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An Elitists Guide to Dumpster Diving - What to Find and Where to Find It

Updated on June 20, 2017

Okay, and now to the fun part, what to find and where to find it.

You never know what or why people are dumping what they do. They may be doing their spring cleaning, they may be moving or remodeling, or got evicted, their girlfriend may be kicking them out of the house and is doing a revenge toss, or someone may have passed on. In my experience, you just really don’t know, but it is fun to think about it. You can get a lot of loot from ‘The personal sector’, of private people throwing their stuff away, and believe it, people do. You can find their goods in dumpsters and trash cans in residential alleys, apartment complex dumpsters, again alleys, in alleys and oh did I mention alleys being an excellent place to start. I have found all kinds of wonderful things in alleys. Once I found 3 trash cans full of ‘Raiders’ fan memorabilia. It was nicely distributed amongst my friends. I figured it was someone who had a ‘football’ room and was dismantling it, perhaps to make a sewing room for a scorned wife. Or maybe it was a son who had moved off to college and was letting his younger years go to waste, maybe the folks were turning his room into a nursery. One never does know, does one. In alleys you can often find furniture, tables, couches (I am always wary of couches…) bookshelves, and other household items like paint, lamps, fans ceiling and standing, and vacuum cleaners.

Mini refrigerators and air conditioners I tend to find on the side of the road. I don’t really know why this is, but once you know to look you will see these little guys all over the place.

When people are remodeling their homes, they tend to throw a lot of stuff away. Look for the dumpsters in front of their houses. Many times it will be a low 15 ft dumpster with lots of rebar and drywall, but if you look closer you are bound to find some other gems.


Toys are everywhere, kids are always growing, and out growing their toys. The only problem with people disposing of toys is that for the most part they don’t want to throw them away, its like throwing a teddy bear in a trash can, or even worse, bagging it up so the little fellow can’t breathe. I shudder at the thought. I rescued such a bear, but it was unbagged. I was throwing out my own trash and there he was, laying floppily in the communal dumpster. I had to rescue him. I imagine that some child didn’t clean up his room quite right and the toys that were stuffed in the cracks, hidden under the bed and shoved in the closet, were mom’s target. A lesson learned for this little child, his favorite floppy bear gone forever, mangled by the compactor, mixed in with trimmed palm fronds and last nights dinner. How horrible. But little does he know, I saved him, and tend to him everyday.

But, large toys, like scooters for toddlers and older can be found. Bouncy seats are everywhere and even walkers. They are not bagged, just lying on top of trash in dumpsters or put out on the side of the street. Smaller toys are donation items, see the section on donations.


Now I love clothes, and personally I don’t care if they are used. People are constantly losing weight and gaining weight, or cleaning out their closets or someone elses. Clothes can be found everywhere. Not only in the private sector but more often commercial. Remember clothes are bulky, they take up bags and bags (usually black yard bags) and can’t fit in someones personal trash can. So instead of donating them, which is what I do, they for some reason just throw them away in their favorite dumpster behind Joes. But there are other places. Along one of my routes I would stop behind a health club. Many times I would find swim suits galore and peoples changes of clothing. They stop going to the gym and eventually their lock gets cut off and everything in the locker goes in the trash. It includes their gym clothes, accessories, beauty products and shoes. Health clubs are a good dive. Another excellent place for clothing and also linens are behind laundry mats and cleaners. Not only have I found excellent and clean clothes, but I also have found amazing sheet sets, and once a gorgeous duvet.

Fashion Accessories

Fashion accessories go along with clothing, you will find them in the same places you find clothes but interestingly enough, you will also find accessories and shoes at malls. If someone is doing a big remodel they will bring out a huge dumpster and for some reason it becomes a free for all for all of the merchants to get rid of stock. I am serious. Malls are tricky though with all of the security, so it helps to do your recycling by throwing out the bottles and cans, and to also have a friend keeping watch, or more accurately waiting for the security to come and explain that you are part of some green movement and that people that frequent malls as well as work there are huge offenders of refusing to recycle, showing the security officer the amount of cans and plastic bottles. You tell them that you won’t be long and that you will clean up before you leave. I have done this and it works. They just shrug their shoulders and take off.


You will find jewelry in the darndest places, in the dumpster it will be at the bottom of bags, in purses that you find, pockets of clothing you find. Another place is, not necessarily in a dumpster, but in a junk yard. The floors of junk cars are breeding grounds for jewelry, just look for the chick cars like the big diesel mercedes, between the seats, gems galore.

Building Supplies

To be really serious you will have to go industrial for building supplies, either that or anywhere where there is a remodel going on. Dumpsters in front of peoples houses usually have a ton of dry wall. Construction sites normally keep their dumpsters under lock and key, until the end, when there is nothing left. Building supply stores, especially the big ones parking lots are normally a place where people will discard of windows and stuff, but I would go during the day. At night security is out in force and they are kinda scary. One such place who sports my favorite color, orange, did actually let me recycle. On a summers day there is nothing but cans and bottles left behind, all those men, tired from their days of building, needing a cool beverage, and then in a man like way tossing it aside in the parking lot. Good place for recycling, if they will let you, and they will ask and there are cameras so maybe not so good of a place. And never drive behind Home Depot, you will get glares as if you have driven into the forbidden zone. Now, there is always remodeling being done at the mall and you can find all kinds of goodies like shelving and carpet squares, see my mall disclaimer under fashion accessories.. But, if you want reliable, there all the time building supplies you go into the industrial sector. Places that are like strip malls for industrial crap, they have one story buildings running along both sides of a parking lot, and for the most part in the middle of the parking lot are dumpsters. Hope you like sawdust, you will find lots here. We are looking for places like door and sash shops, people who do tiling and cabinetry, and other kinds of building out. You will find tons of wood scraps, drywall, linoleum scraps, some paint, that plastic glass. I was able to completely veneer my 15 ft trailer with some incredible stuff.


Money is everywhere, you just need to know where to look. In large strip malls that have large parking lots that need to have the sweeper come in, well the sweeper needs to do something with all of the debris he picks up in his truck. Well, he empties his debris chamber into one of the dumpsters onsite. You will notice it by opening the can and seeing the thick layer of cups and dust on top. Imagine all those people running in and out of stores all day long, they are bound to drop cash. I was with someone who showed me this little secret, I couldn’t believe it, until he masterfully plucked out a ten spot. He said that money is special, it folds different, looks different, and drifts differently on the wind. Whenever you are out, just always keep in the back of your mind what you are truly looking for, its money. You will find it where the wind blows, against fences, near gutters, along bushes. We are talking cash now. Now when it comes to change, that’s everywhere too. You will find it in the same places as jewelry and vice versa, in bags, in clothing pockets, and also at car washes. They have the vacuum bags, big black trash bags where they dump the vacuumed up stuff into, pretty gross if you think about it, but if you happen to stumble upon these guys don’t turn away. Give them a good few shakes and then feel the bottom corners. Tell me there isn’t change or something there, maybe even jewelry. Just tear the corner off and be on your way, with your recyclables of course, as car washes are great places for bottles and cans and lots of wild stuff, like oh, car stereos.

I think the main thing to remember when looking for specific things is to go to its source. Like with food, if you root through a dumpster behind a cookie factor, what will you find? Cookies of course! Same with chocolate, and you will find food behind super markets, and if it is a market that doesn't jack their stuff up before throwing it out, you will find perfectly fine produce, baked goods, and a variety of, or course supermarket items. You go to the source. Go behind a musical instrument shop, you will find guitar strings, beauty supply places you will find beauty supplies. Shoe store? Shoes! Frame store? Matting and frames! It is very simple. You never know what you will find in alleys and that is part of the fun, but when you hit the big cans it can be very predictable, with some surprises of course. Do your research, make a route, is their a particularly interesting strip mall in your area? Take your poking stick and go poking around some night, you might find some really interesting cans. Find out when the trash truck comes and go the night before. There is also very high dumpster activity from illegal dumpers on the weekend, Sunday nights after all of the garage sales have failed or are over, or after people made a mad dash to clean up before company. So many surprises to be found out there, but I don't have to tell you that, just look at what you have thrown away.

In my next section I want to pay special attention to recycling.

Why not read them all?! Other exciting hub posts that can be found in this series are:


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    • Rafael Calle profile image

      Rafael Calle 

      2 years ago

      Awesome read! thanks for sharing, this was funny and informative. I own a dumpster company here in FL and the amount of stuff we come across I cannot believe. Many things are still new in boxes. I do not encourage people to jump in my dumpsters for liability reasons but if done carefully and respectfully (without making a mess) than I do not see why someone else should be able to benefit from what others consider trash. Keep on dumpster diving girl you rock!


    • Pamela Sarzana profile image

      Pamela Sarzana 

      5 years ago from northern Indiana

      Always read articles about dumpster diving, haven't tried it yet....I especially like the part about look for money where the winds blows, I'll remember that. I am always interested in new info..very good , and informative!

    • Mark Antony profile image

      Mark Antony 

      8 years ago from London

      I love this stuff, ever since I lived in India. By the time the dumpster truck arrived, they only had dust and rocks to pick-up, everything else had been 'recycled'. It's about time we got our head out our butts, and see the treasure!

    • Stina Sense profile imageAUTHOR

      Stina Sense 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      That was soooo funny! It's truly for everyone who likes getting something for a little hard work. Thanks for your comments.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      I always thought dumpster diving was only for low bottom drunks. Boy, was I mistaken! Thanks for a really cool and informative hub! MM

    • peggypat profile image

      Peggy Patrick Medberry 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Really smart advice.. and so sensible.. I loved the teddy bear story.. Of course you had to take him.. who could throw a teddy bear in the trash!! Your article is loads of fun with some excellent ideas. I need more jewelry... hmmm those trash bags and old cars are calling me!


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