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By the author of the online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture
Many, many years ago, my brother gave me his old truck for Christmas. I was so excited. Many of you might imagine that I was excited because I had a year-round vehicle to supplement my motorcycle in our Canadian winters. No: what I was most excited about was that I could really go road shopping then!
Road shopping is my own coinage to refer to picking up stuff by the side of the road (urban or rural) that is often in people’s garbage. I loved that old red truck all the years that I had it and would fondly refer to it as “my shopping cart.”
Fond Memories of My First Truck
That old truck was not too much to look at for most folks. It had some giant gashes on one side where it had met some concrete parking dividers (not in a good way). My brother, who was much better at computer stuff than bodywork, had simply smeared Bondo on the dents, leaving the red truck with some dramatic rough stripes of grey in the rather large dents.
None of that fazed me at all. The thing I most remember about that truck was how absolutely THRILLING it felt that I could pick up absolutely anything (yes, ANYTHING!) that I might find of interest in anyone’s garbage.
City Road Shopping
At that time, I lived in a smallish city. What was really great was that I drove through a pretty wealthy neighborhood to get to work. There were often great treasures by the roadside, which I could stop and grab on my way to and from work. No more calling a friend with a truck. No more missing out because I wasn’t the first there. It was like heaven. Outdoor furniture, scrap wood, lawn ornaments, random kitchen appliances…they were all mine, mine, MINE!
Once a year, the students of this university and college town would empty their temporary apartments as they prepared to return home. I would dedicate extra time at that time of year to prowling the streets, finding many treasures on the way.
Rural Road Shopping
These days, I am in a rural area. In my township, we have no garbage pickup. I am continually amazed at the quality of items left by the roadside, generally with some kind of improvised hand-written sign saying, simply, “Free.”
All I have to do is lift my head to see my riches from the roadside that furnish the eco-cabin: A wall-mount microwave cabinet with solid oak cupboards (roadside on the outskirts of a local village 10 km away), my solid wood filing cabinet (roadside between my place and a large city), my small four-shelf unit (sitting by a dumpster at our local dump), a glass-topped outdoor table, sitting under the snow and waiting for spring (roadside in my nearest village).
Yep, all free. And when it’s time to say goodbye to them, all I will need to do is…you guessed it! Place them roadside with a sign of my own.
Road Shopping Tips
My road shopping heydays with my old red truck were before the existence of the internet. Since then, technology has added some extra ways to expand your road shopping horizons. In our nearest city (population of around 130,000 and about an hour’s drive away), there are many buy and sell pages with a “Free” section. People post stuff all day long that they are setting out to the curb on a first-come-first-served basis. When I lived in that city, boy, I would have some fun chasing that stuff down!
Road shopping now has a “green” reputation that has given it some glamour that it previously lacked. This same city actually has designated special days of the year just for road shopping! They call them “Giveaway Days,” and there are now four every year on four Saturdays between April and October. The city has a recommended list of what to set out (“Only set out appropriate items that you know someone else might want”…duh!) and what not to set out (things that our Consumer Product Safety Bureau thinks are unsafe. Most of these are related to babies: cribs, car seats, bath seats, playpens, plus mattresses.
In addition to these regulated days, as this is another university town, there is still the “end of the school year” opportunity to cruise the streets looking for goodies from the departing students. I used to walk to work at this time of year a number of years ago. I could not believe the amount of good, solid wood furniture that was just being thrown away. Yum yum!
Now, I have never, myself, had a problem, but I have read that there can be a risk with picking up furniture that it could be harboring unwanted guests (think cockroaches, bedbugs, and the like).
When I left the big city well over a decade ago, I know my building had an infestation of bedbugs on the two upper floors of our building. There were signs posted warning about picking up furniture items from around the dumpsters outside our building.
Some recommendations to protect yourself could include keeping the item out in the cold before bringing it in (works best if it’s cold and winter when you pick it up). Personally, I would be reluctant to spray items before bringing them inside, because I’m so sensitive to chemicals, but this could protect you. Our nearby city with the Giveaway days recommends sanitizing items before bringing them in, as well.
Road Shopping: The Thrill of the Thrifty Chase
I have used road shopping to get a lot of the furnishings for my eco-cabin for free. Could you see yourself trying any of the road shopping tips offered here? Do you have a great side-of-the-road shopping find you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments section!
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!