21 Survival Items to Look for at Yard Sales, Thrift Stores and Garage Sales

I have to admit, I’ve always been a sucker for yard sales and garage (or garbage depending on your attitude) sales.  I know, it’s tempting to think: “Why should I want to buy any of that stuff, if they don’t even want it?”  Well, as the cliche goes; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and you can find some really useful survival items at yard sales, as well as older items that you just can’t find anymore, or aren’t made as sturdy as they used to back in the day.  Just because the seller has no use for it (or can’t see a use for it) doesn’t mean it’s useless.

I personally have found many items that are very useful, be vigilant and you can make many great acquisitions.

  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.

© 2012, The Survival Mom. All rights reserved.

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Comment by Sweettina2 on June 1, 2014 at 5:39am

Excellent post! Thank you so much for it. I am an antique dealer and find awesome finds for very little. Sharing.

Comment by mystery on November 16, 2012 at 11:50pm

It is still good in the south, lots of very good deals and the barter system seems to be working very well here! Would love to know what is needed elsewhere so I can help fellow survivors gain what they need, we still have each other and the POST office. Let me know what is in short supply. We may be able to send it to you from where we are.

Comment by truth on November 15, 2012 at 11:49pm
I didnt consider it an attack. Columbus oHIo rocking with thrift stores. Not as good as they were even a few years ago since the yuppies discovered them and now with the middle class having few options, the deals are much more rare.
Comment by Freedomrox on November 15, 2012 at 11:38pm

No, I thank you for the posting, mystery...no slight towards you at all, but Thrift Stores have dried up and blown away from the Southeast. As for you James........... PO'd. (unrelated to this post and not an attack)

Comment by truth on November 15, 2012 at 11:33pm
Guess FR missed thrift stores too. Check the date, its old but I like ringing good post back.
Comment by mystery on November 15, 2012 at 11:21pm

I must say in response Freedomox, that in some cases you must look for inside sales. It is always probable that certain churches or non-profit organizations need to raise funds and have inside sales in all types of climate. Take advantage of the warmer weather sales and stock up. In any case it is up to you how you go about retaining supplies. Happy hunting!!!!

Comment by Freedomrox on November 15, 2012 at 10:45pm

Hate to rain on the Author's parade, but not many yard sales in winter. mystery, you are a good person, and glad you listened to your grandparents. Mine used the silver dollar trick up until they died.

Comment by mystery on June 20, 2012 at 7:47am

I would like to add to the silver part of this. I found that you can take fresh milk from a cow or goat and drop a silver dollar in it and leave it out on the counter until it is used up! The antibiotic qualities from the silver keep it from spoiling!

Thanks Patriot Horse for you interest and help, good idea. I just have so little time! 

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