Curbside Reclamation and Dumpster Diving

Following Justine’s post on FreeCycleand jjiraffe’s post on thrifting and consignment, I have another addition: dumpster diving.

Ian and I have been dumpster diving and ‘trash digging’ for years. What we call ‘trash digging’ doesn’t really involve much digging, just driving around neighborhoods the night before trash pickup to see what we can see.

He wanted me to write a list of what we’ve scavenged, but as I considered, I came to realize how little we’ve actually spent over the past seven years on furnishings, decorations, and entertainment. We bought our mattress set new, and probably spent more on that and our television than everything else put together. That’s as it should be, right? A comfy bed is priceless, even more so when you spend a lot of time lying awake in it.

Our dishwasher and entertainment center were freecycled, Abby’s toddler bed was consignment, and our couch, love seat, and coffee table were Craigslist. And the washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, and dresser that came free from friends or family.

Wow, I’m impressed with us. Sorry, got a little distracted.

Anyway, we dumpster dive.

Our favorite places to go are Michael’s, Kmart, and Dollar Tree. We have had a lot of new development recently, but almost all of those shopping centers have compactors. Compactors make us sad.

Michael’s is where we get all my frames, most of which are only thrown out because the glass is broken. There’s the occasional crafty stuff or mat leftovers as well. Their dumpster always looks so happy and sparkly from all the ground glass on the surrounding pavement. Closed toe shoes are a good idea.

Kmart is next door to Michael’s, so they always get hit as a pair. Ian once came home with two large garbage bags full of single socks. Those took hours to sort and match, but the end result is we may never need to purchase socks again. Our kitchen is Halloween-themed year round, from a haul of hand towels and potholders a few years ago.

The thing about Kmart that I hate is the destruction. They slice up their display models of carseats and strollers, that could easily have been donated to people who need them. It’s so frustrating to see that. When we find usable items that we don’t need or want, if we don’t know someone who does, we clean it up and take it to a donation site.

And Dollar Tree. They just don’t care. If one package is damaged in a case, the whole case is thrown away. We’ve gotten shampoo, dishwasher detergent, cat litter, all because nobody felt like cleaning up the undamaged containers. And once, a dead beaver. We did not salvage him. That discovery remains a mystery.

But my personal favorite is the Asian grocery. I don’t know how many fruits, vegetables, and labels I’ve googled to find out just what exactly is this weird thing. We haven’t been there in a long time, though.

There are some guidelines we follow. First of all, make sure dumpster diving is legal in your area. In Louisiana, once you throw something out, it’s fair game. A cop once stopped to see what we were doing and had to google to find that out for herself. Obey private property signs.

Also very important, but something that would seem to be common sense is to never climb into a dumpster alone. I’m talking to you, Ian! He almost got stuck once getting me a pair of jeans because the only other thing in there was cardboard, and not much of it. Fortunately, I was there, and he got out okay anyway. If you are climbing in, make sure you don’t lose your shoes.

You don’t have to climb in. A grabber, or even a cane or broomstick, is usually all you need to shift things around and protect your fingers.

Food? I’ll eat dumpster food. All of our grocery stores compact, but I’ve heard good things about Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Wash your produce and leave anything canned or bottled if the seal has been compromised, of course. Shelf stable items that are individually wrapped inside a larger container are ubiquitous, and find homes in our pantry.

What do you think?