Many years ago, when I was a young teen, I started a hope chest. My grandmother had taught me about having a hope chest during the depression. She said that as a young girl, living in hard times, the only hope she had of having a dowry was her hope chest. So she embroidered on used pillow cases to make them seem nice, and even special. She learned to darn old tablecloths and repair small tears and holes, and she would put these in her hope chest. Small things really, and admittedly, not necessary, but things to make her future house more like a home.
So it was, that at the age of 12, I started my own hope chest. The first item I ever bought for it was a brightly crocheted hot pad at a local craft festival. I liked the colors, and after having bought it, my mom said that it might be for my hope chest, so started my life as a prepper. After that, I would go to yard sales/garage sales with my mom on Saturday mornings and every now and then I would use my hard earned babysitting money to buy something I thought might be useful one day when I had a home of my own. By the time I began dating and became engaged, my hope chest, which was not actually in a chest of any type, but in boxes under my bed and in the top of my closet and even under the bottom drawers of my dresser, was rather extensive. I had pretty much everything I needed to begin housekeeping, except for large appliances and furniture. And when I did become engaged, my fiance and I began shopping for furniture at yard sales and storing it in an empty garage, so the only new furniture we had to buy was a bedroom suite and a television. We were given bridal showers and since we already had so much ’stuff’ we were gifted with all of the china that my mom suggested we register for at the bridal gift shop. I do not know what I was thinking back then to have requested so much china, but now I have it and seldom have I ever had occasion to use it for anything other than a display.
Once married, I began looking at yard sales for items that might come in handy if I should ever have any children. I bought blankets, bibs, and burp pads, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of prepping with “B’s”. When I found a deal on used baby furniture, I bought it and put it in storage, also. I had clothes for boys and clothes for girls. I even started storing up maternity clothes, for some future time when I may need them. It was five years after marriage that we decided to start a family. Again, we had all of the main items we needed for the baby, the shower gifts we received were mostly dry goods. We were given over a years worth of disposable diapers, wipes, lotions, shampoo and baby bath items. These all came in very handy as anyone who has tried to shop for baby can tell you. I was able to leave my job just before the birth of our second child due to the money we saved by not having to buy all of the expensive baby supplies that were gifted to us and by being very frugal with the household income.
Coupons were almost a new idea at that time, and I jumped in with both feet. I gathered coupons anywhere I could find them and was able to buy groceries for a family of four on $20 a week or less. We would stretch a dollar until it yelled for mercy! But seriously, all the while, on Saturday morning it was hunting time. I went to garage sales with my mom and we were looking for the clothes my children would need for the next summer or winter or for Easter dresses or Halloween costumes, always trying to get the best value for the money.
Now if you have never been to garage sales, you are missing something if you are a prepper! Much can be had for very little money. The old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is very true. I have bought things for a nickel or dime that would have cost me five dollars or more at the store, and it was brand new! Still in the store package. I have even found Tupperware, Pampered Chef, and Princess House products, still in the boxes, at yard sales for prices so cheap, I bought them as gifts even when I knew it was not something I could use myself. Most of my children’s Christmas and Birthday gifts came from yard sales. They knew it and did not care where it came from, because it was much more than what they would have gotten if I had spent the same amount of money on them at the department store. Because of thrift, they were given a much more materialistic childhood than what our budget could afford, and they were grateful and appreciative.
When they were small I began buying craft items that I could use to teach my children different skills as they got older. At yard sales, you could buy a few yards of fabric for a dollar, a new skein of yard for a dime, a wooden birdhouse kit for fifty cents. So that when the time came, and they were ready to learn to make things and repair things, we would spend a day every week during their summer break, doing and making and fixing and learning skills that I thought might be valuable to them, later in their lives.
And they did learn. My daughters learned to sew among other things, and my son learned to build and repair. Of course, my son learned to sew and my daughters can build also, but you get my point. They were learning and doing and it did not cost much to teach them. When they started middle school and joined the school band, I was able to find them used instruments and have them cleaned and repaired like new so that we would not have to ‘rent’ them from the school.
It was around this time, about nine years ago, that I started having the urge to buy things that would be useful if we were to have hard times ahead. I suppose it was after 9/11/2001 that I felt the veil lifted from my eyes on the supposed security of our country from those who would wish to do us harm. I began looking for things that could be useful in the event that an attack were to happen in our neck of the woods, or if there were some natural disaster, like a hurricane, tornado, or wild fire, which is the biggest risk in our area of the country. What if the power went out for a few days, or a few weeks…how would I connect to my family and neighbors if the phone system went down for even a short time? These were the questions I asked myself as I searched through other people’s junk. What could be useful during a time of stress or deprivation? So I made a list of things to look for at yard sales.
First I thought of light. One of the biggest concerns I have is being in complete darkness during a crisis. So I began looking for candles, and what I have found has far surpassed even my hopes for a good supply of lighting. I now have a ‘collection’ of well over forty hurricane lamps in good working order with the oil and extra wicks to replenish them as they are used. I have not paid more than $3 for any of them. I find it hard to believe that people will part with candles, both new and used, as well as bags and boxes of unused matches. I have even found boxes of new lighters for as little at 10 cents apiece. There were fifty lighters in a box and I offered to buy every box they had for $3 each, and they were glad to get rid of them for that price, so I ended up paying only .06 each for brand new, full lighters! I also will gladly buy tea light candles by the bag full. I have several candle holders hanging in my house that hold the tea light candles and when lit and reflected in the mirror, they can fairly light up a room.
I am able to find canning jars and other canning supplies at yard sales regularly. I don’t pay over 10 cents each for jars of any size unless they come with the ring and a new lid, for which I will pay 25 cents. I can sometimes buy a dozen jars for a dollar or two and new boxes of unused jar lids for a dime or quarter. I always check the jars for chips or cracks before I buy them, because they are of no use to me broken.
Another item on my list of things to store are medical supplies. It is truly unbelievable the different things I have bought at yard sales for next to nothing. I was able to get several boxes of sterile surgical blades for a dollar (and each box had 150 stainless steel individually wrapped blades). I can’t imagine what I would ever use them for, but maybe someone with a medical degree will be able to use them, or I may just use them as skinning knives for small game. I got two cases of sterile gauze for $1.50 and have even purchased sterile syringes for a few bucks a case. We always give our pets their puppy shots ourselves, except for the rabies shot, so these syringes will save me from having to buy them from the pet supply store. I have found numerous boxes of bandages and sterile gloves as well as face masks. I do not understand why people will buy something like that and never even open the box. But I am glad they did, because it comes as a GREAT deal for me.
Over the years, my mom and I have found great blessings from some of the treasures we have found at yard sales. Sometimes when she picks me up and we start to go out, I will tell her, “I’m looking for ______________ today.” Just fill in the blank; shoes for the grandchild, a step-up car seat for a toddler, a new colander for my kitchen…whatever it is, it may be something we have not seen for months or years, but did you know, I usually find that particular item that very day. I just think it is a blessing from God! My sister does not get to go with us very often, but a few months back she decided to get out of the house and go with us to yard sales. Her husband had been sick and in a coma for several months and she had been spending every possible moment with him at the hospital, and he had woken up from the coma and had developed MRSA on a bed sore on his ankle. The doctor said he needed to have a foot brace, like someone wears when they have had foot surgery, but their insurance was exhausted and would not pay for one just to contract MRSA. So when we started out I asked her, “what do we need to look for today?” She told me about the foot brace. I said I had not seen one of those at a yard sale in a few years. But believe it or not, at the second sale we went to, there was a brand new brace, in the package, just what he needed and it only cost $5.00! Now I would say that was a blessing!
Other items I have found and have bought to save or to use now are a hand turned meat slicer, a manual food strainer, a hand crank food slicer/chopper, a pressure canner/cooker, old type hand drill, all for $5.00 or less. I bought a push rotor lawn mower that had only been used twice for $20.00 and a couple of wooden fold up clothes drying racks for a dollar each. I frequently find bolts of sturdy fabric for $5.00 or less and try to get only the best quality denim or corduroy and good strong cotton. I have a new quilting frame for only $25, I have found lots of stuffing for making pillows and stuffed animals and can get simple sewing patterns every week for 5c or 10c a piece. I even find sewing boxes full of thread and buttons, snaps and eyelets for a few dollars a piece. Once I bought a sewing awl and extra thread for repairing leather and other stiffer items for a buck.
I believe there will be a need for these types of things in our future. I do not know when I might need them, but feel blessed to have been able to get them now so that I have a chance to learn how to use some of my ‘finds’ before they become necessary. I seldom have to go to a store except to buy groceries, and sometimes we even find canned goods at yard sales that are not out of date. Do I buy these as well, you bet I do! Anything I can find for a better deal than full price, I will get it for myself or for someone else I may know that needs it.
My most recent favorite finds include: a half a spool of barbed wire for $5, an ammunition box for $1, another ammunition box with 19 road flares inside for $5 (and I have no idea what I will use these for, but was very excited to get them), a silver window reflector was free and can be used to make a solar oven, and a large bag of about 30 tea light candles for .50 cents. So you see, there is so much useful stuff being disposed of that can be picked up at yard sales and thrift stores for a pittance that I can not think of any logical reason why I should pay retail prices for anything.
Now that my children are grown and I hope will soon be providing me with more grandchildren, my search has turned again to buying baby and children’s supplies. I have enough clothes for boys and girls in both summer and winter seasons to last up to age ten. They have been separated into size and season in vacuum sealed bags and marked with the appropriate notations so that when the time comes, we should be able to just pull a bag as needed and when we are finished with that size, reseal the bag until someone else needs those items. Oh, and by the way, I usually pay only 25 cents apiece for shirts and shorts, 50 cents for jeans or outfits and no more than a dollar for a nice dress or pair of shoes. It’s out there, people trying to clean out or just make a few bucks to pay a bill. You can help them by getting it out of their way and at the same time save yourself money by not paying retail price for an item you know will be useful to you now or in the future.
So check the classifieds in your local newspaper, make a written list of the yard sales that are in your community, (we usually group them together according to neighborhood to prevent driving back and forth across town and thereby saving on gas), take a written list of the items you would like to find and happy shopping!