“Spring time and garbage pickin’ is easy / dumps are jumping and the garbage is high.” -from Porgy and Bess
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, etc. If it helps you sleep at night, you can call yourself a free-cycler or a 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 (unless you live near a university where the collegiate season starts in May). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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) 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.”
Do you have any great moments in free-cycling to share?
Any good tips that I can add to my repertoire?