The only problem I have with winter is that it puts a serious cramp in our trash finding endeavors. There’s just no way to locate great trash with 4 feet of snow on the ground. Believe me folks, I’ve tried so you don’t have to (you’re welcome). As I gaze out our back door into the epic tundra Cambridge has become, I thought I’d reflect on some of the gosh darn prettiest things we found in the trash last summer and fall (which is peak trash picking time, in case you’re wondering).

My amazement never ceases at the perfectly usable and lovely things people toss to the curb. It’s incredible that we have a society in which it’s OK to trash stuff that still works. But I digress and yes, I do benefit from my spendy and careless neighbors; however, I earnestly wish people would donate to Goodwill instead!

And so, in today’s edition of my recurring Great Trash Finds saga, I present you with my prettiest trash.

Pretty Find #1: Jaunty Nautical Tote Bag

Ahoy! I'm a beach bag!
Ahoy! I’m a beach bag!

I have Mr. Frugalwoods to thank for this darling beach tote. He spied it in a pile of assorted office supplies and exercise equipment. Sometimes the best part of a trash find is watching your husband carry home a nautical tote bag.

Pretty Find #2: Kitchen Storage Containers

We're just three pretty jars doing our thing!
We’re just three pretty jars, doing our jar thing

I’m a fan of clean, white decor in our kitchen, so these three storage containers fit in seamlessly. They’re in mint condition and even have seals in the lids to make them airtight. How handy and dandy! The extra bonus is that we didn’t find anything surprising inside them…

Pretty Find #3: Quilt Square Art

Random quilt art
Random quilt art


Would you rent this room?
The guest room in which the quilt art resides








All credit goes to Mr. Frugalwoods for our charming, yet random, quilt art hanging. It’s not exactly our style, but, Mr. FW has an interest in quilts (they really do have a fascinating history) and, we have an antique family quilt on the bed in our main guest room. Hence, a slightly unique bit of quilt square art works beautifully in this room.

Pretty Find #4: Retro Red Purse

Hey girl, take me out with you!

Not sure why so many ladies in my ‘hood throw away purses, but, this is the third splendid little handbag I’ve rescued from the landfill. It’s in fabulous condition and matches quite a few of my vintage spring/summer dresses. Red is a favorite color of mine, so any red accessory is in good company in my closet. Who says trash can’t be pretty?

What’s the prettiest thing you’ve found in the trash?

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  1. Nothing that pretty! That tote is quite a character! Usually anything smaller than furniture is in a sealed bag around here, so the finds would be tough to spot. Closest I’ve gotten is a garbage bag of pretty heels from a neighbour through the Buy Nothing Project.

    1. A garbage bag of shoes is a pretty and excellent find! Too bad though that your trash is all sealed up. People just leave it sitting on the sidewalk in little piles or in open boxes here. Makes the pickings very easy 🙂

  2. I found a brand new Purdy paintbrush on the side of the road! I also took a glass doorknob off a door that was at the curb. And one day while taking a walk my husband found a beautiful Bulova mens watch!! Love finding treasures:)

  3. Wow, that tote is so cute! I’m curious, how in the world are you finding these? Are you just strolling by for sidewalk pick-ups or are these in people’s actual bins?

    1. These were all found on the sidewalk, primarily in little “free” piles that people leave either in open boxes or just on the sidewalk. We don’t dig through the actual bins :). And I think several of these stem from the September 1 move out day–that’s trash find mecca in Cambridge!

  4. Interesting finds. I can’t say that I’ve found anything in the trash – but I don’t really go looking. My hubby used to have a friend that went around the city to construction sites and dumpsters collecting metal (copper wiring was the jackpot) to take to a recycling plant to sell. In his travels he found amazing things – a functioning laptop, bbqs, office supplies (he gave us several large metal filing cabinets), exercise equipment and all kinds of things. He even started to make friends with people at big box stores and they would sometimes give him slightly damaged or floor model items that were just going to be trashed.

    1. Construction dumpsters can be fabulous repositories of materials! Sounds like your friend had a pretty good system going on 🙂

  5. I find this incredible. Perhaps because we live way out in the ‘burbs, but mostly what gets set out around here is actual trash. But great find on the canisters. Totally my taste too. They are lovely!

  6. We usually don’t find little things. We’ve decorated my mom’s apartment with an entertainment center, a palm tree, and a desk. All free from the curb. No one would be able to tell they’re discarded items.

    1. Those are fantastic finds! And that’s the best part–no one ever knows that they came from the trash! (unless of course you’re like me and post them for all the world to see… 😉 )

  7. Ahhh, down here in oppositeland it’s the high season for garbage! Just this week we could have had a large tv (free! It works!) if we wanted it and were willing to carry it down the block to or house.

  8. My step dad has a knack for finding things people have tossed. It drives my mom nuts, but I’m always fascinated. One day he brought home a tuba! Who throws away a tuba! It’s currently being used as a planter.

  9. More great trash finds! Good for you. Living in a college town helps I bet. We found an antique secretary that was in a few pieces but hubby put it back together. It has a pull down desk and lots of cubbies. It pays to take lots of walks and keep your eyes open!

  10. Way to go! Great finds!
    I once found one of those English tweed jackets that have patches on the elbows that look like they belong on a professor at Oxford. I gave it to my boyfriend at the time. No clothes for me at this point.
    I found a traditional Asian doll on a stand that I still have gracing my foyer.
    I have found several plant stands and three nice sturdy shelves.
    Our computer/office desk is a large wooden set that we rescued when a neighbor was moving.
    I found a gold earring and a diamond encrusted ear ring.
    I found one of our paper towel racks when I was taking a shortcut through an alley.
    I used to find art supplies at the end of the college semester.
    When I worked at the community college, I would go around the halls and gather up perfectly good theme books, notebooks, folders, etc. that had barely been touched. The professors left them out at the end of the year and if the students didn’t collect them they would be trashed.
    I have found books and paper ephemera collectibles in the recycling bin.
    About the only time I find anything anymore is on community clean up days. I found the above finds when I lived in a different neighborhood.
    Our county dump has a ‘too good to throw out’ section. I have gotten books and office stuff there.
    I see people here mentioning Craig’s List. Does anyone use Freecycle?

    1. I use freecycle. Got a dozen 3-inch notebooks to use for notes/materials for my online classes. The great thing is that it’s local and you can give away the things you don’t need anymore to be repurposed by someone else.

    2. That’s an awesome list! I’ve looked at freecycle before, but never gotten anything from it. It seems to move really fast around here, so if you want something you need to be prepared to drop everything and run for it when it’s posted. We’re more of a serendipitous trash finding team… if great trash comes our way we’ll take advantage, but we’re not keen to have trashy pursuits rule our schedule 🙂

  11. We have a fenced in area for “large items” next to our community dumpster that I check regularly as people put “normal sized” stuff in there!
    I found a lovely “Martha Stewart Pets” fleece dog bed ….do you know the retail on one of those puppies! …pun intended 🙂 , which I washed and passed to a friend with a dog, as my cat prefers to lounge on MY bed 🙂

    1. Hah! Your cat knows where the good snuggle place is!

      We check the community recycling center pretty regularly for just the same reason. People bring things that are too big or weird to leave by the side of the road and the city lets them sit for a bit before taking them away. I’m always on the lookout for free lumber and building supplies!

    1. That sounds pretty amazing to me! We’ve had 71 inches in 17 days, so mechanized snow removal is starting to sound pretty tempting 🙂

    1. Other people toss amazing stuff! In our minds, why pay thrift store prices when you can get it for free? 🙂

  12. Love the tote and the purse – what great finds! I’ve hauled in a random book case and bedside table, but I had to slap some colorful paint on those to make them pretty. You both have inspired me to keep my eyes peeled while walking around the city. It seems like most people leave out cushioned furniture (which gets pretty wet in the Seattle winters), but during the summer we might be able to score some sweet finds. Now, if only someone would leave out a perfectly good desk and chair…

    1. A little bit of paint goes a long way! I bet desks and chairs are to be had during college move-out weeks… we pass up a lot of those since we’re not in need.

  13. I’ve never gotten anything from the trash but when we moved from our last home of 20 years, we put a lot of stuff at the curb. We were busy and didn’t want to be bothered loading stuff in a truck and taking it to Goodwill. Sorry, but it is what it is. Anyway, we got a lot of entertainment watching the stream of cars going down our country road and stopping to inspect the stuff. One person looked at some things, then left empty handed, only to return a short time later with a truck and started loading up. At least we got some cheap entertainment watching everyone.

    1. Hah! See, those people are us, and we really appreciate you leaving good stuff by the side of the road! And I bet you appreciated that stuff magically disappearing during the stressful end of your move 🙂 Everyone wins!

  14. Do you ever wonder if someone will recognize that lovely red purse as you’re walking down the road and say, ‘hey, I threw that away’! :0)
    I’m thinking people here in the Pacific Northwest must be good about taking trips to the goodwill and having garage sales. The piles I see by the road here are truly garbage piles.

    1. I hope they do! I actually remember the houses where we’ve gotten awesome stuff and fondly think of them every time we walk by. I’d hope they’d appreciate that their stuff is being well used a second time around.

  15. I would TOTALLY pull things out of the trash but I never see anything on my walks and runs. Do you have any trash-picking tips for a newbie? Ps that last purse is so cute!

    1. Upscale apartments during moving season seem to be our most fertile ground. People get fed up with moving and just start throwing everything not in the van by the side of the road. Plus if the apartments are expensive, it’s more likely that the piles will be full of crate and barrel and not the dollar store 🙂

  16. I haven’t found anything so pretty, but I have been keeping an eye out. A couple of weeks ago I was out for a run and saw a pile of stuff on the curb. I recalled all of your great trash finds and stopped to peruse. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything useful to me in that pile, but I’m always on the lookout.

    1. Woohoo! Inspiring pile-picking everywhere! Serendipitous finds are the best. We get 90% of the stuff while on our normal walks with Frugal Hound. I don’t think it’d be near as fun if we were just out looking for stuff as a primary goal. But as a secondary goal… it’s entertaining and lucrative!

  17. I must admit to finding my mom’s “garbage picking” a bit embarrassing when I was younger. Over time though, I’ve come to admire her ability to find some pretty nice stuff in the trash. She has an awesome baker’s rack in her kitchen that recently was kicked to the curb by someone else.

    Last spring, I grabbed a stroller from the trash and ended up selling it at our garage sale. That was awesome!

    Unfortunately, there is some competition for trash in my neighborhood – a pickup truck drives around the night before garbage day and grabs all of the good stuff.

    1. We think it’s pretty virtuous both environmentally and financially 🙂 Plus it is pretty entertaining. We’ve thought about starting a series of “Terrible Trash Finds We Left By The Curb”. There are a lot of those too!

    1. Those containers were a college move-out day find. I guess the person didn’t want to take them to their next apartment… but we were happy to snatch them up!

  18. I love the red purse!!! Every time you share one of your trash finds editions, I always wish that I lived in a neighborhood where people leave trash out overnight. Because of the wild animal situation, people don’t leave trash out until the morning so it’s hard to find anything unless you take off work and hit homes before the garbagemen get there.

    1. “Wild Animal Situation”

      There’s a joke to be made here, but I’m just not sure where to take it… 🙂

  19. A vintage school desk at the curb after it didn’t sell at a garage sale, a like new wooden play kitchen, also like new infant bouncy seat, and two large wood chessboards that are also trays (which allow my boys to play Legos on frieze carpet). And these were just random drive-bys. We’ve never gone out specifically looking, but we could really score if we did.

    1. It’s funny, we don’t really go searching either! Well, except for the college move-out days. Those are pure gold. But otherwise, it’s mostly just us keeping our eyes peeled when out walking Frugal Hound. You could say that she’s responsible for most of our best finds 🙂

  20. When I lived in Tucson, I used to find the BEST stuff on the side of the road! I also used to go dumpster diving at the University around the end of the semester… Then I’d have a garage sale, and sell all the items I rescued from the trash. 🙂

  21. I love the tote bag and the canisters. Amazing finds.

    Good on Mr. FW for walking home with the tote. I hope I find a man who would do that for me! 🙂

  22. I’ve found some really great furniture throughout the years, including my current desk and a gorgeous wooden wardrobe. I also scored a set of silverware complete with three bamboo Container Store bins somebody in my apartment building left in the trash closet.

  23. Those are some great finds…I’m always amazed at what people will throw away. Certainly not the prettiest thing I’ve found in the trash, but by far the best for me, was an extensive set of CD’s burned with someone’s personal music collection on them. It included Top 40 hits for every year from the 60’s (my favorite), 70’s and 80’s, plus newer albums in all genres. I now have all that music on my PC with a smaller collection on my phone for listening on the go.

  24. I really like the storage containers for your kitchen. I also like the little red table (desk? end-table?) on which you have displayed the tote bag. (I know – not a trash find.) I have never even considered looking through the garbage of my neighbours. I’m afraid I would be embarrassed. And I thought I had already dealt with the whole pride and image thing. Sigh.

    1. I definitely embrace the frugal weirdo-ness of it, plus, it’s a fairly common thing here since people move frequently and thus take/leave stuff on the sidewalk with regularity.

      Thanks for the compliment on the red furniture :), it’s actually a jewelry chest that I refinished myself. I have a post on how I did it in case you’re interested–it was super easy:

        1. Thank you! I’m a big fan of red in general and I love that paprika red too–someday I’d like to paint our front door that color 🙂

  25. “Sometimes the best part of a trash find is watching your husband carry home a nautical tote bag.”

    You have planted a vision in my mind’s eye that I’m not happy with. Mr. Super Beard carrying that bag? It just doesn’t mesh. How do I make things right in my head? Oh, I have it: In the bag, he has stowed some fine IPAs and maybe even a bag of Cheetos for his doting wife.

    PS: I love Cheetos too. Does anyone not love them though? I have a question though: Do you like those hot, red ones? Flamin’ Hots? Mmmmm, red dye #5!! Personally, I think that concoction of chemicals is pretty great. Go Cheeto Labs! I mean, there must be a Cheeto Labs, right? Just the colors alone probably demand the brains of top notch scientists. Well, maybe the 2nd or 3rd tier guys, but stilll…

    PSS: Cheetos (orange fingers) + typing on a Mac keyboard is not recommended. Apple will never produce a Cheetos Edition Macbook, so you’ll have Orange Key Syndrome. Maybe Apple should produce it though? Think of the cross promotion: Can you imagine a rack of Cheetos at the checkout at the Apple Store? Yes Hipster Checkout Dude, I’ll take the Macbook and a bag of Cheetos. And I’ll be paying with Apple Pay. Thank you very much.

    Wow, I get easily sidetracked! Thanks for letting my brain run wild for a couple minutes this evening.

    PSSS: I could really go for a bag of Cheetos right now.

    1. Hahah! Mr. Super Beard is a very considerate husband and has often carried my lady items for me ;). I only WISH there’d been IPAs and Cheetos in there! Now that would’ve been a trash find worth writing about.

      I love Cheetos far too much and probably beyond what’s rational. I haven’t had any in… probably years though. Maybe just one year? I can’t be trusted with them. Also, to answer your question, some people do not like Cheetos and they are named Mr. Frugalwoods.

      I’m not big on the Flamin’ Cheetos, but I’d eat them if you gave me a bag (of course that applies to 99.9% of food–if it’s free, we’ll eat it). And hopefully our top scientists are not doing that with their time ;)…

      Thank you for leaving the greatest comment a great trash finds has ever had.

  26. The canisters are classic. We don’t pick up much around here. Anytime anyone throws out anything, it’s gone in seconds. Dad picked up some gardening chairs once but they were pretty rough looking. He had to clean and refurbish them a bit.

  27. Back when I still lived with my parents we used to find nice stuff. A brand new computer desk. A vintage crockery cupboard. bar stools. I love finding great free stuff.

  28. Just found this post and had to comment! When I was in grad school at Princeton I was shocked at the things people would throw away. Somehow I ended up with a spare room after a roommate left and I filled it with “perfectly good” things found in the trash on the curb. Then I went to a flea market to sell it all and came home with almost more than I went with. I may have had a small hoarding problem. I still have a cool looking handmade candle lantern from that flea market.

    Anyway I have never found anything as pretty as that red purse! I did find a banjo once. There was an ugly lamp and a banjo sitting by a dumpster as I was driving by. A guy coming from the other direction also slowed down, eyeing the loot. I was ready to fight him for the banjo, but fortunately he wanted the ugly lamp. I used that banjo to take classes and learn how to play. That was by far my best find.

    1. Hahah–that’s awesome. I love that you were ready to fight a guy for a free banjo. Sounds like something I would do :).
      Also, nicely done on selling stuff at the flea market–that’s advanced trash finding right there!

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