There's not much difference between Freecycle and Dumpster diving. Or so I keep telling myself.
A few weeks ago I went out to gather blackberries. Something told me to leave by the back door rather than the front. I've learned to listen to these impulses, so into the alley I went.
Half a block away, I found the reason why.
Someone had put a baby carriage and a personal shopping cart next to a Dumpster. I didn't touch the baby carriage; that ship has sailed, friend. But since I recently gave away my automobile I was delighted to score a wheeled cart in which I can carry home groceries.
It's not the first discard I've retrieved. When I went back to college a few years ago, a rescued halogen lamp helped light my dim apartment so I could do homework. As apartment house manager it's my job to monitor the recycle and trash bins, where I've found things like candles, picture frames, mugs, cleaning supplies, wrapping paper, books and a Seattle-themed Monopoly game.
Part of me is appalled that people throw away perfectly good things. Part of me is happy to get them. And yeah, a small part of me is somewhat embarrassed to be seen taking things I find near or in the garbage.
When I was a kid, "trash picker" was a rank insult. These days, Dumpster diving is considered eco-friendly.
As a kid I dressed in hand-me-down clothes first worn by cousins and then by two older sisters. As an adult I've been a regular customer at thrift stores and rummage and yard sales. From time to time Freecycle has helped me find items I need and pass along belongings I no longer want.
But once an item something has been thrown away it becomes, well, garbage -- even if it's still in the shrink wrap, even if it's sitting cleanly on a stack of cardboard boxes. Sometimes as I retrieve an item I wonder if anyone is watching from the window, or driving by to stare at the trash picker.
But I have a choice: Do it, or don't. Most of us have that choice. This time, I chose to do it. Taking the cart saved me $20 and kept one more item out of the landfill.
Do what works for you. If even the word "used" makes you queasy, then go ahead and buy retail.
But maybe you'd be glad to get a Dumpster discount. So if you're in the market for a rice cooker or a footstool and you see one in the trash, pull it out. Never mind if someone is watching. A little hand sanitizer afterwards is a good idea, though.
- Why is it so easy to throw things away?
- Frugal or tight: Where's the line?
- Does your frugality drive everyone nuts?
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ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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