Why Scavenging Isn’t Gross to Me

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Some folks think it's gross to pick up lost or "free" items off the street. I think it's good for the environment and even better for my bottom line.

On my way home from the store recently, I found 9 cents, a My Coke Rewards cap, and two ice cream bars.

About that last find…

While waiting for the light to change, I saw a discarded plastic grocery bag on the ground. As a rule, I pick these up for my sister to use when she walks her dog. This bag held one of those Klondike Bar six-packs, with four missing.

The supermarket register receipt indicated they’d been purchased only about 15 minutes earlier, and it was a chilly day. You bet I took them home.

If you feel you must say “eeewww,” go ahead. I’ll wait.

Feel better? Me too. I got two ice cream bars.

Scavenging is frugal, whether you do it in an organized way (Freecycle, dumpster diving) or merely by keeping your eyes open. You’re probably not going to get rich, but you may find something you need.

You’ll also be keeping things out of the landfill. If I hadn’t picked up those ice cream bars, they would have eventually melted, and in time, the bag would (I hope!) have been picked up by a city sanitation worker. Or a dog owner.

This way I got two free desserts and my sister got a poop sack. Win-win!

A treasure hunt

I’m more of a dumpster wader than a diver – that is, I paddle around the edges. I’ve also found my share of useful things next to trash containers: kitchen chairs, a bookcase, the shopping cart I use to haul home heavier groceries.

While walking, I’ve found things like pens, screwdrivers, a partial roll of electrical tape, and books and magazines from piles left on street corners. Seattle residents like to recycle their belongings by putting them outside with “free” signs. Or possibly they don’t want to pay dump fees and hope someone will take the stuff off their hands.

I find My Coke Rewards points, of course, both caps and empty 12-pack boxes. Most days I’ll find money, usually in the form of coins, although greenbacks occasionally go feral too.

Best place I ever found change: under the cushions of a couch sitting on the sidewalk. Since the sign said “free,” I figured that prospecting for pennies was permissible.

Seek and ye shall find

One windy day, I found a red nylon shopping bag blowing across the University of Washington campus. It’s imprinted with a “2010 U.S. Census” logo, and it folds up to about the size of a wallet. Since it weighs practically nothing, it lives in my backpack.

The UW campus was also the site of one of my woo-woo moments. One day I was thinking that I needed to get a white sheet and some safety pins to make a dust cover for my daughter’s wedding dress, which she’d bought from a cancer charity well in advance of the nuptials.

Just after the thought formed, I saw a safety pin on the bricks of Red Square. An hour later, I found another one. And then another one.

By the end of that day I’d found five pins, which were enough to secure the sheet over the dress. Weird, huh?

I didn’t find the sheet, though. I paid $2 for it at a rummage sale.

Pack some Purell

Some of you might be appalled by the idea of picking things up off the ground. But as I’ve noted before, it’s not as though I carry these things home in my mouth.

Besides, I do pack hand sanitizer. If I scavenge a quarter from the edge of a puddle and can’t find a place to wash my hands within a reasonable time, out comes the Purell.

Some might think it’s low-rent to be seen stooping to retrieve a pin. (Don’t they know that if you pick it up then all the day you’ll have good luck?) Or they’d be embarrassed to admit that the super-useful (and eco-friendly!) shopping bag was found on the ground.

To me, fishing a comic book out of a bag of free books is like finding money. It was in pristine condition and made a fun gift for my great-nephew, who insisted that we read it together during one of my visits.

A week after I rescued the mag, I walked by that corner and found the bag still there but sodden with rain. The few books left inside were ruined. Glad that I saved at least one of them.

Incidentally, I ate the Klondike bars and didn’t die. Not once.

Readers: Do you scavenge? What’s your best-ever find? What are your boundaries, if any?

More stories from Donna Freedman:

Stacy Johnson

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