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How to get a deal and protect your health at garage sales

I’m still traumatized by garage sales from when I was a child and my parents would make us help out with their garage sales. I’d be like, “You can have that for five cents!” And my Dad would be like, “What are you doing? That’s worth at least $2.00!” Plus, the lugging the stuff out and then lugging it back in. It’s no fun to host a garage sale. But, now, it turns out my new favorite pastime on weekends is to hit garage sales. This is because my daughter loves them. So, yes, I’m now one of those people — just driving my daughter around and she’ll suddenly screech, “Stop! A garage sale!” So we’ll stop.

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I’m still traumatized by garage sales from when I was a child and my parents would make us help out with their garage sales. I’d be like, “You can have that for five cents!” And my Dad would be like, “What are you doing? That’s worth at least $2.00!” Plus, the lugging the stuff out and then lugging it back in. It’s no fun to host a garage sale.

But, now, it turns out my new favorite pastime on weekends is to hit garage sales. This is because my daughter loves them. So, yes, I’m now one of those people — just driving my daughter around and she’ll suddenly screech, “Stop! A garage sale!” So we’ll stop.

The last garage sale we attended was last weekend. She walked away with a golf putter, a picture of a dolphin in a frame, a bowl of rocks, and a mini-size park bench. Everything came to ten dollars. A bargain indeed! And a cheap way of spending a day!

Of course, I threw the dolphin photograph away because it was possibly the ugliest piece of art I’ve ever seen (but it only cost $1.50.) My daughter hasn’t noticed, because the fun in garage sales to her is that she can get a lot of stuff for practically nothing. And, usually, because she has such a sweet face, people usually give her something for free (like the bowl of rocks! It’s amazing what people have/get rid of at garage sales).

Hidden hazards?
But then the Monday after the weekend, I received a press release about garage sales that started with, “Everyone loves a great deal, but health authorities are reminding the public to put safety ahead of savings, and to use caution when buying second-hand items, particularly those intended for use by children.” The subject line was, “Another person’s treasure may be someone else’s health hazard.”

Argh! Health and Safety Watch has posted information to help Canadians ensure the items they buy at garage sales are safe.

In fact, it turns out garage sales can be dangerous. Who knew? Here I was thinking it was simply a great way to kill an afternoon (and the mini park bench we got really was a steal and is adorable).

HSW recommends that buyers carefully inspect products to ensure they are not damaged or cracked, have missing or loose parts, or are missing instructions. (Um, have they ever been to a garage sale? You get rid of your broken crap?)

I also learned that if you buy something at a garage sale that ends up hurting you, technically you could sue the people hosting the garage sale. Just a warning to all of you thinking of hosting a garage sale!

I spoke to Dr. Jeff Aramini, the founder of Health and Safety Watch and former Health Canada senior public health epidemiologist (yes, a handful of a title!), about what one should look out for at garage sales.

How to stay save while searching for deals
1. As a father himself, he understands what it’s like for kids to love garage sales. But does he go now? Nope! However, he does say that garage sales are “here to stay” and that’s why consumers need tips.

2. Dr. Aramini says that toys are constantly recalled, and a lot of these toys are found at garage sales. He suggests that parents constantly keep up with recalled toys (including the ones in America). If something is damaged, do not buy it!

3. He suggests to never buy roller blades, riding helmets, hockey helmets, even bicycles. You do not know if they have been recalled or if they are damaged. It’s a chance not worth taking and he says to “stay away from them entirely.”

4. Also, children’s jewelry (chocking hazards and lead content), baby strollers and toys are constantly recalled, so, better to be safe than sorry, and just not purchase them.

5. Definitely stay away from cribs, too, because Dr. Aramini has done the research and cribs are now beginning to be legislated. You don’t want to buy a crib where the space between the bars is too big or too small. Not only that, when it comes to mattresses, we need to look out. Have you not heard the news on bed bugs?

6. As for cleanliness, he says, “God only knows how many people have touched items. Obviously, second-hand items have been touched more. But that holds true even at stores.” He suggests that whatever you purchase you should clean and wipe down. “Especially toys, if you’re going to buy them, because children carry more bugs than adults.” Basically, this comes down to common sense. Disinfect!

7. If you are the vendor at a garage sale, look up recalls at Health Canada before you put it out on your lawn or driveway. You should do your due diligence, because you can be sued! You can even be liable, he says, if someone slips and falls on your property. So set up with this in mind.

8. He says we shouldn’t be “scared” of garage sales, because toys/cribs/helmets are recalled all the time. “Manufacturers do do their best. But as consumers we are part of that and have to be on top of it too. It’s like putting on sunscreen on your child. You do it because you know it’s safe.”

9. So, as parents, how do we say no to our children when they “really, really, really” want something from a garage sale? He suggests taking them to Zellers, or another store in that vein.

Simply put, before you head out to a garage sale, just be informed (You don’t need to be terrified, that’s not the point. I’m still going to go to them!) Go forth, find some deals and steals, but just remember, one person’s treasure can be another person’s safety hazard. For more information go to Health and Safety Watch, designed to help Canadians get the most up-to-date and accurate information on all types of health and safety recalls, warnings, and advisories.

Do you love to go to garage sales? Will you be more careful now?

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