Spring Is Dumpster Diving Season

When people look at my body, they are surprised to learn that I am a competitive diver.  However, if they watched me on Fridays (garbage day), they would see me moving pretty fast and flexing my lifting muscles in some world-class dumpster diving.

Trash-picking saves money, helps the environment, gives the thrill of victory, and offers some cool old stuff that may be better quality than what you will find at Target, IKEA, or the rest.  If it helps you sleep at night, you can call yourself a free-cycler, up-cycler, or curb surfer.  Not me, I’m a old-school trash-picker / dumpster-diver, and there is no shame in my game.

In the competitive world of dumpster diving, Spring is playoff season. Everyone in your neighborhood has spent the winter reading Marie Condo and watching episodes of Hording: Buried Alive, the real-estate market is starting the Spring thaw, and divorce filings reach their yearly peak.

Do some calisthenics and put on your game-face, ’cause it’s time to score.

Note: I had so much fun writing this post that I decided to go deeper with this topic.  Check out my newer post, Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big.

Top 5 Dumpster Diving Targets

5) Plastic containers

Paying for storage containers sucks, but people throw them away just because they are dirty.  Utility shelves, milk crates, storage totes, and old coolers are all fair game.  Just make sure you are not taking your neighbor’s trash receptacle.

uses for old coolers
All of these coolers were free.  The red one has been retrofitted for brewing beer.  The grey one is now a solar generator that I take camping.  The blue one is, well, for keeping things cool.

4) Vintage curios

If you live in or near an area with some old houses, you can find some really neat, old stuff.  I have an affinity for older stuff made made from “real” materials.  Some of these finds might even be eligible for resale.

freecycling vintage
I ordered an LED bulb to replace the florescent bulb in the lamp.  The stapler from the 60’s weighs eight pounds and is bullet-proof.
vintage maps
This awesome map set was in a school dumpster, but I had to make the brackets.

3) Patio furniture

People throw away patio sets just because they have ripped cushions or a damaged top.  Replacement cushions (fitting most designs) can be found in the home center, and you can pick a design that you like.  For many bases a different top can be attached.

replacing cushions on patio furniture
I made wooden tops for the stools since I wanted them to double as stands.

2) Construction materials

Even if you only do one or two projects a year, materials from the home center can really add up.  If you have a place to store these materials, you can save a lot of money.  Even a couple of 2x4s makes a difference.  As a bonus, you might save yourself a trip to the Home Cheapo.

salvaged construction materials

using old windows
I made this cabinet with two old window that I liked.  It now houses my wife’s knitting stuff.

1) Older furniture (nothing upholstered)

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Old dressers, chairs, tables, etc. are almost always better made with better materials.  Wooden furniture is easy to spruce up.  A little wood glue, an added screw, some sanding, or some lemon oil can go a long way.  If you are going to give a piece some TLC, just be wary of lead or other toxins.

curb furniture
This stand from Denmark only needed some reinforcing and some lemon oil.  The cocker spaniel was salvaged also, but he has been much more trouble.

Top 5 Trash-picking Strategies

5) Think about bed-bugs.

If I brought pests into my house, my marriage would be over faster than you can say, “No, you cannot crash at my place you cheap bastard.”  Anything with stuffing, upholstery, or fabric is a non-starter.

4) Know the schedule, but don’t change yours.

I don’t make special trips around to look for scores.  It isn’t necessary.  I know the trash schedules for the neighborhoods around me, and when I walk the dogs or run errands, I peep the goods.  Taking a different street on the right day can make all the difference.

3) Institutions / huge houses.

Some buildings just give it up again and again.  It’s like being a home-run hitter and choosing to play for the Rockies at Coors Field.  Huge, old buildings have decades of goodies that need annual culling.

CASE STUDY: A young couple decided to fix up a massive house near me.  They were throwing out good stuff every Friday for years.  When we finally had them over for dinner, they realized that all of my furnishings came from their house.  They left early and now cross the street when they see me coming. OK, but it could have happened.

2) Prep. your kit.

Keep an extra hammer (the bigger the better), some screwdrivers, a saw, straps, etc. in the car.  One time a saw a desk with a beautiful top, but the base was ruined.  A few swings with the engineer’s hammer and the top was mine.  Another time I smashed some damaged Ikea bookcases since I wanted the melamine to make some closet shelves.  It’s a good idea to keep some tools in the car anyway.

1) Hit well-to-do areas.

It’s kind of like how poor kids go trick-or-treating on the nice side of town.  I am usually shocked at what rich people throw away.  (Couldn’t they even bother to call the donation center for a pick-up?)  The rewards are high and the competition low.  I think it was Socrates who said,  “One treasurer’s trash is a trashy man’s treasure.”

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Do you have any great moments in free-cycling to share? Any good tips that I can add to my repertoire? Please leave a comment.

One thought on “Spring Is Dumpster Diving Season

  1. I love dumpster diving! Another great source is bakeries that throw out day old bread, often still wrapped up and perfectly clean.

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