Dumpster Diving and Curb Crawling

Dumpster Diving by joshuawillis (Flickr)

Dumpster diving: The art of seeking out items found in commercial or residential dumpsters that are still perfectly good and why would anybody throw this away?!

Curb crawling: The art of driving slowly down residential streets in search of discarded furniture, TV’s, or even large boxes or broken lumber to be used or repurposed elsewhere.

Would you stop and pick up an interesting metal item from a sidewalk? Would you hesitate to snag a broken lamp or busted VCR from the curb? Would you go so far as to reach into a dumpster behind a store and remove something from it?

Opinions vary, but it all comes down to the same idea: if you would reach your hands into a dumpster and take something out of it for your own personal use, you’re probably at least a little crazy. But those who take the plunge (so to speak) often find that it’s worth it.

I’ll admit to having gone diving a few times in my life, and I came away with quite a haul. Of course, I checked with my local laws first to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules (I wasn’t), and I made sure I was dressed in light-colored clothing. Even so, I felt oddly criminal, sneaking around behind buildings and lifting lids, peeking in with my flashlight to see what treasures could be found.

I’ve shamelessly removed items from curbs while the owners were still in the front yard, which absolutely humiliated my husband. The experience emboldened me, however, and the chicken wire went to good use on some tomato plants. The tomatoes failed, but my passion for found objects was only heightened.

Then there’s the story of the broken metal ruler that sat on a sidewalk for more than a full year before I finally got the courage to just pick it up. Turns out waiting was a great idea, too, because all the exposure it got made it gloriously pitted and weathered. It has the loveliest patina now, and I can’t wait to find the perfect use for it.

The whole purpose of the argument, of course, is that “one man’s trash really is another’s treasure.” But the object itself is neither. It’s just a thing, an item, an inanimate bit of stuff that sits there and is either used or unused. “Trash” and “treasure” are names we assign to it, based on its usefulness in our own lives. Since you are a unique individual, your mileage with any one item may vary. And the lengths to which you will go to secure such treasure depend on your own unique limits. Some of us venture out into the world seeking new and unusual items to craft with, getting our hands (very) dirty in the process. Some of us prefer to stick a little closer to home, crafting only with the “trash” we generate ourselves.

Darling readers, how do you feel about dumpster diving, curb crawling, and picking up items from the street? Is it part of your normal daily activity, or does it push your limits?

10 thoughts on “Dumpster Diving and Curb Crawling”

  1. I haven’t dumpster dived but curb crawling? Heck yeah. My husband found my wonderful porcelain/metal topped spring leaf kitchen table from the 1930s just dumped on someone’s curb for the trash. Needed some TLC on the wooden parts, but the springs worked and the porcelain only had few tiny chips!It still even had its tiny drawer and original knob. We have had friends discover antique furniture (credenzas, etc.) that people just threw out. Antique windows, chairs, all kinds of stuff…

  2. Curb crawling? One city I used to live in, if you wanted to get rid of something all you had to do was put it out on the sidewalk and within 20 minutes it was gone …
    My husband used to be a great fan of curb crawling and we occasionally picked up something we liked that way (but nothing that we still own now, interestingly).
    Once we hired a dumpster (called a ‘skip’ in Australia) when we were moving cities and getting rid of a lot of rubbish. The condition was that the contents of the dumpster were no higher than the edge of the dumpster itself, which was tricky because we had a lot to fit in. But while we were waiting for it to be picked up, a neighbour came dumpster diving and pulled everything up so that it was sticking up and out of the dumpster, so we had to quickly rearrange it and push it all back down again or it wouldn’t be collected! That was annoying.

  3. Love this! I just finished turning a hideous painting in a gaudy frame from the side of the road into a chalkboard. The whole thing was over the top ugly, but some white paint on the frame and chalkboard paint on the mat and over the painting turned it so cute!

  4. Here in Glasgow this is practically considered a hobby! The local Steampunk soc. jokes that we ought to make an iphone app to report any items spotted around so that interested people can get there quick!

    We’ve found so much awesome/crazy stuff this way – a church hymn board (which we’ve hung up and chalk menus or mottoes on), an amazing vintage octagonal coffee table, my desk tidy, beautiful old suitcases, enough brand new pinewood to build a huge storage shelving unit. It’s jaw-dropping what people just chuck away – there’s a lot of student/young professional flats so people don’t stay put for long, and they leave a trail of 6-month-old Ikea furniture across the city as they migrate…!

  5. Great post! I’m a curb person, diving is still pushing my limits a bit! If you haven’t read The Scavenger’s Manifesto, you should! I highly recommend it!

  6. Back in ’95 in Seattle, I was 18 years old and we would go dumpster diving at local stores and curb crawl around our neighborhood on large trash day. On these days (maybe once a month?) the neighborhood would put out their large pieces to be picked up by the city. Being young and adventurous, our schedules were pretty much opposite than normal. With nights being our days, we would go out the night before and find so many great things in those piles. I found a very rare Ron Cobb book – my favorite find ever. I don’t do much of it now, but I will pick up useful things from curbs if I can use it.

  7. I love dumpster diving, love love love it.
    I have found so many things its unreal. Thing is most of it be sold for some nice cash.
    A good site for dumpster diving and a place for other dumpster divers to chat and post there dumpster finds. check out

    They have all kinds of neat stuff.

  8. Recently I wrote a blog entry offering a leftist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, eco-friendliness, and lifestyle politics (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” etc. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top