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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!