After the yard sale: Going garbage picking
The best deals of them all often come after a yard sale is over — or just about done. In fact, sometimes you can get some good stuff absolutely free — if you’re willing to swallow your pride.
We’ve done it more than once — plucked a wonderful gem from its curbside grave. It’s tough to do, since you feel like the scum of the Earth doing it, but you once in a while, you’ll dig up a wonderful item or two.
Even better (and far less embarrassing) is when we pull up to a yard sale in the last half-hour. That’s usually the time when the yard sale host is making the biggest decision they have for the day: “Should I lug all this stuff back into the house or just leave it on the curb?” they ask themselves.
Nine times out of 10, the host decides to split the difference. Some of their goodies go back inside and some of it goes into the garbage bin, and that’s where it’s free for the taking. Now we don’t exactly condone you digging through anyone’s trash cans — it’s gross and kind of creepy. That being said, a lot of times those yard sale hosts will make it easy for you — they fill up a box, write “Free” on it and set it by the curb for all to indulge.
Why do they do this? Well most of the time they recognize at least a little remaining value in their stuff. They want someone to have it rather than see it disappear into a landfill. That means they’re willing to give it away, and make it ridiculously easy to snag from their garbage pile. Hence the “free” box or the not-yet-in-the-garbage-can curb dump.
Some tips get stuff for free at yard sales:
- TIMING (Part 1): The most important tip of them all. Try to arrive at a sale about 30 minutes before it closes. Sellers will often severely discount items. Some even offer items for free.
- COMMUNITY SALES: The freebies are especially plentiful after community yard sales, where novice sellers aren’t sure what to do with their leftovers. A few hours after the sale, just cruise the neighborhood and see what’s been tossed to the curb and snag your favorites.
- TIMING (Part 2): Another ideal time is to tour a community sale’s neighborhood is on the evening before trash pickup. This is the other time people will haul out their yard sale rejects.
- FREE BOX: As we mentioned above, many sellers transfer a lot of their items to “free” boxes at the end of their sale. Once the sale is officially over, they drag the freebie box to the curb for anyone to sort through. More often than not, you’ll see the neighborhood kids rummaging through it! You just need to muscle past them for all the good stuff.
- FURNITURE: You’ll often find furniture dumped on the curb. We would suggest you exercise extreme caution picking up used furniture. It’s often broken, missing pieces or stinky with animal smells. (Bonus tip: Any time you buy anything made with fabric, always give it a deep sniff before paying! We’ve put down lots of sweaters, stuffed animals and decorative pillows because they stunk!)
- KNOW THE RULES: Generally (but don’t quote us on this), once an item is left on the curb with the intent to be thrown out, you’re free to take it. If you’re feeling sheepish about this, just call up your local police and ask them “What are the rules about people taking stuff from my garbage cans?”
- NOT THE KIDS’ TOYS: Let’s face it, kids are dumb sometimes. You need to take that into account: Don’t take a bicycle or kids toys left by a curb. Chances are it wasn’t left there to dispose of it. It was left there because a kid had to go pee. Just leave the kids’ stuff alone — no matter how tempting.
- BE RESPECTFUL: Don’t make a mess out of someone’s refuse. Pick up anything that falls from their bins. That can be on the disgusting side, but it’s the price you pay for digging through someone else’s refuse.
Now I bet you’re wondering, have we really done this before? Have we really been out garbage picking?
The answer is a somewhat ashamed “Yes.” While it can be an embarrassing activity, especially when the homeowner spots you, we have managed to get some amazing items over the years. Some highlights:
- WINDOWS: We found a nice set of windows one day, just as we were in the middle of remodeling our garage. These weren’t great, had a tag for $5 on them, but were left curbside on a Saturday evening. They were installed a few weeks later.
- LIGHT FIXTURES: Not a yard sale find, but one day we were driving around a new strip mall that was being built. Around back we spotted a half-dozen boxes of light fixtures tossed into a Dumpster. Those are now installed in our garage, right next to the old windows.
- TOYS: We’ve plucked dozens of cool action figures out of “Free” boxes — Doctor Octopus, Batman, Power Rangers, dinosaurs and G.I. Joes. We love action figures. Please leave more of them in your free boxes!
- PICNIC TABLE: A few years ago when “Large Item Pickup Days” were more common, we managed to get a pretty decent picnic table for absolutely nothing other than the time it took to repaint it.
- CROQUET SET: Our most recent garbage-picking happened just a few weeks ago. We were on our way home one Sunday evening when we drove by a house that had put out its trash. Between a bag of lawn clippings and two battered metal garbage cans was a spectacular croquet set. We didn’t think twice about nabbing it, although we felt a little “loserish” when the homeowner came out and watched us drive away.
At the same time, we’ve also seen oodles of stuff in “free” boxes that would be better thrown away — Fast food promo cups, ice cube trays, haggard stuffed animals, toys with obviously broken parts. You name a useless item and it will find its way to the “free” box, even if it should have been tossed into the garbage bin before the yard sale even began.