Dumpster Diving - Is It Worth It?

I used to be a curb shopper, but that really isn't necessary anymore. I now live in a large apartment complex where people are moving in and out all the time, and there are 7...count 'em...7 large dumpsters. In the last week alone, if I had needed them, I could have gotten three or four nice mattress sets. I was in the hospital this weekend and when I got out this morning, my buddy and I decided to do some dumpster diving at the one right outside my building. On Friday, I had already picked up a mop bucket full of brooms, mops and a nice dust pan, almost all new or barely used. I needed a mop, so that was a big help. Now I have 2, and 3 brooms, so I can put the oldest one out on the patio. Also picked up a table that someone slapped together with plywood and 2x4's to use for plants on my patio.

Today, we weren't alone. This is the end of the month, and the divers frequent this complex around that time when people are moving out. We found someone else digging out there too, so we joined the party. Not clean work, so I suggest using rubber gloves and old clothes. This is what I scored in 30 minutes today, all stuff I needed. I let the other diver have the rest, and my friend took some.

  • A small, plastic 3-tier shelf. It was actually 4-tier originally, but one shelf was smashed, and I couldn't find enough legs for a fourth shelf anyway. Had to really dig around to get the 8 legs I needed, but worth it. Put it out on the patio and filled it with plants.
  • A dishpan, small dish drainer (which I need), and a shampoo holder that hangs on the shower head (which I also need). 
  • Several nice sport bottles, which can be bleached and used
  • A few nice towels that need a good washing with hot water and colorfast bleach, but will be fine. The other lady there scored about 6 sheets. 
  • A full bottle of Coppertone SPF 8 suntan lotion
  • A dry-erase board eraser (now if I can just find a board and markers)
  • One of those twisty-bendy foam terry-cloth covered neck supports
  • A nice gold tablecloth that is large enough to make curtains for my small bedroom.
  • A rug that I may or may not keep. I was thinking that it would be nice for the back patio, but it has a lot of cat hair on it, and smells pretty rank. I put it out in the rain to get it rinsed out, but it's running really badly, so maybe I'll just toss that back.
  • A full half-gallon bottle of Clorox (which will come in handy for cleaning all this stuff) and half a bottle of bathroom cleaner. I probably could have gotten more cleaning stuff if I had wanted to dig, but it was too hot. I found half a bottle of laundry detergent sitting on the ground outside the dumpster right after I moved there.
I didn't stay out there too long, and I didn't even go to the other dumpsters, although the ladies were saying there was some prime stuff at them. I'm not going anywhere, and people move in and out of here all the time, so there will be more opportunities no doubt.

What really shocked me was how much good food was just tossed out. The other lady was taking some of it that was unopened or nearly full (she found several bottles of liquor that still had some in them. LOL), but I didn't get any. It did get me thinking, though, that maybe I can get permission to put up flyers around the complex asking people to bring me any non-perishable food items they are going to be throwing out, and I can donate them to the food bank. I saw a lot of stuff that was usable, like pasta, nuts in plastic containers, full containers of condiments, etc. It's amazing how wasteful people are. A lot of it was probably from abandoned apartments that the cleaning crew just cleared out and tossed because they have to. Maybe if people knew there was someplace to take it, it wouldn't be left behind.

I know there are fregans all around the country who dumpster dive for food in restaurant dumpsters and garbage, and this isn't exactly that, so I don't know if I would dive for food here, but I would take it gladly before it hit the dumpster, wouldn't you?


  1. Absolutely! I live in a remote rural area where dumpster shopping opportunities are rare, but I definitely believe in reusing and repurposing discarded items. I used to live in an apartment complex that was largely populated by college students from wealthy families, and the items they threw away at the end of a semester could have stocked my own apartment for months. Now that I'm living a much more frugal lifestyle out of necessity, I wish I'd gotten more involved in scouring those dumpsters.

    I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading this blog. There's a practical, commonsense approach to your advice that I find very engaging. Some of your entries remind me of Heloise, another columnist who was frugal "when frugal wasn't cool."

    Thank you for your posts -- they are inspiring!

  2. Thank you, Anne! I appreciate the kind words. I just "rescued" and cleaned up a cute little cheap student's desk. I'll post it on Craigslist as a freebie, or maybe charge a couple of bucks for it. I know somebody will be able to use it. These students aren't rich, for sure, because this is pretty low-income, but there are still treasures to be had. The furniture that gets tossed is pretty shabby, but some of the household stuff rocks! I don't have any shame. I'll dig through trash to get to the goodies. LOL


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