Our 12 Tips For Finding Roadside Treasures (aka Great Trash Finds)

Glassware glory: 3 mugs and 2 margarita glasses

Glassware trash finds glory: 3 mugs and 2 margarita glasses

Finding great trash is both art and science, my frugal friends. Mr. Frugalwoods and I pride ourselves on a honed methodology of trash scouting that’s equal parts whimsy, strategy, and kismet. The proof is in our epic trash finds catalogue, which includes everything from coats to fondue pots to wine glasses to shirts.

But how do we come to possess such divine and free delights? What dark magic do we employ to yield results so sweet every retailer in town throws their head back and belts a primordial “nooooooooo!” when they see us coming?

Wonder no more, for today I divulge every trash hunting secret I’ve got. Follow these easy steps and you’ll be finding trash like a boss in no time.

A righteous pile of trash

A righteous pile of trash

1) Embrace Your Inner Frugal Weirdo

The very nature of trash finding requires you to not care what other people think. The spendy-pants among us would rather rack up debt and squander their savings by purchasing brand new furniture, clothes, and custom hound coats. But we frugal weirdos know that frugality is the true key to freedom and that taking discarded stuff is a core element of our financially-savvy lifestyle.

2) Get A Greyhound

Frugal Hound: ready to trash hunt

Frugal Hound: ready to trash hunt

I suppose it doesn’t have to be a greyhound specifically, although I can only vouch for their efficacy in this process. A hound of any type provides an excuse to roam the streets scoping out trash piles to your heart’s content.

Plus, dogs are great trash find companions–you could outfit them with a doggy backpack and have them help you haul your goods!

3) Memorize Move-Out Dates

Make moving days your business. Investigate the common lease start dates for rentals in your area (it’s September 1st here in Cambridge) and the turnover dates for any local universities. Anything that equals lots of people moving will equal massive amounts of giveaways.

Mr. FW is a champ at knowing when moves are afoot and he puts out the trash find alert when he senses stuff on the horizon.

4) Learn Your Trash Find Locations

Trash find patio set my parents found in the suburbs

Patio set my parents found in the suburbs

In general, Mr. FW and I eschew the concept of actually opening trash bins. We only quest after trash that’s been set out on the sidewalk in the style of a free box.

This type of giveaway method is very common here in Cambridge and in most large cities, but it may be less standard practice in suburban/rural areas.

However, if you’re not a city-dweller don’t despair just yet–both my mom and my sister report amazing trash finds in their quasi-rural area.

5) The Seasons of Trash

Depending on the climate of your region, it’s possible your trash will experience seasonal shifts. Here in the snowy northeast, trash finding is a non-starter from November to April.

Frugal Hound: chief trash find assistant

Frugal Hound: chief trash find assistant

Shockingly, no one sets out piles of giveaways while there are snowbanks as tall as Frugal Hound. Hence, summer and fall are our high seasons.

We’ve had a real dearth of trash finds this winter, making us pine for the languid days of summer when glorious trash finds are piled high and Frugal Hound frolics on her leash, finally feeling her paw pads warm against the sidewalk as opposed to frozen against the snowbanks.

6) Don’t Hunt On Actual Trash Nights

This pile was easy to assess and dismiss on sight: nothing we need and no high quality goods

This pile was easy to assess and dismiss on sight: nothing we need and no high quality goods

Saturdays and Sundays are prime trash find evenings. The weekdays when people set out their actual, stinky trash barrels aren’t usually optimal for the type of trash hunting we’re conducting.

No one wants to dig through actual trash barrels, so we find it far more efficacious to scope on the weekends when people are more likely to clean out their attics and leave the unwanted discoveries on the roadside.

7) Leave No Trash Unattended

If you encounter a sweet trash find, beware of leaving it alone to go retrieve your car. Best to use the buddy system and deputize one person to guard the prized trash. If you’re looking, you can bet other people are too.

I once sat on top of a free desk by the side of the road for the better part of an hour while I waited for Mr. FW to get off work and drive the car over to me. It was a tactical move, I had to think fast and leap atop the desk for fear of another hunter taking my treasure. I called Mr. FW to report that we had a desk and that he only needed to bring the car around. I’d forgotten he was working late that day, and underestimated just how long I’d have to sit there on that desk. But I had no worries, a good desk is worth waiting for.

8) Don’t Steal Stuff

Try not to inadvertently snatch items that aren’t actually being thrown out. This only happened to Mr. Frugalwoods and me once. We were out on an evening stroll and came upon a charming end table standing on the sidewalk with not a person in sight.

Mr. FW's excellent trash find shirt

Mr. FW’s excellent trash find shirt

Being consummate frugal trash finders, we started to pick it up and walk off. Fortunately, its owner dashed out and asked us to cease and desist in stealing her table. In our defense, this table appeared to be abandoned next to the trash barrels on the curb. Let this be a lesson in not leaving your furniture unattended when Mr. FW and I are in the vicinity.

Now, if we’re in doubt about the provenance of a trash pile, we simply stand there for a few minutes to see if anyone comes to claim it. We thought for sure that Mr. FW’s best dress shirt wasn’t actually a trash find, so we waited by the side of road to see if anyone would come running out to chase us off. No one emerged and thus, Mr. FW is well outfitted.

9) Methods of Trash Collection: By Car or On Foot?

Both are valid means of securing your trash. A car is obviously superior for larger, more furniture-oriented items, but worse for small tidbits since it’s difficult to see what’s sitting on the curb when you’re driving past.

Trash finding on foot has the advantage of allowing you to closely examine each stack of giveaways you pass, but, has the obvious downside of limiting you to your natural carrying capacity. If on foot, prepare yourself with bags or backpacks. You never know what fiddly little items you might want to tote home, which is made vastly easier by the presence of a bag.

10) Assess Trash Piles First By Sight, Second By Hand

It was pretty easy to dismiss this trash chair on sight

It was pretty easy to dismiss this trash chair on sight

As you approach a potential trash bonanza, use your eyes before your paws. What sort of house is the pile in front of? Does it look clean and detritus free? What’s in the pile and do you want to touch it? Is there an odd mold or odor emanating from the pile? When in doubt, walk on.

Once you’ve rigorously inspected your intended trash pile by sight, it’s time to dig in. Take your time, don’t worry about what any passerby might think, and relish your newfound free possessions.

11) Don’t Take It All

Don’t fear leaving some trash finds behind. The goal of trash hunting is to find quality items that you’ll actually use. Allow yourself to pass up any trash that’s subpar or superfluous. Hoarding is not the trash find objective–don’t let yourself be duped into taking trash you don’t need!

The box that I left behind most recently contained cute skirts, shirts and dresses that I would’ve loved wearing… if I was still 22. Since I’m pretty obviously NOT 22, it was rather evident that I should leave that trash where it lay.

12) Seek Quality

Be discerning in the trash that you collect. After all, it is stuff and no one wants to be ruled by their stuff–which is almost guaranteed to happen if you have too much of it. With furniture in particular, think twice before grabbing that Ikea coffee table. Does it look like Frugal Hound assembled it? Will it even survive the trip home? Conversely, I always pounce on finely crafted wood furniture. Even if I don’t like the color, I can always refinish it myself.

Sadly, this chair was beyond repair

Sadly, this chair was beyond repair (given our current skill set…)

To find great trash is a virtuous cycle. By taking an item destined for a landfill, you’re helping yourself by saving money and you’re helping the environment by reusing a discarded thing. You’re now armed with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to pursue the trash finds of your dreams. Go forth and may you turn to treasure what others have so carelessly tossed away!

What are your trash finding tips?

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133 Responses

  1. Thank you for your advice! Unfortunately in Italy nobody sets piles of “trash” on the road ( or at least where I live ), but, thanks to your list, I will be prepared when habits will change ! 🙂

  2. The trouble with trash finds in New York is knowing when something is quality and when it’s actually a bed bug ridden mess.

    • Yeah that’s definitely a worry these days. We have accepted that we’ll be buying couches, mattress, etc.

      • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

        We did in in fact buy a used mattress. But it was from a very nice older couple in a super wealthy neighborhood who used it in their guest bedroom. We gave it a thorough inspection and decided it may never have been slept on! 🙂 $50, including the box spring and frame…

      • Barb says:

        I got my set from my cousin’s when they moved, it’s still great 8 years later. 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Truth. We’ve left some pretty nice stuff by the side of the road when we deemed it’s provenance “iffy”. But at least around here, there’s plenty of clean nice stuff to be had if you poke around enough.

  3. Amy@DebtGal says:

    Wow – I had no idea how much went into this process! Thanks for laying it out. In our rural-ish to suburban area, there’s usually only trash outside after a garage sale, and the pickings tend to be very slim. I have gotten a few free things off of Freecycle, though.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s funny, freecycle around here seems to be a dud. Maybe because the culture already embraces free stuff? I’ve always wondered about that!

  4. Mrs SSC says:

    When I lived near a university – I would pay attention to when dorm move-out days were. Sometimes you would get students throwing out so many interesting textbooks, or entire wardrobes! Also – checking out the apartments near campus that students tended to live in at the end of the school year would yield some great finds too!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh man, students throw out the best stuff! Especially the foreign students who are returning to their home country overseas… they have an entire apartment worth of stuff to get rid of! Sometimes there are garage sales, but plenty of times it just all ends up on the side of the road. We’ve seen more than one “complete kitchen for 1” by the side of the road in excellent condition.

      • Christine K says:

        Yes! The foreign students dump EVERYTHING when they go back home. I found the craziest move-out in November of all months at the college apt. dumpsters. It was a Saudi student moving back home apparently. Holy cow…they dumped a KitchenAid mixer, laptop, so many nice clothes and suitcases (because apparently suitcases are the new trash bag when you’re a student moving out), and a TON of textbooks. Those textbooks fetched us $189 and change on Amazon trade-in right before XMas 😉 Now textbooks are my favorite thing to find, because free Amazon money is awesome 🙂

        Oh, and the suitcases went to my neighbor. Her son was traveling for Thanksgiving and needed to buy luggage. I set them out by the curb, she drove by, and the rest is history! The suitcases were the nice hard-sided kind with the wheels that spin 360 degrees too. Her son was thrilled!

    • Sam says:

      I live in Virginia in a college town. There is a law making it a misdemeanor to take any items thrown away off the street or trash pickup dumpsters. Also the dump sites in the county forbid it. Many new and useable items go to the landfill because of this.

      • Nancy B says:

        In Ottawa, Ontario, Canada we have the same law but it is rarely enforced. Just be reasonable….don’t start rooting through bags but take the nice dresser. I’ve even knocked on the door to ask permission and it’s has always been granted.

  5. With the move, I’m going to be having an absolute field day on Sept 1st. Usually I don’t pick things up for fear of bed bugs, but I’ll definitely be scouting for smaller household items this year!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Sept 1 is like christmas day around here! We troll the student hoods in our sweet van with all the seats out. Yeah, we’re those people… 🙂

  6. My neighborhood has a Facebook page and people are really good about posting stuff they are giving away. Sometimes it’s an office chair and other times it’s a few boxes of scrapbooking supplies. Regardless, it makes life much easier!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I wish our neighborhood was better organized! We know our immediate neighbors and are facebook friends… but beyond that we’re pretty in the dark as far as communication methods go.

  7. Tarynkay says:

    Our neighborhood has a Really Really Free Market once a month in the park, so my advice is to check and see if there is one of those in your area. If people leave stuff out between the markets, they usually put a curb alert on the neighborhood list serve. This way, stuff doesn’t sit out in the rain and get ruined. I also put a FREE sign on anything I leave out by the curb. I started doing this after I had people actually come and knock on the door to make sure they could take the stuff on the curb.

    Conversely, my aunt and uncle had their sewage pipe back up and flood the house. They had to get rid out mountains of sewage soaked stuff. They put a big sign out front warning everyone of the danger, but people took stuff anyhow.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Never heard of that market before, that seems amazing! Good on our aunt and uncle for the warning sign. Though every trash picker knows to lead with your nose… 🙂

  8. cheapRN says:

    Great tips for finding abandoned treasure! Having a dog does really help since you’re out walking anyway. We leave in a small town and a tip I might add for small-town dwellers is to not be afraid to walk the alleys. We have actually found some antiques this way (secretary, blue Ball canning jars with nickel lids). Yes, the greatest tip is to be a Frugal Weirdo and not be afraid to take it! Also, if we are ever in doubt that something might not be trash, we knock on the door and ask. It never hurts to be absolutely sure.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Frugal Hound is an essential part of the team! Good point on alleys. Cambridge doesn’t have too many of those, but the town where we went to college had lots of them and they were often the key place to look for fine trash. Completely forgot that!

  9. Kirsten says:

    Interestingly enough, our landfill here has specific drop off spots for specific items (furniture, bikes, appliances). You can actually drive in and claim items – for free! I’ve never taken advantage but I keep it in mind.

    • MEL810 says:

      Our landfill/dump has the same thing. It’s called a “too good to dump” section.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a smart town! Cambridge does something sort of similar at the recycling center, but it’s not heavily used. It just doesn’t get the same sort of traffic that a small town landfill gets. I drop by every once in a while on my bike to cruise the refuse… but haven’t seen anything worth stopping for.

  10. People in our neighborhood don’t put anything out on the curb. Downside of living in a fancy neighborhood. Our apartment has a trash room though and people have a habit of tossing quality things, like the Roadie Case Hubs found that is totally awesome. My biggest surprise with the trash room is how people won’t consult ebay or amazon before tossing. Hubs found a stack of books that he quickly flipped on Amazon for like $25. There is a barcode on the back people! Scan it! Or don’t… and the GND household will enjoy the fruits of your laziness. 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah! So true. I think a lot of people end up in a fit of cleaning. They are so filled with the victorious feeling of decluttering that maximizing the value of their cast offs isn’t high on their list. All the better for us frugal weirdos!

  11. LOL! Garage sale season is prime time for this. Lot’s of people just put out a “free” sign at the end of their sale when it’s super hot out. Watch out though! A friend of ours had a table with a bunch of leftover stuff that didn’t sell and they put a free sign out. The table was one of the first things to go. They’ve learned and now just bring the table back inside so no one is tempted anymore. 🙂

  12. I miss living in a place where people leave free items out. It’s funny how communities can be so different. The fact that I try to never leave the house probably hinders my trash hunting also. Hubs tends to find things on his way to work though. His eyes are honed for tools and equipment and he never brings home anything pretty.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Ole Frugal Hound does make the process of discovery much easier. She gets at least one lengthy walk per day, and we try and vary the route so as to maximize discovery potential. Without her we’d need to make much more of an effort.

  13. Shannon says:

    In the Indiana countryside where I grea up, piles of good stuff were placed by the roadside and we mom did pick up a bunch of useful, perfectly good things. It was the worse when she stopped at house where we knew the kids. Traumatizing! Whenever I help my mo clean out the barn, we use this same system of getting rid of stuff (unless it’s so much that it’s worth hosting a yard sale). I once put out a TV at the end of the driveway with FREE/WORKS just so the looter knew it was good. However, in my Utah town, the garbage service does not collect anything that doesn’t fit into the black city-issued bin. As a result, you don’t see piles of stuff by the roadside here. Maybe there is a higher frequency of yard sales here instead?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Huh, that’s a good hypothesis. The trash trucks here will eventually pick up even the largest and most awkward trash, so there’s no harm in leaving it out with a free sign on it. One way or another, it will be gone in at most 7 days.

  14. I love that you had to sit on that desk for an hour! Did you feel silly after a while? That is the part I had to get over – I felt like if I was ever going through someone’s castoffs outside that everyone was staring at me like a hobo. Well, now I realize that no one really cares and if they do, I dont! 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      *I* felt silly when I finally saw the text and realized Mrs. FW had been desk-sitting for way too long! One of the many reasons I love her… she’s dedicated to a good deal!

  15. Norm says:

    Speaking of the competition, that’s got to be why I have such a hard time finding any stuff, let alone good stuff. We’re in a poor city, and at any given time, there are four or five consignment shops on the main drag. I call them “junk shops” because I’m pretty sure they are mostly selling stuff they found on the street. Hard to compete with people making a living at it. But I did buy a used Vornado fan for $5 there once, so maybe it works out.

    That chair reminds me of the old Volkswagon commercial. Bet it’d fit in the back of a Jetta. Da da da….

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Maybe so. I’ve often wondered if the relative wealth of Cambridge enhances the trash opportunities. The town where we went to college was much less wealthy though, and still had lots of great stuff to be found… so I dunno. It’s as good a hypothesis as any!

      There’s got to be a cap on wealthy = better trash though. Places with an HOA aren’t going to allow trash to be curbed with a free sign.

  16. Evey hit the after garage or yard sale pile? Seems like there is always stuff that doesn’t sell and it makes it way to the curb, might be a good way to pick up some free items.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We’ve definitely come across the tail end of garage sales before, but I don’t think we’ve ever found anything worth lugging back to the house. At least around here, the pickings are pretty slim by that point.

  17. Hannah says:

    Oh man, that last chair would have been awesome for the one of my favorite crafts- Making the seat/chair backs out of men’s neckties- search pinterest and you’ll know what I’m talking about. If we had more time/space, I would be all about pallet furniture and restoring Art Deco era pieces that are all over my neighborhood, but alas, I’ve given up restoring/selling free furniture until our house is more beautiful.

    That being said, May 14th through June 1st will have us on the hunt for our outdoor furniture and a grill, because I know I can get some for free on college move out days (currently we are sitting on overturned buckets, and our grill is actually an oven which simply will not do this summer).

    We’re also very hopeful to find a toddler bike this year. We’ve found several tricycles and small bikes in the past, but my husband restored them (ie hosed them off, pumped up the tires, and sometimes tightened a few spokes) and gave them to neighborhood kids.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow, those look so cool! What a great idea for reuse!

      I bet you’ll score some great outdoor furniture. I always see that sort of thing during moving season. Especially if it has even the tiniest rust spot. A bit of sandpaper, a little rustoleum spray paint, and it’s good as new!

  18. Never forget your list and the budget. This is really important especially when you’re so excited to get good finds in you roadside treasure. And, bring charisma to get discounts! But, females got more charm than men. LOL

  19. bev says:

    You both will love Vermont! This is what they do here all the time. Put your stuff out by the curb or dirt road where you live with a big old piece of cardboard that says “free stuff.” In the wealthier neighborhoods, they use a big old piece of wood! This was all new to this city girl when I moved here, but it was quickly explained to me that this is a form of recycling! Where I came from, you had to put trash out only on trash day, and you had better knock on the door and ask permission or otherwise be accused of stealing. Love Vermont!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Woohoo! We sure are looking forward to it! A good reuse culture makes me really happy. So much stuff around here avoids the landfill just because folks think for a second and decide to curb it. Makes so much sense!

  20. Great patio set! Have you tried selling your trash finds as well? With your trash finding skills, I think you’d make great money!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You know, we haven’t quite ventured into that yet. But I’ve heard of people doing it successfully!

  21. I love these tips, especially remembering popular move out dates. We do not live in a good trash find area because of all of the critters but maybe this summer, Hubby and I will venture out to other areas for trash finds. Or maybe I will just make it a summer project for him. 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We have several different move out dates on our shared google calendar just so we won’t forget 🙂 You know, plenty of people consider “antiquing” to be a hobby. This just takes it one step further… 🙂

  22. Oh man do I love a good trash find. Many of our kids’ toys are hand me downs or trash finds. The half life of a kid’s interest or ability to use a given toy is much shorter than the actual life of said toy. We have picked up big wheels, tricycles, little tykes cars, castle sets, chairs, etc. Eventually we’ll place these gifts up for sale on craigslist (or for the really worn ones, we’ll put them on the curb). We live in a low to moderate income area with heavy vehicular traffic on our road and stuff sitting on the curb doesn’t last long.

    Funny story – we put our old TV/VCR combo (received for free from a friend moving away) out on the road. It disappeared instantly. While out walking later that week, we spotted our old TV/VCR in a neighbor’s front yard up for sale for $10 at his weekly yard sale. Hey, more power to him for being even more frugal than us!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      “The half life of a kid’s interest or ability to use a given toy is much shorter than the actual life of said toy.”

      Truer words have never been spoken. It’s also so hard to predict exactly what (especially younger) kids will actually latch onto and like. Nothing worse than buying a nice new expensive toy only to have your child ignore it for that sweet gnarled stick found in the backyard. 🙂

      • Nothing I love more than watching spenderific parents border upon tears when they can’t figure out why their kid won’t play with the new $100 toy and focuses on dirt, grass clippings, rocks, sticks, or the clouds instead. As if kids know the $100 toy is supposed to be more awesome than the free toys all around us.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          I just have to chime in that it’s awesome your neighbor sold your free tv! That takes the frugal cake.

  23. My next door neighbor once had something by our garage he set out for a second and when he came back it was gone because I’m assuming someone thought someone just left it out for the taking. I felt really bad because it was an item for their baby. Like I’ve said before in comments, I never see people leaving stuff out around here. Not sure why. I think the college town you live in has something to do with it.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We definitely use the “wait around for a couple of minutes” technique whenever the provenance is even a bit in doubt. It’s the polite thing to do!

  24. I love your mention of “hoarding is not the trash find objective”….haha! Nothing wrong with curbside finds, as long as they are items you’ll actually use 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We’ve certainly passed by many an awesome item that we just don’t need. Hopefully someone else who did need it picked it up and are getting good use out of it. We have a rule: if it’s going to go in the basement, we leave it on the curb! 🙂

  25. Fantastic tips. We’re trying to let our stuff go in the opposite direction (out-the-house), but maybe we can use some of your tips to get the stuff picked up earlier. 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Looking at it from the other direction, making sure the stuff is visible from the road and not piled into bags is the real key. While we’ll poke through stuff in boxes or bags, many people won’t. Neatly laying it out on the sidewalk with a “free” sign will certainly make it walk off in record time!

  26. For the most part I would not trash hunt in NYC… by the time I have arrived at the “goods” it most likely has been peed on by 7-14 neighborhood dogs. Plus I do not have any room for storage. Maybe I’ll pick up this hobby once I move out of the city.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Ah, yes, the scourge of the marking male dogs. Frugal Hound wishes that her uncouth gender would avoid their fragrant marking of delightful trash… but it is a problem.

  27. Great tips, haha. We don’t have many opportunities for trash finds here in my community. The population is only about 7000, but we do have some great garage sales now and then.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Small towns can have some great trash too, just sometimes it’s a bit hidden. Someone upthread was talking about the “too good to toss” pile at the town landfill. Maybe check and see if your town has something similar? Or maybe after hours at the church rubbish sale?

  28. Lana says:

    My husband and I were out walking our dog in a fancy nieghbourhood and saw a bunch of teak patio chairs at the end of someone’s driveway. He went up to ask if they were getting rid of them. The owner said we could have them, and the teak dinning table and a lounger. I waited with all the furniture on the sidewalk while my husband went home for the car.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome!!!! What a superb find! I love that you hung out with the loot while he went home for the car. Glad to hear I’m not the only person who babysits free furniture :).

  29. MEL810 says:

    Great insight on trash finds:
    Having a dog is great for cruising alleys. However, there is one drawback: dogs LOVE garbage. They are omnivorous scavengers and if you don’t watch them like hawks they will scarf up all kinds of disgusting stuff.
    Some of my best trash finds have been at the end of the college semester and after prime moving days such as the 1st and 15th of warmer months. Another good place around here to get trash finds is on moving days near the dumpster of large apartment complexes.
    The county has periodic ‘clean-up’ days and people leave thing out on the curb. Some of it is just trash but sometimes you can find decent furniture and appliances. It is also a good place to find scrap and salvage wood, etc. because people tend to throw out their remnants of home improvement and remodeling efforts on these days.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      So true about the doggies! Got to watch their little snouts! Leftover wood and building materials are wonderful trash finds. We’ve had a few lucky finds in that department and it’s just amazing what people will throw out. Good point on the dumpster vicinity as well–we’ve found some great stuff sitting next to dumpsters before.

  30. I’m thinking we need to take a drive to Seattle when the college kids go home for the summer;0) I laughed out loud at the though of you sitting on a desk on the side of the road for an hour. Hey, we do the same thing at stores on Black Friday so, why not?!

    I have checked the free section on Craigslist looking for an entertainment center for my son’s video gaming. I found the perfect one but … someone else claimed it first. It is amazing what people will give away!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You should totally take a drive to Seattle! College students seem to throw out the best stuff. And, the free section of Craigslist is another awesome source for sure.

  31. Cheryl says:

    This post made me laugh- only because #8 happened to me! When I was a kid a friend and I left our bikes by the road when we went indoors for lunch. After returning to ride we found them stolen! We cruised the neighborhood (in her dads station wagon) for an hour before finding them. After explaining what happened our bikes were returned home 🙂 happy trash/treasure hunting!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, oh no! Glad you got them back! We definitely try very hard not to steal stuff since we almost did that one time 🙂

  32. ARBM says:

    As a kid, I would always root through the “free” boxes on the side of the road and come home with all sorts of treasures… Unfortunately, these treasures are now finding their way out of my parents’ basement and in to my house… So, I am definitely on the other end, where I want to find ways to get my trash treasures to be found by others… I want someone else to get the same enjoyment that I once got from these things.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Perfectly said! That’s the beauty of the free trash find system–now you can pass it along and someone else will delight in it 🙂

  33. Caitlin says:

    I would also recommend scouting by bike. You’re just out for a bicycle ride, which looks normal and is good exercise, you can cover more ground than just on foot, and if you have a basket or backpack you can carry small things home easily. If you find something big you can get home much quicker than on foot to get a car. You can also drive to different neighborhoods or areas with your bike and get out and ride around. You can still see small items you might miss in a car and it’s easy to stop on a bike. Especially when in a neighborhood that’s not your own, I think it looks slightly less creepy than slowly driving around in a car (also it saves on gas). I found a really nice desk and iMac this way.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great strategy, Caitlin! Mr. FW is good at trolling for trash on his bike, but I’m far less coordinated at it ;). I agree that it looks far less creepy than our minivan!

  34. Ho boy that was great! And that patio set! Nice! I can see we need a dog. It really does look less creepy doing things like this when you’re walking a dog. Great tips! 🙂

  35. I miss living in the U-district in Seattle. People would routinely throw out great stuff. I once had a friend who was walking home from the bar with his buddies. A couch had been set out for the taking, so the three of them just hoisted it up and walked home with it.

    Our apartment complex also had a spot for dumping unwanted stuff. We got a free small bookcase and a pretty good (if not terribly pretty) TV stand. We’re still using both today.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Love the serendipity of the couch find! And, nicely done on the bookcase and TV stand. Furniture is such a wonderful thing to find for free!

  36. GoodPinkSlip says:

    Congratulations on some great finds! I don’t do as much of that as I used to for various reasons, but I still have some old favorites and certainly appreciate a good trash-find… people throw away really nice things sometimes, it’s crazy. Every so often I did have to check the inner-hoarder in me though, so I’ll second that as a good point. You just don’t always need another half dozen mugs, even if they are in surprisingly good condition. Better to let someone else enjoy them.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We’ve let a couple of nice mugs go by in our day too! I always try to think about someone who needs one being excited at finding it. Last year when we had a couple of mug accidents it was only a couple of weeks before we happened upon a couple of replacements. Mug karma coming around 🙂

  37. I love doing this. My wife hates it 🙂 Although I have made a few hundred dollars flipping old bikes that I’ve found in the trash. I think its great, make a little money, give someone a new ride and keep that bike out of the landfill. Win win win!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Flipping bikes is a great idea! And, I totally agree with you on the value of keeping stuff out of the landfill.

  38. That must have been a pretty mortifying moment – when the woman came running out to ask you not to take her table : ) I like your strategy of walking the dog while trash hunting. No one would see you as trash-hunters – just dog walkers. (But we’re not supposed to care what they think, right?)
    I do have a bad trash-find story. A colleague brought a comfy couch and chair into our school library from the end of someone’s driveway. Several months later, I discovered a creepy, translucent, creature crawling our of one of the cushions. Yikes! That will be the end of driveway couches for me.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Well, we did laugh about it after we were out of earshot of the poor woman!

      We generally don’t bring any fabric into the house that can’t be washed. We’re not fans of the creepy crawlies either! Exceptions are made for exceptional pieces… but rarely.

  39. Thanks for sharing!. I live near a ton of apartment complexes and I cannot wait to to put these tips to use. I must admit that I still worry about what other’s think I would have probably never, ever, ever sat on top of a desk while the boyfriend brought the car lol. I’m working on trying to get over that fear because I know what great treasures one could find. This year alone, my boyfriend has found us a 60 inch t.v (not the newest model, but hey it works), a beautiful coffee table, and an awesome desk! Keep up the great work, I absolutely love your blog.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow, nice find on the TV. Now just make sure you only use it to watch youtube, PBS, and movies from the library 😉

  40. FWs,

    Nice! I’m pretty frugal, but I haven’t yet gone on any trash hunts. If I ever do, I’ll keep these tips in mind. 🙂

    Best regards!

  41. Haha! That is always my worst fear, that I will be loading something up and someone will come out and accuse me of THEFT! Who? ME?

    I bet you guys handled it in stride though! And Thanks for the tips! The sun is starting to shine down here in Fort Worth, so I will keep my eyes open for good finds on the curb!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      It wasn’t anything to fear, more of a funny moment. I think we look too inept to be thieves, and we didn’t exactly try and run with the table, so she wasn’t that upset. We started laughing as soon as we were out of earshot 🙂

  42. Jason B says:

    Those are some very good tips. I will definitely be checking the move out dates for the local colleges in my area.

  43. Kim says:

    Our tenant who just move out left a ton of stuff! Apparently, according to our property manager, renters do this all the time and just buy new stuff when they move instead of pack up, amazing. Anyway, I am the proud new owner of a set of four bowls, a new to us set of pots, some cloth napkins, and a really cheesy jar that says “Party Money”. We save all of our gift cards or money earned in odd ways, like surveys, for trips. It used to reside in an old box, but now it has a brand new ceramic home! Unfortunately, all the furniture, bedding, and towels still smell like cigarettes even after washing, so I donated those. Not exactly trash hunting, but a good score nonetheless.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      “Party Money”! I love it. We need somewhere better to store our gift cards. They are in a ziploc, in a drawer, where they tend to be forgotten until the next time we’re given one whereupon we remark “hey, we should use up these gift cards” as we put them back in the bag in the drawer. 🙂

  44. Sarah says:

    In Korea it is very common to leave things on the side of the road for others to take. I was a little nervous about that when I first moved to Seoul, but by the end of month one I was the frugal weirdo hauling two side tables home. I couldn’t carry both at once, and didn’t have a car, so I would walk 10 steps with one, go back, get the other one, repeat repeat repeat. Probably took me 2 hours to go 5 blocks!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Neat! I’ve always imagined other countries as being far ahead of the US when it comes to reuse of potential “trash”. Glad to hear Korea is a member of the club!

  45. strongmag says:

    Extra tip – if you know someone who works in the “utilities” at one of the nearby universities (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, really anything where they may have to go fix something in a dorm room or building on campus), they may be able to hook you up with stuff students leave in their own dorms or things universities are giving away! We scored a free fancy mini fridge left behind in a dorm room for our DIY kegerator from such a friend, and he was told to take home a “too old” projector that we use for outdoor movies in the summer. Love reading your blog!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Ooohh good idea! I don’t have any friends that work in facilities at Harvard or MIT (yet) but if I ever meet one I’ll definitely lead with my affinity for reusing stuff!

  46. Jana says:

    In my hometown the landfill was the place to go. I remember being a kid and standing by mortified while my dad climbed piles of junk looking for tools and things; they don’t let you wade into the rusty metal anymore but other areas are OK. Here there’s a range of non-roadside options and the university puts out big boxes to collect all the castoff student stuff, which they resell in the fall, so roadside pickings are sparse. I have yet to find anything that isn’t junk or totally unnecessary (e.g. ugly stained couches).

    I would add a sterilization/isolation step to your list though! Sometimes issues aren’t obvious. When we were in NYC we had a secondary roach infestation come in via a free microwave. (You may wonder if it is coincidence. Not so. Our well-established American cockroaches had a big thing going for years but all of a sudden there was a new species around and when I saw the first one a day post-microwave I popped open the screws and found a big nest on the circuit board.)

    Non-squishy furniture can be wiped/Lysol’d and it won’t hurt to bag small items for a few weeks and, if you can, throw them into a freezer. And it might save a world of trouble.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, we tend to not bring home anything that can’t either be washed in the washing machine or throughly wiped down / inspected including the interior. We have a happy and bug free home, and we’re interested in keeping it that way!

  47. I would imagine that looking in wealthier neighborhoods makes more sense? I know my friend got brand a brand new washer and dryer from a family who lives in a wealthy city in the MPLS-ST. Paul metro area. They tend to be the folks who just want to get rid of things and are more likely to list high-quality stuff in the free section of craigslist.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      You know, I’m not sure. In really wealthy places HOA’s prevent people from leaving stuff out. In really low income areas people don’t tend to throw out anything of value. So I think the sweet spot is upper middle class / college students / young professionals.

      But that’s just a hunch.

  48. Handy tips here, Frugalwoods! I live in a small complex and we started a community giveaway table. My neighbors put some nice stuff on that table! We’ve scored frames, clothes, cat food. Sometimes oddities show up, and that’s always entertaining. Once there was a stack of biographies on the Backstreet Boys.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      What a nice idea! Build some community, save some refuse from the landfill, and provide comedic fodder for an entire complex as everyone tries to guess who left those sweet backstreet boys books.

      I bet I have an Ace of Base CD around here somewhere that could also cause some discussion… 🙂

  49. Vicki says:

    I consider myself a seasoned frugal/treasure hunter and fully agree that you need to own that this is who you are and ignore the naysayers. Needless to say many naysayers I know are hoarders and over consumers in debt. I am none of these and I think being open to accepting free “gifts” from the side of the road or wherever is one way to live a low impact, frugal, debt free life.
    I have fitted out a house with “hard rubbish” which is roadside collection bound for the tip in Melbourne, Australia and in Vancouver, Canada home of the free box on the curb the finds are so many and so great I will not even begin. I have been known to go into a dumpster if all is well ( ie there is not too much smelly garbage and/or rodents or other people inside). I currently live in small town Australia and lets just say in our town most of the citizens prefer to throw stuff away into the locked up tip 🙁
    One tip I have is to look for free boxes in thrift stores and garage sales as they often have them. I also bring free stuff to me in the form of holding clothing swaps with friends and am excited to say that tomorrow I am heading off to a community clothing swap in a close by town. The tides are a turning. Hallelujah!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Those are excellent tips, Vicki, thank you for sharing! And, I completely agree with you about owning it and enjoying it. I’m proud of my frugality and what it enables for my life. So glad to hear from a fellow trash hunter :)!

  50. Carmen says:

    I clearly remember my daughter sitting on the desk for an hour because, since she had nothing else to do, she called mom and we had a nice long conversation.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh that’s right! I’d forgotten about that :). I was on that desk for a long time! Love you mom, thank you for reading.

  51. Love these tips! I totally can’t wait for spring and summer when I’ll start seeing things on the curbs. It’s been so rainy and cold here lately that nothing has been on the curb. I really hope I can embrace my inner frugal weirdo like you guys! 🙂

  52. Tom Sharp says:

    Hey guys, great site.

    No doubt you guys have crossed (virtual) paths with the dude who runs the http://www.garbagefinds.com website in Canada?

    It’s one of my favourite scavenging blogs, as well as yours 😉

    Cheers, Tom

  53. Linda says:

    We live in an upper middle class suburb neighborhood, and Nobody leaves hardly anything good on the curb like they did when we lived in an old neighborhood in the city. And to make it worse, someone always drives a truck up and down all of our sreets the night we set out the trash and picks up anything that looks like it might be good. I think we need to put up a sighn forbidding trash pickers. But then that would be me, wouldn’t it?

  54. My son makes his living with curbside finds. He’s a professional scavenger in Montreal. See http://garbagefinds.com/

  55. Sam says:

    We love hunting for treasures in the trash. We have a dog as well (not a frugal hound, but close) and it definitely is a great excuse for inspecting loot (why yes, my dog is just sniffing for a place to pee; I will linger a little bit longer). A few times, we’ll actually pick stuff up and see if we have a need/place for it and then we will usually just take to salvation army; I hate seeing perfectly good items being put in the trash; so at least it can go to a good home hopefully (even if it’s not ours). If I’m taking a walk and find something I’ll tell hubby about it and have him pick it up in car. We’ll usually pick it up and think about it instead of debating about it and THEN picking it up (we’ve lost stuff that way). Even if we only use it for a bit and then throw it away..hey it was free. My hubby even made some good money off of a kayak someone “threw’ away….So sad sometimes 😉 We haven’t really ventured out into other neighborhoods, but sounds like a fun family “road trip” in the making. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Nicely done! Sounds like you’re an expert trash hunter :). I agree with you, I hate seeing perfectly good things just thrown away. I wish people would donate instead (although then I might not be able to write this series… 😉 ). And, dogs are good for so many things!

  56. Marcia c says:

    Our city (Winston Salem, NC ) has Bulky Item Pick Up Day once a year where you can pile most bulky things near the curb. The schedule for each zip code is published (its always a Monday and the city asks you have your things curbside several days prior to). I used to live in the fancy neighborhood and it always reminded me of the Mad Max movie with a constant flow of trucks with junk everywhere. There was always someone going through your stuff. I did the same thing in my Jeep – I got some great stuff. I thought every city did this but I guess not. I live in apartments now and survey the dumpster area nightly while walking my dogs. I’d never done dumpster diving either until now – so much good stuff in the dumpster by those moving out. Sadly some of the best stuff are those who have moved because of pending eviction and they just don’t have the means to take their stuff. I noticed some really great stuff at my daughter’s apartment complex when she was in college – you’re right college areas are great! I just wished I had more room – I do have to be selective because of space. I remember a neighbor (in the fancy neighborhood) who would check out the dumpster behind the fancy shopping center in town- Borders Books would routinely dump great photo frames, etc.

    • Christine K says:

      Oh yeah Borders…I remember checking that dumpster once with a friend back in my 20’s. All we found were dirty romance novels with the covers torn off lol. Good to know someone actually found good stuff there.

  57. Marcia c says:

    I meant to add that the city does their pick up in such a way so that it encourages and gives people time to drive neighborhoods and take what they wanted. thanks.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s great that your city does a bulky item pick-up day–how perfect! And, I love that people were able to access it in advance. It’s sad to think of all that stuff being just thrown out, but wonderful that it was able to be reused by frugal scavengers :).

  58. Noreen Valentine says:

    Love it, your tips are all conclusions that I have come to as well. I also take different routes to-and-from work, I don’t go crazy with it but if I know I can get there by taking a different course and that course has trash pick-up day the next day…I take that course. Also, don’t take anyone along that isn’t willing to help or will be embarrassed…they are such buzz kills. Keep gloves in you vehicle or on your person if not too cumbersome, maybe two pair, latex and cloth so if you need to examine something you’re uncertain about you can put them on.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Those are great tips! Having gloves in the car is a fabulous idea :). And, I like that you vary your route. Nice!

  59. Barb says:

    that’s a shame about the chair in the photo, it looks like an original mid-19th century one, and re-caning a chair isn’t too hard…I hope someone else picked it up!

  60. Susan says:

    I love you GUYS, excuse me (I’m from TEXAS) love you ALWAYS, because you THINK and use your God-given resources. This is a wonderful space for you to proclaim your genius!!! I really mean THAT, no smokescreens here KIDS. In fact, you’re probably younger than my adult children. Keep it up! I’m totally in your corner. And if you did create all of those fantastic foods, more power to you, that is truly impressive Live Forever! Mom in Austin, TX

  61. Mishelley says:

    I live in Florida so weather is awesome. I’ve recently gotten my husband to view items on the side of the road as free money. Craigslist is a free listing. I scored three bar stools sold for 45.00 in a matter of two hours. I use Offer Up ap and list on Facebook “Online garagesale groups” to list what I have for sale. I even created my own website with a gallery of what I have for sale. I use the Facebook (FB) to watch what people post under ISO (In Search of) then you guessed it I go get it.I also see what post gets the most “INterested!” hits because I know only one person is going to score that item and those who don’t can have a second chance when I post mine. We also found a great goodwill that doesnt over price and another thrift store and I know what people are wanting so I negotiate with these stores on price and resale on Facebook and offer up app. Kids stuff is hot. I also go on pintrest and find cool ideas to make for the kids but I’m getting to busy and working smarter to grab stuff NOT to work on. One Skill I wish I had was re upholstery!!! Find two chairs (like dining) paint chair and recover with material from Goodwill and those chairs will go for 100.00 Get your chairs for 5.00 or FREE. Look on Craigslist for people selling to use the filter say for your area code and 10.00 click on owner and you might find stuff you can resale on FB and offer up. Well thats my tips.

  62. Brina says:

    We live in the US in a beach town. Let me tell you it’s like Christmas time some days here. Every early Monday morning I go in my car and go curbside shopping. I got beautiful wicker chairs, a table, a foot rest, a standing fan that’s in our living room. All nothing wrong with them, just needed cleaning or refinishing. Keeps me busy when I’m not working.

  63. Gayla says:

    Just stumbled upon this site and loving it.

  64. Wayne says:

    Here in Toronto, it’s lamentable what people put in the garbage. I’d love to take more but I have no vehicle, so it’s only things I can schlep by hand. My greatest disappointment (I mean, in terms of not being able to retrieve it) was a beautiful oak baker’s cabinet (like a Hoosier cabinet) left on the sidewalk, with a “Please take” note on it. Tin flour bins intact. I still think about it.

  65. Shannon Cowie says:

    I pick things up so often, I vowed to start making trades with myself. For every new few finds that I bring home, I have to get ride of at least one thing of equal size that I’ve had for too long or no longer absolutely love. Keeps me from packing my house and yard too full with stuff and creates a fun endless cycle of cool new pieces.

  66. Pam B says:

    I’m late to this, but my husband and I refer to this as “curb shopping.” I also wanted to add that if you live in a city, get on your city website and look for “bulk trash” days. We are in a fairly large metro area, and each neighborhood has a bulk trash week, where you can set out things that don’t fit into your regular garbage/recycle bins, and the city will pick it up. Get familiar with those days, especially for the nicer neighborhoods or areas with a lot of rentals/move-outs. We live in a “nicer” neighborhood, but we are frugal, and I am not too proud to pull over and pick up something nice! Over the years we have gotten a lot of great stuff from our curb picks. We have gotten framed oil paintings & mirrors, area rugs, furniture, unopened/unburned jar candles, clothes, a set of crystal champagne flutes, crates of antique wine, unused store gift cards (yes, someone threw them out!), and even a box of antique cast iron toys we sold on Craigslist for over $250. Our rule is if you see it and it looks even remotely interesting, get it, because you can always throw it out later if it turns out to be a dud… but you can’t do anything with it if you don’t pick it up!

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