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The art of dumpster diving

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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