I'll Try Anything Once: Dumpster Diving

If it feels like it might be a bag full of dirty diapers, it probably is a bag full of dirty diapers.
Publish date:
September 21, 2011
i'll try anything once, trash, dumpster diving

I am a complete consumer -- nothing makes me happier than a nice shiny pile of things. OK, that’s not completely true … I also like to travel (where I buy more things) and read (about things!), but pretty much, I like to consume.

Unfortunately I am, like most people in their early 20s -- especially those who decided to major in English in college -- pretty broke most of the time. So when you are addicted to consumption (of food, of booze, of things!) and have absolutely no extra cash to throw around, you have to try and find fun ways to be frugal so that you can both pay rent and also acquire new things to try and fill that lonely void in your chest that only expands as everyone you graduated college with seem to be getting married.

Some of my preferred methods of mooching, er, frugally consuming, is stopping by my parents' house -- who live 45 minutes away -- when they just so happen to be having dinner, or "borrowing" rolls of toilet paper and tampons from the locker room at my gym, or accepting drinks from guys at bars and then telling them “I have to pee” and never returning.

While I like getting new stuff, or even second hand new-to-me stuff, this unfortunately usually means buying it or being gifted it -- and I can’t wait until Christmahannukah (best of both worlds) for new things.

So recently I decided that a fun way to keep myself entertained, find new stuff and make use of my weird beady-eyed nocturnal personality disorder (seriously, I am a possum) would be to go dumpster diving. I spent a few days contemplating whether it was doable or totally disgusting.

As rings true with many of the good-or-gross debacles I have had in the past -- edible panties, rocky mountain oysters -- I knew I wouldn’t be able to make up my mind unless I tried it myself. So, I rustled up some rubber gloves, enlisted one of my roommates to stand as a look-out, and waited until the cover of darkness. Here is what I learned.

Dumpster Diving 101

1. Unless you’re really hungry, avoid bins behind restaurants and grocery stores. I know some people eat what they find dumpster diving, but I am a food snob and can’t bring myself to do it, regardless of how broke I am. Holy E coli!

2. Choose dumpsters behind places you might actually want to buy things. The bin behind The Goodwill and a Target served me better than one behind an office supply store. The one behind Lillian August was locked, so I know they must be keepin’ good stuff there.

3. Invest in proper footwear. I chose rubber rain boots. You don’t want garbage oozing around your ankles.

4. If you are hoping to stumble across big things -- like furniture -- make sure to drive to the dumpster. And then, make sure your car is big enough to fit your find. We had to leave behind a handsome coffee table that would have been just fine after a healthy dose of bleach.

5. Breathe through your mouth at all times. Unless, of course, you have no sense of smell or enjoy the scent of hot wet rot.

6. Always have a back-up story, so when some creepy guy wearing a trench coat mid August (undercover cop or innocent pervy creeper? Who knows!) comes by you can start babbling about how your ex-boyfriend threw your Blackberry in this dumpster because he is SUCH a jerk.

7. Dumpster diving is best at night. This may seem obvious, but you will attract a lot more attention if you are, say, rummaging around in the dumpster behind the Bed Bath & Beyond next to your office at 5 pm than at 2 am.

8. If it feels like it might be a bag full of dirty diapers, it probably is a bag full of dirty diapers.

I went dumpster diving on three separate occasions, the first with my room-mate and the second and third times alone. My best find was a cool end table on wheels with a pull-out shelf that now holds our laundry basket, dryer sheets and detergent in our basement.

I also found a vintage-looking Bambi umbrella (though of you, Cat!) with only one broken spoke, a lamp and two picture frames in need of a little Krazy Glue. (I later had to discard Bambi umbrella because no amount of bleach would rid it of its mold infestation. Sigh.)

Overall, dumpster diving was totally do-able. However, my gag reflex is pretty minimal and when I was little I used to eat worms, so rolling about in other people’s garbage didn’t bother me too much.

I now carry a dumpster diving kit -- rubber gloves, flashlight, plastic trash bags, hand sanitizer -- in my car, just in case I happen on a juicy-looking dumpster while out and about.

Tell me about all the ways you feed your consumerism on a tight budget. Or tell me how you manage to buy new shoes with no money -- I am still trying to work this one out.