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Frugal Living 101 - Art of the dive

Updated on February 24, 2011

I began dumpster diving the year I moved to Vancouver. I prefer the word scavenging or scrounging if I'm trying to be obscure.

The day after moving into the condo I was walking by the building dumpster and someone had thrown out a futon frame. A perfectly good futon frame with all the connecting hardware neatly bagged and taped to the frame. Even an allen key. An hour later it was assembled in my no longer empty living room. Within a week it was joined by a standing lamp, tv, microwave, pots and pans.

Dumpster diving is too athletic a term for my frugal pursuit. Light dumpster walk-by pickup is a better term due to a combination of laziness and embarassment. I have learned some things over the years. Here are my top tips.

1. Use a bike with a bike trailer. A shopping cart is for the truly hard-core. When you find skis, satellite dish,snowboard, computer, boxes of books or a kitchen sink you're going to be severely limited if you don't have something big to carry it all back in. Have some sort of cover to throw over the mess so your classy neighbours don't panic when you wheel in with a load of fresh trash..

2. Timing is everything. People clean out their stuff on weekends. Whether it's a sunny spring day or a rainy winter. Saturday and Sunday morning are best times to make a dumpster run. The end of the month is when leases expire and people move.

3. If you see something hanging over the side of a dumpster like a piece of clothing or a tent it's a sign that there is more of the same in the dumpster. Return the favor. If you find something useful you don't need in a dumpster, try leaving a sign for the next diver or place it neatly nearby in plain sight.

4. Picking up empty cans and bottles only earns about $3/hour. Sunny weekend mornings cleaning the beach picking up the bottles/cleaning the garbage people have left while the sun rises. There could be worse things. Remember that picking up the cans and bottles is just the start. Then you need to bring them to the bottle depot. Sorting the cans bottles according to type and size takes more time. Finally you need to wait in line with impatient binners dieing for a smoke or their next bottle of wine to cash out.

5. Skis, snowboards and other sporting equipment are easy sales on Craigslist.

6. People throw out electronics when they upgrade. Don't assume it's broken. Hopefully there's an outlet nearby to test it out before you schlep it home. I've found a Brother multi-function laser printer with a good toner cartridge, satellite dish with receiver, desktop computers, compact deep freezer. You'll find lots of old tvs and lamps.

7. You'fl find far more doughnuts, pastry, pizza, and white bread than low-fat yoghurt, granola and organic avocados. Dumpster diving can be hard on your waist-line. Don't try to eat all the food you find.

8. The first deep lesson of dumpster diving is to take only what you can use and leave the rest. Many dumpster divers become pack-rats trying to harvest and collect everything of any possible use. It's free. Eventually you realize that you can't collect and warehouse all the things of potential value in one dumpster much less a city filled with dumpsters.

9. The second deep lesson of seeing a lot of trash is the realization that everything is transient. Eventually everything ends up on the trash heap. Earth to earth and dust to dust but plastic is eternal.


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    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 3 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I haven't done this for a while, but curbside pickup can be fun. :)