Frugal Living

Top 5 Dumpster Diving Rules For Finding Free Stuff

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Dumpster Diving Canada USA

Diving In A Dumpster For Free Stuff Is Like A Treasure Hunt

You know there are a lot of negative connotations with dumpster diving and I know I definitely always had issues with this myself.

As I’ve gotten older and as the US economy has gotten tougher I have learned to be more resourceful of course not only that but my husband has pleasantly surprised me over time with some amazing dumpster finds.

This is a regular feature on my blog Lil’ Suburban Homestead’s site that we share our latest dumpster diving finds and it has become popular.  

I mean, Who Doesn’t Like Free?

I will admit we even had our own family members in somewhat disbelief of the great finds we have found until they have been out with us when it has happened.

I am not going to claim to be the dumpster diving diva although I do know how to dive.

While I love to join in on dumpster diving adventures I am often not as mobile because of my job.  I work for the school system in Coastal North Carolina so I’m trapped in a building all day long.

It’s my husband who finds the good dumpster diving finds but he is the one who taught me some of the main components of dumpster diving.

My husband drives for his job so he simply keeps his eyes open when he’s out and about the town. 

Rarely he has spotted something he has needed to bring his truck back after working to collect.

Most of the time it is stuff that is just right in front of him or he could be having a lunch break and spot these items.

Top 11 things you can find in a Dumpster

Dumpster diving is lucrative in Canada and the United States because someone else’s junk is a treasure to another.

  1. Clothing
  2. Health and Beauty Make-up
  3. Food and Coupons
  4. Electronics
  5. Music CD’s, Cassette Tapes, DVD’s
  6. Books
  7. Raw Materials or Building Materials great for renovations
  8. Furniture and Appliances
  9. Baby Stuff
  10. Toys
  11. Tools

Gear Up For Dumpster Diving

If you do plan on dumpster diving whether you are going for a walk around your neighbourhood looking in garbage bins or in large recyclable and industrial dumpsters you’ll need important gear.

As you may already guess dumpster diving can be gross and dangerous so there are a few key items that you will want to bring especially if you are hunting for dumpster diving treasures at night.

  1. Long Sleeve Shirt or Jacket
  2. Other appropriate seasonal apparel
  3. Thick Gloves
  4. Flashlight
  5. Heavy material bag or rolling cart to add goods too
  6. Running shoes or safety boots or shoes
  7. Knife or other cutting tool, Nifty Nabbers

Top Rules For Finding Good Stuff Dumpster Diving

Nifty Nabbers for dumpster diving

  1. Be consistent and check your favourite dumpster’s frequently. Always be aware of your surroundings.
  2. Act Fast…if you see something on the side of the road grab it up it may be gone the next time you drive by.
  3. Look for the potential in every item. For example, my husband found some display ladders in a mall dumpster and he had no idea what we were going to do with them but he grabbed them anyway and he turned one into a shabby chic pot rack which I love and the other one is decorative ladder still leaning up on our bookshelves.
  4. Own some nifty nabbers which are extremely handy as my husband has been able to reach items that he might not normally have gotten.
  5. You have to be safe and watch out for broken glass, sharp metal and other potentially dangerous objects
  6. Always be aware of your surroundings and proceed with caution.

Our Dumpster Finds

Fishing reels
Fishing reels dumpster diving finds

Just look at these fishing reels a few of them my husband had to order minor parts for but most repairs on the reels have averaged under $3.00 a reel. However he found enough he was able to swap parts in most cases.

Fireplace Log Basket
Fireplace Log Basket dumpster diving finds

The second item is a fireplace log basket…….we really needed one of these and the timing was perfect as the cold weather was settling in.

1984 olympic silver dollar or medal
1984 Olympic silver dollar dumpster diving finds

The third item is a 1984 Olympic silver dollar it is one of a two piece set but we did not find the other piece so because of that it is only worth about $40 on Ebay.

Japanese stainless steel salt and pepper shakers
Japanese stainless steel salt and pepper shakers dumpster diving finds

The last item is a beautiful set of Japanese stainless steel salt and pepper shakers with some scroll-work…very elegant looking!

I hope you enjoyed taking a tour of some of our amazing dumpster diving finds. They all add up to huge savings and besides it’s kind of an adventure. I never know what my husband is going to come home with.

Where To Go Dumpster Diving

If you are looking for some good places to dumpster dive in Canada I’d stick to public property but many people locate awesome finds all over the city.

  • Apartment buildings or complexes
  • Grocery Stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Side-walk
  • Big Box Stores
  • Downtown
  • Restaurants
  • Side of the road and in ditches *we find mostly beer cans and bottles.

We have found one of the best places to go dumpster diving at local parks or provincial parks where beer cans, beer bottles and wine bottles are often located.

Dumpster Diving in Canada

I’ve always been interested to hear about dumpster diving as I really didn’t know much about what happens behind the scenes.

Although we shouldn’t be dumpster diving in several provinces in Canada according to the Tresspass Property Act.

For example, if you go to Best Buy dumpster diving and it’s on private property you may find yourself in big trouble. Keep in mind that there are surveillance cameras all over Ontario especially at businesses.

Be a SMART dumpster diving Citizen.

You will want to avoid going on to private property to dumpster dive at all costs. If for instance there are bins on the road or side-walks this is public property and you can look inside.

Always leave the area you search in the same shape if not better and to never cut any locks or break into anything. If you get caught you may end up living in a dumpster which is behind bars if you know what I mean or end up with a big fine from the police.

It’s interesting to learn what others do around the world as in Karen’s experience from the USA to Britain where dumpster diving is illegal.

In our Ontario community once or twice a year we have a free goods weekend where homeowners can put free stuff out to the curb and anyone can pick it up for free.

We’ve picked up beer cans from garbage bins in the park, on the ground or in recycle bins from the few neighbours around us that we know and are friends with.

Free money is hard to turn a blind eye too, it’s like finding coins or dollar bills on the ground. Would you leave a $20 bill in a garbage bin or on the  ground? Probably not, that’s what I thought.

Although our neighbours wouldn’t give a hoot someone you don’t know might and some cities might have by-laws for this so it’s always best to check with your city hall.

In our city we can take an item that is typically placed on the curbside with a “Free Sign” which I like to call curb watching for free stuff.

Alternatively, we can use free-cycle where people post online what they are giving away for free and set it out on their porch once claimed online for pick-up.

As Karen points out in her post above the opposite stands true in the USA as you have to be much more careful about grabbing stuff from the side of the road as sometimes people do not intend for it to be picked up but the dumpster implies it is garbage.

Food Waste and Dumpster Diving

Regardless of any laws it happens in our own cities, all around us whether we want to accept it or not.

Whether one gets caught is an entirely different story but a chance many are willing to take.

I agree that too much food is wasted and at times it’s good food and if you plan on dumpster diving for food, take caution.

Many times we’ve bought reduced items on the cheap rack and there is nothing wrong with them and they likely hit the dumpster by evening if no one buys them. This is where freegans may step in.

Although I’ve never met a freegan I’d be interested to talk to one to hear their views to find out what life is like. 

It’s a shame with all the starving people in this world and too bad the food can’t be donated.

Lastly, dumpster diving identity theft should be a big concern for everyone so if you do toss anything with personal information, SHRED IT!

Discussion: Have you ever found something in or around a dumpster that you picked up? Can you dumpster dive where you live? Leave your comments below.

Guest Post By: Karen Lynn-Stop on by our Lil’ Suburban Homestead any time. Thanks to Mr. CBB for allowing me the opportunity to be a guest blogger and to talk about our Dumpster Diving. I never show up as your top fan but trust me I’m a huge fan of your blog.

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  1. Not illegal in Canada unless you are on private property! If there is a sign that says no trespassing, don’t trespass. You also cannot “break in” to a dumpster.

    Otherwise… dumpsters are fair game!

  2. Enjoying your blog. Just a quick thought on the whole dumpster diving thingy….there is also another option, and that is simply to ask store owners for the extra merchandise that they no longer have any need for….expired stuff etc….if they know you and LIKE you they won’t mind passing it along, as long as you show that you are not going to compete against their store by selling their merchandise to their clients or other locals.

    Businesses throw away a lot of merchandise simply because they are trying to protect their store’s market share… to their way of looking at things, sometimes they would rather throw product away than sell it as a discounted price. Businesses work very very hard to protect the market for their goods and don’t want anyone to water down the market for their fair priced merchandise. Hope that helps some folks in trying to comprehend why they find so much cool stuff in the dumpsters…

  3. I live in a huge complex, so most people will sit stuff along side the dumpster for grabs. I have found some great treasures that I will always cherish. Some items I will take to the Thrifts Shop! My all time favorite is a Palm Tree I rescued. It is doing really well!

  4. I reverse dumpster dive! In our neighbourhood, people always put their “good” garbage out a few days before garbage day to allow others to decide if they want it. If it’s something quite good and doesn’t go before the day the trucks are rolling, I will often drive it over to near some apt buildings a few km away. The apts are mostly rented to people who are new to Canada and have limited incomes. I just put a sign on it (tables, chairs, toys etc) that says “free!” and drive a bit away. Within minutes it’s always going home with someone. It’s much better than watching good stuff go to a landfill.

  5. Well now I’m excited! A whole new level of saving money! One of my brothers is a garbage truck driver and he’s taken home a few different electronics (dvd players and the like) that needed little or no work. As far as big companies and the food they throw out: I used to work a lot with homeless shelters and we would go to different companies looking for access to the freebies they throw out, and most states here in the US have laws set up that deter companies from donating leftover food, etc., because of liability issues. Same thing happens with clothes. Many clothing stores have to throw away new clothes as opposed to giving them to shelters, etc., because there are too many legal loopholes that leave them at risk for lawsuits. It’s ridiculous. That being said, you may want to, if it’s legal, check the dumpsters behind your favorite clothing stores and see if they have anything good. 🙂

  6. My favorite bowling ball came from dumpster diving. My dad found it in the dumpster more than 20 years ago. I also made a few hundred dollars in college by grabbing several heavy duty laser printers that were put out for the trash by the IT department. That particular model has two parts that typically go bad. Salvaging parts from some to put in others, we were able to get a dozen working.
    You have to be careful with dumpster diving because technically, trash has to be out to the street to be fair game. The dumpster behind the store is on private property and you can get arrested for taking something out of it. Even the recycling dumpsters put out by my town have big signs saying “do not take anything from this receptacle. violators will be prosecuted”

  7. This is awesome! People throw out so much useful stuff. We’ve never had to buy a bike for our children because people throw out perfectly good ones. Awesome and sad actually.

  8. I don’t know about dumpster diving, but I want one of those nifty nabbers! They have a free box, which is actually a series of wooden shelves set up on a street corner in Telluride. I have yet to nab anything really cool from there, but I’ve had friend who have gotten skis, Dansko shoes, and furniture from there. I think the trick is to go right after a big holiday, especially Christmas when people are cleaning out their stuff. Can’t beat free.

  9. I’ve never dumpster divied myself, but there are many in and around my parents neigbourhood who go around doing so. I think it’s creative and recycles certain items that would have otherwise landed in a landfill.

  10. I’ve never been dumpster diving but I’ve certainly jumped on a few great pieces of furniture lying around waiting to be taken away, I asked the homeowner if I could take them of course!

  11. I like to think that if someone is putting their stuff out early, by the side of the road, they are hoping that someone else will give it a home before the garbage truck picks it up.

    A few weeks ago, I picked up a mid-quality wing back chair from the side of the road. It was a little dirty, but with a few hours of cleaning (while I was watching TV anyway), it is clean and smells nice. I might recover it later on, but for now it is a great chair where I didn’t have one before.

  12. Like we said in the article most of our finds are when my husband is actually milling about etc….we do not spend a lot of extra time on looking for finds. We do know how to plan our routes while we are running errands etc….We recently scored a beautiful pottery barn look alike desk and my husband painted it and we are getting ready to sell it. Sometimes we do have to invest time repairing items etc…..the only food we have found is we found a ton of bread that we put in the freezer for our chickens to supplement. I too get frustrated when large companies like Walmart will not donate their leftover produce to homeless shelters etc…it’s very selfish of them in my opinion that they would rather throw it in the trash. I enjoy hearing people’s comments and thoughts…many people that would be squeamish about this have sat at my table eating with their plates on placemats that I have found in the dumpster….perception is everything really isn’t it 😉

  13. My buddy is a garbage man and he has made some pretty nice coin from putting stuff up on eBay he finds next to the garbage. He says a lot of people put stuff out there for them to haul away, even when it’s not trash or broken, they are just done with it. I find it weird that they don’t just take it to Goodwill or Salvation army, but I guess it has worked out pretty good for him.

    1. I guess some folks, at least where I live, get tired of trying to figure out when and where they are allowed to drop off items at places like the Good will or Salvation Army, which as of the past couple of years become much more stringent about what they will “accept” and what they won’t. Also, their hours of operation are often less than convenient….Folks are busy and don’t have time for that ……so setting stuff on the curbside for a day or two usually does the trick.

  14. We are truly a throw it away society and there are some wonderful things to be found in the “trash” of others. The key is to know when enough is enough. I have found things which I cherish to this day. Example: a leopard patterned glass lamp I found at least 15 years ago. It is still beautiful and I love it. Many “finds”, however, have truly been junk which ultimately wound up in my own trash pile.

  15. Looks like fun! I need to get a good nifty nabber thing, so convenient! We know of a couple that dumpster dove their whole month in New Zealand for food….pretty crazy!!!!

  16. My dad worked as a doorman/porter at a downtown Manhatten Apartment building. He used to bring home some amazing (and expensive) things that people would throw away. I think there’s definite potential value in “garbage” if your willing to take the time to look for it. My problem lately is finding the time for anything!

  17. I haven’t done much dumpster diving but I know every-time I go to the county dump to take the things the the regular garbage collection won’t pick up I see a ton of stuff in the metal recycle pile that makes the DIY guy in me drool.
    Not exactly dumpster diving but my dad worked as a porter in a downtown Manhatten apartment building before he retired. He used to bring home the most amazing, expensive, and relatively unused things that the folks that lived in those apartments would throw away. There’s value in junk!

  18. Our town has a clean up every two years I think it is, forget what they call it but people put stuff out on the Friday for Sat. Pick up by the fire fighters…. Assuming there is anything left to pick up. Traffic on the roads is crazy as people stop to pick over and pick up stuff for their own use. Being in a small town there isn’t’t a whole lot for the teens to do in town during the good weather on Fri. And Sat nights, as well as all summer. This means there will be empty booze containers and pop cans to be found all over town. We pick up these in our travels. I still remember a few years ago walking to the town fair to see the demo derby and seeing a lot of empties on the way. On the way home the two boys and I picked them all up, we all had our hands full by the time we got home and there was over two dollars worth of empties to take for refund to the store!!!! Idiots…. But if they are going to be that stupid the money is better in my pockets than broken on the street… A friend of mine picks up the beer cans and pop cans on her walks all the time…. The pop cans are taken infor scrap money and the beer cans and bottles go back to the store for refund.she uses this money for charity….I save my pop cans for her all the time. I have a bag in the laundry room to hold the empties for the beer store refunds. PS….. Any empties that held alcohol in Ontario can be taken to the BeerStore for refund…. Usually ten cents a piece… adds up!!!!!

  19. Sounds like fun times. It’s like scavenger hunting for grown ups. I know restaurants and other businesses can waste a lot of food sometimes by throwing out sealed and packaged products that most people around the world would still consider good to eat. Seems to be a negative stigma around dumpster diving but it’s good for the environment to reuse as much as we can, and it saves money. That lady from the TLC show is a dumpster diver and she bought a home in New York with cash 😀

  20. I’ve read and seen shows on this before, but it’s just not for me. It’s mainly a time thing and also not having much opportunity where we live. I remember when my wife and I moved out of our first apartment and we were throwing some things away in the dumpster and it never failed that someone would seemingly come out of nowhere in a second to grab what we just threw away. Most of it was junk, but if they could get use out of it then that’s great. 🙂

  21. I love free and can’t believe I have never been dumpster diving! I did pick up some furniture on the street though, and check the reduced aisle at the supermarket for heavily discounted products. In France they usually bleach the food to prevent dumpster diving.

  22. I liked this article.. my husband too has found some great things along the road or in a dumpster behind the stores…recently Home Sense thew out this amazing trunk, all that was wrong with it was a broken leg.. easy fix.. love Spring clean up in our cities.. people throw out amazing stuff.. A frugal woman from Ontario

  23. I don’t know about this… Personally, I value my time too much to spend it diving through dumpsters. I can appreciate the great finds though. Like panning for gold. I suppose for the person who has nothing better to do with their time, this could be fun and profitable.

  24. I’ve read about this and have seen people do it on various TV shows, but honestly I don’t ever think I could do it myself. That being said, I do find it so wasteful when grocery stores throw out food simply because it doesn’t look good cosmetically. There seems there has to be a better way.

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