Jun132012

37 Comments

21 Things to Look For Every Time You Go To a Yard Sale or Thrift Store

  1. image by Nomadic Lass

    Sterling silver flatware — Even if you can only afford to buy a spoon or a fork at a time, sterling silver is known to have antimicrobial properties. Some people believe that simply using silver flatware as everyday eating utensils can ward off harmful microbes.  Typically, a single piece of silver, such as a spoon, will run about $50.  Buy from reputable sellers, such as established estate sale agents and thrift stores.

  2. Survival related reference books — Peruse Amazon lists such as this one and become familiar with titles, authors, and subject areas.  Books about homesteading, gardening skills, primitive camping, wilderness survival, and so much more are very often found for just a couple of dollars, or less.  Other books to look for: Boy Scout manuals, Foxfire books, and issues of Backwoods Home magazines and anthologies.
  3. Grain mill — A good mill can run upwards of $300 and more, but it’s not uncommon to find them in yard sales and thrift stores.  Familiarize yourself with good brand names, ask to test the mill with actual wheat (if possible), but otherwise, I’ve found mills in very good condition for less than $50.
  4. Camping equipment — Good quality tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, lanterns, cots, etc. are often sold at very low prices by people who thought camping was a great idea, tried it once or twice, and decided to stick with hotels!  Their loss is your gain!
  5. Good quality knives — Look for brand names such as K-Bar,  Cold Steel, and Gerber and know how to spot quality.  A Swiss Army Knife is also a good find.
  6. Homeschooling supplies — In a crisis, you may end up being your children’s teacher.  Workbooks, classic literature, flash cards, math manipulatives, textbooks, and even school supplies are very often for sale by homeschoolers who are moving up a grade or have decided to liquidate their stockpile of school supplies.
  7. Winter wear — I once picked up a super heavy duty men’s winter coat for ten dollars.  I was thrilled because it looks like it’s never been worn and came in a dry cleaner’s bag.  Look for snow boots, winter gloves, and other pieces of winter wear, and if you have kids, buy this clothing in a size or two larger for future winters.
  8. Boots — Work boots, riding boots, gardening boots, mucking boots, military boots, motorcycle boots, cowboy boots, hiking boots, desert boots — who knew there were so many different kinds of boots?  Check for quality construction and material as well as wear and tear.  When it comes to taking care of your feet, always go for quality.
  9. image by paalia

    Tools — There’s just something about old tools from the 40′s and 50′s that beats the heck out of today’s “Made in China” label.  Some sellers are savvy to the higher quality of their tools and may ask a bit more, but in the long run, it will be worth it.

  10. Battery-operated appliances — I get a lot of questions about survival following an EMP or long-term power outage.  If you find battery powered fans, important appliances, and other tools, buy them, just to be ready for a power-down scenario.  Be sure to stock up on the appropriate batteries as well.
  11. Food dehydrator — No need to be a snob about this.  I still use the inexpensive American Harvest dehydrator I bought a few years ago on Craigslist.  I spent $30 and got extra trays, fruit leather trays, and even a couple of screen trays.
  12. Fishing equipment — I’ve seen top-quality fishing poles, nets, enormous collections of flies, rods, reels, you name it.  If part of your survival plan is to go fishing for food, estate and yard sales are prime sources for supplies.
  13. Emergency supplies — I’ve picked up emergency radios, lanterns, backpacks, water purification tablets, and paracord.  Most of what I have in my Vehicle Emergency Kit was found at these sales.  By the way, here’s a tip: often the best survival related supplies will be found out in the garage, if you’re attending an estate sale.
  14. Tough kids clothing — Believe it or not, when my son was quite young, I discovered that Gymboree made the toughest jeans on the market.  I don’t believe he ever wore a hole through the knees of his Gymboree jeans.  Kids are notoriously tough on clothes, so when you’re looking at second hand clothing, go for brands and fabrics that will stand up to serious wear and tear.  Buy them in larger sizes, so you’ll be ready for growth spurts.
  15. Canning jars and supplies — Look for Ball brand jars in all sizes.  You can always buy the lids and rims at a grocery store or on Amazon.  Also look for things like a magnetic lid lifter, funnel, jar tongs, and large pots.  It would be a good idea to know prices of new canning supplies.  Once I was at an estate sale, found a nice large water bath canning pot, but when I checked the price on Amazon, the yard sale price was higher!
  16. Manual kitchen and household tools — Do you have a manual egg beater?  A flour sifter?  Enough manual can openers?  A manual meat grinder?  I’ve seen all of these and more at estate and yard sales.  During a long-term power outage, you’ll be glad to have them!
  17. Cast iron cookware — Guess where I picked up my two best cast iron skillets?  Yep, at garage sales!
  18. Cookbooks — Specifically look for cookbooks that provide recipes for outdoor cooking, canning, Dutch oven cooking, and cooking with basic ingredients.
  19. Good quality gardening tools and supplies — Often, in urban and suburban settings, gardening is a fad that comes and goes.  You will likely find everything you need for your garden just by shopping yard sales and Goodwill.
  20. First aid and medical supplies — Boxes of surgical gloves, bandages, butterfly strips, surgical scissors, sterile gauze and entire well-equipped first aid kits are sold at bargain prices.  Once I even saw an old Army first aid kit with a snake-bite kit and ammonia inhalants, circa 1955!  I prefer estate sales, and very often, the owner of the home was taken care of by a visiting nurse service.  I’ve found massive amounts of medical supplies in just these types of sales.  Don’t worry, I didn’t buy everything!  I left some for you!
  21. Hunting supplies and firearms — In some yard/garage sales, you just might get lucky and spot hunting rifles and even handguns for sale.  If you see lots of hunting related items, quietly ask the homeowner if he/she also has firearms for sale.  There are plenty of other hunting supplies out there, though, including gun cleaning kits and decoys.  If you hit the right yard sale, you might feel like you’re in Cabela’s!

Print out a simplified version of this list here.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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© Copyright 2012 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(37) Readers Comments

  1. When the final relative moved out of my great-grandmother’s house and it went up for sale, I asked if there was anything left that had been hers. I now have my very own beautifully-painted chamber pot and a large handful of tarnished silver spoons! They were worthless to everyone else and were to be tossed in the trash the next week, but I have them on display and can use them if the need arises.

    • Besides yard sales and flea markets always check any local good will or charity thrift shops. It is sort a two fer. You get something and you are helping out an organization that does some good. They just opened a habitat for humanity resale store in Williamsburg and already have picked up some pretty good tools.

    • I’ve been wondering if having sterling silver flatware would come in handy for bartering…..everyone says that gold and silver are important for those purposes so……does it matter what form your silver is in?

      • Sterling silver…as opposed to NON-sterling silver? Is there a difference, or am I just splitting hairs?

        • The difference between Sterling and regular silver is the silver content. Sterling contains something like 92.5% silver and the rest being alloy (usually copper). Pure silver, or 99.999% content, is too fragile to make jewelry out of thus the alloys.

        • Big difference. Any piece of flatware not marked Sterling is NOT silver. It is stainless steel or silver plate. Which is worth nothing, so if used for barter they won’t get you anything but a chuckle :)

      • Good question! I was wondering the exact same thing!

      • I read where sterling silver flatware was used for antimicrobial properties. I dug mine out and put them in with a load of dishes as I plan to use them daily and see if this is true. There may also be hints when you type in “uses for silver flatware”.

        • I read somewhere that you should NOT put silver in the dishwasher at the same time as stainless.
          I don’t remember the exact reason, but think there is a chemical reaction that changes the finish on the silver. (blackens it, perhaps?)

  2. Thank you so much for that…I know I should make a list…but I’ve never done it…thank you for putting it down for us !

  3. Great article! So happy you posted this!

    Things I scan for when I come upon a yard sale/garage sale/estate sale:

    -Candles I don’t care if they are warped or previously used a smidge, the uglier they are the cheaper you can get them. They have no shelf life and are great for emergencies. I doubt anyone will care that the heat warped them, were used, or they lost their smell when the SHTF)
    -Old oil lamps and wicks.
    -Canning Jars (Be careful to check for chips on the tops, and have a price of what new ones run in your area. My cut off for price is less than 50 cents because I can buy brand new with rings and lids for near that.)
    -Any human powered cooking tool. Hand mixers, mills, etc.
    -I also look for any well made metal utensils for cooking over a fire. Cast Iron, Heavy metal pots, Metal spatulas, spoons, etc. The heavy, well made ones are getting very hard to find. You are going to wish you had those when all your plastic utensils melt.
    -Gardening stuff. I look for small pots to start seedlings in that are well made and re-usable. Large containers/pots fit for container gardening. Also back ups for hoes, shovels, rakes. Again I know in my head what new ones run so I can make sure that I am not overspending.
    -I keep a look out for 5 gallon buckets too, because these can be used for a myriad of things: carrying water, storage, container gardening.

    I know I get strange looks when I ask whoever is having the sale if they have the above items. But occasionally I luck out and they have them stuck back because they didn’t think anyone would buy them. Most yard salers want toys, clothes and mostly the junk that would be completely useless in a post SHTF world.

  4. Great list, I too love yard sales and thrift store shopping. People just don’t know what they have.

    I am slowly amassing my camping supplies one piece of a time, whenever I find myself at the thrift store, I have a store rotation (different sections that I check) that I go through as well. One of my never-fail finds is fleece sleeping bags, sometimes called fleece liners. They’ll add 10 degrees to the temp rating of any sleeping bag. So if you don’t have the best bags just yet, you can make due with what you have.

    If you ever find yourself sheltering other people in your home, the fleece bags are perfect on a foam pad on the floor. We went winter camping this Feb. and had some nice bags but they were the satin-y inside and that just feels colder to me, so the liners came in handy to add to the cozy factor in 15 degree weather.

    Thanks so much for the post…even though you just increased my yard sale competition :)

    • Hey whar City R u in? Need a bugout/in partner. I am in SE Florida by Ft Lauderdale.
      Cris

  5. I enjoyed your article. I love going to garage sales. I found two lanterns with duracell batteries for $8.00. These lanterns go for $10.00 apiece without batteries. Thanks for the info.

  6. I need a printable version…lol I am so forgetful.

  7. A great way to get items free and make extra money ,is to clean rentals.Rental companies just want to get rid of the stuff left behind by people when they leave.They will often tell you to trash it or keep whatever you want.Tear downs can be good for that too.When my husband was helping to teardown an ols student mobile home park the boss told him he could keep anything he found.The people had all moved out months before.He ended up with a lot of tools and camping equipment that had been stored under the trailers and forgotten.

  8. By the way libraries often give away their discards to anyone who wants them.I’ve found all kinds of great books that way.Educational,kids,crafts gardening and just plain entertaining.

    • Or they will sell them cheap

  9. Good artical, I’ve bought guns at yard sales -they are not advertized- so ask. We seem to have yard sales as a part time business around here in Tampa bay and you can go thru a tank of gas looking.

  10. Survival is also a here and now issue. I get a lot of food storage containers from yard sales because modern plastic containers are of questionable safety. Old fashioned glass and ceramic bottles and jars are safer, and much cheeper at the thrift store than anywhere else. We don’t store them for our rainy day – we use ‘em ever day.

  11. It’s also a good idea to get to the yard sale early in the day. There are a lot of knowledgeable people out there looking for the same stuff that you are.

  12. Silver plated flatware is just as germicidal and much cheaper.
    You can probably buy a whole cased set for the price of one or two sterling forks.
    I would say buy the sterling if it is priced at a bargain for silver.
    But if you want useful and beautiful flatware that kills germs on contact…silver plate is great!

  13. Just in case somebody can’t tell the difference between Sterling & silver Plate:

    1. Sterling is ALWAYS marked either sterling or 925
    2. When silver plate oxidises it developes an oily sheen, sterling just turns flat black.

  14. Pingback: 21 Survival Items to Look for at Yard Sales, Thrift Stores and Garage Sales » Survival and Beyond

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  16. I always look for old wool blankets, wool will keep you warm even if wet. I like them under my sleeping bags camping, they can keep your animals warm. Also wool sweaters can be turned into felt. I cut out shoe and boot liners to keep feet warm. Also can be made into tea costs or hot pads.
    We have the Goodwill bin store in Portland or “last chance” store where everything goes that doesn’t sell in the GW stores, lots of smelly nasty stuff, but real gems to be found. Most stuff is sold by weight, glass is $.29 lb, more you buy the cheaper it is. I got lots of canning jars, books, wool sweaters etc.
    I wear gloves, and the people watching is a blast little rRussian ladies, moms, business men in suits punkers, you name it, it’s a Hoot if you aren’t to fussy. I’m sure there must be otherGw outlets in other larger towns. Oh once saw a smoker and lots of dehydrators there. Check it out. Be aware stuff is only out two hours then it’s gone forever, somedays it’s great others it’s not, but it is entertaining. Makes you aware how much crap people have, and your money can be better spent. I hope some readers try this,

  17. If I hit up a yard sale and ask the homeowner if he has any firearms for sale that’s not exactly on the up and up is it? And what is this Cabela’s? The only Cabela’s I know is an Italian restaurant.

    • It all depends on where you are. If you are in a liberal ruined (I mean ran) area, there may be laws against it, but in most places, there are not. And Cabelas is a sporting goods store much like Bass Pro Shops-which you probably have never heard of either. Both of these stores sell hunting, fishing and camping supplies.

  18. I look for sewing supplies, also yarn,, crochet hooks and knitting needles,, fabric and patterns i vacuum seal these thing to prevent dry rot,,,,,,,,,,, someday you may need to make your own clothes gloves,, hats ect,, and it would be nice to have the items you need to do this,, dont you think!! (and who cares if the patterns are older or the yarn and fabric arent the most wonder colors,,) I also look for books on the subject,, sewing, knitting, crochet ect…and believe it or not people who know these crafts may someday be very very important, ( could very well be a way to barter to get items your family needs.

    • Helen, like you, I also sew. I have numerous patterns that are somewhat basic patterns in multiple sizes, that I can copy over onto tissue paper for various sizes, so the original pattern isn’t damaged. I am always on the look out for material, which isn’t found often since so few sew, today. HOWEVER, there are some things that families with young children could probably find, that would make clothes for them.

      Any dress that has a full skirt probably has enough material in it to make at least a skirt, if not a top & straight skirt. New Look patterns have a lot of straight skirt patterns that only use 1 yd of material. The legs of large women or men’s jeans are usually large enough to cut a pair of pants out for a small child. You just have to like the fabric…you can usually find a pattern. I recently was able to make a short cocktail dress for my daughter out of a bridesmaid dress that had a train that she worn in a wedding. It had all that I needed, including zipper and boning and even the interfacing.

      For those who don’t sew, please consider learning. You have no idea what may be ahead of you and if you will be able afford to buy clothing. Just knowing how to mend it may be a Godsend, let alone how to make it, from scratch….especially, those of you who have young children that grow out of their clothes, fast! .

  19. Hand tools. Seems there’s normally some type of old tool somebody is discarding. I really look for older hand tools. If the lights go out or the grid goes down, those rechargeable cordless tools that we love so much will be just about useless. I like to acquire and use hand tools on small projects just to enhance skill in their use. Hand drills, saws, etc… can’t go wrong and they normally sell really cheap!

  20. Pingback: The Survival Mom™: 21 Things to Look For

  21. My husband’s cousin found a brand-new, Cold War-era home Geiger counter at an estate sale for $5.00. I just saw a similar one at an antique store for $450.00…

  22. I can’t tell you all the good things I have found at yard sales, which happen to be my favorite spring/summer pass time, but I will tell you the best yard sale finds: At a “low rent” housing area, I was told there were things in a storage shed. One of the items was a large “coffee maker,” which was priced $5.00….I bought it, the lady said you must drink a lot of coffee….I just smiled, because I knew that Berkey was not a coffee maker. A 4 filter Big Berkey water purifier, never used…
    At a different yard sale” 2(two) 3# down bags, both new, $3.00 each, a large electric grain mill, with a manual handle, $15.00, value on it was over $300………
    2 large Marine Recon internal frame packs, new, $10 each
    Other great finds: 50# of assorted candles for $5, and a plastic bin with about 100 lantern mantles, $1.00…….I still keep looking! Lamp fuels, the colored kind, partial and full bottles, rarely over $1.00, I have gallons of the stuff! So much fun!

  23. Hey dear…I’ve been hunting for a grain mill forever. However I don’t know which one to go for. The price range of the hand crank ones are wildly different and without serious testing, how do you know which one is the right one to get? I can also find a couple electric ones fairly priced vs the new ones but there again, looking for the non electric version…any ideas? Keep up the great work!

    • Amy, I really like the Junior Wondermill. It is so heavy-duty that you could really hurt someone with it, such as a home intruder, not your husband!! It can grind nuts, herbs, and all types of grains, while other mills are meant only for wheat.

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