Top 13 Preparedness Items To Look For At Yard Sales

I just love yard sales, don’t you? You can find all kinds of treasures for a lot less than they’d be at the store. Just last weekend we scored a few great finds when we stopped at a couple of yard sales in town.

I got a full set of sheets (fitted, regular, and pillow case) for $1, a nice child’s winter jacket for $1, a brand new pair of boys long underwear (still in the packaging) for $1, and a flushing camping potty, which was also brand new, never used, for $15.

Even though the clothing items were a bit big for our children, it was worth buying them now at such a great price and saving them for when they do fit.

I don’t get to go yard sale-ing very often, but there are a few things I always like to keep my eye out for when I do get to go.

Preparedness items are high on my list of things to look for. Being prepared for emergencies doesn’t have to be expensive. Picking up a little here and there as you come across unbeatable deals is a great way to prep on a tight budget.

Here are the top 13 preparedness items I keep an eye out for at yard sales…

TIP: When shopping at yard sales, ALWAYS ask the seller if they’ll take any less for the item of interest. It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is no, right? And more often than not you’ll at least be able to dicker them down a little. Give it a try!

kerosene lamp
an old yet functioning oil lamp

1. Oil Lamps

Often you can find oil lamps for $2 or less at yard sales. These are definitely worth picking up. If you can find lamp oil and wicks, be sure to grab them up as well. Lamps are a great item to have in case of power outages.

2. Candles

Many times candles go for as little as 10 cents a piece at a yard sale, and sometimes you can even find them in the “free stuff” box.

Even if they’ve been used, candles with quite a bit of wax left on them most likely still have a few hours of burn time remaining. Keep in mind that you can always melt down small candles to make a new candle, so anytime you find free ones don’t pass them by.

3. Sewing and Knitting supplies

Materials, needles, thread- these items could be extremely useful and valuable in a long term emergency situation.

a mini sewing kit in an Altoids tin
a mini sewing kit in an Altoids tin

You can never have too many needles and thread… think bartering items. If you don’t have a sewing machine, keep your eye out for one of those as well. Even if you don’t know how to sew, it may be a skill you are forced to learn one day.

A treadle sewing machine (one that works by foot power instead of electricity) would be a great find. Items such as yarn and knitting/crocheting tools would be equally as handy to have.

4. Sheets and Blankets

I don’t think you can have too many blankets on hand. You never know when you might come across somebody whose life depends on the warmth of a blanket to get them through the night.

They can also be used to black out windows. Look for good quality items only. An electric heating blanket might also be a good item to have. It’s much cheaper to heat your bed at night than to heat the entire house just to stay warm while you sleep.

5. Boots

High quality boots in good condition are definitely worth keeping an eye out for, in kids and adult sizes. Even if you come across a super good deal on a nice pair of boots and they aren’t a size you need, they can always be used as a bartering item.

Don’t go crazy spending a fortune on boots, but if you see some really good ones for $4-$5 or less, pick ’em up.

6. New Socks and Underwear

Sometimes you might happen across a brand new, unopened pack of socks or underwear, especially child’s sizes. Socks are absolutely worth stocking up on, and it wouldn’t hurt to have extra undies as well.

Even if it’s something that would need growing into, if they’re super cheap (I’m thinking a dollar or less for a pack) I’d totally scoop them up.

I’m not opposed to buying used kids socks either, for no more than 10 cents a piece. The price of cotton will only continue to climb, better get it while you can.

7. Winter Coats and Accessories

Nice, thick winter jackets can be very expensive when buying them new. It’s much wiser to pick them up, even several years ahead in size, when you find them for a steal.

With the weather as crazy as it has been, you never know how bad the next winter will be where you live. Warm hats, good, thick gloves, snow boots, long underwear, ski masks- these are all things I would be interested in finding.

I’m not a scarf person, but you might look for them as well. Just be sure that what you are buying is GOOD QUALITY.

8. Camping Gear

If you don’t have a tent big enough to accommodate you and your family, look for one. You never know when you’ll need a temporary shelter of some kind.

Sleeping bags, camping cook sets and mess kits, backpacks, water bottles/thermoses,  flashlights, cots… I’m always looking out for these types of things.

large family tent

I actually found a Snugli hiking baby carrier (normally over $100) for $5 not too long ago. Super nice.

All I had up until then was a front baby carrier and a sling, which would get very heavy if hiking a long distance with a little one strapped to me. The hiking carrier that fits on your back like a backpack was a great find.

9. Medical Supplies

It isn’t often that I come across medical supplies at a yard sale, but you can at least look. Bandages, splints, slings, ankle supports, and wrist guards are all things you might look for. I particularly look for good quality hot water bottles.

When I was pricing the new ones, I was shocked to find they typically run $10 (for cheaper ones) to $20 (better quality ones). Finding a good one for $1-$2 at a yard sale is MUCH better than spending that kind of dough on a new one.

10. Tools (Gardening and Woodworking)

Again, you want to gravitate toward GOOD quality tools. Cheap junk won’t do anybody a bit of good in an emergency. Look for gardening tools, such as shovels, hoes, rakes, etc. and woodworking tools, such as axes and hammers and saws.

Non-electric models are a better investment, as well as things that don’t require gasoline. Not too long ago we picked up an old fashioned lawn mower that has the blades that rotate as you push it, which requires nothing but man-power to work.

We paid twenty bucks for it, and even our six year old can “mow” with it.

fishing kit inside open box
fishing kit inside open box

11. Fishing and Hunting Gear

Camo, bows, guns (if you can find them), fishing rods, tackle boxes- all great things to buy second hand when you find a good deal.

12. Canning Jars and Supplies

I never buy canning jars new anymore. With a dozen pint jars running around $14 at the grocery store, it’s a no brainer to pick them up for .25 cents or less a piece at neighborhood sales.

canning equipment
canning equipment: Mason jars, lids, rings, jar lifter and lid lifter

I never pay more than $3/dozen for regular sized canning jars. Half-gallons, on the other hand, I’d pay up to $1/each for those because they’re harder to find.

Water bath canners are also a great item to look out for, as well as canning tools and lid rings. I wouldn’t recommend buying a pressure canner at a yard sale unless you really know what you’re looking at.

Many models have gaskets and gadgets that could be damaged and you wouldn’t even know it until it was in use.

13. Cast Iron Pots and Pans

You can never have enough cast iron! Yard sales are a great place to find these items for super cheap. Rusted cast iron can be restored by baking and greasing it, so don’t let that scare you away from a good buy. Just make sure it isn’t rusted through.

What I’m on the hunt for right now is a large “chicken stew” pot. You know, the kind that looks like a witches cauldron, that either sits over a fire or hangs from a stand. I’d love to have a couple of those huge pots handy for cooking and for boiling water in if I needed to.

I’m sure I forgot some important items to hunt for. Can you think of anything you’d add to this list?

55 thoughts on “Top 13 Preparedness Items To Look For At Yard Sales”

  1. I went to an estate sale in a Mormon home…I was able to pick up bottles of oil lamp oil, Weck canning jars and even wax for cheese preserving. I also look for useful kitchen hand tools/wooden spoons, grinders, and even old How-To books! There are so many things that older folks still have that people nowadays think are obsolete…those are things I look for!!!

  2. Thanks for all your tips and ideas! Plus all the helpful hints and ideas in the comments! I was thinking yarn would be useful… If you can crochet or knit (or loom knit!) You can always make hats and scarves, sweaters, mittens, socks. If you have enough, you can always make afghans.

  3. “Awake” made me remember and laugh. In our early years, my husband and I bought a brand new Maytag washer and 8 1/2 years later, it quit agitating but would fill and spin out. Repairman told me the transmission broke and would cost as much as a new one to repair. I called it a lemon because previous ownership of said washers proved they should easily last 20 years! Anyway, because we couldn’t afford to buy another washer at the time, I ended up using a toilet plunger as an agitator for months! I can laugh now but sure didn’t when I got blisters from using it!

  4. For the used canners you can look on line for seals, rockers, etc. to fit them. We picked up a 4qt. Presto canner earlier this year that didn’t have the rocker with it. Went online and got the rocker, vent plug and new gasket to fit it. Paid $1.00 for the canner and $34.00 for the rest to get it going. Same with kerosene lamps. You can get wicks burners and chimneys for them.

  5. On family network there is “cooking outdoors with johnny nix”, “dutch oven and camp cooking”. They are both great shows

  6. Teresa , great idea about the solar lights. You can now buy them at Dollar Tree. I bought 6 solar lamps there several weeks. Ya can’t beat that in price 🙂 Yard sales and thrift shops are the perfect places to get great finds cheap but don’t forget to check the clearance aisles in the stores too. DH picked up a huge box of nails at Lowes for $1.Sign up for the email list at Joann’s fabrics and you can get great coupons that you can even use online. The other day I got 4 in my inbox for 50% . If you are looking to supply your sewing box that’s another cheap way to do it.

  7. I have found a multitude of things that I have been able to include in my prepping closet. Almost full roll of duct tape $.25, half full jug of lamp oil $.25, Clothes pins galore, white sheats to use for bandages or whatever, brand new pack of cheese cloth a great find, lots of storage jars for my dried herbs with great clean seals quarter to $.50 each. I’ve even bought out dated cans of veggies for 10 cents each and my chickens love them. Same for cereal. You can sometimes find twine and rope for a great deal. This stuff is especially useful during hard times. Does anyone own a wind up clock anymore? We do. Found one for a buck at yard sale. Time is ticking so get prepared. I never yard sale shopped much until last few years. I must say that I enjoy it and am like a kid looking for easter eggs or Forrest Gump with his box of chocolates. You never know what you may find!

  8. Nice list! I’d add those cotton flannel receiving blankets. They’re actually too small (imo) for swaddling babies, but they make excellent one-size (flat-fold) diapers. If you can find a Snappi or diaper pins, that’s great too (Snappi is easier, but diaper pins can last decades). I’ve used several methods to cloth diaper, and I don’t love flat-fold diapers, but they are cheap (usually around $.25 ea), absorbent, and they dry so quickly on the line.

    Also, barely-used curriculum and coloring books for the kids. I’ve seen bicycles and bicycle trailers cheap at garage sales. Stove-top popcorn popper.

  9. We love yard sales, and raiding the dump. Our dump used to have a great “dump store” where you could put or take items you no longer used but were in good shape. My ex used to complain that I came home with more stuff then I left with until I brought him home a miter box with the saw. He shut up after that.

    We also keep an eye out for scissors, especially good quality made in
    America Wiss shears. They are no longer made and were the best sewing scissors. I one got a large pair of Wiss pinking shears in the box for $5. New they went for over $40.00. We’ve found binoculars, blankets, ice fishing equipment, etc.

    I agree with someone above who mentioned cloth napkins. We use cloth napkins everyday and they save money by not buying paper products, they Work better, and they’re better for the environment. My sweetheart, who was not raised to use them, balked at first, but now he got upset at our daughter’s when she handed him a paper napkin to use. Right away I got her some cloth napkins of her own.

  10. I smile to myself reading this list. I LOVE garage sales and I have just gotten into the whole being prepared thing a few weeks ago. Just this weekend we bought our first oil lamp at a garage sale. Just last night the power went out!

  11. Excellent suggestions. Finding the right items at garage/yard sales can be time consuming. When you happen to come upon something, though, it is sheer nirvana!

    I believe this is the same gentleman who had a dutch oven cooking show on PBS. I used to love watching it with fascination, but haven’t seen it in a few years.

  12. something else to consider are the cheap solar path lights
    during hurricane rita we lost power for 19 days and we used solar lights at night and every morning my grandkids took turns gathering them and putting them outside to recharge. worked well.

  13. I usually never stop at a yard or tag sale.
    But with all these essential goodies that can
    be found, I think I had better get into the habit.
    (If anyone asks, I’ll just say ‘my wife forced me
    to go with her…’.
    A good question earlier – “Where do I put all this
    stuff?” A lot can be hung from the rafters in the
    garage, basement or attic with rope, screw-in hooks, netting.

  14. With the cost of laundry detergent being so expensive, I have chosen to make my own.
    It takes only 4 ingredients:

    1 Bar Fels Naptha Laundry Soap

    1 Cup Borax

    1 Cup Super Washing Soda (aka Soda Ash)

    1/4 cup Baking Soda

    First, grate the bar of soap with a cheese grater.

    A cheese grater would work best. I would suggest wearing gloves, too. It’s a little harsh to touch that much concentration of soap.

    Once you have the whole bar grated, transfer to a food processor. Grind into a very fine powder.

    Pour soap “dust” into a bowl. Add Borax, baking soda, and washing soda.

    Mix together!

    Keep in air-tight container!

    2 tablespoons is enough for a normal load.

    Dissolve first!

    As with all powder detergents, dissolve in the wash water first before adding clothing.
    Little pockets of powder in the folds of your clothing can cause the detergent to eat your clothing.

    It has a nice smell in dry form and when the clothes are wet, but the scent will disappear in the dryer. I love it! I’ve heard this also works in HE washers.
    Cauldrons like you were inquiring about can be found here:
    there are many more that I found but this should give you a head start to finding that which you seek. 8 – D

  15. I know someone that bought an old sued coat from Goodwill and cut it up and made pot holders. She uses them every time she bakes

  16. Oh and candles, I forgot those! We’ve got 2 large paper boxes full stored in a closet. They’re always .25 to .50 cents or free, like you said. That’s such an easy prep item to find at sales!

  17. I love yard sales. We go almost every weekend. One good thing about city living is the availability of yard sales every week.

    I once found an entire “bug out bag” at a yard sale for $5! Really nice, heavy canvas zippered tool bag, crammed full of new medical supplies, bandages, gauze, burn creams, scissors, etc. I was able to use the bag for my car toolkit, then split the supplies up between our 2 bags (we live in the city, work far apart & far from home, so we keep a bag in each car). I’ve also seen survival food sometimes at estate sales go for cheap.

    Donna – I would LOVE to know what PBS show you’re referring to. My husband and I are big into dutch oven & campfire cooking and I had no idea there was a show devoted to it!

  18. I LOVE yard sales. But, I never thought of picking up emergency supplies at them. That is a great idea! I always grab clothes or things that we need or have been waiting on, but never things that we would need when the power goes out or camping things. Thanks so much for the tips! We can never be too prepared.

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  19. A few things I seem to “collect” a LOT of is Nails, screws, bolts, nuts, washers…..Pry bars, ( I think we have 4) I also found a hand cranked drill, WITH drill bits! It was in a box that I paid $2.00 for. Don’t forget to look for hand files….for sharpening those tools! ( we have about 20 or so, different shapes and sizes. )

  20. I’ve been prepping for close to a year now. It started with preparing for a hurricane. As we live on an island. The thing that I am wondering about gathering so many different items, like cast iron,hunting etc. is Where do you store it all?

  21. Hi Kendra,
    This is Milk Maid from Miracle Farm Homestead. I would like to add some thoughts on what you said to Linda. She was asking about a fence for eight acres. We are going to fence in most of our five acre farm at some time. We were sold on a high tensile fence system. We have goats and they like to test their boundaries. The cost is high, but you get a great fence. We also had a small area to fence around the barn, so we decided to go with a wire that does not need stretching like the high tensile does. We went with the highest gauge wire you can use that you can pull by hand and only needs one cemented in corner post, not one post with two supports for each corner. We used six strands of wire( could have used five for goats) and a solar fence charger( it is ok but will use a electric one on bigger pastures). We have had it for two years and love it.So we will be using this everywhere instead of the high tensile. Hope this helps 🙂 Blessings Milk Maid

  22. At an end of the year closeout at Lowes, I found a manual lawn mower…called a reel mower. It requires no fuel. In tough times, I don’t want tall grass around my garden (snakes)!

    For laundry, buy those huge wash tubs that are popular at parties where people ice down their drinks. I got one tub for washing, and two for rinsing, and a clamp on clothes wringer (that I bought from Lehmans). Then I set it up and practiced one load outside and hung it all on the clothesline to dry. Worked great but takes longer doing everything manually.

    Oh, and for an agitator I used a new toilet plunger to slosh the clothes through the sudsy water. Just label it for clothes only!

  23. Great list. I too look for cast iron pots/pans. I also look for well built older tools, and tools that can be repaired/maintained for a long time; construction equipment; clothing/blankets that are 100% wool; bikes/balls/gear for the kids; and old timey knowledge books.

  24. Thanks for the good info. I have found buying two years in advance
    on clothing saves a lot. We take an orange box and label Girl or Boy and
    size on the end of the box. As we find good deals we add them to the box.
    The orange boxes stack neatly in the end of the closet.Camping gear and Fishing gear we look for.
    At 62, retired and finally got my dream log home in September
    New to homesteading in Idaho. A new garden
    experience as the growing season is short.
    Any ideas on fencing our 8 acres? so far we have fenced the garden to keep all the deer out and added a back porch. Any ideas would be helpful.

  25. Great ideas, just a tip for those of us that have pressure canners with gaskets. Have an extra gasket on hand and NEVER store it with then lid locked on. I put my lid in a bag and lay it on the pot up-side-down. Other things to keep an eye out for are manual kitchen items like an egg beater, mortar and pestle, good hand can openers etc. That you Kendra for all you’re doing 🙂

  26. great list. thanks. i buy boots all the time at goodwill when they have their half off sale. i have six and kids booting everyone up would be crazy expensive. when their feet stop growing, they do get good high quality new boots, but until then, they get used. you’d be amazed at what you find. i got my five year old hardly worn leather hiking boots for $2.00. he may never have to wear them for an extended period of time, but i’d rather be prepared with something not ideal than with nothing at all.

  27. I like your list, but I wouldn’t include the used boots. You should never buy used shoes as they are really bad for your feet.

  28. I, too, am a huge fan of cast iron – with rare exception, it’s all I cook with. Your “witch’s stew” pot, is called a Dutch oven. =) I have two – one that is porcelainized, and one that is simply cast iron finish. I can’t recall his name offhand, but there is a gentleman whom does a show on PBS, and also has a website pertaining to cooking with cast iron – except that he does it all using coals. Could be incredibly useful in emergency situations! Might be worth a Google!

  29. Good list, I have thought of a few of those. a few years ago I bought a house and the previous owner left 2 – 3 oil lamps and a 100′ plus roll of wick.

  30. We just bought one of those manual carpet sweepers, new in the box from the 1970s! We love it. We bought it for my 4 year old to use because he always wants to vacuum but it actually works really well.

  31. We also look for cloth napkins, extra gas cans, knife sharping tools and old fashion wooden clothes drying racks !!! Thank you for sharing !!!!

  32. A bissel floor cleaner that doesn’t require electricity. My mom used to have one when I was a child and she used it to pick up small messes instead of hauling out the vacuum cleaner. I think it’s important to have one during a power failure anyway. Nobody wants to see dirt from outside tracked all over and while they don’t clean as thoroughly as a vacuum, they could make your home (or your tent) a lot more livable.


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