Wintersowing Tutorial: Upcycle Trash to Make Garden Greenhouses & Start Seeds in Cold Weather

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

What is Wintersowing?

Wintersowing is a method for seed starting developed by Trudi Davidoff. I first heard of the wintersowing method several years ago on Garden Web. The idea is a simple one; creating mini greenhouses out of recyclable materials to use for seed starting outdoors during the cold winter and spring months. I thought that it was a brilliant method that was inexpensive, environmentally beneficial, flexible, and allowed me to keep dirt, bugs, grow lights, and whatnot out of my home.

I also love wintersowing with the kids. We can plant a little bit at a time over the course of the season, which keeps planting fun and manageable. We talk about the stages of growth as we check on the progress of our seeds. We also discuss different aspects of plants and their needs as we create our little growing spaces (e.g., we need holes to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; the greenhouses hold in moisture and allow the sun to shine through, we open the lids in the warmer weather so that we don’t overheat and cook our seedlings, etc.)

Why Use a Wintersowing Approach?

There are many reasons why I love wintersowing, but the basics breakdown to cost, convenience, and success.

Wintersowing is extremely economical. The containers used are generally free and readily available. Wintersowing eliminates the need for grow lights or any special equipment. A bag of potting soil is typically my only true expense. Some years I also purchase seeds, but not always (see seed discussion down below for many resources for free seeds).

I love the convenience of wintersowing. Because I am sowing seeds in the comfort of my home across a period of weeks or months, I can do a little at a time. I don’t feel overwhelmed by my garden or a need to start all of my seeds in the same small window of time 6-8 weeks before our final frost date. I also really like the low-maintainance of the method. Once I prepare a container for sowing, it just sits outside rain or shine, and there is no mess in my home. There is no need for upkeep until the seeds sprout, and from then on it is fairly minimal. It is important to make sure that sprouts don’t dry out, overheat, or “hit their heads” on the tops of the containers, but these needs can be managed with little trouble (see resources below for tips and guidance on wintersowing). Additionally, since the seeds come to life in the great outdoors, there is no need to coddle them through a hardening off period, they re ready to plant after the final frost date in your area.

The best part of wintersowing has to be the success of the method. Since wintersowing keeps seeds contained and protected, there is little seed loss due to weather conditions or animals, as there can be with direct sowing. Wintersowing also keeps temperature and moisture conditions controlled better than indoor setups in my experience. I find that I have incredibly high germination rates with wintersowing.

What Seeds Work for Wintersowing?

In my experience, just about any type of seed adapts well to wintersowing, with the exception of plants that are notoriously difficult to start from seed under any circumstance (rosemary comes to mind). Perennial plants are very well-suited to wintersowing, but I find annuals to work great as well. I have used wintersowing to grow a wide range of annual and perennial flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables with great success.

Basic Steps of Wintersowing

To wintersow, you will need your potting soil or preferred growing medium, seeds, and your containers. You will also need a knife or other object for poking holes in your containers, a marker to label your containers, and possibly some heavy-duty tape and rubber bands. I sometimes also purchase paper cups to use within some of my little greenhouses.

Wintersowing is generally done using plastic, food-grade containers that have not previously held any toxic or hazardous materials (I stick with old food containers that I would otherwise recycle). You want to look for containers that can hold at least a 2″-3” depth of soil with some head space for your plants. If the container itself is not clear or translucent plastic, you at least want the lid to be a clear plastic to allow the sun’s rays to shine in. Sometimes a lid can be adapted by cutting away a portion of the lid and replacing it with plastic wrap or similar as discussed in the video.

Wintersowing will shift how you look at your garbage and recyclables. Once you figure out your preferred types of containers, friends, neighbors, and others are often more than happy to route their garbage to you. Some of my favorite containers are quart size yogurt tubs, large plastic clamshells from bulk lettuces, and traditional seed starting trays coupled with single-serve yogurt cups and reused large plastic bags. Other people are milk jug enthusiasts,

The video will give you an idea of how to use and modify your containers to create your mini greenhouses.

Wintersowing Resources

Wintersowing is supported by an enthusiastic community. There are many great places to learn more about wintersowing, ask questions, and to see the setup and successes of other wintersowing gardeners. Some of my favorites:

Trudi Davidoff has her own website about Wintersowing. The site is currently under construction but still has some information and pictures.

Gardenweb’s Wintersowing Forum is a great place to post questions and reap the advice of winter sowers of all ranges of experience and from all across the country. It is also a treasure trove of pictures about wintersowing from seed starting to planting, and for the “after” shots of beautiful gardens built from wintersown plants.

The Wintersown Facebook Page is another useful public forum for discussing wintersowing and sharing progress photos. The page has over 9,000 members. The Facebook page is administrated in part by Trudi Davidoff as she continues to share her passion for the method that she developed.

But What about the Seeds?

Of course in order to wintersow, you will need seeds. One of the most exciting aspects of starting seeds on your own versus purchasing seedlings is the exponentially greater range of plant options available to you. I love thumbing through seed catalogs looking at the beautiful and exotic plant varieties. I gravitate toward unusual colors, shapes, and sizes that I would never see at a grocery store, and are a rare find even at the farmer’s market.

Whenever I purchase seeds, I prefer to support companies who are committed to biodiversity and who are against GMO seed. If this is important to you as well, I recommend purchasing from companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, indicating that they will “not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants.” A list of companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge can be found here.

I also prefer to grow heirloom and open pollinated plants to allow me to save my own seed over the years; giving me a large stash of seed to work from. See a video tutorial of how I save tomato seeds here. Saving seeds from other plants such as flowers, peppers, peas, and beans is even easier.

I also find that because wintersowing has such high germination rates for me, I waste less seed and can successfully grow older seed. As a result, seed packets go a very long way and I often have extra seed from my own seed saving efforts to share. Seed swaps are another growing trend. I have participated in seed swaps through online communities as well at through my local botanic garden. Seed swaps tend to occur in January or February to allow gardeners to start their seeds in time for spring planting. This list of seed swaps around the country can help you prepare for next year’s events. Local seed libraries are another resource for seeds. See a partial list by state here, or search online for seed libraries in your state to find options local to you.

Wintersowing Final Thoughts

I hope that you find the wintersowing method to be as exciting and useful as I have over the years. After trying and succeeding with this gardening method, I really can’t imagine starting my plants any other way. I’m curious to know if you’ve tried wintersowing before. Do you have any experiences to share? I’m happy to field questions in the comments too so feel free to ask. There’s still time to start seeds for this year’s garden.

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Tutorial: Needle Felted Wool Sachet or Ornament

Crunchy Parent Tutorial Needle Felted Sachets and Ornaments

I told you all that I was felt like I had come up a bit short in the crunchy department when it came to the kids school valentines this year. I thought that it might be nice to do a more natural Valentine’s Day-related craft with the kids on the actual holiday since we had the luxury of having Valentine’s Day fall on the weekend. Alina is especially drawn to doing handcrafts and Asher has become more excited by them over the past year. Eva was spending Valentine’s Day at a friend’s house so I pulled together a basket of wool batting and the younger kids and I needle felted some fragrant sachets together.

Alina, age 9, has been needle felting for a number of years, but this was Asher’s first time wielding a felting needle at not quite six years old. Felting needles are sharp and hurt if you end up getting poked. I supervised him closely on this project, and tried to teach him some of the basic needle felting safety rules. It is clear to see in the video that Asher was very proud of his developing skill and is excited about future felting projects. He did need help to complete this task, but he was able to participate in a lot of the work.

Alina was more independent in her craft, but she asked me to do most of the embellishing for her. As bad luck would have it, our whole family came down with the norovirus within hours of shooting this video, with Alina leading the pack. I think that she was starting to get worn out, which is why she handed the embellishment job over to me. Under different circumstances, I might have set the sachet aside for her to finish on another day, but she really wanted it to be part of the finished pictures for the tutorial.

It is often suggested in Waldorf circles that it is best for young children (especially prior to age seven) to avoid work on needle felting human or animal figures. There can be something disturbing about repeatedly jabbing a needle into something that looks like a person or animal. This project is a great one for new felters, young and old, because it works mostly in two dimensions and in a confined area. The cookie cutter creates structure for the project, and the whole thing comes together quickly.

For the project you will need:
wool roving or batting (colored or natural)
felting needle
felting pad
cookie cutter(s) in desired shape(s)
optional embellishments such as wool yarn, prefelt scraps, curly wool locks, etc.

The supplies can be gathered from many retail sources online and through craft sites such as etsy.com or ebay.com. You may also be lucky enough to have fiber shops or a Waldorf school local to you who may carry supplies. I purchased my felting needles and some of my colored batting through Peace Fleece. I also love shopping at Esther’s Place Fiber Arts Studio, which was my local fiber shop prior to our move. For those who are not local to them, they do sell products online and through Etsy as well.

I have even noticed that chain-store craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabric carry a limited selection of needle felting tools, kits, and supplies, wool batting, and roving as well if you wish to go that route. If you are a fan of one-stop, click and receive shopping, Amazon has a large selection of wool fiber for felting in endless colors as well as felting needles and multi-needle felting tools and accessories.

As I also mention in the video, I have purchased upholstery foam from Joann Fabrics to use as a felting pad. It is cut and sold by desired length and if you plan ahead, you can bring one of the ubiquitous 40% off Joanne coupons with you to increase your savings.

The video will give you a good overview of how the project comes together, but I wanted to give a closer look at some of the steps.

I showed several types of cookie cutters in the video. Admittedly, a cutter that is open at the top without any bar or handle is easiest to use for this project, but I showed my process using a less open cutter here. In all cases, you want to begin by stacking several thin layers of wool in the cutter, alternating the direction in which you place the wool (horizontally and vertically). Try your best to keep the wool inside the cookie cutter. It’s okay if some of the wool climbs up the edges a bit; it will get felted down in the process. Because I was working with a more involved design shape here, and with a low-profile cutter with a bar, my wool extended outside the cookie cutter (oops). Not a big deal, it will get fixed later; felting is a very forgiving process.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

1. Poke around the inside of the cookie cutter, forming the shape of the cutter. I rotated the flower cutter here to get better access to my work area. Once again, don’t worry too much about the wool that may have extend outside of the cutter. We’ll fix it in a moment.

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2. Lifting up the cookie cutter, you can see the flower shape roughed out on the foam mat. The loose wool that is extending beyond the felted petals can now be folded in and felted to the flower without the cookie cutter getting in the way. For open cutters like Asher and Alina used in the video, there won’t be much overhang, so they pretty much skipped this step. Once I moved the cookie cutter out of the way, I could also felt down that pouffy center section.

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3. The flower shape is clear now, but some of the curves lack definition.

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4. Carefully using the needle parallel to the foam mat, you can work to define the shape.

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5. Add your fragrant filler (dried flower petals, aromatic herbs, etc.). Repeat steps 1-4 to create a second shape using the same color wool or a contrasting color if you prefer.

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6. Make a sandwich using your two wool layers and your aromatics. Note that you can see some thinner spots on my top flower here. That’s not a problem, more wool can be added as needed throughout the process. Felt around the edges of the “sandwich” to join the front and back securely. Take care felting around the center of the piece to avoid hitting the aromatics in the center. Hard ones like the star anise that I used could cause your needle to break if jabbed too forcefully.

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Once your front and back pieces have been fairly well joined together, you may find it easier to stand your sachet on its side to firmly felt all around the perimeter. I demonstrate that here with Alina’s pink sachet. Of course, you would want to use two hands when doing this, but taking photos calls for some one-handed maneuvers.

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7. Add your embellishments. I used different-colored wool here to create the flower design. On Asher’s and Alina’s sachets, they both chose to make a second smaller object using a mini cookie cutter, and we also used wool and wool yarn to create designs. Wool yarn can be felted to the sachet with the needle just as you would do with the wool fiber.

Finished sachets

Finished sachets

The project can be easily modified to make holiday ornaments, seasonal window hangings, felted play food, pins, hair clips, and more. If the sachet loses its scent over time or just needs a punch of fragrance, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to the back of the sachet. If you do this, you may wish to take care about where you place the sachet to avoid transfer of the essential oil to clothing or surfaces.

I hope that you enjoyed the tutorial and look forward to sharing more wool and natural crafting with you. What are some of your felting crafts to do with children? What natural crafting tutorials would you like to see?

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Holistic Cyber Monday Deals: Subscription Boxes, Green Beauty, and More

Photo credit: twicepix / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: twicepix / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Is your credit card crying yet? I must admit that I’m feeling a little exhausted by all of the shopping frenzy that seemed unavoidable these past few days, even though I’ve only been to the grocery store in that time. I do appreciate the opportunity to save money on purchases that we have been waiting to make. There are some great deals to be had on everything from appliances to winter outerwear. It’s also a good time to stretch your dollar and bring healthier products into your home or the homes of others at a more manageable price. I wanted to highlight a few more deals that end today.

Subscription Box Deals:

Once again, I love crunchy-friendly subscription boxes. I think that they make great gifts or gifts-to-self. Most of the following subscriptions are all featured on my Ultimate Guide to Crunchy-Friendly Subscription Boxes. You can find out more about each one there. Some will be added to my Winter update very soon (keep an eye out for that).

1. Mindfulness Box is offering 20% off of everything in their online store and off of subscription purchases with the code GRATITUDE20. See reviews of past Mindfulness Boxes here.

2. Goddess Provisions is offering 15% off subscriptions for first time subscribers with code magic15. Subscriptions will renew at regular price. Expires on Dec 1. They also have stocked a few of their first two boxes in their shop if you missed out. See reviews of the past Goddess Provisions boxes here.

3. Vegan Cuts is offering up to 20% off their snack and beauty subscription boxes as well as bonus gifts through the link provided (no code needed).

4. Love with Food is offering 15% off all subscriptions as well as bonuses for multi-month subscription purchases (see link for details).

5. Send Me Gluten Free is offering 20% off a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription using coupon code CYBERMONDAY20.

6. Mystical Mojo Box is offering an array of Cyber Monday deals with the following codes: CMMEGA = 27% off Mega Mojo Boxes; CMMOJO = 22% off Mojo Boxes; CMCRYSTAL = 18% off Crystal Mojo Boxes; CMTAROT = 18% off Tarot Readings.

7. Yogi Surprise is offering 40% off your first jewelry box with code JEWELRY15.

Green Beauty Deals:

1. Devine Beauty Emporium (the sister site to PureBox) is having a Cyber Monday sale with the code DEVINE10. Buy $100, get $10 off. Buy $200, get $30 off. Buy $300, get $50 off.

2. Lauren Brooke Cosmétiques is offering 30% off all full-sized products today.

Bonus Deal:

Chico Bag is offering 40% off all orders $50 or more today using code CYBER2015 (excludes sale items).

For additional deals that may still be running through today, check out my earlier holistic Thanksgiving weekend deal posts here and here. If you have any crunchy bargains to share, please let me know in the comments.

**Barganic Alerts are an effort to spread awareness about affordable crunchy goods and services (and here’s why). They are not endorsements. They tend to be time-limited, and often go quickly. To make sure that you are always in the know, subscribe to CrunchyParent.com to receive emails of all Barganic Alerts as soon as they are posted**

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Thrift Store Fall Haul: Adventures With My Tween

Crunchy Parent Thrift Store haul for tween or tween girl

Last weekend I finally admitted that the cold weather was here to stay for the season. It was not moment too soon as yesterday the Chicagoland area was blanketed with several inches of snow. Along with the plummeting temperatures came the cold, hard fact that twelve year-old Eva really needed warm clothing that would fit her. I think that she has fully outgrown her wardrobe at least four times in the past year, which is making it a challenge to keep her clothed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have shopped for the kids’ clothes at children’s consignment sales for many years. I love consignment sales and thrift stores as a way to reduce our carbon footprint and to conserve our family’s financial resources. For us, spending money on healthy food and other wellness choices trumps fashion. I have also found that there are a lot of great clothes to be purchased through resale routes. Kids’ consignment sales are still a great resource for me to find clothes for Alina and Asher, but in the past year Eva has shot up to almost 5’6″ and has really grown beyond the sizes featured at most children’s sales. It is also difficult to buy clothes for her that she cannot try on for fit, and that cannot be returned if they don’t work for her. Clothing resales generally do not allow try-ons or returns.

To solve this lack-of-wardrobe challenge, Eva and I set out last weekend for our old neighborhood to hit the racks at a couple of my favorite thrift stores. The thrift stores that I have found by our new home have been very hit or miss, and I knew that making a day out driving to visit these stores would be a good use of our time. Eva balked a bit at the idea of a long drive to spend hours at thrift stores, but she too was getting tired of trying to get dressed for school each morning without clothing that fit properly.

Our first stop was a privately-owned thrift store that was featuring 50% off of two of their four tag colors on that day. Mind you, three days earlier I had received a text that everything in the store was 50% off, but pulling Eva out of school for a sale seemed irresponsible. I settled for my more modest sale and remaining in good parental standing. I was able to hold Eva’s attention at the jeans racks for a short while before I lost her to the books. I played the role of her personal shopper and loaded up the cart with jeans and tops that I thought that she would like, and then listened to her refrain of “are we almost done?” as I made her try everything on in the dressing room. In the end we left with several pairs of jeans, and a handful of sweaters, as well as a pair of pumps and a few books. I have a shopper card at the store, and although I completely do not understand their rewards program, I apparently had earned a $10 coupon previously which I applied to my purchase. After making this purchase, I earned another $10 coupon for a future visit.

Thrifted tween jeans: Aeropostale, Express, Guess, 7 For All Mankind

Thrifted tween jeans: Aeropostale, Express, Guess, 7 For All Mankind

Our second stop was to a large Goodwill store. Once again, I knew that my timing was not ideal because we were missing their % off tag days, but I was more concerned about getting the errand done than about getting the best deal for this trip. If we lived closer, I might have tried to capitalize on sales. As it turned out, it was student discount day and Eva was offered 10% off at checkout with her student ID (I knew that kid would pay off someday). Goodwill was a layering tee and sweater goldmine. We found another pair of jeans here too, and more books of course, but overall the tops won the day at Goodwill.

By the time we were done we were tired, thirsty, and hungry. The reward for our efforts was a new wardrobe to carry Eva through fall and winter, assuming that she doesn’t grow more by then (which I am not really assuming at all). It was interesting to see her style leanings. She is clearly straddling the worlds of girl and young woman. Her choices ranged from the cute and whimsical, to hipster.

Tween clothes: quirky and bright

Tween clothes: quirky and bright

I must admit that it is fun watching her grow up, and to spend the better part of a day shopping and laughing with her. Eva and I don’t get a lot of one-on-one time together. Even if the time was spent shopping, we still had fun.

Hipster chic: Gap, Halogen, Land's End, and LOFT (aka, "the one with the bacon sleeves.")

Hipster chic: Gap, Halogen, Land’s End, and LOFT (aka, “the one with the bacon sleeves.”)

It total we came home with a lot of great clothes at a fantastic price. There are a few items that I did not include in the photos (books, the pumps, a few new-with-tags camisoles, etc.) but by my count the pictured piles include 5 pairs of jeans, 16 long-sleeve and layering tees, and 16 sweaters, hoodies, and cardigans. Our total for these items, including our discounts and tax was $168 and change, or just over $4.50 per item.

thrift store haul-tops & jeans for tweens and teens

Eva has loved wearing her new-to-her clothes this week. I love that we were able to pull together a whole new wardrobe in a day filled with cute clothes to reflect different aspects of Eva’s personality. I like that we were able to buy it all at prices that don’t put us in debt. I also understand that Eva is at a stage in her life when she could wake up tomorrow having outgrown all of her clothes again, and that spills, stains, and accidents happen. Buying thrifted clothes means that I won’t be upset if these clothes end up being handed down, given away, or if they reach the end of their useful life in our home.

I think that buying previously-worn clothing still carries a stigma in our society where abundance is the norm, and “new” and “expensive” hold status. I also think that unless you are in a trendy-Boho area, the notion of a thrift store often conjures up images tantamount to indigent individuals dumpster-diving for any rags that they can find.

With a family of five, including three growing children who need new clothes every season if not sooner, buying the bulk of our wardrobe through thrift and resales is a lifestyle choice that has a big impact on our budget. These clothes will make up the bulk of what Eva will wear over the next six months. Our total expense for the thirty-seven items was close to the full retail price of one of the single higher-end items in the bunch. In addition, I feel much better from an ecological and social perspective getting more wear out of clothing items that are no longer useful to someone else, and easing the burden on other countries (and their children) to produce clothing for us to buy new, wear, and toss. The items purchased at Goodwill give the organization funds to train people for jobs. Moreover, even with a tween focused on how she looks, and wanting cute, trendy clothes, we were able to pull together great clothes from quality brands, and in very good previously worn condition.

What is your experience with thrift store shopping? Any great finds or tips to share?

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Barganic Alert: Free Webinar with clinical herbalist Rosalee de la Foret-holistic & herbal support for the immune system


mararie / Foter / CC BY-SA

As I write this I have one child home from school nursing a cold. Every week seems to bring a new cough, sniffle, or sore throat to some member of the family. We’ve hit that time of year when our immune system is challenged in all directions.

Just in time for the (seemingly endless) cold and flu season, clinical herbalist and educator Rosalee de la Foret is partnering with Hawthorn University to offer a free online webinar, Stay Healthy This Season: Top Herbs for Your Immune System . The webinar will be held on Tuesday, October 20th at 4:00pm PST/ 7:00pm EST.

During the live webinar, Rosalee will discuss herbs that support the immune system to help you and your family stay healthy throughout the fall and winter seasons. She will also share tips on how to shorten the duration of an upper respiratory infection, and will debunk some common myths associated with popular herbs like echinacea and goldenseal. The webinar will include practical tips and recipes to help keep you healthy and strong all year long.

Be sure to register for the webinar so that you don’t miss out. Registration is encouraged even if you cannot view the webinar live (because perhaps you’ll be up to your ears in witching hour/dinner/bedtime activities). The webinar will be recorded and available for preoccupied registrants to view at a later time. If you want to start learning right away, Rosalee offers this article describing the different types of coughs and how to respond to them with herbal plant medicines.

Will you be signing up for the webinar? What are some of your favorite herbal remedies for coughs and colds?

**Barganic Alerts are an effort to spread awareness about affordable crunchy goods and services. They are not endorsements, nor am I compensated in any way. They tend to be time-limited, and often go quickly. To make sure that you are always in the know, subscribe to CrunchyParent.com to receive emails of all Barganic Alerts as soon as they are posted**

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Poppin’ Tags: A Guide to Shopping and Selling at Kids Resales

Crunchy Parent Tips for Buying or Selling at Kids Resales or Consignment Sales

I am a long-time tag popper. I started shopping at thrift stores, children’s resale stores, and “pop-up” resales before I even had children as a way to shop for gently used clothing, books, toys, and gear at a significant discount. In the whole “reduce-reuse-recycle” circle of product life, shopping previously-owned results in a lowered carbon footprint and allows us to tread a little more lightly upon the Earth. As my own children have outgrown their clothes and toys we have handed things down through friends and family, but find that there are always items that are the wrong size or gender for the littler ones in our lives at a given moment. Many end up being donated, but selling some of these items at local “pop-up” resales lets me squirrel away a little money for the kids’ clothes for the season ahead. Selling and/or volunteering to work at sales often comes with the added bonus of getting to shop the sales before the general public, when the best selection and deals can be found. For those who may have less experience with children’s resales or consignment sales, I wanted to take a minute to pass along some tips so that you can take advantage of the bargains to be had in and around your town.

How do you find the sales?

In order to sell and shop at sales, you first have to know where to find them. I have found sales through a number of channels. The first (and probably best) is through word of mouth. Talk to other mothers at playgroups, school, place of worship, around the neighborhood, etc. Do they have experience shopping or selling at any sales in the area? Are there sales that they recommend or have had poor experiences with in the past? If you have experience shopping or selling at a particular sale that you like, ask the volunteers or sellers there if the can recommend similar sales in the area. It is not uncommon for “resale moms” to be familiar with other sales that happen nearby at other times.

Another resource for finding sales is through listings like Craigslist. I suggest looking in the “for sale” listings using search terms like “resale; kids” or “consignment; children.” This can be a good way to find sales to shop, as well as places at which to sell. Remember to also keep an eye out around town. Schools and churches will often post signs weeks in advance to announce upcoming sales.

Finally, as clothing resales have grown in popularity online resources have become another way to find local sales Consignment Mommies is a site that lists sales by state as well as by date; often providing additional information such as sale dates and hours, location, admission costs, and discount day options. The site also has great tips and information for the new shopper or seller.

What to look for in a sale as a shopper, seller, or volunteer?

Sales can vary greatly in the quantity, quality, and variety of merchandise sold, as well as the type of shopper that they aim to attract. Some sales are held in very large venues with tens of thousands of items piled onto tables and in bins by size and gender; requiring more time to sort and sift through. Other sales are smaller and designed to emulate a resale shop; with items hung and displayed on racks and shelves. Some sales focus on higher-end merchandise; restricting the brands sold to higher-end chain store and boutique brands, whereas other sales may be a goldmine for play clothes and baby/kid gear. It helps to know what you are looking for when shopping a sale as well as the types of items that you might be looking to sell, and the time and motivation that you have to dedicate to finding that great deal.

In addition, when considering where to shop and sell, think about the price that you are looking to pay, or the dollar amount that you hope to earn as a seller. Sales aimed at a boutique market will often price clothing higher overall, even though some of those same brands may be found as lower priced “diamonds in the rough” at more general sales. As a seller, it is also important to know what percentage you will earn if your items sell. Seller earnings typically range from 50%-80% of the item sale price, with lower earnings from more “full service” sales where your items are tagged, priced, and prepared for you; and higher earnings from sales where you fully prepare your items and volunteer to work to support the sale during promotion, preparation, sale, and/or clean-up. In addition, some sales welcome volunteers who are not actually selling at the sale with the incentive of being able to shop the sale before the public; other sales may require volunteer hours of all sellers.

Tips for success as a seller:

As the kids outgrow their clothes or when I rotate the wardrobes with new season, I sort their items into what to keep; what to pass along to friends or family; what to donate; and what to sell. Sale items have been given the once over to make sure that they are in good to excellent condition and free of stains, spots, or holes. These items then go into bins labeled by season (fall/winter or spring/summer). When sale time rolls around, I pull out the bins and get to tagging my items. Sales will differ in their tagging and display rules, so be sure that you know if you are handwriting or printing tags; pinning to the item or tagging with a tag gun; hanging all items, or pinning outfits together. I keep my supplies (pins, tag gun and fasteners, sweater shaver, etc.) in one of the stored sale bins so that I’m not scrambling each season. I also keep items that may have been leftover from other sales in bins all ready to go so that I don’t have to do my work again. Some things may need a quick ironing or other freshening, but that is all.

Bin of shoes, boots, & slippers ready for the sale.

Bin of shoes, boots, & slippers ready for the sale.

It is important as a seller that you understand a bit about the sale that you are selecting. You will want to know what percentage of your ticket price you will receive. You will also want to understand the volunteer responsibilities, drop off and pickup arrangements, and sale times. If you are hoping to shop the sale, be sure to understand if and how you will qualify to shop earlier than the general public. As a seller, I also like to know how well the sale does overall (i.e., what percentage of the total items typically sell); are they well-established, is the sale at a desirable time and location, how do they get the word out to potential customers, and how many customers generally come through their sales (hundreds? thousands?)? I also ask questions about security available at the sale because sellers must often sign a waiver releasing the sale sponsor from liability for damaged or stolen items, and knowing about security allows me to make informed decisions about what I choose to put in the sale. Finally, I ask about pricing. If their customers are looking for $1.00 shirts and onesies, a European Boutique outfit probably won’t sell for $25 even if that is a small fraction of the retail price. This helps me find the right sale for the types of items that I am looking to sell.

If you are new to selling, tagging guns, needles, and fasteners can be bought inexpensively on eBay or on Amazon. Some sales will specify plastic hangers, wire hangers, or will accept either type. Plastic hangers can often be obtained for free from stores like Carter’s or Old Navy who often otherwise dispose of their excess hangers. A quick call to the store’s manager is usually all that it will take to see if a store has free hangers available. Friends and family may be more than happy to unload their wire hangers that have accumulated from trips to the dry cleaners (I can’t even type that sentence without having “Mommy Dearest” flashbacks). Zip ties may also be required to attach shoes together. Amazon or home improvement stores can be good sources for these, although if the sale allows, I prefer to tie shoes together with yarn or ribbon (prettier and more eco-friendly).

When it comes to pricing, a general rule is that items in good to excellent condition can sell for 25%-35% of their full retail price. This percentage may be a bit higher or lower depending on the item. For instance, an outfit from a brand with a cult following like Matilda Jane might fetch a higher percentage, but that gorgeous French designer outfit that was a massive splurge, may have to be reduced even less than 25% of the full retail to sell to the general resale crowd. Of course, if your items are “priced to sell” you will likely end up selling a larger percentage of the items that you brought to the sale. Likewise, if you price an item too high and it ultimately goes to half price toward the end of the sale, you may end up making less than if you had priced it a bit lower to begin with and sold it for your full asking price earlier in the sale.

Tips for success as a shopper:

To best prepare yourself for any sale, you first want to have a sense of what you are looking to buy. If you need some really special outfits for holidays, a special portrait, or an upcoming occasion, or you have a preference for higher end brands, you may want to head over to a “better brands” boutique-type sale, which is not to say that the same items could not be found elsewhere, but it may be hit or miss. If you are looking for a lot of varied items, especially for everyday, a large sale with lots of items may help you cross more items off of your list.

Kids looking cute in their sibling portrait. Fancy dresses bought at a “better brands” resale. Asher’s shirt was bought later at a thrift store to work with the color story (yes, I watch Project Runway).

Kids looking cute in their sibling portrait. Fancy dresses bought at a “better brands” resale. Asher’s shirt was bought later at a thrift store to work with the color story (yes, I watch Project Runway).

Speaking of lists, I would recommend that you make one. I try to review the boxes of hand me-downs, last season’s clothes, and things that I’ve picked up here and there to see what I need to fill in the wardrobe for each child. I also note shoe sizes and other necessary sizes on my list, as well as current clothing preferences or needs for each child (e.g., will only wear dresses and leggings; needs elastic waist or adjustable waist pants; brown or black dress shoes). Then when I hit the sale I know who needs a winter coat, boots, or snow pants; who needs layering t-shirts, play dresses, a bicycle with 20” wheels, etc.

As a shopper, it helps to know a bit about the sale before you go. If resale shopping or a particular sale is new to you, here are some general tips to consider. Resale enthusiasts often show up early. Do not be surprised if there is a line outside before sale doors open. If you want to get the best deals, by all means line up early, but don’t assume that if you arrive later all of the good items will be gone. The shoppers before you may have needed different sizes, different items, or have different preferences. Admission to the sale may be free or they may charge a nominal fee such as one dollar. Exact change helps move that line of eager shoppers along when they are excited to get in.

It is often helpful to bring a container with you to hold items while you hunt, gather, and shop. Sales generally have sorting areas set aside from the main hustle and bustle to let you review items and make purchase decisions, but you’ll need a “shopping cart” to transport items to the sort area and to the payment line. Shoppers often bring a laundry basket or large box or bag for this purpose. A wheeled laundry basket like this one can be a big help. I got mine at Target and I didn’t have to buy three of them like the Amazon bundle. It is worth noting that sales often do not allow children or restrict strollers for safety and space reasons, so inquire before heading out with children in tow.

When I arrive at the sale, I consider my list and prioritize heading over to areas with less selection like shoes, coats, gear, or special occasion clothing. Once I’ve taken a look through those areas, I make my way over to the clothing; working from the size of the child who needs the most, to the child who needs the least. Books, games, and toys are usually pretty abundant, so unless there is something really specific that I am looking for, I save those areas for last. It is sometimes also worth looping back to areas to see what has been put back by other shoppers who have “rejected” items that they initially scooped up but decided not to purchase after sorting through their items.

As a shopper, you want be sure to review your purchases carefully before buying as sales are almost always final. Volunteers often try to check items for quality control before they make it to the sale floor, but sometimes spots, stains, or holes are missed. You will want to look items over carefully, checking behind tags as well if tags are secured to the front of the garment. Another thing to consider is how tags and items have been attached. If a plastic hang tag or pin has been poked through the garment fabric you will want to consider the likelihood of it leaving a hole and damaging the material when the tag is removed. As a buyer, I far prefer when items are hung (not pinned) and when tags go through the manufacturer tag or are secured at a seam to minimize holes. Likewise, fabrics like knit jersey or silk are more susceptible to hole damage than more robust fabrics such as fleece, velour, or denim. When looking over items, review factors such as wear and shrinkage (i.e., is the fabric pilled, are the knees worn down, is the item likely true to its labeled size?). Consider whether the price fits the quality and purpose (play clothes or daycare outfits with some wash wear for cheap are not necessarily a bad thing). Be mindful of reasonable item value as well as gear and toy recalls. A quick search online with your phone before buying can be a big help. As a general rule, buying previously-owned car seats and cribs is often discouraged for safety reasons. Likewise, if you stick to low-tech toys made from natural materials as we do, it is far less likely that the item would have been involved in a recall.

While you have that smartphone out, give that older child, tween, or teen a ring. I have found that as children get older and embrace their own style and preferences it can be harder to shop for them without having a number of “misses” when their personal shopper arrives home with the loot. I have sometimes taken photos of items at the sale and texted them to Rich to show to the girls for a thumbs up or down. Recently, Eva and I FaceTimed while I was at a sale and I gave her a live-action show of what I had selected, allowing her to provide her input before I made my purchase.

What do you think girls, yes or no?

What do you think girls, thumbs up or thumbs down?

Another thing to be aware of as a shopper is that some sales will have discount days or hours where some or all of the items that have not yet sold will be reduced. It may help inform purchasing decisions to know if an item will be 25%-50% off at a later time when you might be able to revisit the sale or if it will not be reduced further. Of course if it is an item that you really want, you may not wish to wait as it could be gone by sale time. Likewise, you do not want to assume that an item is on sale during “discount time” only to find out at the register that you are wrong because you are unfamiliar with sale rules; some sales designate discount-eligible items with tags of certain colors or with a specific symbol on the tag such as a star, dollar sign or the words “Discount” or “Do Not Discount.” Before you show up at the register, it is also worth knowing the forms of payment that are accepted and if credit cards will carry a fee. In addition, some sales are affiliated with a charity and are tax-free purchases, whereas privately-hosted sales will often require the buyer to pay sales tax.

It is getting to be late in the season to sign up to sell at most fall or winter sales, but there is still time to buy. It is also a great opportunity to check out the sales as a buyer and learn about how you can be alerted of future sales or how you can participate in the future as a buyer or a seller. In my area, most established pop-up sales have a fall/winter sale in August or September, and a spring/summer sale around March. So make your lists and head on out there. It’s a really great way to give the environment and your wallet a break.

Have you shopped or sold at kids resales before? Please share any tips or great finds. I’d love to hear them.

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TBT: The Cancer Series – Part 4 (the one with the Snowpocalypse)

If you want to read earlier posts from the Cancer Series or learn a bit more about why I’m posting these personal blog posts years later, you can do that here. This particular post takes place just prior to, and shortly following a storm that quickly became known as “The Snowpocalypse.” There was a lot of buzz and concern about the “storm of the century” that was headed our way. It turns out that the buzz was well-deserved. Parts of Northern Illinois were hit by a massive blizzard that dumped over twenty inches of snow in a matter of hours. Rush hour traffic from Chicago quite literally came to a standstill as cars were abandoned on major roadways or drivers spent the night in their vehicles. It was a storm unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime, and it took days for the cities and roadways to recover.

The girls "helping" me prepare to shovel the post-Snowpocalypse driveway.

The girls “helping” me prepare to shovel the post-Snowpocalypse driveway.

As someone going through cancer treatment at the time, the Snowpocalypse added another layer of fear and loss of control to my treatment plan. I continue to remember being afraid that I would have to miss out on one or more days of my radiation schedule and how that might impact my prognosis. After the initial storm, I was desperate to dig an exit route out of our driveway so that I could get to radiation if it resumed the next morning. Our snow blower had broken, and I was outside with the girls while Asher napped and Rich navigated conference calls from home. My leg was really hurting from the radiation and my shovel was barely making a dent in the massive piles, but I had to keep going. I was at it for about an hour when our new neighbor who I hadn’t even formally met and who had no idea of my cancer status, completed his driveway and brought his snowblower over to help me finish up with ours, even though it had started snowing again and was pretty brutal outside. It was an act of kindness that made a real impact for me during a true time of need. You just never know what battle someone else is fighting. Remembering that day has propelled me toward many acts of kindness since. I can only hope to lighten someone else’s load the way that he did for me.

A lot of snow standing between my car and the Cancer Center.

A lot of snow standing between my car and the Cancer Center.

This entry was originally published on Tuesday February 1, 2011 in the heart of The Snowpocalypse.

You might have heard that the Chicagoland area is expecting nine feet of snow within the next day or so. Consequently, you might be wondering how Corrie is going to get to radiation tomorrow (Rich hates when people speak of themselves in the third person, but I think that as it’s meant to be you having a thought about me, he’ll forgive me this time). Anyway, here’s the skinny on that one. Yesterday, when I had my weekly meeting with my doctor I asked her about the impending storm and what I should do come Wednesday in the event that the sky opens up and dumps a ton of snow. She assured me that they’d be there, adding that she might even spend the night at a friend’s home closer to the hospital since she herself lives far away. That said, I live 20 minutes away so I figured that it was worth asking anyway because even though they might be open, it doesn’t mean that I can get there. She said that it’s no big deal, they’d just tack on an extra day at the end of my run. As it turns out, it’s a good thing that I asked.

Driving to the Cancer Center this morning, I had my Grandma B.’s voice very loudly in my head. She would have called me today if she could have because she knows that the weather is bad and that I have treatment tomorrow. She would be very worried about me planning to drive in inclement weather. Frankly, she wouldn’t have liked me going this morning just knowing that bad weather was scheduled to begin six hours later. After she got off the phone with me, she would have called Mom and said the same thing. I miss her. It’s nice knowing that she would have woken up today thinking of me, and wanting to take care of me.

When I arrived at the Cancer Center you’d have thought that they were giving treatment away. The Cancer Center section of the parking garage was totally filled and I had to bring the minivan around to my valet boyfriend to park for me lest I be late. (Did I not mention that I have a valet boyfriend? Well I do. His name is Vlad. At least in my head it is. His name may actually be Jeff or Craig, but I have my doubts. Nevertheless, more on that another time). So, the place was packed and I figured that the predicted weather conditions were prompting people to come in early to receive their treatments. Sure enough, when I was done getting my radiation I asked about tomorrow and the tech said that there was now a 90% chance that they’d be closed, but I should expect an official call later today (no slumber party for Dr. Radiation, I guess).

When I got back to the women’s dressing room Stage 3 Endometrial Cancer (turns out that her name is Helen) and Lady with the Grumpy Attitude were there waiting. I broke the news to them that tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a bust. Lady with the Grumpy Attitude was really disappointed. Apparently tomorrow was supposed to be her last day of radiation. She’s really been looking forward to it. She actually wondered aloud if maybe they’d just let her do today and then be done. Helen and I surmised that Grumpy’s plan would not be well received. I figure that if the medical establishment gets mad at you for not completing a full course of antibiotics, they probably don’t want you flaking out on the end of your cancer treatments. I told Grumpy that we’d throw her a party on Thursday to celebrate her being done.

Grumpy and I kibbitzed a bit (Helen got called back for her turn after me). She told me that the last 10-14 days of radiation are pretty tough and that sleeping gets hard once the skin starts to blister. Hmmm, I’d kind of hoped to avoid the blistery skin thing. It sounds painful. She added that from that point until about two weeks after treatment ends I’ll be pretty tired and uncomfortable (this ain’t Grumpy’s first time at the rodeo. Maybe she’s not so grumpy after all, just really really tired).

I’m not looking forward to the prospect of painful blistery skin that keeps me up at night. I’m not sure how exactly to explain to three young kids that they can’t run or jump into me. Well, I know how to explain it, I just don’t know how to get them to actually remember, and Asher is always dancing/pushing off my lap. That’s sure to spell trouble. I have no idea what one wears in a blizzard when they have to keep fabric from irritating their blistery leg skin. Nine feet of snow is not yoga pants weather I’m afraid. I guess we’ll all know soon enough what those last couple weeks will look like. I’ll be there at the end of the week.

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Barganic Alert: Green Mountain Organics 25% off woolens through July 31st

Green Mountain Organics

When the children were attending a Waldorf school, outdoor time was a very big part of the curriculum. Over and over we heard repeated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” The phrase underscored the idea that the school children needed to be well-suited for fun outside regardless of what Mother Nature had thrown their way. It quickly became important for us to source out wool or silk long johns, balaclavas, and other clothing to keep the kids warm throughout the cold Midwest winters. Our children continue to be nature-lovers, and we never want inadequate clothing to prevent them from enjoying time exploring and playing outside in all seasons.

Although cold, snowy days are still (hopefully) months away, sometimes it can really pay to plan ahead. Green Mountain Organics is rewarding their “forward-thinking” customers with a great sale on organic silk and wool underwear, outerwear, and diaper gear. With sizes for babies to adults, Green Mountain Organics is ready to provide that needed extra layer to keep everyone warm indoors or out this winter. Through July 31st they are offering 25% off their organic cotton, wool, silk, and wool and silk blend clothes in baby, child, and adult sizes from brands like Lanacare, Hocosa and Ruskovilla. Discount pricing is already reflected online, and prices will adjust back to full retail on August 1st.

I know that when that first cold snap hits, I always feel better knowing that I have the woolens on hand and ready to go so that we can have fun outside. What are some of your favorite winter activities to do outdoors with your kids?

**Barganic Alerts are an effort to spread awareness about affordable crunchy goods and services. They are not endorsements, nor am I compensated in any way. They tend to be time-limited, and often go quickly. To make sure you are always in the know, subscribe to CrunchyParent.com to receive emails of all Barganic Alerts as soon as they are posted**

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