What to Buy at a Garage Sale... and What to Pass On

One person's trash is another person's treasure. Here's what you should grab at your neighborhood garage sale, and what is better left behind.

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Summer is the season for swimming, grilling, and garage sales. Get out of your house and do some neighborly shopping; you're guaranteed to spot some seriously great finds if you know what to look for. Check out our list of must-have garage sale items. Know when to walk away and what secondhand finds can completely transform your home with a little TLC. 

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Lampshades

Why We Love Them: You can bet on a garage sale having at least one lamp on display. Many garage sale lamps might look like they've seen their last day—they're outdated, or their shades are torn. But don't be deceived. Almost any lamp can go from trashworthy to statement-making with a quick makeover. Check out these creative lamp upgrades now.

When to Pass: Torn lampshades are almost always a lost cause. Be sure to ask the garage sale host to check if the lamp is in working order before you buy it. Lamps that need rewiring aren't worth the trouble or the cost for repair. 

Best Idea for Revamping: Grab your embroidery thread collection and get to work on a plain white lampshade. This geometric design adds modern flair to a vintage find. Spray paint fixes a chipped and cracking base. 

Chairs

Why We Love Them: Chairs can get especially worn out over the years, but that doesn't mean they're ready to be tossed! Although you might know how to reupholster a chair, did you know there are a handful of other ways to bring a chair back to life? With a little help from paint, cords, fabric, trim, and more, you can get the look you've been searching for at just a fraction of the cost. We love putting an accent chair in an empty room corner with a plump pillow on top; for hosts, you can never have too much extra seating! Take a look at these chair makeovers to spark your creativity.

When to Pass: Never take an item that has damage to its structure. A love seat that sinks a little too far down or a chair with a broken back are best left for the trash. 

Best Idea for Revamping: This macrame DIY makes an old chair frame look trendy and new. Refresh an antique by removing the cushions and using our pattern to weave this colorful seat. 

Dressers

Why We Love Them: The key to keeping a clutter-free home is having enough storage. Look for dressers at garage sales to organize every room room in your home. Don't be afraid to incorporate a dresser outside of your bedroom: Dining rooms, entryways, and hallways are all prime places to add extra storage. 

When to Pass: Check each drawer of a dresser before you decide to purchase. If the drawers are tough to open or close while they're empty, you'll be even more frustrated once they're filled with your belongings. 

Best Idea for Revamping: With '70s style reemerging on the design scene, you'll want to snag any mod furniture pieces, like this chic midcentury dresser. After a full-surface sanding and a fresh coat of paint, it looks brand new. The owner painted the legs a darker hue to stand out, added new drawer pulls for a modern twist, and created a faux granite top.

More Dresser Makeovers

Mirrors

Why We Love Them: Mirrors are an essential part of your home. They hold function in the bedroom and bathroom, and they can be mounted on the wall to make a small living space seem larger. But their price tag can be a bit of a shock. That's why we always snag mirrors from garage sales, no matter how plain or dirty they might be.

When to Pass: Warped mirrors are never worth the purchase. If your reflection looks more like one found in a carnival fun house, leave the mirror behind.

Best Idea for Revamping: A spritz of window cleaner can tackle dust and smudges, and a bit of creativity can dress up any mirror. Just look at this modern mirror makeover: All it took was some tape and spray paint to turn a plain bathroom mirror into a stylish vanity topper. 

Patio Furniture

Why We Love It: Patio furniture gets worn down quickly by inclement weather and playful children. Many families purge their patio sets during spring garage sales as they make room for new furniture. Take advantage of this by grabbing anything with a solid structure.

When to Pass: High winds and heavy storms take a toll on outdoor furniture. Always open patio umbrellas to make sure the inner frame is intact before buying. Signs of mold or rusting on metal chairs is a danger—stay clear of decaying furniture. 

Best Idea for Revamping: A little sanding and stain brings the bones of a wood patio set back to life, while reupholstered cushions add a comfy touch. Patios are a suitable place to experiment with mixing furniture styles and textiles. Try a rehabbed patio chair next to an existing metal side table, and play with patterns by using a variety of fabrics!

More DIY Patio Ideas

Entertainment Centers

Why We Love Them: With the rise in popularity of flat-screen televisions, people are selling their boxy entertainment centers meant for holding large electronics and hiding tangles of wires. Take one of these unwanted units and turn it into something totally functional.

When to Pass: Many entertainment centers sat in the basement before being sold. Check the surface for irreparable damage due to standing water from floods. Warped wood is a sign that the piece is past salvation. Also watch for sagging shelves caused by the weight of heavy electronics.

Best Idea for Revamping: Remove the doors of an entertainment center and give it a fresh coat of paint to make something entirely your own. This kitchen storage center now has room for large appliances, cookware, wine bottles, and small tools. A suspended rod makes the perfect place to display decorative dish towels. See more DIY furniture here.

Vintage Art

Why We Love It: Garage sales are loaded with outdated art. You know the kind: generic paintings of fruit bowls or dusty flowers. But the real work of art isn't necessarily what's in the frame, but rather the frame itself! There are plenty of ways to rehab an old frame, and they are so in style right now.

When to Pass: Broken frames are better used for spare crafts wood. Complete a full check for missing hooks or loose corners. 

Best Idea for Revamping: Our favorite trick is to replace the artwork with a chalkboard. Prop it up on the kitchen counter to use as a grocery list, or hang it in the hallway for trendy quotation art. If the piece of art is attached to the frame, paint right over it with chalkboard-style paint. No one will know you only spent a few dollars on your new statement decor!

Check out more chalkboard paint ideas.

Coffee Tables

Why We Love Them: Lots of people are looking to get rid of their old coffee tables from decades past. Even if it's stained or cracked, a coffee table can completely change the look of a room, so don't overlook those with minor scuffs. 

When to Pass: A coffee table without extra storage is a clutter zone waiting to happen. If a table doesn't at least have a shelf for books and magazines underneath, leave it.  

Best Idea for Revamping: Would you believe us if we told you this plush coffee table came from a flea market? Well, at least most of it did. Dress up a coffee table frame with a fresh coat of paint. If the top is removable glass, replace with a piece of plywood. Upholster with soft tufted velvet in a rich jewel tone for a chic coffee table you can rest your feet on.

If you like this idea, you'll love these other flea market DIY projects.

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