23 Things a Prepper Should Never Throw Away. Why?

Chris Byrne
By Chris Byrne June 27, 2017 12:28

23 Things a Prepper Should Never Throw Away. Why?

It’s no doubt that most of the developed world lives with the luxury of disposable everyday items and nearly immediate replacement from a well-planned out supply chain store. But you must always consider what would happen if the supply chain for household items, hygiene products, food, water and tools stopped being available. In order to prepare for such an event, preppers around the world save, reuse and re-purpose many items that other folks tend to toss in the trash can.

Related: 10 Great Depression Era Strategies For Saving Money

Without further explanation, here are 23 things that a prepper should never throw away.

  1. Dryer Lint: Dryer lint is extremely flammable. Dryer lint is an easy item to collect, compresses to save on space, and will help to get a fire going for cooking and staying warm when the power is out.
  1. Plastic Soda & Water Bottles: Plastic bottles have many uses, but one of the main things they’ll be used for by the prepper is for drinking water.  Water glasses break and need replacing. Plastic bottles won’t break when you drop them; they’re light weight and can be sealed for transport. With a drop of bleach, preppers can store fill and store an otherwise empty plastic bottle with water, every day, for long-term use while the lights are still on.
  1. Old Shoes & Boots: Most folks buy new shoes when the pair they have starts to look dingy, but are still very functional. Clothing one’s feet is something the prepper can’t forget to plan for in SHTF. If nothing else by saving old shoes, the prepper will create a wealth of barter items to trade with people. And you can bet the value of a pair of shoes in a post-apocalyptic world are going to be fairly high. Here’s how to make your boots last longer.
  1. Old Clothes: Just like old shoes, we tend to give away clothing or throw it away when we have a small hole or stain on our shirt. The prepper knows that he can still use that clothing for wear in a survival situation, but he can use the fabric to mend, replace and re-purpose many household items. Many people don’t consider sources of fabric in SHTF, but old clothes are great for that.
  1. Wood Scraps: This goes without saying, but wood scraps should always be collected, kept organized, stacked and dry. While it’s easy to toss scrap wood in the trash, consider the need to keep a cooking fire going if you haven’t had power for 3 weeks.
  1. Cord, String and Rope Pieces: From sewing clothing to securing shelter, string, cord and rope will be a highly-valued item that the prepper should never “toss to the curb”. It’s very easy to fold, wrap and store spare cordage, so never throw it out!
  1. Wire: There are two types of wire the prepper should never throw away – conductive and non-conductive wire. Conductive wire should be saved as barter pieces for barter for electrical repair or for making a tin can directional WiFi antenna to extend your communication after an EMP. Non-conductive wire should be saved for utility and fastener use. Don’t throw even a hand length piece of wire away. Instead organize it, and put it away in a dry spot.
  1. Spare nuts, bolts and screws: In an extended grid down situation, folks will eventually set up some form of commerce. If you’re astute, you can provide income for your family post SHTF and repair items as needed collecting all the spare fasteners that most folks throw in the garbage. Additionally, here’s a comprehensive list with the tools you will need when SHTF.
  1. Used Candles: The prepper can scrape out the last little bit of wax in used candles. When enough wax is collected it can be melted and consolidated to one candle container. New wicks are fairly easy to make. When the lights go out for good, a source of light like candles will be invaluable. Here’s how to make 30 hours survival candles with soy wax.
  1. Broken Crayons: Children are great for making broken crayons, but don’t throw the broken ones away!   Instead, remove the wrappers and throw the pieces in with your saved used candle pieces so they too can be used to make more candles.
  1. Broken Pencils: Broken pencils can be cut in half long way, exposing graphite. The prepper can store them in the glove box of a car. When either end of exposed graphite in the pencil is hooked up to a car batter and cable, it turns red hot and bursts into flames. Every prepper’s bug-out vehicle should have a bag of cut in half pencils. Don’t throw them out!
  1. Zip ties: Extra zip ties come with all sorts of products as extra fasteners. We tend to throw them out. But the prepper cannot throw them away. These are too useful. Zip ties had hundreds of uses and take up virtually no space.
  1. Coffee Grounds: Did you know that you can run your coffee grounds through your coffee machine twice? Some people like weak coffee, and some like a less caffeinated cup of coffee before bed. One can also use coffee grounds as compost for the garden.
  1. Vegetable scraps: Plant and veggie scraps can be used for compost, just like coffee grounds, but the prepper can also throw these scraps out for their chickens to eat.
  1. Hair Clippings: Hair clippings are another great addition for your garden compost pile.  If you were thinking of throwing that pile of hair on the floor away, don’t! Your garden will love the nutrients added to the compost pile.
  1. Soap chips: Usually the little left over soap bar chips go down the drain or are thrown out. But reconsider collecting and compressing them to make new soap bars. In SHTF the prepper will have to make the most of hygiene products to keep from becoming ill.
  1. Toilet Paper Rolls: Toilet paper rolls are another great source of tinder for starting fires. They can be cut and flattened out for easy storage. Combine cut up toilet paper rolls with dryer lint the prepper will have a warm fire in no time. You can also make your own substitute for toilet paper.
  1. Broken Rubber Bands: Broken rubber bands really aren’t broken. By tying the two ends together, the rubber band works just fine again. In SHTF a broken rubber band is still an excellent temporary light duty fastener. 
  1. “Expired” Honey: Raw honey really doesn’t expire. Think twice before trash-canning that jar. While most commercially bought raw honey shows 2 years for expiration, the truth is, that honey can be stored almost indefinitely when housed in a cool, dry place. Additionally, here are 23 amazing survival uses for honey that you didn’t know about.
  1. Rusted Tools: In SHTF, preppers won’t have the luxury of going to the hardware store. If tools become rusted or dingy looking, clean them up with oil and store them in the garage. Another man’s dingy, rusted tools are another man’s life saver in SHTF. Old tools are an excellent barter item and here’s a list with 12 essential things you can scavenge from cars when SHTF.
  1. Metal Breath Mint Containers: These types of containers are great for condensing the last portion of chap-stick, balm and salve. The containers usually fit well right inside a shirt pocket. Breath mint containers also work well for survival kits.
  1. Plastic Milk Jugs: Cut the top off the plastic milk jug and you have an excellent pot for small plants. This is a great way to start your garden and move the sprouted plants to a fixed location when you’re ready.
  1. Paper clips: I cannot count the times paper clips are thrown into the trash at an office or put through the shredder, but the prepper wouldn’t do that. Paper clips are essentially robust twist-ties ready to help the prepper fasten shelters and projects in a post-SHTF world. They can be used as shims for repair mechanics as well.

Hopefully this list has inspired you as a prepper to think of items you can also reuse instead of throwing away.

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Chris Byrne
By Chris Byrne June 27, 2017 12:28
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40 Comments

  1. Jim June 27, 13:58

    I didn’t grow up during the depression, I grew up during the 50’s – 60’s but my Dad did, he had to work his grandparents farm from an early age. As such he only had a 3rd grade education but he raised 7 kids on that 3rd grade education. Needless to say, we had very little money so nothing was ever thrown away, it may have left the inside of the house, but we knew exactly where it was. Paper anything was used either as note paper or to start fires with. Cloth flour sacks became dress’s for the girls or shirts for the boys, worn out and ripped cloths became quilts or hand towels, etc. tin cans, which was a luxury, were not thrown away, they became drinking cups for us kids, glass drinking glasses were for company. Tin cans were used as shims and patching holes in walls and floors or just about anything that needed a hard surface patch. Plastic bread bags, again, luxury item, was never thrown away they were used for storing things that had to be kept clean and dry or to coat chicken for frying and when worn completely out they were used to help start fires. Old car tires were used for anything from shoe soles to burning stumps down to the ground, to erosion control. As I said, nothing ever went to waste.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Countrified June 27, 14:35

    I can’t believe anyone would throw ANY of those items away! I’ve saved those things all my life…always kept a container of odd hardware (now have a bunch of containers full!)..we always saved baling wire for repair jobs…I wish I knew what to do with my big pile of worn out clothes (too far gone to wear or repair, but surely there’s some use for the material other than patches and wipe rags).

    Reply to this comment
    • Older prepper June 27, 18:07

      Yes, they were braided for crocheted into rugs. Strips were cut, then braided or with big crochet hook make a rug.
      You’ve already read about making a quilt with the pieces.

      Reply to this comment
    • JJ June 28, 14:04

      I have a box of squares in the attic from soft shirts and t shirts–rags for messes, dishes, cleaning, etc. which will be in demand when paper towels are a thing of the past.
      I just spend a little time cutting with pinking shears and end up with nice square rags.

      Reply to this comment
      • Jj June 28, 14:06

        In fact, a box was setting on the garage floor and I spilled oil from the mower –just changed out– and they served their purpose–rather than going to the landfill.

        Reply to this comment
    • B. Leah July 12, 01:23

      Make quilts. Cut the material into squres. Sew the squares together to make quilts or blankets. For more warmth, layer the quilt top to a blanket .

      Reply to this comment
      • Lisa August 30, 00:57

        Salvages a blanket which may be in taters itself. Color anything will lift the spirits. Remember tieing quilts, also bundling, everyone in one bed to keep warm.

        Reply to this comment
    • C J August 28, 14:32

      Just saw something recently about using old jeans (don’t know why other clothes wouldn’t work too), shredding them and using them for insulation in your house or cabin.

      Reply to this comment
    • conguerrican62 September 9, 21:32

      You can also use it to make char cloth.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Berad199 June 27, 15:31

    I save the string from my chicken feed bags. I don’t know what they are made of, but have you tried to break them by wrapping the ends around your hands and pulling. You will cut your hand in half.

    Reply to this comment
    • NANN! June 30, 01:18

      I’ve saved a few of those ‘strings’ from the big bags of cat food I buy. That stuff is heavy duty!

      Reply to this comment
    • Deb September 8, 15:20

      Good idea! My rooster hot tangled in those strings twice. Girst time I waswad able to untangle hom. 2nd time I had to cut the string – string stuff!

      Reply to this comment
  4. 3rd Gen Utilitarian June 27, 16:06

    Countrified- My Grandmother depression era & coal miners wife) used those old clothes that were too far gone to patch clothes, make quilts and cut into strips for braiding into heavy oval area rugs. Many of these items were not very pretty, but very utilitarian. They did all that out of necessity and were all to happy to get rid of them when they finally could afford “nicer things”. I wish I had kept some of those ugly old rugs as patterns. You can’t keep everything due to space & junkyard/hoarder appearances, but the knowledge and a few items (I have more than my share) here and there are not a bad thing.

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe June 27, 17:07

      I agree 3rd gen. We hold onto things for years just hoping a purpose for it will pop up then before you know it Garage Sale. General rule of thumb is keep it for a year and if not used then chances are you will never use it. Sell it, give it away do something just don’t let yourself turn into a hoarder just as you say. I do see the importance for many of these items mentioned just never thought of saving dryer lint. Made me think of naval lint grose! My grandparents did live through the depression and they too had the mind set to never throw anything away. Would go to basement and see shoes he has not worn in years just sitting there. I told him grandpa get rid of those. He would then proceed to tell me you don’t get rid of anything you may have a purpose for it sometime. I grew up in the depression and we didn’t throw away anything. Good times.

      Reply to this comment
    • hillbilly girl June 28, 13:55

      The problem with us holding onto everything is we have tons more stuff than people used to have. I had 2 or 3 outfits when I was a girl. Now, 2 closets full. I recently donated 2 sets of dishes. I still have 3 sets! We have too much stuff.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Kurmudgeon June 27, 19:01

    Combining two things on this list – dryer lint and old candle wax – with an empty egg carton is a great way to make some handy dandy fire starters. Just pack all of the egg holders with dryer lint and pour a couple of tablespoons of melted wax over the tops. They’re easy to store, and easy to tear off one or two to get a fire going.

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  6. left coast chuck June 27, 20:41

    Old tin cans can be used to make caltrops. Caltrops for those who don’t know are triangular devices that are scattered on the ground to impede a hostile’s progress. They don’t inflict the damage a punji stick will, but they will make passage noisy and difficult and will keep a hostile upright when he might otherwise flop down to provide some cover for himself. It’s easy. Just cut spikes in the can. In order to prevent mosquitos from breeding in water that collects in the can, I punch holes in the bottom. To make them harder to move out of the way I place a used nail through the bottom into the dirt. Can caltrops aren’t as efficient as regular caltrops, but they are much cheaper and easier to make.

    If you have a wooden fence, save can tops to make a sharp barrier along the top of the fence. Just cut the top into a sharp point, screw or nail it to the top of the fence. Voila! Razor wire on top of your wooden fence.

    I only recommend those two defensive devices for after the SHTF and you are sheltering in place. Some places have rules against traps like that even on one’s own property. After the SHTF, those rules will be gone like society in general.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Tim June 27, 23:19

    My wife yells at me because I never throw anything away. I learned it from my dad, who was a teenager during the Depression. Now you’ve given me something new: dryer lint. My wife thanks you ! LOL

    Reply to this comment
  8. Woodsy June 28, 02:18

    Can not believe I’ve been doing the correct thing all my life (70 years). My mother told me about how as kids, she and her cousin saved many of these same things during the depression. Thanks mom. My wife thinks I save too much.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Mad Fiddler June 28, 04:31

    In old Soviet Union, stores always ran out of everything. You never knew what items would find on shelves. They had bins full of Burned out Light bulbs. Buy one of these (cheap) take it to work, go to a dis-used basement or stair well and swap the burned out bulb for a working bulb.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Illini Warrior June 28, 13:31

    add to the list – especially since they are going extinct in some parts of the country – the retail poly checkout bag ….

    million uses and free for now ….

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe June 28, 15:21

      From time to time I grab about ten of these, bunch them up stuff them into a zip lock bag and put them into end of world supply. Items we use for everyday applications will be missed dearly when they are not available so put back a little of each when can and when needed they are available.

      Reply to this comment
  11. JJ June 28, 14:14

    Space saver: Cardboard toilet paper holders –holds lots of hair ponytail holders–I have one for every different size since I have long hair.
    Those Crystal Light plastics with lids are all over my house–small, nice size for so many things.
    Just a couple of ideas.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Softballumpire June 28, 15:40

    As for uses for old leather work boots, the side panel is a great starter material for a sling. With a sharp box cutter, matching eyelets can be carefully cut and threads removed. The side panel can be trimmed symmetrically and carefully slipped between the eyelet pieces. An old treadle sewing machine, or hand operated wheel of the electric can punch aligned holes in the ends of the pouches. You can go back over and stitch with thread through the aligned holes with shoe maker’s, upholsters or sewing awl with heavy duty thread thread if available. I like to melt candle wax after I am finished. The leather laces need to be cleaned, dried & also waxed to remove sweat salt and somewhat protecting the leather. Let hang dry with weights to change the memory of going through the eyelets of the boots.

    These make good training aids for children to use while hunting. The glass ball within aerosol [paint cans makes for good training ammunition.

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  13. Kane June 28, 18:55

    I save those annoying plastic bags you get from the supermarket. I roll them into strands and tie them to each other to make a rope. Once I get three ropes, I braid them together to get a wonderfully strong Hobo rope. I keep one in my truck. They work great and are very strong

    Reply to this comment
  14. Wannabe June 28, 21:20

    Yea I would have to be 100% sure it was abandoned before helping myself. And if someone I know such as a neighbor, I would rather get the supplies before a tird from three cities away gets it. At least I would feel like I was watching over the stuff or if there are enough people in your group move into house and secure it as if it was yours then I would be protecting the property and per chance they come back then they would be greatly appreciative, I would hope anyway

    Reply to this comment
  15. Wannabe June 28, 21:22

    Well shoot thought I was commenting on a different article. I’m sure what I just wrote above makes little sense with the conversation

    Reply to this comment
  16. Farmer Phyl June 29, 05:50

    If you dye your hair, don’t add it to your garden or compost pile. The chemicals are toxic, probably won’t kill you but not good for you either.

    Reply to this comment
  17. wa2qcj July 1, 03:42

    I guess I have been keeping such as that around before I knew there was a need to do so. I tend to be a
    pack rat” anyway. I would like to add a couple of things to the list, and maybe one more as well. First, those blue “paper” towels sold at Walmart and auto part stores, buy them, and use them. They have a high cotton content, and can be washed. I do that. Next, aluminum brazing rod. It is sold at welding supply stores. It will bond to other metals as well. That just requires a lot of scraping while heating the metal for the aluminum braze rod to stick properly. This stuff melts at about 600 degrees F. One more point, look up, and buy the CDs for the first 20 years of Mother Earth News. The copied magazines are packed with useful information.

    Reply to this comment
  18. insanecandycane July 3, 09:03

    cut the bottoms out of tin cans, then flatten them just a little and use as rebar or wire mesh when pouring concrete. if you ever tried to bust out some concrete made with these you will curse the guy that used them for many years to come. cut the paper label off to make lists on, ive read many a diary that was written on the backs of these labels that were in boxes left over at estate auctions, the label side had many diffrerent pictures to use as wallpapper and can always be used to make fire starter. use the tin cans to make solar heaters from instead of alumimium pop cans. any metal can can be sold if saved up. i walk 5 miles each day and pick up the trash along the highway to make it more pleasent to view and put money in my pocket. remember the old saying ” a penny saved is a penny earned!” i live 65 miles away from the big city and haul scrap metal in when i go to help with the fuel costs. old motor oil can be used for lots of things, from starting fires to softening the leather of an old base ball glove. used shortening can be gotten in plastic buckets behind convience stores and can be used to make soap, last batch of soap i made was back in 2008 and made 60 pounds of soap that time and then ground it up with a used “salad shooter” i got free at an auction i use to clean up after. then used to make laundry soap with. the fells naptha soap people use to make laundry soap with has all kinds of nasty chemicals. i use my soap flakes in a sock to bathe with in my shower, and made a “shower loop” from “instructibles dot com” to use my shower water over many times with from common hardware store pipe items then use the water for the last time to flush the toilet with and then wash the toilet every time we go potty. we live off grid in a camper in south dakota and heat with a yukon m1950 tent stove and just a small amount of scrap wood will heat the full 32 feet camper. one neighbor gave us 301 pounds of aluminium beer cans that we sold at 45 cents a pound. and we hauled them in discarded bulk feed bags that can not be reused for feed because the feed was medicated. also store our fire wood in these 4’x4’x5′ tall bags. old roofing nails are at least 1/8″ diameter and sell as steel at scrap yard or used to flatten tires if they are at least 1 1/4″ long if you do not want cars to follow you. the wide head of the roofing nail will make the tip point up when ran over by a tire, will stop horses from following you too. old rusty nails driven in a board and concealed by leaves will stop foot traffic too.

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  19. Keneke July 5, 01:04

    Another throwaway item with a great use, used “Aiborne” containers. When empty they make perfect waterless match containers. Just fill with “strike anywhere” wooden matches. I never go into the woods without one. The longer variety ‘Airborne’ container can also hold material to make starting a fire I wet conditions easier, such as cotton with petroleum jelly.

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  20. Sarah July 6, 17:03

    My husband wishes to receive this important information too. Please send me info on how I can sign him up to receive the Prepper in his email.

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  21. non August 28, 18:39

    Lots of stuff that is usable Used tooth paste or other caps are good to fill with play clay and put little snips of plastic flowers into for a small decorate at the window or over the sink, as well as something as a place setting at a banquet Easy and inexpensive.

    Reply to this comment
  22. Softballumpire September 8, 16:28

    To add to my previous post, A few things I hadn’t thought of as reasons because I had other uses. The candle wax is melted to pour into molds for casting. Packed in sand, the wax again melts as the molten metal displaces the wax. Aluminum will work for some projects.

    The pencil leads can be ground in a mortar & pestle and used for dry lubricant or mixed with fats for quick substitute for grease.

    Hair balls from hair brushes is somewhat useful for garden deer deterrent.

    One item missing was the polypropylene twine on hay bales. They are an excellent source material to manufacture a hammock or survival fish net or on trail animal traps or onto a wooden frame to make a bed.

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