clothing stop belonging to someone else.

One of the small dresses I took over with my “soap and water ownership” method that afternoon was so cute, I put it on my youngest daughter while it was still warm from the dryer. My husband happened to come home just then and suggested, “Let’s take the girls out for a fish fry.”

Loving Arnie’s fish fry idea, I responded, “Great! Tammie is dressed and ready to go. Niki and I will be ready in a few minutes.”

At the restaurant someone complimented Tammie, “You look so pretty in that dress.”

With obvious pride, my small daughter boasted, “Mommy bought it at a garage sale.” Everyone chuckled. I guess some mothers would have felt embarrassed, but I didn’t. I felt really lucky.

Hand-me-down clothing is not just for children. I do a lot of shopping for myself at resale stores. Often, the clothing I buy at them comes from pricey clothing stores. The first person who owned it had paid an amount I would never even consider shelling out.

It bothers me that so much clothing in American stores are made overseas by poorly paid people. Adding insult to injury, some clothing stores use a markup method called keystoning, where they double or more than double the wholesale cost. When these stores have sales, they don’t lose money.  

As much as I like taking advantage of garage sales and resale stores, I am a mere amateur when it comes to organizing hand-me-downs compared to my daughter Niki. By the time her oldest child was ten, she had developed a sophisticated system of storing clothing between children. She has summer and winter boxes for girls and boys in every size. All are clearly marked for easy retrieval as the seasons change and a child grows.

         Each fall and spring, as my daughter changes over their seasonal wardrobes, she examines each item of outgrown clothing to be stored. If it is stain-free and in good condition, it passes her inspection and gets put into the appropriate box for when the next child is that size. The ripped, stained or hated items get tossed out.

It is possible to be both frugal and well turned-out. Since clothing always wears out eventually, we must shop to replace the necessary items. My daughter is one of the few people who makes out a shopping list for going to garage sales. Niki has elevated frugality and style to an art form. I am so proud of her!


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