Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Go Curb Shopping

Tip #254. Go Curb Shopping. Hear me out, please. It's not as bad as it sounds. I promise. I am not suggesting you go dumpster diving or dig through people's trashcans. What I'm suggesting is much more civil - in the world of trashpicking, anyway. In the nice weather many people are doing big spring cleanings. On the curb in front of people's houses you will see bookcases, desks, large plastic toys, bikes, lawnmowers, and things of similar nature. Generally, these are things the homeowner no longer has use for and either isn't familiar with freecycle, is too lazy to donate it to a charity, or knows that someone will take it if he puts it on the curb in front of his lawn. So why shouldn't that person who takes it be you?

There are many good items on the curbs and if you see something that you have the need for, then don't be embarrassed to take it. Free is free, and you can always pass it on if it doesn't work out for you. Once you take to heart the saying, "one man's trash is another man's treasure" you will feel better about it. And when you are saving money on things you would have had to buy anyway, your savings account will be bigger. If nothing else, be glad that you are saving things from the landfill.

Even if an item is not perfect, you may have use for it. An old, broken wheelbarrow may have good wheels you can use as replacements for your beat-up ones. A broken refrigerator might have a handle that yours needs. A pile of old bricks may be perfect to line your driveway. So make sure you take notice of all items on the curb, not just the things that are in good condition.

Some word of advice, though.

--Make sure it is not illegal in your town, city, or neighborhood to "trash pick." Some areas do have laws specifically against this. Many don't, though. In fact, some communities encourage it and have specific days that are "trash shopping days" where residents are encouraged to shop around through their neighbor's curbside items. If you are unsure of your town's laws, call the town office or other authority.

--Make sure that the item REALLY is denoted for trash. A kid's bike by the side of the road is often just a toy that a child did not put away. Taking something that is not meant for the trash is stealing, and you don't want to do that.

--Don't take charity donations. Many times households put charity donations to Salvation Army and the like in bags (or not for larger items) on the curb. DO NOT take items that are meant for charity. Usually they are marked and put neatly in bags. This should be a clue that it is not trash.

--When in doubt, ask the homeowner. It's perfectly acceptable to knock on the owner's door and ask, "Do you mind if I take that bookcase you have by the curb?" Most homeowners are glad to see someone else get use out of it, and it might even save them disposal fees. Some will even put "free" signs on large items by the curb. But if you are unsure, ask. No need to be embarrassed.

--Take items with your head held high. There is no need to take things in the dark or crouch behind trees. You are saving things from the landfill and contributing to your bottom line - nothing to be embarrassed about.

--Make sure you are safe. Don't stop on major roads if there's traffic behind you. Don't take rusty, metal things. Be careful if things are piled high, so that they don't tumble over.

--Use common sense and you might just find that you have found a few treasures on the curb.

In Real Life (IRL) - My eyes light up when I drive by a big pile of stuff in front of someone's house. I admit it. And if you told me ten years ago that this would be the case, I would have laughed and laughed. As a child, I was not taught to go through people's unwanted items. In fact, the opposite is true. But nowadays, it is just too tempting. It seems people have so much extra stuff that they don't want. And many unload perfectly acceptable items on the curb.

In my town there is no law against taking others' trash. And because there are a certain number of free bulk trash pickup days, there seems to quite a bit of good trash on the curb. I don't drive around specifically looking for trash, but if I'm on an errand or walking my kids to school, I will often stop and look.

In the past several years I have found some great things - a sand and water table for my kids (I actually found a second one that I sold), a knock-hockey game (which has become a family favorite), a giant, old, plastic Christmas Santa that lights up (sold on Craigslist), a plastic climbing cube (which my kids used, and then we sold), a bike (we gave away to a co-worker), games and toys (that I donated), a plastic sandbox (sold), a wine rack (it's in our dining room), some pictures (some kept; some gave away), a door (thought we could use but wrong size, so gave away), wheels from a lawn mower (that we needed for our lawn mower), reflectors from old bikes (added to our bikes), bricks (that separate our garden), and I don't remember what else, but I know there's more that I'm not thinking of.

Most of the stuff we find is in the spring, summer, and fall. We're very careful to only take what is clearly trash. And when in doubt, I have asked. I'll finish this off with a funny story about the big, plastic Santa in the picture. I knew that these old things were collectible, but I wanted to be sure that it was okay to take it, so I asked the homeowner if he was really getting rid of it. And he replied, "It's not even mine. I had this big trash pile out for a bulk pickup, and someone came and added it to the top of my pile." That Santa lived in my garage all summer last year until the right season to sell it. And I'm sure my neighbors wondered why we'd have a giant Christmas decoration at all since we're Jewish. :-)

Does anyone else go curb shopping? Are you embarrassed by it? Or do you think it's good, clean (well, okay, dirty) fun?


nankie said...

Yes, I go curb shopping.
Like you, a part of my brain lights up when I see a pile of interesting-looking goodies at the curb!
And yes, I am embarrassed...but I do it anyway. Though I usually look around to make sure no one I know sees me!

Christy Wheeler said...

I would if I ever saw anything good... I have only seen old couches in bad condition. However I did used to work with my sister's company that cleaned apartments after people moved out and I often found things in them that I got to take home. I have found bbq's, placemats, clothes, games, home decor, and much more. I loved finding stuff!

Anonymous said...

I curb shop all the time, and have gotten some very useful things. Just recently, I found some vintage carnival glass in a box hidden under some old boards. I am never afraid to dig for the goodies. Sometimes I walk around the neighborhood with a pair of old leather gloves in my pocket just in case I need to pull away something dirty or heavy. I just moved to a college town and at the end of summer, when a lot of students are moving, I plan to furnish my new apartment with what I can find by the curbs and dumpsters.