The day I saved Heckboy.

On my way home from the store recently I found nine cents, a My Coke Rewards cap and two ice-cream bars.

About that last: While waiting for the light to change I saw a discarded plastic grocery bag on the ground. As a rule I pick these up for my sister to use when she walks her dog. This bag held one of those Klondike Bar six-packs, with four missing.

The supermarket register receipt indicated they’d been purchased only about 15 minutes earlier, and it was a chilly day. You bet I took them home.

If you feel you must say “eeewww,” go ahead. I’ll wait.

Feel better? Me too: I got two ice-cream bars.

Scavenging is frugal, whether you do it in an organized way (Freecycle, dumpster diving) or merely by keeping your eyes open. You’re probably not going to get rich but you may find something you need.

You’ll also be keeping things out of the landfill. If I hadn’t picked up those ice-cream bars they would have eventually melted, and in time the bag would (I hope!) have been picked up by a city sanitation worker. Or a dog owner.

This way I got two free desserts and my sister got a poop sack. Win-win!

A treasure hunt

I’m more of a dumpster wader than a diver, i.e., I paddle around the edges. I’ve also found my share of useful things next to trash containers: kitchen chairs, a bookcase, the shopping cart I use to haul home heavier groceries.

While walking I’ve found things like pens, screwdrivers, a partial roll of electrical tape, and books and magazines from piles left on street corners. Seattle residents like to recycle their belongings by putting them outside with “free” signs. Or possibly they don’t want to pay dump fees and hope someone will take the stuff off their hands.

I find My Coke Rewards points, of course, both caps and empty 12-pack boxes. Most days I’ll find money, usually in the form of coins although greenbacks occasionally go feral, too.

Best place I ever found change: under the cushions of a couch sitting on the sidewalk. Since the sign said “free,” I figured that prospecting for pennies was permissible.

Seek and ye shall find

One windy day I found a red nylon shopping bag blowing across the University of Washington campus. It’s imprinted with a “2010 U.S. Census” logo and it folds up to about the size of a wallet. Since it weighs practically nothing, it lives in my backpack.

The UW campus was also the site of one of my woo-woo moments. One day I was thinking that I needed to get a white sheet and some safety pins to make a dust cover for my daughter’s wedding dress, which she’d bought from a cancer charity well in advance of the nuptials.

Just after the thought formed, I saw a safety pin on the bricks of Red Square. An hour later, I found another one. And then another one.

By the end of that day I’d found five pins, which were enough to secure the sheet over the dress. Weird, huh?

I didn’t find the sheet, though. I paid $2 for it at a rummage sale.

Pack some Purell

Some of you might be appalled by the idea of picking items up off the ground. But as I’ve noted before, it’s not as though I carry these things home in my mouth.

Besides, I do keep hand sanitizer in my backpack. If I scavenge a quarter from the edge of a puddle and can’t find a place to wash my hands within a reasonable time, out comes the Purell.

Some might think it’s low-rent to be seen stooping to retrieve a pin. (Don’t they know that if you pick it up then all the day you’ll have good luck?) Or they’d be embarrassed to admit that the super-useful (and eco-friendly!) shopping bag was found on the ground.

To me, fishing a Hellboy comic out of a bag of free books is like finding money. It was in pristine condition and made a fun gift for my great-nephew, who insisted that we read it together during one of my visits. He referred to the character as “Heckboy” when his little brother was around, and I had a chance to explain to him that the concept of “changelings” might have arisen from physical characteristics associated with the genetic condition progeria. (You learn the damnedest things as a CHID major.)

A week after I rescued the mag, I walked by that corner and found the bag still there but sodden with rain. The few books left inside were ruined. Glad that I saved Heckboy from that fate.

Incidentally, I’ve eaten the Klondike bars and I haven’t died. Not once.

Readers: Do you scavenge? What’s your best find ever? What are your boundaries, if any?

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  1. Sandy J. Omaha

    I am a life long scavenger, thanks in part to my mom who couldn’t pass up a bargain of any kind, and our entire family’s dedication to the environmental movement of the 60’s. The whole “Earth, Love It or Leave It”, and a lot of recycling was really gearing up back then. My best find $ wise, was a set of 5 art-deco chandeliers. They had layers of dirt and gummy stuff covering them, and didn’t look very promising. I spent a weekend soaking, cleaning, scraping, and brushing them, and sold them at a local auction house for 550 dollars for the lot. My usual finds are not from dumpster diving, but just from keeping my eyes open. Money, jewelry, and various things on the curb on garbage day. There’s not much that I would turn down if it was something needed or useful, other than underwear, and partially eaten or unwrapped food. I too, would have eaten the ice-cream bars. In the past that I have hidden snacks in my car during dieting or New Years resolution times rather than risk taking them in the house and getting “the talk” from hubby about weight, health, etc… So, I understand that someone may have eaten as many Klondike Bars as they could in 15 minutes and ditched the rest, but it bothers me that they just tossed it and didn’t find a trash can.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sandy: Hmm, I never thought of that but maybe a dieter did ditch the goods. Or maybe someone (whether teen or adult) who’s not allowed to have sweets at home.
      Nice find on the chandeliers. Some people just have an eye for such things.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. “it’s not as though I carry these things home in my mouth.” made me LOL. I have some old metal outside chairs that someone left for the garbage man years ago after not selling at their yard sale (there were price tags on them). I have been meaning to paint them up and put in my garden, think I will get cracking on that next weekend 🙂

  3. Loved your post! We’ve gathered furniture. We’ve had to do a bit of work to pretty it up again, but we’ve still saved quite a bit.

    My friends showed me how to spruce up the dinning set we got. It was a dark wood with some uneven patches. Now it’s shabby chic white with new cushion.

    We’ve also picked up nightstands and other knick knacks for the house.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Elle: My daughter saw a bentwood rocker with busted-out caning by the trash. She painted it black and my sister re-caned it for her as a birthday gift.
      Abby also bought a beat-up chest of drawers for a few bucks and painted the body red and the drawers black, then switched out the hardware for some nice-looking but not terribly expensive pulls. What a handsome piece it turned out to be. Sometimes it just takes a little imagination.

  4. mrs short

    My husband and I rescued some infant car seats from one neighbor for another. We also liberated a bread box sort of thing from the fate of the garbage truck that I sanded and painted and now lives in our guest bedroom against a wall that was proving to be too short for anything else!

  5. I love “found” things. I work in a public library and our Lost and Found yields some treasures. We hold everything for 3 months, usually, and then it’s time to make a Goodwill run and/or share among the employees. Some of us are less highbrow than others and are happy to help clothing and other items find a new home.

  6. Furniture hardly counts, right? I think we’re down to less than half our furniture being scavenged (though the giant solid cherry dining table might outweigh all the other furniture in the house anyway.)

    The most magical thing ever was, one day when I had absolutely no money and had just been at the coop making a delivery, I was talking to my friend about craving out-of-season fruit and when we walked across the street there was half a bag of organic imported grapes! It was like a gift from the universe.

    In Minnesota, the outdoors is like a giant refrigerator for half the year, and the big distribution centers for food processors discard stuff a day or two before the “sell-by” date. But I’ve never found a Klondike bar!

  7. Okay, I am in awe of your encyclopedic knowledge of strange things. I just spent 15 minutes learning about progeria.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Emily Guy Birken: I know an awful little about an awful lot. It’s the curse of the (until recently) autodidact.

  8. jestjack

    I am a scavenger/recycler. I found at the dump in my local “swap shop” two unopened cans of paint from Lowes with the stickers still on them showing that they had been mixed just 8 days prior. As luck would have it I was painting a rental unit and this lovely gray went well with the white trim. Looked at Lowes and the price was over $34 a gallon.
    More recently saw a nice corner wooden cabinet out with the trash. Brought it home and placed it in my bath in the lower level. It looks great and fit perfectly in the bath. Now I have plenty of storage. DW couldn’t believe it was in the trash! “If it’s free….it’s for me!!!”

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jestjack: Score! Looking around my place I count nine items that were either found by the dumpster on trash day or were offered to me vs. having them taken to the dump. They work just fine, thanks.

  9. I’ll have to admit I haven’t done much scavenging – but I am fairly good at scoring free things off family members (so far, kitchen table and chairs, and a beautiful hutch!). I do try to help those who scavenge out by putting my stuff out early before big garbage day, so they have time to get it if they want it. Why on earth would anyone abandon ice cream bars?!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ellen: Perhaps it’s as Sandy J. Omaha mentioned — someone was eating ice cream but couldn’t bring it all home. Or maybe teens were eating them and decided to go into the mall across the street, which meant ditching the food. People do odd things sometimes, such as throw away family photos when they move. Seriously: After one tenant left, she tossed framed pictures of herself and her daughter and also photos of other family members. That was a little spooky. I mean, I know it’s not expensive to make prints these days, but to see your neighbor’s family looking out at you from the dumpster is a little disconcerting.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. I haven’t done much scavenging deliberately. But I did find a favorite reuseable shopping bag in a parking lot once. I felt bad picking it up at first and then realized it would probably end up thrown away eventually anyway. I’m especially glad now as that particular bag has been discontinued in favor of a much more expensive one. I’ve considered picking up other items but I’m very careful about what I bring into my home. If I’m not positive I’ll use it and have an idea how, I don’t pick it up. Otherwise I end up with more junk to get rid of later. We’re wading through my husband’s old stuff now.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Laundry Lady: Good point — if you’re not sure you want/need it, you could wind up drowning in clutter. Of course, some of the other commenters have sold/donated these items so that’s an option if you know you had time to clean and/or repair items.

  11. I will pick up money, though NEVER jewelry, (at church yesterday, there was an inital necklace on the ground next to a car, and I figure, at a place like that, someone will return for it) unless it would look valuable, or in a place it might get disposed of (once I found a college ring inside of a toilet at the office building I worked at, before I used it. I rescued it, though I was gasping ick, ick ick the whole time, turned it in, and a very grateful woman contacted me later) I do look at the recycling bins and get books and coupon packs, I’ll on occasion find something worth pulling the car over for on the crb, though I generally feel a little akward about that, and only do it if no one’s at home, or outside at the nearby houses. A few months pack, found a huge bag full of kids toys, kept what we wanted, resold some, and yard saled the rest, we’ve gotten several nice pieces of furtnature from a neighboor who just piles it on the curb and never ,minds if we take it.

  12. ImJuniperNow

    I’ll say it, I’m not ashamed – EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWW.

    I’m sorry, but I draw the line at food. Not because it was on the ground or discarded or might have germs. There are just too many weirdos out there (remember the Tylenol poisonings?).

    The last time I took a piece of furniture (gorgeous rattan love seat) the guy ran out of his house offering to bring me the rest of the set.

    And hey, if anyone out there needs a reason to check out other people’s trash, find the episode of Antiques Roadshow where the lady pulled a table out of the garbage and it later sold at auction for $250,000!

  13. I’m a light scavenger. Generally I’m averse to garbage-picking, but sometimes I get over myself. My best find is my down-filled winter parka, taken from the garbage bins at a previous apartment building. My former downstairs neighbours were moving out after a dramatic fight, and one of the girls threw an enormous amount of stuff out – including blankets, suitcases, stuffed animals, and (non-expired) cans of food.

    My conscience made me remove all the stuff from the garbage and sort out what could be donated – and my reward was a $300 coat with a broken zipper. I spent $3 to buy a new one, took 10 minutes to sew it in, and it’s kept me toasty through five Canadian winters.

    Karma, I say.

  14. I’m some what of a newb at this, but I’m getting better. Still at trash picking rather than dumpster diving.

    Just last week we scored a whole pile of free wood. Big pieces, dry and perfect for my would be chicken coop, from the trash at a construction site.

    A couple days later I noticed that chard was being used as an ornamental plant in the flower beds around my business park. Rainbow chard! Did I pick it?

    You betcha! I also did not die from it’s consumption. Since I’m in Seattle and it has now snowed like the dickens and that chard is dead I’m sure, I’m particularly proud of myself for saving it from a chilly death.

    Not as good as ice cream though.

  15. I’m always on the lookout for stuff that may have value. In the past I scored a nearly new BMW bike stuffed in a neighbor’s trash can. And what was wrong with it? The nuts for the front wheel were missing! Got two of those at the bike shop for under $1. This past spring I picked up two perfectly good fire extinguishers setting beside a dumpster. I keep my eyes open all the time.

  16. We are avid “next to the dumpster” collectors 🙂
    Living in college-towns definitely has its advantages. Kids throw away stuff they don’t feel like moving & neighbors often put out stuff with ‘free’ signs.
    Next to the dumpster: Best finds are usually vacuum cleaners. Excellent upright dirt devil – just had to remove the beer bottle cap that was blocking the tube & a lot of long blonde hair from the roller & it was like new! Have also picked up mirrors, bookshelves, desks, lamps, laundry basket, fry pans that didn’t look used.

    Also picked up a lovely Bassett dresser, which unfortunately had been sprayed in black paint with the word “free”. We sanded a bit & then painted with high gloss black and it looked great.

  17. I’ll admit it. I’ve fished unopened food out of the garbage on move out day when I lived in a college town. Unopened bags of chips(the giant family size no less!), mixes that were never opened. And granted, I had previously gone to the college and knew my way around the Ghetto and Darkside. My own little brother and his roommates were going to throw away 20 lbs of frozen chicken breast b/c nobody could fit it in their cars. Luckily, I only lived 4 blocks away and I ate off that bag for the summer. I’ve also found textbooks and sold them for a decent price being that when I find them, there’s no real cost aside from the ship supplies and the media mail charge.
    However, the best haul ever goes to my grandfather who the day I was moving out of my house in the Ghetto, found a nice leather jacket with $300 in the pocket and some change. And it was hanging out of a dumpster! He even split some of the money with me but insisted he keep the jacket. =D

  18. Lifelong scavenger (adult life anyway:D). My current dish set was rescued out of a dumpster as was my bathrobe. I always rescue stuff because I can always pass it on. I freecycle both ways (I need a bumper sticker that says that 🙂 ). I’ve never found food but wouldn’t have any problem salvaging packaged food. I’ve know several people who have dove the dumpsters at markets and grocery stores and are still alive to tell the tales :). I usually stick to apartment and neighborhood dumpsters unless I’m looking for cardboard boxes. Stores and companies are more likely to have security to prevent trespassing. They get a tax write off for what they throw away but I think it prevents them from giving it away (it has to be a loss) unless they give it to a charity and then they get the tax break for a donation. It’s sad because that means stuff ends out in a landfill that someone could have used :(.

  19. I’ve scavenged lots of perfectly good things! In NYC people throw out some very nice furniture, but you also risk getting bedbugs. I got a nice IKEA dresser and three other shelving units from the trash. I also had an air conditioner for a long time that my brother scavenged. I once used a hair tie I found on the ground at sleepaway camp when I was 13, and another girl saw me and teased me about it. So rude!

  20. I absolutely loved your article and you did absloutely did the right thing in picking up those ice-creams. I also re-read your article of freecycling. Really excellent!! I do though sometimes wonder though how you reconcile your environmental conscience/reusing/recycling etc with the many many freebies (some full of well, stuff, that ends up in the dumpster), you give away. I wonder how many of those orange stress balls or chicken chuckers will end up in landfill?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ash: True enough about the stuff — but it already existed at the conferences I attended. Eventually it will end up in someone’s possession, or in the landfill.

  21. Ro in San Diego

    When I was in Japan I met the gal who is my best friend. We both traded notes on the great “Gomi” we found along the side of the road on trash day in Japan. (Gomi is the Japanese word for trash or junk. Her home is furnished with the beautiful and decorative gomi she drug home. My home soon followed suit – furnished with beautiful “treasures” found along the side of the road. Highlights – a working compact refrigerator BFF still has in her garage 22 years later – still works. My best find -a beautiful needlepoint in the Japanese style hanging in my bedroom. I had several other items that were sold at yard sales when I returned to the states – sold for great prices too. I still scavenge when I am out and about. When I was visiting my son in Illinois right when we were talking about needing a shelf for his mudroom, we came upon one by his neighbor’s trash cans. It had one broken shelf but was perfect for the mudroom. It even was the same type of wood stain as the rest of his furniture. He still remarks how perfect it was for the purpose. I will usually slow down for roadside trash. I don’t dumpster dive but I do scan the tops of dumpsters just in case.

  22. Ro in San Diego

    Oops. Almost forgot about all those coupon inserts I rescue from the used newspaper bins at my local Starbucks each week. I save hundreds of dollars per month with those coupons. Just paid for 3rd European cruise, have enough money saved to pay cash for son’s Lasik in December.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ro in San Diego: Nice. I sometimes detour by the neighborhood Starbucks and do the same thing.

  23. We have a lovely set of bookshelves my husband rescued from a dumpster probably 30 years ago. Apparently someone was upgrading…

    I think our biggest score, though, was a pair of 32″ televisions. The first was posted on Freecycle. Someone had upgraded and handed down their old one, so the person they’d handed it down to had one to get rid of. Ours was on its last legs, so I emailed – and scored! A few days later, my son pulled up to the house with a couple of friends and another TV. Friends of the friends had upgraded and “just wanted [the old one] out of the house.” So happy to help out with that!

    I don’t know if I would have eaten found ice cream bars, but I’m sure not going to “eeeewww” because you did! I’m glad they didn’t go to waste.

    • Donna Freedman

      @SherryH: My friend was getting a new TV and wondered what to do with the big, heavy (but still quite functional) old one. I mentioned it to another friend, who instantly offered to head over with his husky son and cart off the old unit. Each person got what he wanted: A place to put the new TV and a “new” TV for free.
      That’s why I love Freecycle. And rummage sales, for that matter.

  24. I lived in Montreal for four years, and the best day of the year was July 1, which is celebrated as Canada Day in the rest of Canada but unofficially as Moving Day in Montreal. The majority of leases start/end on July 1, and it seems like everyone moves on that day. As a result, there are piles and piles of Stuff that people just dump on the side of the road — furniture, books, clothes, household items. I don’t know if they were too lazy to pack it or just ran out of time or perhaps the craziness of the giant Tetris game that is Moving Day got to them. Anyway, Moving Day was always kind to me. I found some great treasures on Moving Day.

  25. Dogs or Dollars reminded me that the university I went to planted hot-pepper plants around the flower beds to discourage rabbits. We picked a year’s worth several years in a row, to dry.

  26. I don’t go looking for stuff but if I come across some “unwanteds” on the curb, I do check them out. My best haul was from a couple of years ago: Out walking, saw a large pile of stuff on the sidewalk, left behind by people who moved out. Found an unused insulated lunch bag with tags still on, barely used designer children’s clothes that were perfect for my kids, some used books and sheet music which I sold on Ebay. So I can relate-enjoyed your post!

  27. I’ve picked up plenty of things left out for the garbage in the past. But nowa days, bed bugs are something to worry about. They are found in all types of neighborhoods. Getting rid of them isn’t easy.

  28. Ever since I read your article about picking up coins, I’ve been on the lookout for coins too. I’ve found mostly pennies, but occasionally I’ll find nickels or quarters. Once I found a couple dollars. People stare at me sometimes too when I pick up the coins, but like you said, the money adds up.
    I often find Coke bottle caps on the bus for some reason; maybe there’s something about commuting that makes people crave caffeine? Or maybe that’s just me. I’m saving up points for another movie ticket.

  29. I love scoring good scrounged deals and am unabashedly fond of finding money on the ground. It’s usually a penny at a time, but my best score was a $50 bill. That definitely renewed my interest in looking around as I walk!

  30. Holly Samlan

    No eeewwww from me. I KNOW each bar in the 6 pk. was individually wrapped. All multi packs come that way.

    My home is heavily furnished in hand me downs and antiques (many gotten cheap or free as others upgraded).

    Prob the best dumpster find was by late DH. In 2001 he found a COMPLETE computer system-tower, mouse, keyboard, monitor in a dumpster. i have since replaced the monitor (2x-once FREE), mouse and keyboard but the basic computer is still going.

  31. If you go to the bottle depot here, people bring in there paint they don’t want and people can pick it up.

  32. Hi Donna, I’m a longtime reader of GRS and love your articles there so I thought I’d check out your blog. LOVE IT!

    I am a shameless garbage picker/dumpster diver/collector of peoples unwanted junk. My best score was a Tempurpedic brand mattress (seriously like the $3000 one!) that a couple who were going through a divorce were arguing over. Neither wanted it but neither wanted the other to have it…. Thank you very much, my new mattress is doing my back some good! For those with the ewwww factor please consider that it was still in the original factory plastic and I put a waterproof mattress cover on for good measure.

    Aside from that score of the century I’ve gotten food, coupons, furniture, clothes, designer shoes, a super expensive purse, and countless other treasures from other people’s junk.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lee: Welcome! And thanks for coming over. I hope you’ll take some time to check out the archives.
      Getting a high-end, never-used mattress is a pretty big score. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only trash-picker out there.

  33. DH and I have both been pretty creative trash-pickers in the past. We’ve been slowly gentrifying our abode and now we have little “scavenged” gear around – the biggest things are a pair of 4×7-foot mirrors (from sliding closet doors) that are against the walls of our north-facing patio – doubles the light back there! – and a metal desk rescued from a university renovation. We gave it a couple of coats of black Rustoleum and some fancy hardware, and he uses it in the home-office closet for storage. It may soon move out and become the main desk again now that we’re both working mostly from laptop and tablet.

    Oh yes, there’s also the vintage Bakelite cocktail tray left when the tenant upstairs from us died after 50 years in the building. The cats’ drinking fountain is on that now.

    We also made some major scores via thrifting. Got a full-size rolltop desk for just $300. That lasted many years before going to live with a friend. Vintage Chinese lacquer cabinet with jade ornaments and cloisonne hardware, also just $300. Vintage china (pristine service for 12) for $400. And a Swarovski-dressed vintage chandelier, that just needed one strand of crystals replaced and rewiring, for $80. Replacing the one strand? Over $60. Total appraised value north of $800 now.

    One day if we get our retirement shack and I can have the workshop/barn I want, I do intend to furnish it mostly from Curb Mart!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Chacha1: “Curb Mart” — I love it!
      You should check on eBay for that Bakelite cocktail tray. Or watch for when “Antiques Roadshow” is coming to town.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  34. My family says “eeww” all the time to me. Once I was driving near my house and getting ready to turn the corner onto a busy road. There was a box of individually wrapped microwave popcorn, the kind the kids sell for fund raising. There was about 1/2 a box left – maybe a dozen or so. No kid was anywhere in sight and no identification on the box. I would have hit the box in the middle of the road. I stopped the car and looked in the box and then it all went into the back seat. When I told my kids where I found it, “eeeewwww”. But within the next couple of weeks those bags disappeared one by one. Once at college as an older student, I was walking in the hallway with lots of people and I looked down and there was a 10 dollar bill. I immediately picked it up and looked around me to see if anyone appeared to be looking for something and no one did. I was thrilled. You would have thought it was a million by my ecstacy. One time going into church on top of a dumpster was a laundry basket that was like new. It said “room # xx” on it. So I nabbed it. My kids gave me the “eeww” again and said they wouldn’t put their clothes in it. But they seemed to have forgotten it’s origin after just a short time. Sometimes you get lucky.

  35. I taught a new friend to dumpster dive. One day, cruising a shopping center near a gift store going out of business, she saw several dozen boxes behing a dumpster, obviously intended to go into the dumpster. She packed them up brought them home. I opened them and found over $8000.00 worth of merchandise(we wrote down merchandise and prices), mostly high end. The only thing wrong with a $600.00 item was a tiny chip. Nothing was perfect; all was fixable and beautiful. I finally surmised that someone in the store had written off all the merchandise we found, stashed it behind the dumpster and was going to take it home later. We thought about calling the store, but what if the manager were the “thief”? So, we kept it. We did not steal it; the person/s who put it there did. I got the Halloween house and bridge because the Halloween house had something dangling in the window that should have been stationary…forgot what.

    Crawling back to my sick chair and dying slowly!

  36. bareheadedwoman

    Score! Always rescue a book…always always. Extra warm fuzzies to you 😉

    okay i’ve always been a yardsale, old barn, drop-off kinda person but man oh man, nyc is Insectopia …there’s a saying: give to the street and the street will give to you. I’ve actually put a box of stuff with “free” out, send a mental communication out to the street about something I needed, and on a later walk on trash day, there was exactly what I needed. No joke. I don’t know if it’s the law of attraction, the blessing of the Lord, or some old pagan ritual (all of the above) but ~chuckles~ I’m not looking at the gift horse for an explanation. Asking specifically works well enough and often enough that I try before I’ll start trying to work it into the budget.

    Good game to get rid of clutter too: hurm, will the street trade me a good bucket for three decorative Santas that didn’t fit in the holiday box?

    We have whole movements and clubs of “freepers” and “fregans” in this city. Of course, manhattan isn’t too fond of them but a lot of places in Brooklyn make it easy. I keep looking for the what-all to actually go meet up with some group or another…y’know, the professionals 🙂


    And I was so busy looking up progeria that I forgot to hit “submit”.

  37. The receipt with the time stamp helped your feelings about the ice cream. Cool.

    I don’t spend time “looking” for stuff on the street, but I do pick things up when I see them. I recently picked up 5 bucks just blowing down the sidewalk.

  38. I am still loving the phrase about greenbacks going feral. Oh, and the next time you see the commercial about “what would you do for a Klondike bar?” you can just smile.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Karla: Ha! I hadn’t seen that commercial (don’t have a TV) but when I visit my friend in Alaska I’ll keep an ear stretched for the ad when she’s got the television on.

  39. I don’t have trouble with picking up food, provided the seals are still firm…or you can cut off the bad parts on the fruit. I’ve gotten loaves of bread, packages of pasta, fruit and boxes of greens this way. Whatever we couldn’t eat, the dog (and at one point, the rabbits) got.
    The nonfood items are even easier to decide on. I pulled a boxful of fancy shampoos, conditioners and hair treatments out of my daughter’s apartment house dumpster — some were partially used, but the brands were EXPENSIVE. Still luxuriating in them.
    Garbage day is a great time to scout for stuff. One morning in Ann Arbor, MI, I spotted a backpack leaning against a garbage can, full of great stuff. As I began foraging through it, a college kid came flying out — he’d forgotten something and left his backpack outside while he went back in to get it! (Darn.)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Cindy Brick: Check your e-mail, already — you won last week’s giveaway and I need your address in order to mail it.

  40. I don’t really dumpster dive although I have picked up items from the trash on city-wide garbage day (like wood furniture etc.). I do pick up change on my walks around town (near a major college campus) and have found plenty of items over the years. I find cash of course (biggest has been a twenty) but also other things include:

    cell phones (returned) and such, I have found textbooks ($$), bibles, many sealed airplane-size liquor bottles, food like packets of sunflower seeds, jerky, almonds, candy (I only keep sealed packages and wash the packages before I open them) , cans/bottles of beer & soda, mirrors, costume and real jewelry (normally with a broken clasp or the like, but gold is gold!), a working pocket watch, pens, glasses, various tools like screwdrivers, hammers, a saw, wrenches, a nice towel, endless gloves (I don’t pick those up), two working digital clock radios, mirrors of various sizes, and my favorite find: an old oscilloscope!

    It is worth looking down now and then!

  41. K Wilder

    My friend and I dumpster/curb dive. Items not kept are sold at a yard sale when enough is gathered. Metal goes to a recycle center for cash. The yard sale money goes into savings account. We both have day jobs, but this is like found money. We both sell most of what we find – don’t need more stuff! My favorite find was a non- functioning metal stereo turntable. I removed all the unnecessary parts and the turntable is now repurposed on my hobby bench – heavy duty and smooth turning. Store bought of this caliber from an art store, for my purposes would have been $150. Limits: Must be a saleable item, not requiring too much cleaning/prep time, or an item I can use that can be repurposed. I check all jewelry metals for gold/silver content. No hoarding allowed.

  42. I’m so glad that you have so many different avenues to voice your knowledge. You impress me all the time. And yes, I’m sucking up a bit.

  43. Years ago some friend of mine — they didn’t need to dumpster dive, as he was a full professor of zoology — discovered that grocery stores, like bakeries, throw out perfectly fine produce just because it’s a few days old. After fruits & veggies had been on the shelf for a few days, supermarkets would throw them out, unspoiled. Friends learned the store manager that if they arrived at a grocery store at the right time, on the right day, they could lift armloads of fresh produce out of the trash bin, for free. Since nothing else was put into that bin, they felt safe taking the stuff. They just washed it thoroughly…as we should all do with any produce.

    Don’t know if this is still the case. But it could be something to look into.

  44. I am a scavenger, too 🙂 One thing I always look out for is paper clips, as my husband is an English teacher and uses quite a few of them.

    I figure if I’m going to pick up change off the ground, I might as well go a bit further and pick up something I see often (you might be surprised about paper clips!) and in that way, contribute to the general cause 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      @Angie: I pick up paper clips, too. Glad I’m not the only one.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  45. Ecoteri

    I remember reading this months ago and have come back through a peculiar route – glad to re-read and be reminded of the joys of found stuff. LOVED this post, was so on the “15 minutes receipt” part, and hope you indulged.

    In our household, we of no-icecream have been engaging in an amazing icecream cone experience, and I have no shame in saying that I am reveling (pun intended) in the situation. Who knew that a few teeny scoops in a teeny cone could make all in the room relax? Thanks again for your post, it resonated in January and again in August

  46. My boyfriend was on his way home from school one night recently, and he saw a television sitting on the curb, with a sign that said it was free. He put it in the car, and now we have fairly new 27″ television.

  47. My best scavenger find was ten years ago. Stopped at intersection and spotted next to a dumpster in a parking lot a beautiful, soft yellow brocade wing back chair with curved walnut legs. I did a double take. Called a friend with a pickup who was an hour away. Anxiously waited for him to get there. We threw the chair in the back of the truck and took it home. I was thrilled. We both had to leave right away for an appointment and so quickly placed it in a perfect spot in the living room. When we arrived home a couple hours later, the house reeked of cat urine. It was the chair. Still, I gutted it and had it recovered. It’s still beautiful.

  48. vic pfister

    As a delivery driver I was always at dumpster areas, with a truck, returning to the ‘yard’ with items to cart home, usually on top of my car, or asking for a pickup driver for help. My garage is lined with found and repaired metal shelves and rolling carts made into holders for ‘stuff’. My wife’s classrooms have benefited constantly from such items needing only slight repair. Now that I am retired I am learning to restrain myself from collecting and to downsize our junk. If we hurry there may be space and time to make repurposing a hobby.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Vic Pfister: I expect some of the folks selling on Craigslist are “repurposing” items in the way you describe. I once interviewed a guy who obtained “broken” items (leaf blowers, trimmers, lawn mowers, lamps, et al.) from Freecycle and other sources, fixed them up and sold them on Craigslist. That was against the terms of service for Freecycle, but nobody ever called him on it. At least it gave these items more years of useful life vs. their being discarded.

  49. Katherine

    I think that it’s quite “snobbish” if you DON’T pick something up off the ground. I have cats and we use grocery bags when we scoop poop. Handy little things to keep. My husband swims and brings his swimsuit home in them. I put my shoes in them when I travel, especially my sneakers if I’ve done multiple walking tours around any place that I travel.

    Let’s face it, America is spoiled. However, we’re not living in the free wheeling 80’s anymore. The environment should be as much a consideration as our pocketbooks. You never know what you can find……..just don’t carry anything home in your mouth!

  50. Vicki

    Aaahh even though this is an older article I have seen it today and can relate! Walking out with my dog today I found a hair tie ( no hair attached and good and strong). I will wash it and my daughter may use it. I also found a clean ziploc sandwich bag inside a school gate. I will use this for pins, buttons, lettuce for my neighbour, so many options. I have a rule…I never, ever, ever buy disposable bags whether they be garbage or sandwich. I figure they arrive in my life as I need them whether they contain something I have been given ( hand me down clothes or books from friends for example) or like this one, clean and found. I do not pick up suspect bags ( though I pick up alot of garbage as I think Mother Earth can use some support on that score and it brings good Karma). Last week walking my dog I found a bottle of water unopened, an unopened band aid which I popped into my back pack and a really awesome pen which is now my favorite.Pens are another thing I refuse to buy as they are so easy to find. All of this was found at the basketball court in my town where people play all weekend. I have no problem with the ewww factor, in fact I have an ewww factor filter for most things, though I am discerning. I think it is smart to pick reusable things up and if they are well sanitized they are good to use.

    • Donna Freedman

      Earlier this week at the recycling center I noticed a dark brown plastic bag in with the mixed paper. Pulled it out to be a good citizen and found that it was one of those heavy-duty lawn and leaf bags — and that another dozen were in there. Now we have a nice stash of bags to be used when we get leaves from Linda B.’s yard for our potato beds.
      I also pulled a couple of children’s books and magazines from the mixed paper bin. All dry, all clean, all being read by my nephews.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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