Too Much Stuff Makes it Easy to Keep an Eye Out

by Katy on June 29, 2009 · 28 comments

Mortar and PestleI have written before about how I keep an eye out for certain items, but I haven’t connected how the manufacturing glut makes this task as easy as throwing together a batch of my black bean burgers.

A prime example came this weekend while perusing a neighbor’s garage sale. My mother had asked to me to keep an eye out for a flowering arranging frog, and my step-mother had asked me to keep an eye out for a mortar and pestle. And whattaya know? This sale included both those things. $1.50 later and I now get to play Lady Bountiful.

But here’s the thing. There wasn’t some metaphysical force at work, where needed objects are matched up with seekers. There’s simply too much stuff in the world!

I know that these things already exist in someone else’s home, yet are considered clutter. Just like the clutter in my home is just what someone else is keeping an eye out for.

I had asked my mother to keep an eye out for a queen-size mattress set and within a week she’d located a looked-new-to-me set from a friend who wouldn’t even take any money. Was this because the stars had aligned to present their pillow-topped gifts? No, it was because my mother’s friend was getting a divorce and the new boyfriend wanted, well . . . let’s just say a fresh start.

Me? I’m not so picky. The mattress looked immaculate, that was good enough for the Non-Consumer Advocate.

So much stuff out there is already manufactured and perfectly good. There is no reason to hack off another block of marble from an Italian mountainside to make a new mortar and pestle. The environmental consequence of freshly producing each and every item that strikes our fancy is serious and real.

Practice patience and keep an eye out. You’ll be amazed how what you want magically appears already exists.

Do you keep an eye out for wanted and needed items, or do you buy what you want when you want it? Is there anything you’re keeping an eye out for now? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

lala2074 June 29, 2009 at 4:30 am

I am keeping an eye out for a video camera to appease Mr Techno.

Also, for Mr Techno, I am keeping an eye out for a Prius 2-3 years old in excellent condition.

For Barbie Girl, a DVD player, preferably in Pink!

For me? I am keeping an eye out for a Jigsaw suit in size 14 (us 10-12) in as new condition.

Universe, provide…….


lauren June 29, 2009 at 5:31 am

yes, i do. but my circle of friends is very small – and/or they are spread out across the USA. so, i could say i’m looking for a sleep number mattress but if my aunt in indiana finds one…well, that would be abit difficult.

i’m keeping my eye out for a food processor, tv, vhs player (yeah, i still have some good vhs tapes) a nightstand and lamp for one room and yes, a sleep number bed. 🙂


Loretta June 29, 2009 at 6:08 am

I keep a detailed list of items I want/need in my purse. It sometimes takes a while, but I usually find what I’m looking for 2nd hand. My latest example is the almost-new $12AUD waffle maker I found in my local op shop. I’ve been looking for one for 6 months. I just knew I’d find one; I’m sure there are thousands of them just taking up space in kitchens all around the country. Now my kids can enjoy a weekly treat of home-made cinnamon waffles!
There’s nothing on my list at the moment: it’s school holidays and I refuse to go shopping for the whole 2 weeks 🙂


Lisa June 29, 2009 at 6:24 am

I have a little box tape measurer that I took with me when I went to yard sales. I write what I am looking for on a piece of paper that I have taped to the box with the maximum size that I need. This has kept me from bring home desks that were just a bit too big for the space etc.

Honestly though, right now the only thing I need is LESS. At this point I am trying to clear the stuff out of the house instead of bring more in.


suburbanlife June 29, 2009 at 8:00 am

We are in process of renovating our basement. One Saturday morning i dragged my husband next door to a friend’s garage sale, just to visit and say Hi. As i was chatting away with her, my husband was poking in the free box. he found two bath-towel rods made out of solid brass which will work well in our marine-inspired downstairs bath. Now if we can find a used double sink for the downstairs kitchen, we’ll be set. We know it’s out there languishing in someone else’s garage. Time and patience are on our side. We’ll keep poking away! G


Angela June 29, 2009 at 10:35 am

I was having this conversation with my Book Club last week- about how things could never get as bad as during The Great Depression simply because of the glut of goods available. So it may be hard to pay rent and feed yourself, and especially to pay down debt, but you’ll never have to do without clothes or furniture or STUFF, because there’s tons of it out there for cheap, or even free.

Lauren- VCRs are definitely something you could find at a thrift shop or free from freecycle or Craig’slist. Same for used furniture.
suburbanlife- same goes for you- try free Craigslist, because like WilliamB says, it’s a very specific item and might take awhile to find at a yard sale.

I’m keeping an eye out for sunglasses. I can’t believe Katy found some at a yard sale- I’ve never seen good sunglasses at a yard sale!


fern June 29, 2009 at 11:01 am

It’s nice to see a frugal person who also has an environmental conscience. I wanted recently to replace my plastic ice tea container with a glass one, with lid, and saw a very nice one at target, but online sales only, at about $19 before shipping. I saw something very similar at Walmart for $3.95, so i bought it. Then at Goodwill, i was amazed to see the same thing again, at $3, but at this point, it didn’t seem worth returning the walmart purchase for just $1.


Ashley June 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm

My fiance and I are getting ready to move him into the new house we bought, followed by myself moving in after our October wedding. Many of the furniture items our families are giving us, but we happened to mention to our realtor we still needed a washer and dryer. Well what do you know? His son is moving a couple states away and needs to get rid of his 5 year old washer/dryer set for $125 including delivery! Yes, please!:)
Everyone keeps asking me where we are registered for the wedding. To tell the truth I don’t really want to register because of all the nice stuff already out there. Maybe just some wedding china and the honeymoon trip. Right now I am on the look out for a coffee table(not necessary but would be nice), food processor, and some pots and pans.


Kristie-ND June 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I have been looking for a pair of capri pants in my size, but have not found them, so that is an item I will most likely be buying new if I don’t find a pair in the next 2 weeks.

There are a few things I am hoping to see show up in my path:

A decent couch to replace the couch we currently have in the loft. Last year our Great Dane got very ill, and even lying on the floor was causing pain, so my dh lifted him(and at 200lbs, it wasn’t an easy lift 😉 ) onto that couch and after the 2 weeks it took him to get better, he just took it over, and now that couch that was quite nice is sagging,

We found an old mattress for him to take over and now need a couch to replace the one that is literally falling apart. I was shocked however at the price the Salvation Army was charging for sofas, as the quality was pretty mediocre at best.

I live in a very rural area, so while we do have a freecycle group, there isn’t much activity on it, and the activity there is is mostly asking for things.

I am also looking for a plain ole fish bowl, so we can transfer my son’s fish and clean out his disgusting fish tank. Haven’t found one yet, but I have not given up hope.


Gerard kiernan June 29, 2009 at 6:17 pm

I am in the process of installing a small machine shop to indulge my bicycle industry fantasies. After looking hard for an affordable Horizontal Milling machine, and asking around a lot, I was notified of a free one. 1500 pound industrial machine that I will pick up tomorrow with a rented truck. It was destined to be scrap . The universe seems to provide for the tireless networker more so than for the hermit!


BarbG June 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

I am looking for a cast iron frying pan. Hard to find they are!


Cherry-Lee Ward June 29, 2009 at 7:28 pm

My husband and I have just set up a new office. It’s been amazing what we’ve been able to take from home, repurpose etc. We’ve had friends dig in their basements and provide lamps, end tables etc. We have purchased a few sale items but not much in the scheme of things.

The only thing I’m needing right now is a home office armoire to replace what we’ve taken to the office. Am hoping to find the perfect one to fit in our dining room … off to Craig’s list right now!


christajean June 29, 2009 at 10:26 pm

You could just mention something you’d like on your blog and then some nice person may just hand it to you one day.
That happened to me today!


thenonconsumeradvocate June 30, 2009 at 1:32 am

I forgot to mention that I also picked up salad tongs and a big ol’ stack of cloth napkins at the neighbor’s garage sale, both of which I was keeping an eye out for.

Total cost? $1.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


alunachic June 30, 2009 at 10:20 am

Katy as Santa- i love it!
I’m keeping my eye out for a used fiddle. At 51, I’ve played guitar and keyboards but really have a hankering to learn to play fiddle in my middle age. A free fiddle would be awesome. I’m sure there is one in someone’s garage or attic that would love to come over to my house and play….


Liz June 30, 2009 at 5:27 pm

This is so true. My sister and I have been focusing on being patient when we want/need something. It’s AMAZING the things that come our way with a little patience. Also amazing: the list of things that fizzle out with a little time. Maybe we didn’t need them after all!


Jeanine July 2, 2009 at 11:42 am


Somewhere on your blog/compact list you said you would consider buying pillows new, because as a L&D nurse, the health issues that a used pillow would present.

What on God’s green earth would make you take a USED mattress?

I love this blog, and I love the hints that I gleen from here but after reading the last two blogs, I think


Jeanine July 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

that it’s getting a bit more serious that even I can stomach.

Petition to donate food that was strewn all over a highway?

Bringing your own unsanatized containers to deli’s for salads and things?

I mean…is the next thing going to be bringing your own instruments into the hospital for surgery? Just to save some money?

And now sleeping on a used mattress?
Body Fluids, dead skin, mites, bed bugs…..ugh.

I’m wondering where saving a buck is going to lead to buck costing health concerns.

Even if you were to have the mattress steam cleaned (which give your education, I hope and pray would be mandatory)…..that’s akin (to me anyway) of wearing used panties. Just plain gross.

There’s a reason ( at least here) that thrift stores won’t accept mattresses…they have to be brand new in the plastic, direct from a retail store or factory.


thenonconsumeradvocate July 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm


I would not buy a used pillow, but I have certainly slept in hotels. The mattress was from someone I know and looked brand new. I feel no need to have it cleaned.

I know that restaurants here in Portland are very supportive of people bringing their own leftover containers. Beth Terry over at brings her own non-plastic containers when buying from the deli. If I were to try it (which I haven’t yet) and was told they couldn’t use my containers, I would of course respect that.

The suggestions from myself and from readers are not for everyone. If there’s an idea you like, great. If not, then ignore it. No big deal.

I welcome all reader input. The discussion that it spurns is always interesting.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


thresholddweller July 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Most of what I keep an eye out for are household items – mostly kitchen tools, warm blankets, containers for food storage, and so on – and books – especially recipe books and books on gardening, building houses, and other valuable skills (plus some for entertainment). Given that I work from home, stay in a lot, and am trying to lead a low-energy life, I really appreciate things that I can find used that make being at home a bit more comfortable, or help me get my work done faster and better.


Katie April 15, 2012 at 5:40 am

Years late here, but I an reading archives and had to say that I have been keeping an eye out for bedroom furnishings. Our room mates moved out and left us with a spare room. Since we are having out of town guests twice this month we decided to just furnish the room and then try to rent it furnished next month.

So within a week I found a (free) queen sized bed frame, and a $20 full mattress set with cool bright yellow sheets (which we swapped for our son’s queen because he doesn’t need a queen bed anymore since he is eleven and I don’t end up spending any nights in his bed anymore), I got amazing quality whiter-than-white sheets and a waterproof mattress pad at our big Goodwill bins store (love Seattle) for less than $5. Then yesterday just hours before our first out of towers arrived I scored a free dresser on craigslist that will work as both a dresser and nightstand (with 1/2 inch of space to spare).

My new rule is if I really want something I will take three days to trawl craigslist and see if I can’t buy it cheep or free odds are I can and if I can’t, maybe the three ayes ting period will convince me it isn’t so necessary. Katie


Coral Clarke June 30, 2023 at 7:47 pm

We had a neighbour whose proud boast was that her floors were so clean you could eat off them.! Our family preferred plates! I think there is a fine line between “ clean enough” and sterile, and we each draw the line where we are comfortable. If the family is avoiding nasties, your choice is almost certainly fine!


Katy June 30, 2023 at 8:01 pm

To have that goal is to shovel the walk in the middle of a snow storm. The non-reachable goal.


Kim July 1, 2023 at 5:30 am

I started volunteering at a local thrift shop. My roll is primary sorting, which means that I am the first person to see what is coming in. Woo hoo!

That said, I am looking for a packable rain jacket that fits better than the one I have now that fit me loosely when I weighed 100 pounds more. Also want one that is a more cheery color than bandaid brown or black. I found a nice one the other day in a bright blue, but it was still too large. I let it go on the floor because after a few months volunteering, I know eventually exactly what I am looking for will flow by.


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