Welcome to the second edition of Great Trash Finds, a scholarly photo essay in which we explore the finer points of scavenging items from the side of the road. Taking stuff otherwise destined for a landfill is not only a frugal win, it’s an environmentally sound means of recycling and reusing.

In this edition we welcome a guest blogger (sort of): my mom! My mom is the original frugalista and she and my dad have been frugal reusing fools since long before it was fashionable (it is fashionable now, right? right?!?). My parents espoused a thrifty, debt-free way of life that my siblings and I employ to varying degrees. We’re all very conscious of how fortunate we were to be raised in a loving home where we didn’t want for food, shelter, or fun.

Just for fun: the view from my parents' house
The view from my parents’ house. Photo credit: my mom

When my mom read Great Trash Finds: Part 1, she immediately called me (actually she called, left a voice message, and then texted to see if I’d gotten her message. Love you, mom!). She asked if she could submit her great trash finds for publication and sweetly offered to mail me print-outs of her photos. I assured her that she could just text them to me. Mom wanted me to clarify that she can’t remember a lot of the stuff she’s pulled from the trash over the years, so these are just some recent greatest hits. My sister also wants to get in on the action, so we may feature her trash in an future installment.

I give you my frugal mom’s top 4 trash brags:

Mom’s Find #1: Patio Set!

That is one good-looking set!
That is one good-looking set!

Look at this thing! A gorgeous, glass-topped patio set that one of her neighbors had sitting by the side of the road for the garage truck to collect. My parents live in a very nice neighborhood, but, as my mom said when I interviewed her for this article, “there’s great trash everywhere.”

Mom’s Find #2: Kid Bike:

Totally functional bike for the kiddos
Totally functional bike for the grandkids

Apparently this beaut of a cycle is in dandy working order. Since my neices and nephew spend a lot of time at my parents’ house (my sister and her husband live 5 minutes away), it’s great for them to have this bike to ride while at grandma & grandpa’s.

Mom’s Find #3: Plant Stands:

Plants and the stand they rode in on
Plants and the stand they rode in on

Mom found this wooden plant stand–and some of the plants–in her friend’s neighbor’s trash pile. Mom reports that it looks great on their patio and is actually quite expensive if bought new.

Mom’s Find #4: Artificial Indoor Ficus Tree:

Not a real tree
Not a real tree

Not exactly my taste, but, my mom loves plants and she and my dad are very pleased with this free addition to their robust collection of indoor green things.

Reader Refuse:

I was delighted to hear that my family and I aren’t the only frugal weirdos who consider other’s trash to be a source of treasure. Below are the illustrious trash brags you all shared following Great Trash Finds: Part 1:

DC from Young Adult Money found a Willie Nelson CD. You could say that he found it On The Road, Again.

Reader cheapRN found a pair of Timberland Hiking Boots. If you need me, I’ll be dumpster diving with cheapRN–hiking boots are expensive!

Holly from Club Thrifty found her husband’s swim trunks. Holly clarified that she did wash them thoroughly before putting them in her husband’s drawer. What we want to know is if she ever told her husband where those trunks came from…

Alicia from Financial Diffraction shared that her parents found a solid wood bureau. Gotta love it when thriftiness runs in the family!

Wade from Destination Financial Wisdom finds lawn mowers… a lot of them! This man takes it to a whole new level by fixing up and selling these trashed mowers. Now that is a great trash brag.

Karissa from Debt Free Kid found an aloe vera plant and a turtle-shaped sandbox. What is it with people throwing out plants that are still alive???

Will from First Quarter Finance found a 17″ Ford Explorer car tire. Will upped the ante by then carrying the tire home by himself. Having carried a car tire home from a junkyard with Mr. FW before, I can unequivocally tell you that those things are dang heavy.

Your turn! What’s your best trash find?

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  1. Those are some awesome finds, well done Frugal Mom! I especially like the bike. You could totally repaint it and it would look brand-new!

    You literally carried a car tire home? Why don’t you just roll it home? It’s a tire after all? 😉

    The only trash I ever find are random bikes which I then drove home, fixed and used for another year or two until they fell apart or ended up in a river because some drunk students thought that was funny.

    1. Somehow it seemed easier to carry the tire…who knows?! Will carried his tire too, so there must be some wisdom to it :). A bike is an excellent trash brag!

    1. Thanks for noticing the view! It is gorgeous–it’s from my parents’ back deck onto the mountains. They live in semi-rural Southern CA and have about 2 acres of land with fruit trees, etc and glorious mountain views. Good luck in your future roadside searches :)!

  2. A piece of luggage that turned out to have money in it. Only about a buck in change but I was still happy! I ended up not needing the luggage since it was bigger than could fit on my company’s jets. I put it out on the curb and the world goes ’round and ’round.

    1. Oh, shoot I guess best find was a 17″ wheel that was like new. Worth at least a few hundred.

      I grew up in the country though so I couldn’t grow up cruising suburbia scopin’ out deals so I’m new to all this!

      1. I’d say you’re doing pretty well! Between the tire and the cash-infused suitcase, you’re on the right track!

  3. I am impressed with your mom’s finds!! They are awesome! I haven’t personally found anything good; however, I know that people who have come to my home have found great things like a barely used coffee table, a desk, a comfy chair and a small sofa in good condition.

  4. Mannn, your parents scored bigtime. That plant stand is right up my parents alley. My Mom would make my Dad paint it a bright colour and put it on the deck. As for the patio, those chair are sturdy! They’ll never collapse on anyone.

    I’ll admit I’ve taken my neighbours recycling. They must have had a party (or they’re an alcoholic… I hope it’s the first option) and there were tonnes and tonnes of two-fours at the street. That’s $2.40 a box. I think I made $15 for running across the street in the dead of night. I probably looked like someone trying to steal someone’s identity. I think I’m the weird neighbour!

    1. HAH! That’s awesome. *pointing at your house* “That’s the person who goes through our trash!”

  5. I was also going to ask where your parents live. The view is gorgeous! I clearly need to visit the west coast. Your mom sounds really sweet! Those are indeed great finds. I’ve personally never found anything crazy at the curb, but being that we have small cars, any time I did see something, it wouldn’t have fit. Now that we’re in an apartment complex, the odds of finding things are less. I’d have to really go dumpster diving, and our dumpster here is gross. It’s crazy what some people throw out, though.

    1. It’s pretty great to go visit my parents in January/February when it’s miserable up here! True, cargo space is a must with trash finds–it’s one of the reasons why we love the ol’ Frugalwoods-mobile minivan so much! Agreed, I’m always shocked at what I see just thrown away.

  6. Your parents live in my favourite state, CA. I love the region of Temecula! Your parents scored some amazing finds. I actually have been on the other end of the equation many years ago. I had put out some pretty good things for city pick-up only to see them disappear within minutes!

    1. They live very close to Temecula–definitely a beautiful area! I’m sure people were delighted to cart off your trash :)!

  7. Wow that really is a nice patio set! That’s a great find. Not sure just how “upscale” your Mom’s neighborhood is, but I think upscale neighborhoods are the best place to find really nice free stuff and garage sales that are packed with things that are still in really good condition.

  8. I’m super impressed with your Mom’s finds! I don’t think I’ve found any items ever, but I do remember finding a £5 note on a beach once. I couldn’t believe it; spent it in the chip shop for tea 🙂

  9. I never have luck finding things in random areas. One time I saw something I wanted to pick up on the side of the road, but it ended up having a million red ants on it. Haha.

    1. Yes! We get those on the Boston Craigslist as well–although it’s usually gone in seconds (or so it seems…)

  10. Love this! That plant stand is awesome- I would have rescued that from the trash in a heartbeat! My Mom, sister, and I all do this. My Mom got a perfectly nice dresser last month, which my sister is painting right now. It’s amazing what people will throw away.

    1. Love that it runs in your family too! Re-painting furniture is such a cheap way to revitalize old pieces.

  11. Wow, go mom! My full set of pots and pans pales in comparison! My friend always finds TVs… he upgrades as people buy the latest and greatest and trash last year’s models. Calls us to help him carry them home sometimes. The city is great for scavenging with so many people around!

    1. I think a full set of pots and pans sounds downright excellent! And people always seem to throw out TVs, don’t they!

  12. This wasn’t exactly the trash…but once we responded to a craigslist ad of two suitcases full of stuff – including a yoga mat, lots of men’s designer jeans, kid’s clothes, etc.

    It was all practically brand new, the couple just didn’t want to bother taking it to goodwill.

  13. Ooh, nice post. I think I already told you this once but my best find was a window box fan. I had been “in the market” for one for about 6 months up to that point but realized it wasn’t a need so I kept putting it off. And sure enough, there one was in a pile of junk next to the dumpster at my apartment. Looks great, works great, and my bedroom stays nice and cool without A/C!

    1. Oh yes your window fan! I should’ve included that in the list above! Ah, next time. Glad it’s still working for you!

  14. Very nice finds and even nicer view! It depends in our neighborhood. Sometimes there is stuff in front of houses every week and then we go months so it’s sort of hit or miss. We haven’t found a whole lot, but we did get a bike for one of our kids a few years ago. It worked like a charm and had no issues so not too certain why it was tossed, but we happily took it for free. 🙂

  15. These are some amazing finds! Even if you didn’t want to use them, you could certainly sell most all of them! I don’t have any really awesome trash stories, but I am the queen of swooping in and taking stuff that friends and family are getting ready to throw out.

    1. So true about the re-selling! I’m also the queen of taking hand-me-downs :). Thanks for stopping by!

  16. That patio set is awesome! I have to ask, where do your folks live? It looks like the southwest, especially with those cacti. Some of our best trash finds include an exercise bike and our tv stand. Literally both looked brand new, although you could tell the bike was about 3 years old from looking online. Still, free definitely works for me!

  17. I live in a dorm. The end of the year is always full of amazing jackpots. This year, we got a bunch of empty rubbermaid bins (from international students — they store stuff during the year then leave them when they fly back home), some new area rugs, and a pair of brand new Columbia snow boots that perfectly fit my husband. Oh, and I found a new set of bedding for my niece and a whole bunch of school supplies for my classroom.

    Normally, I dumpster dive too, and we pull out a few carloads to take to the thrift store. I often get vacuums, tons of bedding, board games, and clothes. I’m working on developing a program for my school to divert as much as possible out of the dumpsters.

    1. College campuses are a bonanza of free stuff! We live in between Harvard and MIT in Cambridge so we’re looking forward to the epic Labor Day weekend moving & inevitable furniture freebies.

      That’s awesome that you’re creating a program to reuse unwanted items. Much as I love finding free stuff, I hate to see how much is wasted and thrown in landfills. Good luck to you!

    1. I’ll pass along your compliments! She’s a pretty proficient trash-finder :). I bet your brother finds all sorts of neat things!

  18. We recently found a toy rocking horse at the end of a neighbours driveway which we picked up for our grandson. I think I had a similar looking one when I was a kid. Crazy.

  19. Wow, I am impressed! I love the bike and the plant stands. We have found a few cool things, and I think a lot of people just don’t know how much their old stuff is worth. But then again, we’ve given away some stuff that would be worth it to sell, just because it’s more of a hassle to do so!

    1. So true–sometimes it’s just easier to give things away! I know I’m always grateful when people do!

    1. I don’t know where the original owners bought it from–it’s certainly a wonderful set! Maybe you’ll get lucky and find one in the trash too 🙂

  20. Remembering more trash finds,…..
    – rugs (smelt first)
    – persian style coffeetable
    – 2 metal shelving units
    – 21 old computers for parts
    – lamp with swinging offset
    – floorlamp
    – waterbed
    – tables

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