The idea of dumpster-diving seems to push the limits of even the most frugal among us. Visions come to mind of foraging in muck, half-disguised out of fear being spotted by a neighbor, only to rush home for a shower worthy of Silkwood when it’s all over. But the reality is far more reasonable, clean, and civilized than you might imagine.
Dumpster-diving (an unfortunate misnomer in most cases, as I’ve never seen anyone actually get in a dumpster) is a spectrum activity; you can go as far as your comfort level allows and there are great finds to be had at each point.
Let’s face it, the recession has uprooted a lot people — folks are on the move as they return to college, downsize, look for work, and consolidate households. Objects are the albatrosses in times of change and all that upheaval creates opportunity. After 20 years ‘diving,’ in large cities and small towns, I’ve developed a six-point strategy on how to dumpster-dive safely and effectively. This guide can serve as a primer for newbies and push the more experienced toward even better finds.
1. Determine Your Territory
Selection varies widely between residential and commercial dumpsters. If you focus on commercial areas, look for businesses that sell what you might be interested in and have high product turnover. Because most businesses consider diving a threat to customer privacy and future profits, commercial dumpsters are often secured and items in them damaged or destroyed to prevent reselling. Tread carefully in these areas. I’ve found residential diving to be best around large apartment buildings in established neighborhoods where tenant turnover is consistent and moving budgets modest. Usually apartment dwellers don’t have much storage space or areas to host yard sales, so excess items end up on the street or in the dumpster.
2. Timing Is Everything
When I lived in Chicago, October and May were always the prime picking months. Old apartment leases ending and new ones beginning create a glut of items weeded out in the transition. During these months, the alleyways in Chicago were veritable shopping aisles full of chairs, air conditioners, lamps, dishes, books, and clothes just waiting for an open trunk. In other neighborhoods, look for estate sales and yard sales — the evening after one of these events usually finds most unsold items relegated to the curb....MORE