Opinion

September 25, 2013

Misty Watson: Consignment sale survival guide needed

I wish someone had told me to wear boots.

I didn’t realize that I was in danger of having my toes crushed and my ankles bruised when an annoyed mom started ramming a stroller into everything in front of her. I was torn between being mad because of the pain she had inflicted and feeling badly for the mom, who had apparently lost all sense of patience in the place that brings out the evilest of evils — a large consignment sale. And you thought parents were bad at their kids’ sporting events.

I decided I had time to go buy my daughter Sophie’s winter wardrobe on Sunday at the Just Between Friends (JBF) sale at Camp Jordan in East Ridge, Tenn., before going into work later that afternoon.

When I woke up one day last week she had grown out of her 18-month pants. Just like that. I’ve always heard it can happen that quickly, but this was my first personal experience. That night before bed her clothes fit well and the next morning they didn’t.

Being on an extremely tight budget, consignment sales and hand-me-downs from other moms are how I’ve somehow managed to keep Sophie clothed.

But consignment sales can be overwhelming and annoying and frustrating and time-consuming and headache-producing and irritating. Well, you get the point. They’re not all puppies and chocolate — or whatever makes you happy in life. For the woman behind me, she wanted a cocktail and for the sale to be only open to people 18 and up.

Wall-to-wall second-hand baby, kids and maternity items are (mostly) priced much lower than what you’ll find at the big box stores. Plenty of it falls into the “not embarrassed to be seen in public” condition. Much of it even falls into the “no one will even suspect this is second-hand” condition. And there’s a good assortment of “we’re just going to wear this to play in the mud anyway” condition, too.

There’s more than just clothes, but clothes were my mission on Sunday. It’s important to have a mission at these events. Some parents go so far as to write down how many pairs of pants their kids need and what colors they want.

You fight crowds of women, men and babies to find clothes and items in good condition, then stand in line for 45 minutes or more. So dress comfortably and in good shoes. You’re not there being judged for your ability to wear this year’s latest fashion or on how amazingly well you can walk in 3-inch heels.

The woman in line behind me and I started joking that there needs to be a consignment sale survival guide, which would begin with an entire chapter devoted to why you should leave your non-infant children at home with daddy or grandma. (We’ll ignore that Sophie was actually at the sale, just being entertained by Chris while I did some serious shopping and waiting around in line.)

There were boys in line behind us that dove into a bean bag chair next to where I was standing, knocking me off balance — yet another reason for sturdy boots. I gave their mother such a stern look there weren’t any more impromptu kamikaze dives the remainder of my time in line. She had made no effort to apologize or address their actions until I stared her down, even though they had been bumping the woman in line behind me the entire time.

It’s crowded and there are a lot of racks and aisles, making it easy for a child to wander away. I saw two frantic searches for missing children while there. (They were both found safely.) There’s a lot of screaming, crying and meltdowns — and sometimes from the children, too. Consignment sales are just not a place for children unless they’re small enough to strap them to your chest.

Not having children with you eliminates your need to bring your massive stroller that barely fits down these aisles even when there’s no one else on them looking through clothes. Strollers are not shopping carts. A clothes hamper or large laundry basket works best to hold your items. Just put it on the ground in front of you and toss your items in while scooting it down the row with your feet.

Go ahead and grab everything you think you want, then go get in line. Sort your items into three piles — “What was I thinking?” “Maybe” and “Great addition” — as the line slowly crawls around the store. Get a friend — make a friend while there if you didn’t think to bring one with you — to hold your place in line as you return the “What was I thinking pile?” It’s important to know how much the same item would cost you new or you’ll end up paying $8 for a used Faded Glory shirt, which you can buy new for less than that. Add how much your selections are going to cost and make sure it’s within your budget. If not, sort again, taking out some of your “maybes” until you have it under your budget.

Also use your time in line to make sure you actually have matching outfits. There’s nothing like getting home with a pair of lime green pants you had to buy because they were only 50 cents only to find you put a black fleece pullover with a purple and lime green butterfly back because it was $10.

Use your time in line to triple check the quality of everything, looking for stains, rips, holes, working zippers, missing buttons. Then triple check the manufacturer’s tags to make sure consignors labeled them with the right size. You don’t want to get home with an adorable dress only to find out it would have fit your daughter three weeks ago. Most of the time, all sales are final so there’s no returning.

If you’re brave enough, the JBF sale continues daily through Saturday. For more information, visit chattanooga.jbfsale.com.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. She’s not afraid to throw elbows. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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