Dumpster Diving
Do's And Don'ts

How'd you like to decorate your home and fill your closets without spending any money? Sound too good to be true? Authors Kari Abate and Kyle Looby say you might just hit the jackpot if you start checking out what other people throw into the dumpsters. Here are their tips!

Dumpster Diving

Life in the trash lane

The last time we went shopping we came home with our car stuffed full of trendy, designer clothes -- about $1500 worth. We had so many bags that we could barely fit in the car.


No, we're not compulsive shoppers (though we used to be), and we weren't Christmas shopping. We're dumpster divers.


Dumpster diving for clothesIf you visit our homes, you'll see the many treasures we've found over the past two years. We have a brand new Samsung microwave from an apartment complex at move-out time, a wrought iron fireplace screen ($165) from a well-known import store and a Sauder desk ($300) from a national office supply store. Our closets are stuffed with clothes from designers like Polo, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Dockers, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Jones New York, Levi's, The Limited, The Gap, Express and more. Out on our patios, you can relax on the stylish wicker loveseats, amid candles and garden accessories -- all of which were destined for the dump.

Is it legal?

Dumpster diving is the deliberate art of gleaning perfectly usable items from commercial and residential dumpsters. It is legal in most areas as long as there are no signs posted against trespassing. To be sure, check your city ordinances, or just call the police department.

Dive on in

Once you get over the initial shock that people actually do this, you'll quickly realize that it isn't as gross as it sounds. Commercial dumpsters are very clean because employee trash is bagged, while the good stuff is usually in a box or tossed in loosely. Actually, store dumpsters usually smell quite good because of the discarded candles, potpourri and perfume. (Most dumpsters smell like the stores that use them!) Dumpsters are designed to keep critters out, so you typically won't run into rats and other vermin.


Until you have a dumpster diving partner, you'll probably want to dive in daylight. It's good to establish a routine during the day, to determine when goods are tossed and when dumpsters are emptied.


Dumpster diving for furnitureMany new divers are afraid to be seen diving in the daytime, and equally afraid of crawling around behind buildings in the dark. To protect yourself, avoid nighttime, especially if you're alone. (Sure -- being hassled is unpleasant, but safety is more important.)


If you are concerned about people seeing you, consider this: divers frequently experience "Ninja syndrome" -- that is, people who dig in the trash are temporarily invisible to those around them. We once sat in a car in front of a dumpster while employees brought out bags of trash and completely ignored us.


Opposition from store managers, police officers and security guards does happen occasionally. If you are confronted, be polite and leave immediately if you are asked to. You can always come back later.


Security guards and store personnel tend to be particularly annoyed by divers. We once had a security guard ask us to return the items we found and when we politely refused, he called the police. The police dispatcher refused to send an officer, saying, "People do that all the time." Police on patrol just tend to investigate and move on once they've determined you aren't doing anything illegal. We have had police officers ask what we're doing, then laugh when we told them.

ON THE NEXT PAGE: Tools of the trade, safety tips & where to find the best dumpsters


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Comments on "The art of dumpster diving"

Lynn November 21, 2013 | 6:20 PM

Just started checking out grocery stores dumpsters, and learned when they dump, and you would not believe the food we have collected. Our refrig is stuffed. We see milk every day in the dumpsters. sometimes 10 -15 gallons of milks, half gallons, buttermilk, creamer, tons of activia yogurt, every kind of yougurt, Tropicana 100% pure orange juice, biscuits, butter, pomegranate juice, oranges, apples, mushrooms, tons of fresh still cold bags of salads, bread, birthday cakes, soup, tons of produce, and deli nuts, candies, salmon steaks, shrimp. You have to know exactly when they dump the meat. I am blown completely away at the waste. I looked in one today,and there was gallons of milk, biscuits, parkay, bread, hawaiin rolls, frozen veggies and so much stuff. It is just sitting there. If you get it still cold, it is fine. I am not exaggerating.

Dita May 22, 2013 | 7:17 PM

I have been dumpster diving since I was very young because my mom used to do it. I honestly stopped for a little while because I was working and volunteering. Now that we have moved and I am not working Im at it again and it feels awesome. I so love it. I have found endless items some I have refurbished and some I gave away to friends and sold others. ITs sad that this country has lost the value of a helping hand. Everyone is so quick to just throw things away when there's so many people in need. Well enough about that. Have fun and keep safe!!

gollypop June 20, 2012 | 12:06 PM

Me and my mother in law dumpster dives for food but on one of our recent dives the store threatened to call the police and said we were tresspassing on private property. It is sad that perfectly good food is thrown away by the tons everyday in the Usa and the stores don't want to let people who need the food get it.

Chrissie March 19, 2011 | 3:25 AM

So cool!! Dumpster diving is my favorite pasttime!! After a few months of nightly diving, something had to give! I started selling on ebay and at our local flea market to make room...for more!! LOL. I think I even have that same wicker love seat shown above...from Pier1 Imports. I don't know if your area has these stores, but Big Lots, Pier1 Imports, Family Dollar, PetSmart, and Staples/Office Depot are my favorites. Big Lots is a closeout store, so when they have returns there is no one to send it back to and it goes in the dumpster. Stuff still in the box even! Employees are not allowed to keep these items in an effort to keep them all honest, I guess. I've gotten very nice and expensive items out of Pier1 dumpster. Beautiful wrought iron chairs that had a slight bend in a leg or bar...wicker furniture with slight damage during shipping, plates with minor chip, etc. Some stores will cut up their merchandise to keep people from getting the items and returning them again...some do it just to aggravate us divers. Try your cell phone stores and service providers. You would be surprised at the chargers, phones, and batteries they throw away that are still good. I hope I haven't cut my own throat here!! LOL. ...about 2 weeks ago found nearly $2,000.00 worth of tools and tool boxes behind one store! If you don't hoard it all, it can be a fun and lucrative hobby!!! Happy Diving!!

Karen October 26, 2008 | 7:02 AM

I can't imagine that any of the stores around here are actually throwing good items away, I am really curious though now I am going to take a trip to the strip mall near me this morning and see if I find anything besides real garbage, and hopefully not rats

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