Is it warm in your part of the world? Are your kids spending lots of time outdoors?

Summer is here and our garden is getting so much attention. My kids are happy when they’re outside, so I’ve been thinking up ways to turn our outdoor spaces into play pockets and learning laboratories.

thrifting garden

In addition to our water wall, fairy garden, and outdoor drawing studio, my children and I headed over to one of our bigger thrift stores in search of low-cost inspiration for building out some new creativity corners in our garden.

thrifting for the garden

Going to a thrift store with kids can be overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend it if yours like to run in every direction, but the experience can be educational as well as fun. We donate a lot of our gently used toys and clothes to the thrift store, so the full-circle story of use and re-use is not lost on my children You can give older children a budget and allow them to make some purchases of their own, and watching children play with toys can help you decide what’s worth buying.

The home goods section of our thrift store is nicely organized, and I decided to head straight for the wood and basket areas to keep our focus on objects that would fit in nicely with our outdoor space.

thrifting for the garden

I found all of these nifty pieces for about $25. So what did we get?

  • My one-year old chose a cute little hand-made wooden bench for $5 that fits her perfectly
  • A few baskets that are perfect for treasure hunts
  • A table-top easel
  • Wicker picnic basket
  • Small wooden manger turned into doll house

manger doll house

Everything we picked up has been put to good use. Most popular, fo far, has been the basket-treasure hunt game with my 21-month old. We’ll scatter treasures and rocks all over the garden, which she collects. And then we start all over again.

thrifting for the garden

My favorite thing about this experience is that I spent a minimal amount of money for maximum impact. And my second-favorite piece is that you just never know what you’re going to find, and that element of surprise is perfect for kids’ toys and activities.

My children don’t care if something is brand-new or not, but high quality is important to me. I’d rather spend $3 on a nice used wooden stool than $10 on a brand-new plastic stool. I don’t always have such good luck on thrifting adventures, but with a little bit of luck and effort I usually come home with something wonderful.

How about you? Are you a thrifter? What treasures have you found in your second-hand shops?


  1. I love getting bargains for the kids whether it be at a thrift shop or I tend to do garage sales. Items for pretend play are our favorites. Our recent find was $2 for a pair of crutches which has truly been hours of entertainment. Even when friends come over they all want to try the crutches.

    I agree with your statement that the wooden products are best. Our best bargain was when a elementary school relocated. We paid $5 for the entire Community Playthings wooden pretend kitchen including wooden refrigerator, oven, hutch and sink! We have also many school desks and chairs for the kids rooms that we got for under $1 from school sales.

    • Oh, that’s a good one. I never would have thought of crutches! And lucky, lucky you on the wooden kitchen. I know the one you’re talking about and $5 is a ridiculously amazing price. I’ll have to pay attention for school relocations!

  2. I just started looking in our local Salvation Army as that is where we also like to donate to. I love that they are real yard sale prices, so reasonable. My last score was a couple of metal spoons to hang from our restrung wind chime. My husband drilled holes in the handles and we attached string and threaded beads on them and hung them next to the wind chime pieces. This way the kids can make their own music. While on that trip I also found a great set of measuring cups and a chair I repainted for the patio. I think the chimes would be good perhaps with a wood spoon and a plastic spoon also so we can check out the different sounds they can make. Our wind chime has been strung in a straight line so the wind can no longer make the noise. That was getting annoying as the chimes are really large. The occasional music from the kids is fine because it is not all night long 🙂 Looks like we can’t add a photo here anymore otherwise I would show you what I mean.

    • I would love to see a photo and sorry I had to change my comment system to make it easier for everyone to use — boo. Working on that! I’ve thought about building a noise toy like the one you’re talking about and now I’m getting inspired again! Thanks for that 🙂

  3. All of our loose parts are from thrift stores or Habitat for Humanity reStores. Garage/tag sales are just too hit-and-miss and I don’t have the time to spend searching them. I love walking into the major thrift stores and always knowing I will find SOMETHING useful at a decent price. As you said, usually the pieces there have withstood the test of time already, so they are better suited for rambunctious child play.

    • What? Habit for Humanity has a reStore?! Must look into that. I agree with you on garage sales and pretty much avoid those — my time is now too precious.

  4. That is awesome! We are thrift shop shoppers. My daughter always finds little treasures there. Some of our best pieces are a big dry erase board and desk that we use for our at home preschool and some games.

    • So many treasures! And when you find something that’s barely used it makes you wonder why you’d ever pay retail?!

  5. I LOVE LOVE LOVE thrifting! Most of my kid’s clothes are used but in fab condition. It helps me relax and encourage really messy play when I don’t think about how much I spent on a clothing item. Spending 25€ on a shirt would really make it hard for me to do that. Our local recycling center has a craft supply room where I get materials for all sorts of things including to make holiday cards etc. All the materials for our treasure basket are thrift items as well as outside toys, our kitchen table, our toddler’s bed and drawing table… the list goes on and on. I enjoy knowing I am helping to reduce waste by extending the life/use of items.

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