6 Ways I’ve Saved and Made Money from My Garbage Finds

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By the author of the FREE online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture

Ya, OK, I’m a hardcore Frugalite, and I don’t mind admitting it. This is a story of what I’ve gotten from the garbage, not from thrift shops, although in one case, there is one degree of separation from the dumpster, as you will see. A previous article discussed dumpster diving for food. This article is going to talk about the other stuff. As they say, one man’s garbage is another man’s gold. Well, you might say I have a lot of gold around here.

How did I write this article, you might ask, and was it difficult? Nope. All I had to do was take a quick walk around my 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. My garbage “gets” were all there, smiling at me, ready to get “Frugalite” famous. I don’t mind sharing my garbage-getting secrets with the Frugalite community at all, as I know there will be many others comin’ right back at me in the comments.

Sheets of “Useless” Particle Board

In my rural area, you gotta keep your eye out for good garbage finds. I’ve previously written about how to go roadside shopping. This example is at a whole other level; the moral of this story might be, “It never hurts to ask!”

On our main road, there is one of those rural storage facilities. Yes, I keep my eye on things. I saw that a number of large dumpsters were quickly filling up with stuff. From the road, some of it looked like good stuff to me. I decided to stop by and find out what was going on. Turns out that the business was being sold. A local guy who had been living in the main building had to move out, and he had a LOT of stuff to get rid of. I asked him about the stuff in the dumpsters. Could I buy any of it from him? “Heck, no!” he replied; I could have all of it for all he cared.

This turned into one of the greatest garbage windfalls of my life! The dumpsters were full of solid wood cupboards, large pieces of chipboard, and an astounding number of solid plywood lawn ornaments. I simply could NOT believe that he was just throwing them out. I asked him again….did he want any money for the stuff? His answer was a resounding “NO….just take it all!”

But wait, there’s more!

His father had made and painted the lawn ornaments. They were really nice. At the time, I had a major car repair to pay for and had no money. I pulled out every single one of those lawn ornaments from the dumpsters (there were bears, a granny in a dress bending over, cartoon characters, and more). I set them out on my lawn every weekend and sold every last one of them to tourists. There were a bunch of them related to bee-keeping that I sold for around $200 cash to a bee-keeping friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I paid for my car repair!

But that wasn’t the end of it. I used the two large solid wooden cupboards I pulled out of those dumpsters to build a lean-to on my shed to add outdoor storage space on my homestead. They are still there and hold all my gardening supplies. Yesterday, I was out moving the sheets of particle board, which were labeled “Non-Structural.” I’ve no idea where he would have even gotten something like that.

I used them to kill the grass on the front of my lot just by laying them down from fall to spring. I just pulled them off, and that garden bed is basically ready to go. It will be mainly for flowers. But I’m not done yet! Yesterday, I dragged them to the foundation area of the eco-cabin, where they are now keeping the grass down as I prepare to cover the graded slab foundation area with washed stone.  When that job is done, I’ll haul them over to the tree line, old, flimsy, and rotting as they are, as I’m sure they will come in handy again.

A “Falling Apart” Shelving Unit from the Dump

One day, there was a small shelving unit by the dumpster at our dump. I asked our dump attendant what the story was. He said I could take it if I wanted it. At the time, I lived in my off-grid tiny house, so floor space was at a premium. The small footprint of the unit (one square foot and five shelves high) appealed to me. However, as I went to pick it up, I could see the thing was falling apart. It teetered and tipped. A few L brackets from our local hardware store later, and it was OK. Not perfect, but good enough. Let’s just say I won’t keep my priceless Ming vase on it. Ha ha ha! I still have it all these years later. It’s in my utility room, storing items for my pantry. I won’t get rid of it until something better (and free!) comes along.

My Roadside Countertop and Sink

It pays to have good neighbors. One day, as we were working on shelling in the eco-cabin, my neighbor came by. Turns out he had found something by the side of the road: an entire countertop and double sink! We carried it to the yard, setting it off the ground on some skids, and I covered it with a tarp. Incredibly, it fit the corner of the kitchen. The distance between the sink and the corner in its previous owners’ home and the eco-cabin was exactly the same. I call that a roadside garbage miracle! I’m sitting right beside it now, and it works great! I’m sure it saved me several hundred dollars, if not more.

Big Binders to Organize Myself

I was in one of the local towns doing my laundry. I always like to walk around a bit and see what’s going on. Sometimes, I drop into the local thrift shop. On my way back from the thrift shop, I noticed a table outside the lawyers’ office. Free binders! More binders than you could shake a stick at. There were more binders than I could possibly ever fill. They were all in brand-new condition, many with fancy inserts and dividers. I grabbed a few that are in my cupboard now. I have no idea what these would cost new, and, quite frankly, I probably don’t want to know.

Solid Oak Flooring…..from a Dumpster?

Up in the attic of my eco-cabin is around a hundred square feet of high-quality solid oak flooring. It was rescued from a dumpster by a friend of mine. When he saw guys throwing wood into a dumpster at his neighbor’s house, he popped by to ask what was going on. Turns out the neighbors were getting a new floor. “What about this stuff?” my friend asked. It was all going to the local dump. He rescued it and painstakingly pulled all the air gun nails out of it.

I bought what I needed from him for a few hundred dollars, including a bunch of extra lengths that can be sent through a router to make some basic trim for my windows here. I call that a win-win!

One Frugalite’s Gold

Keep your eye out and be willing to ask. Could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty garbage-getting tips offered here? Do you have a great story about your own “garbage get” you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.

About Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

Picture of Colette


Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

17 thoughts on “6 Ways I’ve Saved and Made Money from My Garbage Finds”

  1. Mary from Texas

    A neighbor moved out and left a huge pile of things at the curb for trash pickup. Included was a fairly nice 5 drawer chest. Not the best quality perhaps but it is great in the basement to store yarn and other craft supplies. My daughter scored a nice blackboard on a stand which her kids loved and used for years. She also got a nice easel which several family members of the family use for art projects. They picked up four natural wood kitchen chairs. I found a small shelf unit and a nice woven wood picnic basket. Again great for craft supplies. We have also put things on the curb, usually with a descriptive sign. We had a huge yard at one time and really needed a self-propelled mower. That feature quit working and the cost of repair was close to buying a new mower. We put it on the curb with a sign “Runs”. A man rang the doorbell and asked about it. When I explained, he replied that he had a small yard and it would be fine for him as it was. My daughter wore a nice short winter coat-wool with a fleece lining-for several years that we bought for 25 cents at a garage sale. It was originally a neighbor boy’s and his sister refused to wear a boy’s coat. She was actually a little envious when another girl wore it.

  2. Mary from Texas

    When a neighbor moved, we picked up a fairly nice five drawer chest from the curb that now stores some of my yarn and other craft supplies. My daughter has picked off the curb a blackboard on a stand for her kids, a really nice easel for the three artists to make preliminary sketches, four natural wood kitchen chairs, a nice golf bag with several good quality clubs for her husband, and several dishes that were in excellent condition.
    At one time we had a huge yard that had such thick turf that we needed a self propelled mower to mow it. When that part died, we found out that repairs were almost as expensive as a new mower. We put the old mower on the curb with a Runs sign on it and the original maintenance instructions. A man stopped and asked about it. I explained the situation. He replied that he only had a small yard and was happy to get the mower.
    I’ve also found a woven wood picnic basket in excellent and a small corner cabinet in good condition on curbs. The evening before trash pickup is a great “shopping time”.

    1. Hi Mary, What great finds from when your neighbour was moving. It is always lovely to be able to pass along an item that we can’t use to someone who is thrilled with it. I can just imagine the grin on that guy’s face as he took away his new *FREE* mower. Must be some part of human instinct that we love the hunt, especially for something FREE! Much appreciated.

  3. My neighbor put out on the curb a king sized brass headboard and footboard. I rang the doorbell since I thought they had temporarily moved it to the curb while cleaning out their garage. They said to take it as they no longer wanted it! It was worth $1,000!

  4. Some of these finds I’ve discussed before but without their sources.

    1. Two different rear projection TVs that had been set out on the curb for trash pickup. I salvaged the giant Fresnel lens from both of them in case I needed them to make solar cookers and quick water boilers. You can make the temperature adjustable if you design the pot distance from the lens focal point to be changeable as needed.

    2. There is a never-ending supply of wood pallets discarded each week behind a local lawn mower sales and repair shop. They male it clear that anyone is free to take however many one wants which saves them the trouble of hauling them to the dump. Making a rack for outdoor storage of firewood is just one of many ways to re-use such discards. Keeping such firewood off the ground helps discourage termite accumulations in that wood. The pallets themselves would not be suitable for firewood because of chemicals often used in that wood … but all kinds of other outdoor uses are feasible. An online search included this warning about “Methyl Bromide (MB): This is a fumigant used to treat pallets to kill insects and pests. It is harmful to humans and can release toxic fumes when burned.” That search disclosed multiple other possible contaminants that can also cause danger to people when burned. FYI.

    3. Years ago when a late neighbor of mine was remodeling his house … he set out some discards on his back alley curb for trash pickup. I asked him if I might take a couple of them instead … and he said yes. I already knew how to build a solar distiller (per Sharon Buydens’ book on Amazon titled “DIY: How to Build a Solar Water Distiller: Do It Yourself – Make a Solar Still to Purify H20 Without Electricity or Water Pressure
    by Sharon Buydens | Sep 4, 2015“) — in paperback or Kindle. and I had been looking for some sliding glass door discards to use for the top of that distiller design.


    1. Hi Lewis, Thanks so much for sharing more details on these finds. What distinguishes your “garbage gets” is the knowledge and skill behind them. Others might walk past those old rear projection TVs and chuckle, and yet you knew they contained a treasure for self-sufficient living. I hope that preparedness-minded Frugalites are taking notes on what treasures they might find and how they can use them to build solar distillers or solar cookers. Much appreciated!

  5. During the winter, I saw some dishes off the side of one of our rural roads. We stopped and my husband looked and said there was a lot of hardware (nuts, bolts, etc.). All of it came home with us (I threw the dishes away) and he sorted the hardware. He said it was about $200 worth.

    This weekend our grandson and a friend of his stopped at a garage sale. The homeowners were moving and started giving away everything that hadn’t sold, including a queen sized bed, bookshelf and books, dishes and more. I’d never thought about going to garage sales right before they close.

    1. Hi Carla, Great stories. Sometimes, it’s just a little bit of sorting to get to the treasures and assess their value, much like all the hardware your husband got. Regarding the garage sale, I had been told many years ago by a friend to show up late to the farmers’ markets. Many farmers don’t want to take the produce home and will offer great deals to sell it as the market is closing down. With some patience and timing, there are great savings to be had! Congrats to your grandson and his friend. I hope that they got lots of valuable items that day!

      1. Thanks for the tip on the farmer’s market! I hadn’t thought of that. You’re so kind, Collette. It helps to make reading your columns a pleasure.

        1. Hi Carla, I feel the same way. I was happy to see you comment, as I hadn’t seen you for a while. I hope you’re well and still writing! The community here means a great deal to me. It is easy to sit in my little eco-cabin and wonder about the impact of these things. Thank you so much for being a part of it and for reaching out!

  6. I’ve scored many a Weber grill from curbside. I have gotten a barely used kettle grill and two old spirit 310s ( one I gave to my parents) one genesis grill in brown ( gave that to my cousin) and one portable Weber propane grill with stand ( that took a little elbow grease to clean)
    These were different years and different areas around town!! People upgrade and throw away the older ones

    1. HI Fireswamp, OK, you definitely WIN the BBQ score! I think you must have some lucky gene about that or something! I tip my Frugalite cap to you, and wish I lived close enough to enjoy a burger on one of those many grills with you!!!

  7. I got ceramic floor and wall tile, 2 oval sinks with brass faucets and matching light fixtures off the curb.Anything I cant use like Pet carriers and cages are given to local animal rescues, heavy screen wire mesh/ water hoses,etc goes to wildlife rescue
    Also dumpster dived after college ended and scored a new dryer rack, organizers,rolls of trash bags 🙂
    I was given storm windows. I took the glass panels out for a mini greenhouse-future build. I cleaned up the aluminum frames, painted them, zip-tied plastic mesh to the frames to make a garden trellis.

    1. Hi Liz, What I liked about your comment was both the great eye you have for off the curb/dumpster finds, but also the generosity of spirit that has you sharing your bounty with others. Your ingenuity to make a garden trellis from what many would simply throw away was inspiring. I hope your garden plants are already making their way up it now that summer is on the horizon! Much appreciated and keep up the great Frugaliting!!!

  8. Some of our best finds came after Hurricane Ivan hit our area in 2004. Friends decided to replace garage doors & we scored 2 that became an A frame goat condo next spring. That is still standing & has sheltered many a goat from subsequent hurricanes & severe storms.
    We got lots of lumber, rolls of 4 & 6 ft tall chainlink, chainlink gates, t posts & wooden fence posts. We’ve also scored cement blocks, paving stones & old bricks & a bunch of seed starting pots from a nursery garbage pile.
    In our 70’s now & it’s harder to salvage heavier items, as well as already having an abundance of gardening, fencing & construction supplies. We still keep an eye out for tools and things we specifically need to complete projects or to help someone else, like with small appliances, dressers or shelves.

    1. Hi Angelcrest, I had to smile about your A-frame goat condo! I’m sure they’re smiling, too. Your list is a great guideline for things to keep an eye out for that would be useful for an untold number of important projects. Like you, I have a list in my head of what I might need and also a list for good friends that I barter with. We all help each other out and will often show up at each other’s places with some item we’ve found, saying, “Hey, I thought you could use this!” My friend recently told me that the guy who works at the local dump will also keep an eye on what’s going in and let him know if there’s anything “good” around that day. My friend is a small engine whiz and fix-it guy. I was happy to hear how we’re all working together! Much appreciated and please say “Hi” to your goats for me!

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